This Labor Day, my roommate and I decided to take advantage of the weekend's BEAUTIFUL weather and get outside! Here are some snapshots from our Crabtree Falls hike!
Have you ever watched an artist work? Stood still, captivated by their movements, seeing the brush held confidently in their hand dip into the paint and then glide along the canvas almost effortlessly? It seems fluid and graceful, like the brain and hand are in perfect synchrony as the art comes to life.
Last fall, I was still recovering from knee surgery when a street art festival took place at the Carytown Bus Depot downtown. Still shaky on my feet and learning to walk again with this altered knee, I went to see the murals.
As I entered, I saw a man painting. He was working on a stretch of wall outside of the main area, on a side street with little traffic and few passersby. I stopped and watched him work for a few moments. He wasn't being showy or dramatic or drawing any attention to himself, he was just quietly at work on a stretch of coated brick on a design I couldn't quite make out yet.
Thinking back on how he created his art, I remember little things: slow, steady, moving and adjusting and improvising, skilled, constant.
The more I've been shaping my project of seeking and sharing stories, the more I've been embracing thinking of God as Artist and Author. I'm seeing Him at work in the stories I've heard, even just the few so far: slow, steady, moving, adjusting, improvising, skilled, constant. They haven't been stories of divine, radical, earth-shattering moments, but rather of an ongoing journey of grace and learning. I've seen God like that street artist, doing His work and designing His art in quiet ways, not demanding attention, but gracefully bringing beauty to life where there once was just a dirty space.
The design doesn't always make sense as it's being worked on. It isn't always obvious what the final product will look like. I'm learning that's the best part of it all, the trusting in the process, trusting in the hand that holds us, trusting that the things that are worth it take time and patience and a willingness to adapt.
I'm learning that my story is never finished, that there will never be a time when the Artist gives up and walks away. I'm learning that grace is abundant, that mercy has been given to me, that love says "you're worth working on, the best is yet to come."
I'm still learning to walk, but now it's more learning to walk in steady step with my Savior. I'm seeing the beauty in every story, the signature of the Artist stamped on every life, the brushstrokes of grace in every piece of heartbreak and renewal.
What an Artist. What an Author.
On May 8, 2013, I journaled my pre-surgery thoughts. Anxious. Weird that this is the last time my knee will ever look like this. Nervous. Feeling sick to my stomach. Anticipation-- of a new hospital, unfamiliar place and people, having to stay overnight. Afraid. Alone. Overwhelmed by another road to recovery ahead.
It was the night before my fourth knee surgery in four years. This one was a biggie-- they were cutting my knee all the way open and doing a whole new technique that would require weeks of no mobility, crutches, physical therapy, pain.
My journal entry included a passage from that day's reading in Jesus Calling: "Begin each day anticipating problems, asking me to equip you for whatever difficulties you will encounter. The best equipping is My living Presence, My hand that never lets go of Yours. Discuss everything with Me. Take a lighthearted view of trouble, seeing it all as a challenge that you and I together panhandle. Remember that I am on your side and I have overcome the world."
I had the big surgery. I had a rough, drugged up, uncomfortable night in the hospital. I couldn't move, couldn't get up to go to the bathroom (major shout out to my parents for helping me with that whole deal...not a pretty sight). It was a tangible kind of scary, it was agonizing, it was identity-stripping. Everything became a monstrous chore. Just trying to sit up when my leg was trapped in three kinds of machines and strapped down and locked in a metal brace from hip to ankle was nearly impossible and enough to bring me to tears. The medicines made me sick like they always did, so the doctors resorted to prescribing me high doses of Ibuprofen that never came close to dulling the pain. I felt everything. I could do nothing. I was stuck in a body that didn't work right, and all I wanted to do was crawl out of my own skin and run (literally run) away from it all.
One week post-surgery, my journal said this: Thankful. Encouraged. Proud of the progress I've made. So grateful for Mom and all of her constant and selfless love and serving me. Feeling confident. Ready to start PT and start moving. Stoked I can sort of shower now!
Two weeks later, a page is just full of big, bold words. Thankful. Sustained. Restored. Filled. Created. Hopeful. Confident.
That transformation still blows my mind. I've never seen a clearer picture of feeling dead to coming alive, feeling destroyed and counted out to hope and confidence. At my absolute lowest, what I felt was thankfulness. In the midst of the most agonizing pain, I felt sustained.
May 25, 2013: Abba, my circumstances are shaky and unsure, but Lord, my confidence is in You and You alone. Thank you for who you are, for how you constantly refuel and restore me and give me new strength every morning. Thank you for showing me abundant love and grace when I don't deserve it. Thank you for calling me daughter, beloved, Yours. You are so good.
A year later, my scar looks a little worse than it did at first. The new technique my surgeon tried on my stitches wasn't very successful, and it looks more gnarly now. The warmer weather means my knee isn't hidden under pants anymore. People notice it. People ask me about it, almost daily.
It's a story. It's my story. It's a five inch ugly scar, but I'm proud of it. I'm proud of what it means for me, the lowest points, the hardest battles, the sweetest little victories, the endless, grueling process of progress. I'll probably never be a marathon runner, but I walked a 5k recently. That's a victory. I'll probably have more surgeries in my future, probably have to go back to physical therapy for more rounds of treatment, probably will see more surgeons and get second opinions, but for now, I'm maintaining and strengthening all on my own. That's a victory. I used to be so dependent on any painkillers I could stomach, used to cry and yell in frustration when I had to try to bend my knee a few more degrees, used to need my mom's help to try to shower with my leg sticking out the side of the tub and have her help bathe me as I tried to hold steady and not slip...but now I'm me again. I'm moving, working out, walking, showering (biggest success, honestly), being normal again. What a sweet, sweet victory.
Yes, I am thankful. I wouldn't wish this whole journey on my worst enemy, but it's my journey, and the Lord is good and constant and faithful through every step (with crutches or without). Here's to hoping this next year is surgery-free!
Graduation was May 4. Today is June 4. I graduated college one month ago. What?!
Since I had a major knee surgery just a few days after graduation, I didn't immediately go into a new job or internship or jet off on some awesome adventure. Because of my surgery (and the countless hours on the couch that followed), I've had a lot of time to think and reflect and pray and just meditate on God's word and what He's been teaching me. (A lot of time to watch Netflix too...but that's beside the point.)
Here are a few things I've learned in the past month:
1. I'm powerless on my own. Yes, I learned this in a very real and physical sense, as I was literally unable to move or walk or stand or do just about anything on my own. In the hospital after surgery, I could hardly feed myself, stay awake for a five minute conversation, sit up in bed, go to the bathroom, anything. I was completely dependent on the awesome hospital staff and my incredible parents. I was weak, I was unable, I was powerless. I learned a lot from this. I learned how to be thankful for the attentiveness and compassion of those who were constantly serving me and helping me. I learned humility in a whole new sense. I learned to be grateful for the little victories. I was reminded of how, on my own, I can do nothing and be nothing of any significance. I need Christ, I need His strength, I need to rely solely and fully on Him as my Rock every day.
2. I am deeply loved. I'm a huge fan of love languages. Mine's gift-giving, closely followed by words of affirmation. In the past month, I've received so many letters and cards from so many relatives and friends and small group girls, and it has made my heart so happy and full. I received flowers from my grandma and one of my girls, and they've been lasting reminders of how loved I am by so many incredible people around this country. My mom's love language is acts of service, and she has poured out more love through serving me after my surgery than I can ever thank her for. I felt so loved by her as she showered me in her love language. My best friends have been so great about checking in on me and encouraging me and reminding me I'm strong and not alone and that I am loved.
3. God will provide. He has provided hours in the day to get all my classwork done for my Maymester courses, He has provided opportunities for me to meet with people who helped me discern more of my calling, He has provided incredible relationships with people I never expected to be close with, He has provided encouragement in so many ways, He has provided ways for me to make money this summer as I start to try to figure out what's next for me, He has provided community for me at church and in the college ministry, He has provided. Abundantly. Constantly. Perfectly.
4. Be thankful for the little things. There have been a lot of big changes in my life in this past month, and a lot of big uncertainties. But throughout all of it, I've been staying focused on the little things, and seeing God in them constantly. My knee is a big mess, but every day, there are little successes that I've held on to and been proud of, and they've given me strength to keep fighting and pushing onward. It has changed my attitude over time to be one full of joy and hope and thankfulness. God is so big, so mighty, so incredibly powerful and sovereign, and He has been wrapping me up in love and light and so, so many beautiful, wonderful little things.
5. Community is everywhere. I left JMU knowing community would be what I missed the most. I lived in a great community in my house, I had an incredible small group that I was a part of, and a wonderful small group I was blessed to help lead. I was a part of a massively awesome chapter of IV. I had a community of God-loving women at work. I was surrounded, everywhere I went and in everything I did, by strong communities of believers. In the past few weeks, I've seen community start to form and blossom here in Richmond. I've connected with so many people at Hope (who knew a huge knee brace and some crutches could be such a great conversation starter!), and found people I know I'll grow closer to this summer. I've reconnected with old friends, and gotten to know totally new people that have come to be so meaningful and important to me. Community isn't just at JMU. Community is in people. Community is the body of Christ coming together, and that happens everywhere.
It's been a month since I said goodbye to my time as a student at JMU, and almost a month since my knee surgery, and I'm so thankful and so blessed that I've had this month to learn and grow and just deeply rest in who God is. I'm thankful for the lessons I've been learning, and the ways in which my heart has been growing. I'm thankful for being forced to slow down and appreciate every little thing, every person in my life, every tiny victory and new step (literally). I have no clue whatsoever what adventures are ahead, but I'm savoring this time of rest and slowness and growth before God opens up new doors.
What's God been showing you this summer so far? I'd love to hear, and I'd love to be praying for you and for what's ahead in these hot and humid months!