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Friday, July 7, 2017

jumping for joy in june

it's hard to think of witty titles for blog posts. i'm just not that creative. but ya know, june made it easy to jump for joy. when i moved back from south carolina in 2012, i had absolutely zero intention of staying in arkansas long term. arkansas is home because my family is here, but arkansas is not home in the sense of community and happiness. it was strange to move "home" to a place that felt nothing like home at all. i asked god week after week why he brought me back here. "lord what are you doing with my life? why would you take me from columbia, from a loving church family, a solid community of friends? why would you take me back to arkansas, a place that did nothing but hurt me, to relationships that burned me and left me broken? why would you do that? what are you doing in the background? please lord help me have peace, help me understand." so celebrating 5 years back in arkansas this month almost took my breath away. it is so hard to believe it has been 5 years. i feel like it was yesterday we were loading the u-haul and trucking back across the country.
i've gotten to see glimpses of why i think he brought me back here, and let me just say that he knows what he is doing. he took me out of contentment and comfort and put me in unknown and scary. because you know what? when i am content and comfortable, i don't need god. so when i got too comfortable, he said "alright time for a change, let's bring you back to me." and back to arkansas i came. 5 years is a long time to be somewhere that you didn't want to be in the first place. i have spent 5 years not really getting plugged in on purpose, because i didn't want to be here. when you build relationships and have community, it is a lot harder to leave. so instead, i just didn't. it's been a lonely 5 years because of it. but at the same time, i wouldn't change it a bit because i have needed god more in these 5 years than ever before. i have learned to listen for him in the daily tasks, to seek him in the hard times, to trust him in the details. i have cried out to him when my heart is breaking, and praised him when his faithfulness is revealed again and again.
he brought me to arkansas to be close to my family. i have been given the gift of being an aunt up close and personal. i have had the opportunity to pour into their lives and watch them grow and help them learn and have had so many adventures my heart could burst. i have chased sunsets, had way too many treats, and have had the best snuggles. he brought me to arkansas to support my parents through lots of changes and hard times. being in arkansas so i can be close to my family is the ultimate gift, and i'm so thankful he knew what he was doing when he brought me here.
he brought me back to arkansas and led me to sunshine school. i had no clue what i was doing when i applied for a job there. it was kind of a last ditch effort because i had such negative interviews with public schools. i spent so many days and nights just crying because i needed a job, but i didn't want to work in public school special education. the interviews i had were all great, i was offered several jobs, and i cried every time i got the phone call because i knew i would be miserable. so i applied for a lead teacher job at sunshine school. and when i showed up, they interviewed me for something completely different because i had a masters degree in special education. i met their qualifications and they took a chance on me. and LORD THANK YOU for that. i have met some of the greatest families through sunshine school. i have helped parents learn how to advocate for their child. i have made friends. i have built relationships. i have made a difference. i have watched kids take their first steps, use their first words, drink from a cup for the first time, make eye contact purposefully, i have celebrated the tiniest milestones because for us they are huge, and i have mourned the challenges and setbacks alongside families. i lost my mentor to a hard fought battle with cancer, and have been left grieving that and all the changes it brought with it. i have learned about gardening, what is a weed and what is a plant, how to cultivate life from a tiny seed, how to use my time gardening to worship and pray and tell beth how much i miss her. god knew exactly what he was doing when he closed the door to public schools and led me to sunshine school. and you know what? 3.5 years ago when i started working there, i had no idea what i was doing. i had almost zero management experience, had never worked with families directly, and had never had a real full time job. but now, today, i wouldn't know what to do without sunshine school. i got a promotion in may, and it was just the boost i needed. its been a tough year, lots of changes, lots of challenges, and i was in the dumps. my leadership team recognized my abilities and asked me to step up and take on more. and i needed it. i panicked at first, because "what if i mess it all up, what if i can't do it, what am i getting myself into, this is too much, theres no way i can manage all of this"... but then god told me flat out that i would accept the promotion and i'd be okay.
so here we are now, being fearless and trusting him again. trusting him in another year in arkansas. trusting him to lead me in this new role. and trusting him to take away my fear and replace it with confidence and courage. i can do this. 

may and mental health

another awareness month that i love. may is national mental health/anxiety/depression month. sometimes i joke and say things like "hi I'm emily and i have anxiety" like i'm at a recovery meeting. but jokes aside, it's not a laughing matter at all. anxiety is crippling. i don't do so many things because i'm too worried about the traffic i'm going to have to fight to get there, the amount of people in the crowd i don't know and will have to touch to get by, the small talk i will have to have with people that don't really matter. i worry about every little detail from the beginning to the end, which makes the whole experience just suck. so instead, i just don't go at all. i stay safe in my little apartment haven. i hide from the world. i hide from strangers and unknowns and new situations. i make excuses and then cry because i missed out again. i get my feelings hurt when i stop getting invited, even though i probably only made one of the last 10 invitations i was given. can i really blame them for not trying when i always have an excuse?
anxiety is tough. it strikes at any moment. it hits me out of nowhere. it's unexplainable. i have learned how to manage and am getting better at recognizing the symptoms before they hit me full force. but most of the time i can't control it even when i see it coming. i still panic. my heart beats so fast i feel like i can't breathe. i cry so much, or am always on the verge of tears. i close my eyes and try to breathe deep. i pray, ask god to calm my anxious heart. and i breathe deep again, waiting for the storm to pass. if you don't suffer from anxiety or depression or mental health issues, it can seem like people who are suffering are just exaggerating, trying to get attention, overreacting.. but i promise you, we can't help it. if i could take a deep breathe and have it all go away in an instant, it would be a dream. sometimes, most of the time, its not that easy. a lot of times the fear wins and i am stuck in my brain without a way to calm myself. but sometimes, i close my eyes and take a breathe and i can move on. i can't control it. anxiety and depression are true disorders. there are a lot of days when i can't get out of bed. i wake up crying with a heaviness on my chest that is unexplainable, and i can't move. the overwhelming sadness, the heaviness, it doesn't make any sense when it happens. how can i just wake up so sad? sometimes it hits me if the middle of a perfectly normal day. how can i be functioning, having a great day, and then as fast as i blink it all changes and i can't shake it. it affects every aspect of my life. it tells me i'm not good enough, i'm not worth it, i don't deserve anything good, that i'm not beautiful, that i'm not loved or treasured or cared for. it ruins relationships, it hinders growth, it breaks me. it jumps into my heart and mind and turns everything black and cold. and it is as real as the sky is blue. it is thick and fierce and unmanageable. i have to fight it every day. i have learned that it's okay to admit when i'm having an off day. most of the people who have stuck by me are happier to hear that i'm struggling than to have an excuse. they remind me to breathe, that it's going to be okay, that i am loved and valued and worth it. they send me scripture, preach truth to my heart, and help me fight the darkness. and i will be forever grateful for those people who haven't walked away, but instead pulled me in closer. i know it's hard to love someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, so thank you for believing in me and helping me. god is showing me that i am worth it, i am loved and treasured and adored and beautiful and valued. he drops truth bombs on my heart right when i need them. he gives me the courage to get up and keep going, to open my eyes and fight through the darkness, and trust that he is there and he is good. and i couldn't be more thankful for that truth.
if you know someone that struggles with a mental health disorder, love them anyway. love them through it. support them and encourage them. they are worth it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

april was a long month

it was a really long month. april is usually one of my favorite months. it is autism awareness month, national child abuse prevention month, and sexual assault awareness month. it is my littlest loves birthday month. it was easter this year. i had so many things planned, so many reasons to celebrate, and then life showed up and reminded me that I am not in charge of the plan, that sometimes the plans don't make any sense and the plans are hard and sad and not fair. and that's how april was for me.
april was a month to celebrate both life and mourn loss, to navigate through the messy and hard and unimaginable at the same time i was celebrating life and love and miracles. april, you were a long month. a tricky month. a month that was so hard and so good and so sad and so happy all at once.
april is always one of my favorite months because of its awareness days. it's an honor to stand up and celebrate the kids i work with who have autism. it's an honor to walk alongside their families as they navigate through what the diagnosis means and how it changes the path they are going to walk. it's messy and hard and can be heartbreaking, but at the same time, it's exciting and beautiful and so much fun. autism doesn't define a person. autism doesn't make you less of  a person. different is beautiful. and autism should be celebrated, not mourned. it will be messy and challenging and mean things may be different than you dreamed about, but it doesn't mean it is the end. celebrate your child being different, celebrate their milestones, the successes no matter how big or small, celebrate their LIFE. because it means something. it is worth something. and it matters.
child abuse prevention awareness is also something near and dear to my heart; partly because of the line of work I'm in, and partly because I have so many littles in my personal life. nothing wrecks me to my core like having to make a child abuse hotline call. nothing makes my heart ache and my stomach turn like calling child protective services after a child tells me what is going on at home. i will never understand this side of heaven why children are abused, and that is something that I just have to come to terms with. but you know what God is showing me through these circumstances? he is showing me that I can be a constant, stable, loving person for that child. he is teaching me to be a strong positive adult in their lives. he is teaching me to turn to him when my heart is broken because of yet another case. he reminds me that he is holding that child in his hands and that he will use this part of the story for his glory. and that is beautiful and sacred and it is so incredibly hard to trust in. but no matter how sad the story, how horrible the abuse, how broken the home... god is still good. and i have to tell myself that over and over and over some days, and that's okay.
sexual assault awareness month hits me straight in the heart. the statistics of sexual assault are staggering, heartbreaking, unbelievable. as a victim/survivor myself, i know first hand how heartbreaking and unbelievable sexual assault is. its been almost 12 years, and sometimes it feels like it was that long ago, and some days it feels like it was yesterday. sometimes i wake up and can't breathe because i had a nightmare, and sometimes weeks go by without me thinking about it. living with a trauma is such a strange phenomenon. on one hand the guilt and shame, the negative self talk, the denial, those things are unbearable. but on the other hand, the pride of surviving, the strength to face another day, the courage to talk about it and not bury it anymore, thats the good stuff. that's what it's all about. also- can we talk about rape culture for a second? because this shit sucks. the fact that i sometimes still have the thought "maybe i did deserve it, i was really drunk, i had a not so classy outfit on, i kissed him earlier in the night" is flat out bullshit. all of those things don't matter, because at the end of all that, at the end of the night, i did not ask for what happened. so f rape culture and rape shaming people, making us feel like it is our fault or maybe we deserved it, f that. that needs to stop. no one asks to be assaulted. 
so, besides awareness month- april is one of my favorite months because it's Finn's birthday. and ya'll,  that is a freaking miracle to be able to celebrate his birthday. when he was born at 27 weeks, i was fairly sure that we wouldn't celebrate his first birthday. i will praise god forever for what he did with Finn in the NICU because it is really nothing short of a miracle. but you know what? celebrating his birthday was hard. because at the same time I was getting amped up to go visit for a long weekend, i was grieving the loss of a dear friends perfectly healthy baby. how do you celebrate the life of a baby who shouldn't be alive at the same time you mourn the loss of a perfectly healthy baby who should be? that beauty from ashes, broken and beautiful stuff is so hard. it caused my heart so much turmoil that i didn't really even know what to do. i couldn't process either one because they were both so unreal. this is one of those things i will never understand this side of heaven, just have to trust that god knows what he is doing. grieving and celebrating at the same time is something my heart can't process, and that's okay.  i still praise god for Finn's life, and yell at him for taking Ezra. i praise him for the miracle of Finn's life and curse him for the loss of Ezra's. and i'm learning that both are okay.
also, i ran my first 5k. and i didn't die. and i did it in less than an hour. which i know is ridiculously slow, but whatever. i'm ridiculously overweight and can't breath so i'm proud of myself.
april, you were crazy. crazy beautiful, crazy hard, crazy tragic, and crazy magical. crazy, april.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

March Madness

I said this already, but when God challenged me to be fearless in 2017, I had no idea what that was going to look like.
I'm not good at facing my fears. I tend to hide in the background rather than face things head on. I think He was laughing when He put this word on my heart because He knew how challenging it would be for me, while knowing all the while that it would mean I have to trust Him in ways I can't even begin to understand in this moment.
When He followed up "hey Emily, trust me and be fearless this year" with "trust me and be fearless this year by rappelling off a 6 story building in front of a group of people for a work event, and oh yeah it's going to be below freezing and raining that day and you're going to do it anyway", I could have died on the spot. I mean, excuse me WHAT the freaking what?!!
When I signed up to participate in the fundraise for Sunshine School, I never thought I would hit my goal and raise $1,000. (I really just wanted the Jack Links jerky gift box that was a gift to those who signed up first.) I kept saying "it's okay if I don't meet my goal, any money I raise will still be for a good cause"... aka: please don't let me raise the full amount because I might throw up or pee my pants or die if I have to actually rappel. But wouldn't you know, my people came through and I met my goal of $1,000, and I had to rappel off a 6 story building in the pouring, freezing rain. I couldn't feel my hands, so holding the rope was really difficult. I couldn't get a good grip on the wall, you know, because of all the freezing rain and such, so I was just panicked the whole time I was rappelling. I ended up in one of the last groups of the day, so I had worked myself into a mess by the time it was my turn. I actually called my mom to say goodbye- no laughing- because like what if I really fell and died? y'all it was ridiculous the amount of fear I had.
But you know what? I did it. I trusted Him. I trusted him enough to step off the roof of a building in the pouring, freezing rain. I trusted Him with my life, literally. and I survived. and I had a sense of pride and accomplishment in myself that I haven't felt in years, maybe if ever. It's so easy to avoid the hard things. It's so easy to stay home, to not face it, to avoid things and people and conversations, to just hide in the background like I prefer. But I didn't, and it felt so good
But God, my man, please don't make me step off any more roofs in the rain to be fearless. Can we make a deal that one time is enough? (ha, kidding, I already committed to do it again next round, Lord willing). 
cheers to being fearless. march was complete madness. and i loved it.