My Illnesses Absolutely Define Me

If you’re the sum of your life’s experiences, then illness has been a big part of mine…and has taught me a lot.

Up until this year I hadn’t realized how much being sick for so long had taught me. I was lowkey (read: super high key) mad at God for making me so “different,” and for shielding me from the bad decisions I would have inevitably made. That might sound silly, but it’s exactly what I mean. I listen to all my friends’ stories about how much fun they had doing stupid stuff, and I kinda wish I would have had that opportunity, rather than being stuck in the house or afraid I’d be made fun of if I got sick in front of friends.
According to doctors, I have ulcerative colitis, sickle cell, and up until three years ago I needed a liver transplant. Thaaaattt’s right. Alladat. I’m passionate about dance, but had to miss a bunch of practices. I’m passionate about leading and serving in church and doing community service, but I couldn’t do too much activity without getting worn out. I’m passionate about food, but I could never tell when I was gonna able to keep it down.
I hear people with diseases and challenges say those things don’t define them, and it’s never really set well with me to say the same. I have accepted that as a truth in my life, though, until recently, when I realized my mind, soul, and body are just now figuring out I’m not as sick as I was anymore. A couple of years ago I wondered what the point of all of that grief was, but now I think I’m slowly beginning to figure it out:

My experience with illnesses taught me about who I am and who others are – especially who they are to me.

Let me explain.
You’ll never meet anyone who chills harder than I do.
Being ill, you learn that you have to listen to your body. If I feel like I absolutely cannot get out of bed and work out, guess what I’m not doing that day? I’m not slacking off; I just don’t want to overdo it and get sick. I used to laugh at people who threw up in the gym because it seemed like they thought they were invincible and would be able to push themselves to whatever breaking point they’d set. I learned to accept that I can’t do everything, and when I can’t I just gotta chill.
You’ll never meet anyone as adaptable as I am.
Of course, everyone hates being disappointed. I hate seeing disappointment on the faces of people whom I love. But I’ve dealt with my fair share of it. Nowadays, when I get disappointed I tend to think, “Well, at least I don’t need a liver transplant.”
You can’t tell me who I am. I’ve spent a lot of time with me, and I know me very well.
I will be the first to tell you that I know a lot about who I am, even the fact that many times, I try to deny it when other people tell me truths about who I am. That’s not to say I don’t learn more about myself with each new situation I encounter, it’s only to say that I have no desire to “find myself,” and I’m not defined by what others think of me or want me to be. I can say “no” to things and situations because I got very comfortable with being alone and having time to myself. Loneliness doesn’t scare me, and neither does nonconformity.
I am sure there are other ways in which being ill for a lot of my life has defined me – even negative ways. While I know I can change who I am at will, my experiences have made me who I am, and while I do wish some things would have been different and question why they didn’t change sooner, I appreciate the person I am because of what I went through.
So far, that’s enough of an answer for me.

That’s all.

Don’t Let the World Outdo You

In the past few months, I’ve been doing some introspection on who my real friends are. Having been ill for much of my life, it used to be very easy to gauge that – it was all the people who stuck around, visited me in the hospital, and put up with the special conditions I needed to adhere to in order to stay healthy and in a good mood.
One of the first lessons I learned as a fully functioning adult with the ability to move around freely was that not everyone is on your side. There were people – inside and outside of the Church – who would smile in my face and stab me in the back. It was much harder to deal with from people inside the Church because I knew they knew what I did about how to love people, so I expected them to do it. Alas, that wasn’t always the case.
I don’t want it to come off like all my church friends were horrible – that’s not the case at all. In fact, my very best friends come from my church. I just found out some surprising behaviors from my church friends that I would expect from my “unchurched” friends and vice versa. Let me explain:
Every now and then, people decide to go to different church services, different churches, or opt out of certain services to pursue other passions or career opportunities. I find no problem with this, as long as they’re being spiritually fed in a healthy way. However, there’s this weird, icky trend in churches where if you’re not choosing that specific church or service anymore, people don’t ask why, they just speculate whatever reason they feel you aren’t around anymore.
Now, that’s not always the case, and I’m not saying it doesn’t happen out in the world. But here’s the thing that actually made me laugh about the whole situation:
I was one of the people who chose to go to another service at one point, then I opted out of an entire service (working at a church and attending every service gets to be a lot, as you can imagine). Only very few people directly asked me why, and then some people just would randomly walk up to me and go, “Hey, so what has God been teaching you lately?” as if to insinuate I couldn’t possibly still be hearing from him only going to 3 out of the 4 weekly services I attended. I realized I could literally just fade away from church altogether unnoticed.
But let me miss one night at the turn-up…
When I stopped going out on the weekends to clubs, parties, concerts, etc., just about every one of my “unchurched” friends contacted me and asked why. LOL. Every call, every text was like, “Hey girl, you OK? Your car working? You sick? You depressed? I’ll pick you up!” HAHAHAHAHAHA. It was so intense!!!
While that was hilarious to me, it was also incredibly sad. Shouldn’t we be that way with our friends who we see aren’t coming around as much? Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to make sure people are going to the one physical place they can get healthy? If someone switches churches and your church is so great, why not ask them if there was a problem, how you can fix it, and how you can get them to come back instead of speculating and making up stories about whyso-and-so is “backsliding?”
It’s time to stop assuming people are OK and are just rebelling when you don’t see them anymore. It’s crazy how hard we work to make sure people who don’t know Jesus get to church, then when we get them there, we don’t take care of them anymore to make sure they stay there. What good is having tons of people come to church and then retention sucks?
The difference between my two sets of friends, I found, was that the unchurched friends realize that we’re all out here on our own, and they don’t know that there is a Savior to help us out, so they feel that we need to help each other. Guess what? Since we have the privilege of knowing there is a Savior to help us out, we also need to realize that what He did as a human on this earth is what we are to do: take care of people.

That’s all.

He Broke My Heart So he Wouldn’t.

I’m gonna go ahead and admit something that a lot of people, Christian people, seem to have forgotten from the looks of social media: I’m not perfect. Far from perfect. Nowhere near perfect. Perfect is a dot in the distance…
You catch my drift.
This year, I have randomly dated more than ever. I guess the “glow-up” is finally in effect? Anyway, it has been AWFUL. Things have happened to me that I have only seen on TV. Like, where did this horrible men come from all of a sudden? Out of the men that I have dated this year, I can truly say I believe only one of them came close to breaking my heart, and not because of what he did. I had asked God not to bring any men across my path unless it was The One. And I was chillin’ up until March, when I met a guy randomly at the store. He was super cute, came from a great family, and had a little change in his pocket. He was everything I wanted…until he told me he was engaged to another woman the whole time. I felt used, like I was his “last fling before the ring,” but I oddly still felt like I wanted to be with him. Sick, huh? Well, homeboy got married, and I moved on to more terrible choices. The oddest thing happened, though, none of these men were able to break my heart. Yes, they hurt me, and some more than others, but my heart was never truly broken, and it wasn’t until I sat down with a friend for a catch-up session that I realized why…
My friend was trying to cheer me up, telling me that I deserve the best from God and people, and that I do so much for people, and then it dawned on me:
I find the people God has strategically placed in my life so important – my family, my close friends, people who I don’t even know who need help (poor, heartbroken, low self-esteem, generally unhappy, sick, etc.) – and their needs so pressing, that right now, dating seems a tad trivial. The boy/girl thing, the chase, the pining – it’s all pointless at the moment. Sure, I want to be a wife. I can’t wait (I can kinda wait) to be a mother. But at this moment, I am neither. Thus, at this moment, I can be entirely selfish with my time and decide who I give it to, and the citizens of this world are so important to me that if I want to, I can give them all the time I have without answering to anyone but God, and I feel like He’s OK with that.
There’s a song called “Hosanna” by Hillsong that says a line I have always loved: “Break my heart for what breaks Yours,” meaning “God, give me a passion for Your people and the world You created.” I sing that line with my eyes closed, really asking God for that. Well, be careful what you wish for! God has, especially in this year, awakened in me a new passion to give my time and attention to the things that are on His mind and in His heart.

No man who has nothing to do with my destiny has been able to break my heart because it is already sweetly broken for the best reasons.

As Christians, the Bible tells us to “stay alert,” and what that means is that we need to keep focused. The Enemy has no real powers: he’s not omnipresent, not omnipotent, and is completely powerless to do anything else but lie. Lest we forget, he was an angel whose sole job was to communicate. He can’t kill us, but he can confuse us so that we get off track. I find that one of the biggest ways he distracts us is to play on what got him kicked out of Heaven: our ego. If he can make us feel unimportant, he can really trap us into straying from our purpose.
I’m going to be honest; I can fall to this pretty easily. Recently, however, it hasn’t been working. One of my mentors told me that he has learned that one of the best things God can do is shelve us (put us in the background) to help us grow. Think about it: If you’re in the limelight all the time, you’re too busy to look around you. You can’t process things because you’re so overwhelmed with busyness. I know that I have been shelved in this season. But I have learned more than I ever have from sitting at the feet of people who are wiser and more learned than I am – my proverbial elders. Know where they are? In the background. They’ve had their time and now they’re looking at our generation. I want to know what they see. I want to learn the history of what they’ve experienced so I don’t repeat it.
So tonight, when I was (finally) cleaning my apartment, I opened a package with a shirt I had ordered from a Christian company called Bold Love. I thought the shirt was really cool, and I noticed they had sent me an extra shirt, and there was a handwritten letter attached:
“Hope –
            There is hope in Jesus Christ J. Know that in His Presence is fullness of joy. Be encourage(d) God sees you. I pray that you continually receive a revelation of Jesus’ love.
Live Bold. Love Bold. Bold Love.”
Be encouraged in this New Year. Stay focused. God sees you.
“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

Lessons From a 14-Year-Old

Camp was awesome. I knew it would be. 1. It’s camp. 2. I was with one of the greatest high school ministries in the world. 3. Where only 2 or 3 are gathered in the Name of Jesus, He has to show up…and there were 500 of us. So He was in full effect. 

I went to camp to help with games. That’s it. No children. And I made it very clear of that point. But if you know me, you know that I hate seeing people feel left out or just sitting alone when everyone else is having fun. So the first night there, I saw Natalie. Alone. I asked my friend Shanceler about her and was told that she didn’t really open up much to anyone. Bells and whistles went off in my head: NO NO NO! On a Wednesday night, if kids alone, it’s only for 2 hours then they go home to their families. But she was gonna be alone for a WEEK. Shanceler told me that was gonna be my girl. “But Shance. I said no kids,” I told her. Shance, knowing me since birth (literally. ugh.) reiterated what she said before: “That. Is. Your. Girl.” Goodbye, free time. 

I introduced myself and asked Natalie why she was sitting alone when everyone else was jumping and having fun. She said she came from and orthodox Christian church and she was very disapproving of Lakewood, including the fact that the pastors were not priests. I immediately knew why God had put her in my sight: I’m somewhat of a “go-hard” when it comes to defending my church and how I worship. As a dancer, and as someone whose body constantly rebels against her, I use every opportunity I can to risk looking undignified to thank and honor Someone who suffered the ultimate humiliation for me. We went back and forth for 3 DAYS on this subject until she finally just said, “It’s just so loud.” I gave her that lol. It’s pretty loud. 

The last night of camp she was sitting in the back by herself and I went to talk to her. She immediately started crying and saying she hated being made to come to camp for so many reasons. She opened up about her life and her struggles. Turns out, she lives in Russia most of the time and attends school there. Lakewood Youth was a GIANT culture shock for her. After she finished, she let me pray with her (she didn’t close her eyes haha…and I had to convince her we were praying to the same God LOL). Then, we just walked around the camp and she let me hear some of the music she listens to in Russia. She’s a really cool kid. The next day as we were leaving, she told me she would come to church Wednesday night if I was there. Guess where I’ll be Wednesday night!

This experience was one of the best I’ve had a camp. I’ve had a lot going on lately, but I don’t think I prayed for myself once the entire time. I just couldn’t get her out of my mind. It’s such a tugging feeling to want someone to experience God so much, forgetting completely about yourself in hopes that someone just “gets it.” 

I don’t know if Natalie will ever jump up and down during worship or pray out loud in a big room of people. But that’s not the point. 

The point that Jesus made on earth was to be completely about people. And people are different. Sometimes, they’re not going to ever agree with you or change to fit what you think is right. Your job is not to make sure people “get it.” Love is love despite differing opinions. And it literally only takes your following the prompting to go up and say, “Hey. What’s your name?” to someone who looks like they need a friend.  If you have a mouth and legs, you got this “love” thing covered. 

Natalie summed up every camp message for me by being difficult lol. I can definitely say my “make room” experience was allowing God to create space in my head and my heart to realize that my purpose is about OTHER people. It has nothing to do with me. When I go to ask God what he’s going to do in my life, I’m being entirely selfish. My question should be, “Lord, WHO CAN I BE in SOMEONE ELSE’S life?” Serving Jesus is not a “me” thing, it’s an “us” thing. 

That’s all. 

There is Room for You

I struggle with feeling very behind in life – like I’m watching other people live the life that I thought I was supposed to be living, or living my current life, but better than me. I blame a lot of it on being ill for so long, but then my overachiever mind says that I should have caught up by now.
A couple of weeks ago I had to move out of my apartment unexpectedly, which sent me careening down Freakout Mountain. I all-of-a-sudden had to redo my budget (and for those of you who don’t know this about me, I don’t even add very well, much less predict how much I’m gonna make in a month), and then student loans make my credit look terrible (shout out to that heifer Sallie Mae), so my deposits on my new apartment and utilities were sky high. I spent many-a night thinking about my financial woes, worried that I couldn’t live by myself, and angry with God for the seven years I could’ve been ruling the world but was instead, wondering if I was going to live another day. I had a plan and he listened but didn’t follow along. Rude.
So on the way to work one day, I casually realized I couldn’t breathe. Now, being on tons of medication, I don’t worry too much when weird things happen with my body because I figure it’s a side effect of one of them. Plus, I had taken insulin that morning (side effect of one of my medications = diabetes) and I hadn’t eaten. I figured my blood sugar was low. I went upstairs, got a breakfast burrito that my coworker had brought, went to the restroom…and passed out cold.
A series of very embarrassing events took place (including coworkers both male and female standing in the restroom while I was on the toilet – super glamorous, I know), and to make a long story short, the doctor ruled that it was a mixture of things I can’t pronounce, low blood sugar, and a panic attack. Now, I had panic attacks in college over tests and, ya know, the notion that I might not be perfect at something, but I didn’t remember what it felt like, so I didn’t know I needed to lay down until my body did it for me.
I know I’m making myself sound like a neurotic mess. And that is an accurate depiction of me…without God. As a friend put it, I need to remember God’s résumé.
My mom tells a story about my first day of kindergarten. She didn’t know about the school she wanted to enroll me in until it was too late to enroll. So for the first week of kindergarten, I went to the School from Hell. I remember being a 5-year-old and crying because I wanted my mom and the teacher started MOCKING ME. Like, who does that?!? So when I told my mom I hated it, we got in the car, drove to the school that she wanted me to attend, and sat there. We watched all the people who had enrolled on time go in for their first days of school, and when they finished, the lady in the office looked at me and asked me my name. I told her, and she looked at me and said, “Hope, I have room for you.” I wish I could say it was my 5-year-old charm that wooed her to let me in her school. But I know it was God.
All my life, that has been the story. The exact same thing happened for high school. For college, I actually turned down the college that I went to for undergrad because they wouldn’t put me in the honors college my freshman year, and THE NEXT DAY I got a call saying they made an exception. Funny thing about that: I NEVER APPLIED TO THE UNIVERSITY AT ALL. I was just in. Then, I had a choice of which full ride I wanted to take for grad school. There was always just room for me. My gifts had made room for me, and made me visible to the right people (Proverbs 18:16).
You know how those IKEA kits come with a bajillion parts? Well, I have a certain family member who, no matter how many parts there are, comments on what part they should’veput in the box to better put the piece of furniture together. Now don’t you think the maker of that furniture knew exactly what to put in there? If that family member would just stick to the plan, he (or she **wink**) would realize that everything he/she needs is inside the box already. It’s the same with God. He made us, and if we just stick to the plan, we’re gonna end up how we’re supposed to be, and where we’re supposed to be (Ephesians 2:10). 

He put everything we need in us already. No matter how frustrated we are or how long it takes (or how many times we mess up and have to start over) we’re gonna become the beautiful pieces we are destined to be.

I look at a lot of the things I thought I would have, and the places I thought I would be by now. I realize that just saying “by now” assumes that I’m super old and will never be able to accomplish those things. But I know that God has made everything beautiful in its time, and that doesn’t only mean looks (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It means that dream will become the beautiful, tangible manifestation of that idea; that desire will become the beautiful, physical representation of what I didn’t even know I needed; and that prayer will become further beautiful proof that my loving Father in Heaven is listening to me. My job is to hop off of Freakout Mountain and hold on to hope, because he’s made me promises, and he’s faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
And anyway, screws are way prettier than duct tape.

That’s all.


I can be a pretty private person.
This is learned behavior from all the creepers and crappy friends I’ve had to put up with in my lifetime.
The other day I was washing clothes in the communal laundry room at my apartment, which is a big step for me because you never know how dirty the clothes were that were in that machine before mine.

So this past weekend when I was drying my last load of clothes, I went to my machine to see that my clothes weren’t in the dryer, but someone else’s were. There was a man standing near a counter in the laundry room, and I noticed my clothes were next to him. I went to gather my clothes (which were still wet!) and asked him, “Are those your clothes in that dryer?”

Immediately, he began to explain that “they were done” and “there’s a sign that says you can remove clothes that are finished.”
I asked him if by “done” he meant the dryer had stopped. He just looked at me. I could feel my face getting hot. Calmly, I asked him again. More looking. I began to explain to him that not only was it rude to remove someone’s clothes that were wet because I would obviously come back and put more time on the machine, it was stealingto remove someone’s clothes before their time was up because THAT COSTS MONEY! And what if he would’ve dropped my stuff in a puddle of bleach? They would be ruined! Not to mention, who wants someone else’s hands on their…unmentionables???
He told me to take it up with the office. HAHAHAHA THE DEVIL BE PLAYIN’, MAN! I had to leave. I would rather dry my clothes on my balcony than lose my religion over some laundry.
When I went back to my apartment to hang my wet laundry in various and sundry places to dry, it occurred to me that that’s how I treat my life:
I don’t want anyone messing around in my business because it’s mine. Period. You don’t deserve to be let in because you don’t have any business here. I don’t know you like that. It might cost me my privacy and feelings to let you in. What if you step all over my heart if I put it out there? Not to mention…who wants someone else’s hands to hold their hearts?
I don’t want anyone looking at my dirty laundry unless I feel like it’s ready to come out.
But think about what I might be missing out on when I refuse to be vulnerable.
Sometimes, our vulnerability is what someone else needs. There are so many people who think they are the only ones…er…washing. What I mean is, we’re all trying to get it together. And who knows if what you’re going through is exactly what someone needs to hear so they don’t feel alone? Your story may be the thing that keeps someone from going into depression, or, God forbid, committing suicide. I’m not saying that you should tell everyone all your business. Some people aren’t safe. But pray about it. You never know who could benefit from hearing that their struggles aren’t unique to them, and that they’re gonna be OK.
I guess that’s why they call it “airing it out.” Because after it’s done, you can finally breathe.

That’s all.

What I Learned From Tinder Part II

There was one guy, let’s call him Luke. (That’s not his real name so stop stalking my Facebook friends’ list.) He thought it was really cool that I worked in ministry, and he actually works pretty close to my job. And he was cute. And tall. With facial hair. And tattoos. And these eyes that just…well, you get it.
We chatted a bit and then decided to text. Like, in real life, on real phones. Things were getting real. We had WAY too much in common (we shared some of the same childhood friends. Yikes.)
I will spare the boring details of our talk by saying that we talked about everything from celebrity crushes to favorite foods to our favorite Constitutional amendment to…what our kids would look like. Now before you start with the “Hope, stop being all girly and jumping the gun,” HE sent me a pic of a baby. I was a little startled by his vulnerability, but I kinda dug it at the same time. Although I know guys think about the “what-ifs” in relationships, it’s always kinda cool when they share them with you.
I have to admit, I was wondering how far this was gonna go. He had us down the aisle a couple times, and I just went with it because, well, it was kinda nice to have someone fall for your personality like that. I mean, he’d seen 5 pictures of me and whatever filtered portraits I had on Instagram, and he was super into me based off our text conversations. There were several guys whose conversations just fizzled…but he admittedly stuck around for my personality.Needless to say, I was super excited to meet him. So we planned for it and kept talking.
And that’s when it started falling apart.
I mentioned something about if we started dating, and the same man who sent me a picture of a BABY and talked about his honeymoon with me FREAKED. THE. HECK. OUT. He told me how Iwas going too fast for him and I had “inflated expectations.” Ummm…YOU SENT ME A PICTURE OF A BABY!!! More boring details occurred, including me telling him about himself, and we never met. But we’re still Facebook friends, and as far as I know, he still works near me. So he might read this, and I might still run into him…but at this point, who knows what, if anything, we’ll have to say to each other. This experiment wasn’t supposed to go like this, but it led me to discover points 8 and 9:

8.  When people tell you who they are, believe them.
In one of the first texts he sent me, he told me he was burned so badly by his ex that he was very afraid to jump into another relationship. I should have taken that more seriously. But I didn’t. And that’s my fault.

9.  I am a girl.
Being on Tinder legitimately boosted my self-esteem. Even if we never spoke, I was stoked about who I matched with because the “cute boys” thought I was cute, too. Then, talking with “Luke” made me feel like, well, like someone out there thought I was good enough to plan a life with. And I’m more than just “girlfriend material.”

I fell for someone online. 

I am one of those people, and I am not ashamed of it. It’s not stupid or naïve to fall for someone, and putting yourself out there is courageous. I will admit, I went into this ready to make fun of all the desperation there is in the world, but if wanting to find someone to make a life with makes you desperate, then I’ll take that charge.
I learned quite a bit through this experiment, and although Tinder was swiftly deleted from my phone afterwards, the biggest thing I learned is that what I want the most is to be wanted. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I have finally accepted my need to be accepted, and there’s a weird peace that comes with that. I think it’s coded in the female DNA to want to be a wife and a mommy. And for years I have been working on other ambitions. Those are awesome, too, but now…I might finally want to give myself to someone, something bigger than myself. It felt good to feel like there could be a possibility for marriage and kids one day. People attribute that feeling to little girls who romanticize everything after watching some Disney movies, but what Tinder taught me is that seeking that beautiful happy ending is not a pipe dream, it’s a sign of growing up.
So I guess Tinder helped me to grow up…

God has a sense of humor.