My Diagnosis Doesn’t Define Me

Yup. You read that right.

Looking at my medical chart you’ll find a laundry list of spinal conditions, digestive issues, nerve damage, and prescriptions to help manage all of that.

But just because my medical chart says one thing, doesn’t mean I live my life by that.

June is Scoliosis Awareness month and today is the first day of June, so I thought this post would be fitting. Throughout the month of June I’ll post fun facts and stories of what it’s like to have and live with Scoliosis. It’s something that I don’t talk about very often, but something that I think needs to be talked about more.

Scoliosis is a chronic disorder of the spine.  80% of Scoliosis cases are Idiopathic, which is just a big fancy word that means there’s no known cause. I fit into that 80%. Throughout my life I’ve seen countless doctors, had quite a few surgeries, couple spinal fractures, and lots of stitches, staples, and steri-strips.

But it hasn’t stopped me from living my life. Sure I’ve had to put things on pause for surgeries and injuries, but on the other side of the spectrum, I’ve accomplished things I never thought I’d be able to do.

Sure, life has been anything but easy, but we all have things that we go through. This is mine.  I’ve physically gone through hell and back, but through it all, it’s made me who I am today. I may have a chronic disability, but it doesn’t have me… and it never will. If anything it’s helped me find my voice, it’s strengthened my faith, and only made my relationship with God that much stronger.

If you don’t understand my perspective, it’s okay. It’s most likely because you haven’t walked a day in my shoes and honestly, I wouldn’t want you to. But, I have an opportunity to speak for those who either cannot or don’t want to for whatever reason. I haven’t spoken out for years because I’ve faced a myriad of opinions and perspectives (some that have been hurtful). But as I get older, the more I realize that this is my story. This is my version of what it means to say “it is well with my soul”. This is my refining fire. My life, my story and most importantly my faith isn’t discredited because of what you see on the outside.

So throughout this month, I’m going to open up in ways I haven’t before. I’ll give you a glimpse and snapshots of what it’s like to walk in my shoes. My hopes in doing this is not only to raise awareness of Scoliosis, but to also shed light on how it feels to be in the waiting season of my healing. Life is a journey we all have to walk…. Welcome to a little bit of mine!

 

The Pieces of our Healing

I love puzzles. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. I always love the challenge of seeing the picture of the final product, but opening the box to hundreds of pieces that look like they have nothing to do with one another… and the more pieces, the better! Anything under 500 pieces, I wouldn’t even look at. The more the merrier! As I get older, I still love them. I hope I never stop loving them!

Recently, I’ve learned a new perspective that has changed the way I not only see puzzles, but the way I see my life.

Our healing is like a puzzle.

If the light bulb hasn’t gone off on your head yet, stay with me…

When something hurts us, when we go through a painful situation, when we break… we become a puzzle. Our feelings of wholeness and certainty come to a crushing halt when obstacles in life knocks us off our feet and break us into pieces. Sometimes it’s our heart, sometimes it’s our minds, and sometimes it’s physical. But when it happens, you know it…. you feel it… and it hurts.

But you’re still in the game.. the game just looks different than you imagined. Sometimes, a situation breaks us into a few pieces.  {I’ll call this a 25 or 50 piece puzzle} The pieces of your life aren’t put together, but they’re big enough that you can easily tell which piece goes where. Healing usually doesn’t take too long in this stage because you know all the pieces and can easily put them in the right spots. You’re good to go in no time, you wipe the seat off your brow, and get back to your normal.

Sometimes, storms in life break us a little more than that. {I’ll call this a 200-500 piece puzzle} When you first take a look at all the pieces, it’s intimidating. How do you know you have all the pieces?? As you begin to put the puzzle together, you find like pieces and group them together. You establish the frame of the puzzle and go in from there. Sometimes a piece looks like it goes in a certain spot, but all it does is deceive you. This puzzle takes time and concentration, but the more you put into it, the more you start to see it coming together.

Last but not least, there are times when we get blindsided by obstacles or circumstances in life. {These are 1,000+ piece puzzles} They’re brutal, merciless, and oh so very frustrating. Challenging is an understatement with these puzzles, but no matter how challenging they may seem, they’re never impossible. Sometimes you look at the outside and think of how easy it will all come together, but when all the pieces are on the table, you realize you may have bitten off more than you can chew. This definitely isn’t a puzzle you can do in one evening and if you don’t have patience, forget it. But, if you are intentional about putting it together and making sure it’s done correctly, over time you’ll find that puzzle come together perfectly!

Our healing is like a puzzle…

When we face an impossible situation, when we get an unexpected diagnosis, when we experience hurt from a loved one or friend, {insert your own painful situation here},  it breaks us into pieces. Sometimes it seems like a bigger challenge than we thought, sometimes it seems like not all of the pieces are there, and sometimes it seems like our healing is taking forever to finally come together. But, just like the most impossible of puzzles has a very real and possible outcome, so does your healing. Trust the process, take the time you need, and don’t rush. There will be moments when two pieces feel like they’re supposed to go together and you can’t figure out why it’s not fitting, but when you take a deep breath and take a closer look, you find that those pieces were never supposed to be together in the first place.

Healing takes time. Sometimes longer than others. Don’t beat yourself up if your healing is taking longer than someone else’s. But also, don’t judge the person who’s healing is taking longer than yours. You never know how many pieces their puzzle of healing contains. It’s not until you sit down with the individual and get to know them that they start to unveil what their puzzle looks like.

Have you ever put together a puzzle with friends? It goes a lot faster than if you just put the puzzle together by yourself. Not only are there more hands to help, but there’s more eyes to see all the pieces and just how each piece fits together. There are times when someone sees how two pieces fit together that you may have originally missed. Different people bring in different perspectives. Most of the time, it’s helpful! Sometimes, people get frustrated and leave… But it’s all part of the process.

No matter what your puzzle looks like, trust that there’s a bigger picture…. AND that you have all the pieces you need. Sometimes, a person will come along and help you figure out where a missing piece goes. Other times, someone will come along and scatter some pieces because they don’t understand. Learn who you can trust with the pieces of your puzzle. Your puzzle is composed of all the broken pieces of your healing. Your healing is possible and it will happen. Maybe it’s just around the corner and maybe it’s years down the road but I promise you, it’s coming.

How do I know? I’m still putting mine together.

 

Love and blessings,

Lauren K. ❤

It’s all in the genes…

My life has been a consistent series of one medical mystery after another. For those of you who don’t know my story, I’ll start off with a short recap.

Before birth, I had a hole at the base of my spine. If I had been born with the opening still there, the doctors informed my parents that I would have been born with Spina Bifida. By the grace of God, the opening closed up before I was born and I was delivered a healthy baby. Fast forward nine years and my school nurse discovered that my spine did not run down the center of my back. I was recommended to an Orthopedist who told me I had a severe case of Idiopathic Scoliosis. Upon further investigation, I also had a condition known as Syringomyelia. Needless to say, my life was filled with explaining how it’s spelled, how to pronounce it and what it is (even to some nurses)! My parents and I did countless hours of research to get a handle on what I was dealing with and I’d say we did a pretty fantastic job!

Throughout my middle school and high school days, I dealt with insecurities, bullying, and people who just didn’t understand what I was going through. But, I also found strength and beauty in what I was going through. I loved any and every opportunity I had to teach people about what I had and how my life was impacted by it. If they were lucky enough, they even got to see my scars and x-rays!

After all of my back surgeries, visits to the hospital, and bumps in the road, life felt the smoothest it had in a very long time. The only thing I really had to deal with was chronic pain, but those were only on the bad days. I went back to playing sports, traveling, and enjoying everything life had in store.

That was until the end of last year….

Like I said above, the only thing I’ve really had to deal with are the tough pain days. I live with chronic pain, but in comparison to what I’ve been through, I’ve learned to deal with the punches as they come. I just call them my “bad days”. I have good days and I have bad days. On good days, I am productive, I have energy, and my pain level doesn’t effect me. Bad days are, as you would expect, a whole different story. Bad days are when my pain is at a 6 or higher (on a scale of 1-10), when my brain feels like it’s in a fog, and when my energy levels are running on empty. Even after a good night’s sleep, a bad day zaps my energy just by getting out of bed. Some days I can’t even do that…

Towards the end of October, I noticed I was starting to have more bad days than normal. I had pain in new places, and that to me is always a mental red flag. As the weeks went on, the pain wasn’t going away, in fact it only magnified. I met with a series of new doctors that, over the next few months, would ask me lots of questions, run multiple blood tests, and try to get to the bottom of what was going on. Good days were starting to become few and far between and I was starting to worry just how bad things were going to get before we found out what was going on. Finally, a new rheumatologist found an answer. He discovered that I have a genetic form of arthritis called Spondyloarthritis. (yet another word that’s fun to spell….) It refers to an inflammatory form of rheumatic arthritis that effects my spine and my joints.

Ok… lets pause for a moment here. I apologize for throwing another big, complicated word at you. I promise that’s the last one… at least for now.

The news of this diagnosis brought with it answers and hope. Not only did we find the source of the pain I was experiencing, but this could also be a huge reason why I dealt with so many back issues growing up! Of course, that will take time to look into and connect all the dots, but this could be the big answer to all the little pieces of my medical history’s puzzle.  For now I still have an uphill battle to face, but it won’t last much longer. Soon my good days will go back to outnumbering my bad days and this post will be but another memory to reflect back on.

My life has not been an easy one, but it has been a worthwhile one. My medical history has taken me on a journey that has made me into the person I am today and I love who that person is. I’ve fought to become this person. What I’ve gone through and currently face may not define me, but it definitely has impacted and shaped me. But through it all, God has been there by my side.

There have been countless moments in prayer, in tears, sometimes even in anger that I’ve asked God “Why me?”, “Why am I still going through this?”, “Why won’t you take this from me?”.  Sometimes I get answers.. other times I don’t. But, no matter what, I keep pressing on. I won’t give up. I won’t stop fighting. Even on my worst days, I won’t throw in the towel because even when I feel like I have nothing left, my tank isn’t completely empty. Something in me says “C’mon… Just one more step… Don’t quit now”. It may feel like I’m holding on by the thinnest thread, but somehow it’s strong enough to hold me up. When it feels like my tank is empty and I’m running on fumes, there’s just one tiny drop left that keeps the engine going. So I pause, sometimes to rest, and then I pick myself up and keep going.

There will come a day when the pain will subside. There will come a day when my healing will come. But there’s a powerful story within the scars and pain that have been a huge part of my life. To deny my chronic illness would be like ripping out pages of a story; Without it, you wouldn’t fully understand me. I’ve never stopped praying, I’ve never given up, and I never will. Talking about my pain doesn’t define me. Talking about my pain gives others the strength to keep going when their bad days are overwhelming.

So to whoever you are,

You’re stronger than you know. When life beats you down, never stop getting up. Pain is real, but so is hope and healing. Rest when you need to, but never stop fighting. If the mountain in front of you seems to big for you to move, find other people who can help you move it with you. Not everyone will understand you, and that’s okay. Find the people that will unconditionally support you, love you, and pray for you and don’t let them go. Lastly, remember these words. C’mon… Just one more step… Don’t quit now.

Love and blessings ❤

Lauren K.

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Moments Away From Another Year

As I sit in my cozy apartment, approaching my 27th birthday, I can’t help but reflect on this past year and what it’s brought me through. If you had told me as a teenager that this would be what my life looks like, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. By 27, I thought I’d be married, living in my own house, and fully invested in a long term career that encompassed everything I loved. Sitting here thinking about 16 year old Lauren’s dreams of her future 27 year old self, I can’t help but laugh. But in it, I learned an important life lesson.

Thinking back to my 16 year old self, I was right smack in the middle of all my back surgeries. I was trapped in a whirlwind of hospital visits, x-rays and doctors. I thought about after surgery what life would be like. A decade seems like a long time when you’re a teenager, and I thought in 10 years time, not only would all of my hospital appointments be over with, but that I would somehow turn my life around and have it all figured out. Let’s all take a moment to laugh together…

When I graduated high school, I was heading into my third and scariest back surgery. The years following that, I couldn’t hold down a job and I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be/do now that I was old enough to start making serious strides to fulfill little Lauren’s promises of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went to college part time and tried different jobs, but between back pain and my inner self feeling like I kept striking out, things just didn’t stick. That was until I found Northpoint.

Four years after graduating high school, I signed up and shipped off to Northpoint Bible College. I may have only been 45 minutes away from home, but when you’ve had the past I did, it felt like I was in a different state. But deep down I knew it was where God was leading me. In the four years that I spent at Northpoint, I grew in ways I didn’t think possible. I was able to break free of the feeling like hospitals and surgeries were all life had for me. Sure I was starting from further back than most people I knew, but given my circumstances and my past, I was my own success story. God opened doors that no man could shut and four years later, I graduated with my class with my bachelors degree. Now some may say 8 years is a long time, but try telling 18 year old Lauren who graduated high school and three days later woke up from surgery unable to walk from a spinal stroke, that 8 years later she’d be walking the stage to get her degree. That’s a miracle to me!

Life continues to throw me curve balls, but I’ve learned how to hit ’em. This year, I got my degree. This year, I got my own apartment that I can afford on my own due to a full time job that I secured out of college. This year, I became an aunt to the cutest and most precious bundle of joy I know. This year, I’m still alive. I’m still taking one stinkin’ little step at a time (thanks Bertoni) and I’m still smiling.

Most importantly, this year I’ve learned that no matter what, you have to take care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack, give yourself some grace (.. and then give yourself a little bit more) and think about how truly blessed you are. Do something for you! Maybe that’s going on a vacation or taking yourself out to a restaurant. I guarantee you’re doing better than your inner self would make you believe. Set some goals and crush ’em! Go the extra mile for yourself and for others. Always find a reason to smile! Life isn’t easy, but it is beautiful.

The chapter in life that I’m on definitely wasn’t the one I thought I’d be on when I was a teenager looking forward. But looking back, I truly can’t believe how far I’ve come. It’s only by the grace of God that I stand where I do today as strong as I am. The future ahead of me has some pretty big mountains, but my past was full of them and I’m standing here today on top of them so bring it on. I’m proud of the woman I’ve become and the woman I’m fighting and striving to be.

We always have a picture of who we want to be when we grow up and where we think we should be when we’re a certain age. But it’s important to realize that you can’t compare your story to anyone else’s. Life is too short and crazy to compare your story or to beat yourself up over where you think you should be. Take a deep breath, look around, and be grateful for what you have. It’s when I stop and look around that I realize I’m not where I thought I would be, but I’m doing a lot better than I realistically should be doing. It’s all a matter of perspective.

So here’s to another year! Goodbye 26, hello 27! ❤

Love,

Lauren K.

Just Breathe

This short story/poem was originally written for a class assignment, but quickly became so much more than that. Four years ago this past January we said goodbye to my Auntie Jo and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. This story is in memory of her. Love you Auntie Jo. ❤️

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Just Breathe

Have you thought about it lately? That feeling that grips your lungs, pounds on your heart, wells tears in your eyes. Yup that one. It lessens over time, but every now and then it shows up out of nowhere. Just when you thought it was gone, someone says something, the memory comes back, and it hits you.

Just breathe.

It was an ordinary Sunday morning. I woke up, got ready, drove to church, and greeted everyone in sight. I saw some that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks and we shared stories to catch up and pass the time. Our core team got together, set the tone for the service in prayer, put our hands in the middle, and started service. It wasn’t until the last song on the set list that it hit me. You would love this song. Why that thought crossed my mind, I’m not entirely sure. But one thing I am sure of, you were there. My heart skipped a beat, tears started streaming and I could no longer sing…

Just breathe.

It’s been four years since I saw you last. Four years since the last time I heard your voice. Four years since the last time I gave you a hug. But sometimes, I swear it’s like you’re still here. I close my eyes, close myself in, and there you are. Your smile. Your laugh. I can still feel the warmth that I felt just being with you. I felt it this morning.

Just breathe.

I wish you could see me now. Where I’ve been, where I’m going, you’d be so proud. When you found out I was finally going to Bible college, I watched a smile come across a sick face that hadn’t seen a smile in a few days. It all happened so fast. The sickness spread faster than any of us anticipated. But before you took your last breath, the entire family was there by your side. I know you felt it. The only thing on any of our minds was one thing.

Just breathe.

The more time passed, the harder it got for you. We did everything we could, but at the end of the day, we knew it was time. It was an ordinary Sunday morning. I woke up, got ready, drove to church, and greeted everyone in sight. I saw some that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks and we shared stories to catch up and pass the time. But before service started, my guitar wouldn’t plug in. I switched to another cord, but that one didn’t work either. Nothing was working and service was going to start soon. What was I going to do?

Just breathe.

My pastor knew you were in a nursing home, and with a heavy heart, said maybe you should go be with your family instead of being here. At first I was frustrated, but when I got to the nursing home, I knew it was no coincidence. Everyone was there. No one was saying a word. Everybody knew what was going on. That was the first time that feeling hit me. My lungs tightened, my heart pounded, and tears welled up in my eyes. This was it and I wasn’t ready. But you were.

Just breathe.

The whole family sat around your bedside. You knew we were all there. One by one we kissed you goodbye and sat around you in silence. The feeling intensified. We all felt it. But you were at peace. You took a breath in and the sun parted through the clouds for the first time that day. Warmth, peace, and love filled the room. As you exhaled, the sun left. The warmth left. But the love remained. You were gone, but we remained.

Just breathe.

Four years later, the feeling still hits me. It’s not so hard anymore, but it’s only because time has helped heal the hurt. I know you’re with God. Everyone who was with you that morning does. And every now and then, you send us little reminders that you’re still thinking about us. Like this morning. In those moments, I close my eyes, close myself in, and just breathe.

THE END.

 

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Dreaming BIG in 2018!

As most of you know, last summer I went to the Netherlands with Northpoint Bible College. Through prayer meetings and growing closer to the people in the group, the closer we got to the trip, the more excited I got. Friends and family pitched in in amazing ways to make this trip a reality. Without you guys, this trip would have remained a dream. I knew God was asking me to take a leap of faith by going on this trip, but the end result was far beyond anything I could have imagined.

I watched God supernaturally provide everything I needed for this trip, but I also saw the impact that was made. As we spoke in churches, I watched God touch hearts with the stories that each one of us carried. My story of pain, surgeries, and the strength found in God touched so many people that I never thought I would have the honor of speaking to. I built relationships with amazing people, I prayed for individuals who were looking for hope and strength, and I cried with them as the peace of God comforted them. We were given opportunities to serve, to speak, and most importantly to love. We had days of outreach were we met people who had never understood how loved they truly were.

As we moved throughout the trip, we saw areas of church history that shaped Christianity today. I learned so much but the things I’ve grown up believing was brought to life as I walked where key figures in Church History walked. We also had a couple days of hiking that at first, didn’t seem possible. But, I watched how the group we traveled with came together and really became a family to me. These people showed me that even in my weakest moments, they were there for me. We were in this together. At times when I thought taking another step wasn’t possible, my friends took a step back to help me in continuing to take steps forward. I personally experienced the strength of God when I could not take another step in my own strength.

We may have only been there for a couple weeks, but we all made memories that will last us a lifetime. We laughed together, cried together, and grew together. The trip touched each of us and we all left knowing we experienced God move. Leaving the Netherlands, I knew one day, I would be back.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the timing. I figured that one day when I’m older I would take my family on a trip, or down the road I would go back to reconnect with the people I met, but God had other plans. It all started with a weekend on the Cape. A group of students went to the Cape for a weekend of bike outreach. While we went into it with the intention to serve, we were all impacted as well…

Here’s where my life went on the craziest but most amazing Amsterdam roller coaster I could imagine…

While we were on the Cape, the room we were staying in had the same scripture verse that Pastor Jan shared with us in the vineyard in Germany. At first I just thought it was a cool coincidence, but my heart was filled with joy as I remembered that moment. Then, people stopped in throughout the weekend and shared stories of their experiences in the Netherlands. Ok… Another cool coincidence? But the last person who came to share ended his time with us in prayer and that’s where this became more than a coincidence. As he was sharing his story, I started to cry because of how overwhelmed I was that everywhere I turned, everything reminded me of the Netherlands. When he was done sharing his story, some people went back outside to fix up bikes, but some of us held back to talk to him. Then we ended our conversation in prayer. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was probably the most powerful prayer session I’ve ever experienced. As each person prayed, I felt more and more of a tug on my heart to pursue this trip to the Netherlands this upcoming summer.

The weekend came to an end and we returned to school to resume our normal routines. But God had other plans… Throughout the next couple weeks, the school welcomed different people from the Netherlands; All people we worked with over the summer! It was a great time of reconnecting with them, catching up, and listening to them speak in chapel. But one night, one guest led a seminar about reaching a post-christian culture. I was interested in going to hear what he had to say, but also to reconnect with him. At the end of his seminar, he wanted to end with a time of prayer. While we all started to pray on our own, after a few minutes, the room went quiet. That’s when he said, he felt like there was a woman in the room who was being called to Holland. When she spoke those words my heart skipped a beat. Was it me? Was everything going on the past couple weeks leading up to this one moment? So many thoughts rushed into my head, but my heart knew this was for me. I responded to his question and he asked if he could pray for me. Without a hesitation I said yes and the same feeling that we had when we prayed at the Cape, came back when he was praying for me after this seminar. Two different people, two different places, but the same God.

After that moment, I knew without a doubt that I needed to sign up for this summer’s missions trip. The more that I hear about this trip, the more excited I get. It’s the same feeling I had last year, but this time it’s so much more meaningful. This time, I know what God can do on a whole other level. This time, I know that so many people are going to be impacted, including myself. This time, I know that it’s outside of my comfort zone that crazy amazing things happen. But just like last year, I can’t do it alone.

That’s where I ask for your help.

This trip isn’t cheap. Each member of the trip needs to raise $2,500. It’s a lot of money, but not an impossible amount to reach. I know that I can raise this much, but I need your help! Please join me in making my goal for 2018 become a reality. I know this is where God is guiding me, I know this is the next step after graduation, but I’m reaching out to my friends and family to make another dream possible. If you want to know more details about the trip, or if you would like to partner with me financially, you can find my profile and links to donate at: app.managedmissions.com/MyTrip/laurenkelly1 If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I LOVE to talk about what God is doing in my life! This season is filled with questions, but God is providing answers in amazing ways!

Another way you can help is please pray for this trip! Pray for me as I prepare to go back to do more work! Pray for the group as we come together to grow as a team. Pray for the missions trip that doors would be opened for us to reach people with the love of God and serve in new and exciting ways. Lastly, pray for the people of the Netherlands. That the work we do would impact the people we have the opportunity to reach.

If you can’t tell, I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to go back! I know that God is not done writing my story in the Netherlands and I need the help and support of my amazing friends and family to make this a reality! 2018 is going to be beyond anything I can imagine and I can’t wait to walk it out! LETS DO THIS! ❤

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Finding Joy in Tough Seasons

Christmas time is here! Loved ones travel to be together, all of the best recipes come out, and the first signs of snow gently fall from the sky. There’s a gentle peacefulness that fills the air, joy that fills our hearts, and happiness that is shared in smiles and cocoa. But, it’s not like that for everyone…

While most people find comfort, joy, and peace easy to come by during the Christmas season, others strive to find it. Where some are quick to give it, others beg to receive it. But you won’t notice…. Unless you’ve been there.

The Christmas season always comes with traditions. Whether that means you do the same thing every year, or you do something different each year, everybody has that one thing that “Christmas isn’t Christmas” until it’s done. Growing up, we always had Christmas Eve at Nanny and Bubby’s, followed by Christmas morning at our house, Christmas afternoon at Grumpy’s house, and Christmas evening at Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry’s. Lots of food, lots of family, but most importantly, lots of love. Looking back, it’s so easy to see how blessed I truly am.

But as we get older, traditions change (sadly!). We go to different houses, we change up traditions a little bit, or tradition is forced to change because you experience loss… This is where the merry and bright Christmas season is a little bit harder to come by.

Growing up, going to my auntie Jo and uncle Jerry’s house on Christmas night was one of my favorite parts of Christmas. The Christmas morning and afternoon festivities had come and gone, and I always looked forward to a nice, relaxing night of fun, leftovers, and one last chance to open gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved every part of Christmas, but Christmas night will always hold a VERY special place in my heart.

We’d park the car, mom or dad would unlock the door to get in, and I would race up the stairs to beat my family coming up in the elevator. Opening the door to the floor they lived on, you could smell their apartment. (Maybe it was how the rest of the building smelled too, but I always liked to believe it was just their place..) I’d wait for the elevator doors to open and my family and I would walk down the hallway to their door. Upon knocking on the door, bubby would usually be the first person to the door to open it. Bubby smiling with open arms, Christmas music and laughter in the background, oh how I wish I could revisit those days. The smell of the apartment flooded our nostrils as we walked through the door and instantly, my heart was full. I can’t describe the feeling of walking through the door of their apartment other than I just felt overwhelmed with love. Everyone would rush to the door to greet us, give us hugs, and ask us how the rest of the family was doing. We’d join in on the fun, grab a bite to eat (if we were still hungry….), and relax while sharing stories of Christmases passed. We would all gather in the living room and Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry sat in their respective chairs. We never expected our last Christmas there to be just that.

Losing a family member is one of the hardest things I can imagine going through. When Auntie Jo passed away, she left this earth as peacefully as she walked through it. My whole family witnessed the gates of heaven welcome her home. I even got to pray with her a couple nights before she passed away. But Christmas definitely isn’t the same without her here. Celebrating Christmas night at home felt weird the first couple years, like we were forgetting to go to one more stop before we went home… Even now it’s so easy to remember the way her apartment smelled walking up to it, to remember the hugs that she gave, and to remember the joy-filled smile that never left her face.

Today, I was reminded of a verse in Matthew that states, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4) My aunt passed away a few years ago, but missing her hasn’t faded and at Christmas time, I miss her even more. This year, we’re also experiencing our first Christmas without my Uncle Jerry. My family is incredibly strong and has been through a lot, but through it all, we only get stronger. I know that my Auntie Jo and Uncle Jerry are home with Jesus during this Christmas season and that’s where I find my peace in those moments of hurt.

When you lose someone, there’s no reason why. There’s rarely closure and the pain doesn’t go away. Memories stir up tears and heartache, and changing traditions becomes a little bit harder. In times of hurt, pain, and uncertainty, it’s crucial to look up instead of looking around.

In the last few moments I had with my aunt, it wasn’t until I prayed with her that my heart started to be at peace. Before that moment, I hurt for her, I hurt because I didn’t want to lose her, and I hurt because I didn’t want her to miss out on the adventure that my life was taking me on. But in the last few moments I had with her, I shared my life, my future, and where God was taking me and I saw something I hadn’t since she had been sick – her true, genuine, joy-filled smile. Praying with her was like taking all of my uncertainties and pain and trusting God that He knew what He was doing. In her last moment, God brought peace to everyone in the room. It was a solemn peace, but we all knew she went home peacefully. Did it take away the pain? No. But it did bring us together.

It’s in Christ that we find our comfort. When we look at Matthew 5:4, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, the context of the word blessed in this portion of text refers to the inner peace and joy we find when we’re right with God. This life is filled with uncertainties but when we look to God, we find the strength we need to keep going. Sure we may not get all of the answers that we are looking for, but we find a peace that surpasses all understanding, unspeakable joy, and an unfailing love. What’s required of us? A heart after God and faith the size of a mustard seed. Our God is not a God that sits up in the clouds and watches everything from afar. Our God sent His one and only Son to live on this earth as we live. His only Son who was crucified for the sins of the world and overcame death, in order that we may have an abundant life. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort us. A relationship with God isn’t an impossible thing to comprehend, but instead a daily reminder that without God, we have nothing. But with God, we have everything we’ll need.

So this Christmas season, as all of the cheesy people say, let’s remember the reason for the season. If Christmas brings you pain where it once brought joy, I pray that the peace of God overwhelms you this season. You are not alone. If you know someone who is going through a tough Christmas season, pray for them, reach out to them, and love them. If your Christmas season is filled with love and joy, I pray (in the words of Elf) that you would spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear!

Seek God, love God, and encourage others.

Love and Blessings. ❤