A Year of Mess and Miracles

Spoiler alert: This story has a happy ending. A way happier ending than I could have ever written. In fact, this is the complete opposite of the story I thought would one day be told. I always knew this story would be shared eventually, but truthfully, I always imagined that it would be someone else telling the story of how I died. But it isn’t. Its me sharing the story of how I lived. This is not the ending I was prepared for, and I’m still processing that deeply and painfully. But nothing compares to the gratitude I feel. I am so thankful that, for once, I was wrong. It truly is a gift to be aliveSo that being said,
here is the story of my miracle:

At the beginning of 2018, I was given the opportunity to receive a spinal cord stimulator implant to treat my severe Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I had been fighting my insurance company for months on end, anxiously waiting for approval. On February 7, I had surgery to place a temporary SCS trial, to make sure that the treatment was effective before doing a more invasive surgery for a permanent implant. After 7 days of virtually pain free bliss, it was determined that my trial was effective enough for a permanent implant.

I was told that March 14, 2018 would be the day that my life would change forever. I thought THIS was the miracle I had been waiting for, and for a day or two, it seemed like I was right. I had zero complications during or immediately after the surgery, and I went home that day with a 100% effective stimulator. I had no feeling (aka no pain!!) from my ribs down, exactly as we had hoped.

Miracles all around, right?

But then slowly it seemed like that miracle was turning into a nightmare. I hadn’t really been able to eat since the surgery. At first we thought it was just normal recovery from major surgery and major painkillers, but day after day I vomited everything I put in my mouth. I had no nutrition in my body, and on day 9 post op, I couldn’t even stand on my own two feet. I found myself alone in the Emergency Room late that night. I assumed I would just need a few liters of fluid to rehydrate and nourish my body, and a few doses of Zofran to end the nausea once and for all. I knew I was wrong when they kept coming in to take more blood. Something wasn’t normal. I soon found out that my kidneys were slowly failing and my body was in metabolic acidosis – my blood was completely acidic, toxic to my body. I was admitted for three days on a sodium bicarbonate pump, with a fun potassium crash thrown in for good measure. My body was a wreck.

Upon being discharged, I was still unable to eat without medication to stimulate my stomach to digest. It was as if my stomach was suddenly paralyzed, and nobody could tell me why. My pain management doctor, the one who implanted my SCS, told me that it was merely a coincidence that my stomach became paralyzed the same day he implanted the device into my spine.

I believed him. Why wouldn’t I?

Despite a few extra pills each day, my life moved on. I thought I had made it through the worst of the storm, and things could only go up. They certainly couldn’t get much worse. I rebuilt from the ground up – I reenrolled in school, I started a new job, I started going out with friends again. Things were certainly hard and different, but I was still pain free thanks to my stimulator, so I was endlessly thankful.

Of course, all of that crashed and burned again in the middle of June – only 3 months after the surgery.

In the most confusing and devastating ways, it was discovered that the stimulator in me had completely malfunctioned. It needed to be removed, and a new one implanted.

Why?

Because they were implanted incorrectly the first time. Nothing was anchored, the leads were out of place, and that cant be corrected without surgery. Remember my paralyzed stomach? Yeah, it wasn’t a coincidence. The stimulation had been covering my internal organs – obviously, not good.

The next several weeks were the most heartbreaking blur of my life. Every day I was on the phone with my doctor’s staff, the insurance, or my caseworker. If I thought it was hard to get this surgery approved the first time, then nothing would prepare me for the insurance battle the second time. The insurance wanted nothing to do with this. They paid for this very expensive surgery less than 4 months prior, why would they want to pay for it again? It wasn’t their fault that the first surgery was botched. They denied the claims endlessly, and I ran out of options.

My caseworker called me for a final time the morning of August 27. She told me it was over. There was nothing she could do anymore. The insurance company’s decision was final: I was not worth the cost of saving.

I was a case number with a price tag… not a human with a name.

That night was the lowest of my entire life. I knew that I wouldn’t make it without this surgery. I had absolutely no hope left and honestly, no desire to advocate or fight for myself at all. It was easier for me to assume that the insurance was right – my life was not worth saving. At this point, I knew that no matter what I would be dropping out of school, and probably losing my life in one way or another. There just didn’t seem to be any other option.

But by the next morning, there was another option – a complete miracle.

I got a text from a friend that morning while I was picking up breakfast at Panera. This wasn’t just any random friend, but one who means a lot to me and knows me and cares for me better than anyone. She has a lot of qualities and experiences that I benefit greatly from every single day, but there’s also one thing she has that legitimately saved my life that day: a dad who is the kind of doctor that treats my disease and does the surgery I need.

Without telling me, she had shared my situation with him and asked him if he could pull off a miracle and save my life.

He said yes.

I was being handed a literal miracle as a gift, with a perfect bow on top. And yet, I was still full of fear and doubt. How could this be real? What does this even look like? If I accept this gift – that means travelling and surgery and recovery, none of which is fun for me. If I turn this down – it likely means certain death. I never thought “life and death” situations were real. I thought they were just made up plot points to add drama to books and movies.

I chose life that day.

A few days later, I was sitting in his office in Abilene, 4 hours from where I live. He showed me my leads on the fluoroscope and confirmed that this busted stimulator was the cause of all my problems, and that he would be more than happy to fix it… at no cost to me.

A nearly $600,000 surgery, completely pro bono.

(Disclaimer: because he and his staff are way better than any of my previous doctors, they were ultimately able to get insurance approval for me in time for the surgery – but with this miracle story, it was the thought that counts)

A few weeks later, on September 24, my friend brought me back to Abilene and it was time for the surgery to be done – correctly, and for a final time. Because her own dad was my doctor, she got to stay with me the entire time, including in the OR. The surgery went perfectly, and everyone says that the device taken out of me was clearly not ideal – it was massive and just not done correctly. There was a ton of scar tissue in my spine, but everything went in flawlessly and all I’m left with is two perfectly imperfect scars.

Exactly 1 year after my botched surgery, and 6 months after my final miracle surgery, I have a perfectly functioning stimulator and virtually no feeling in my lower body.

This whole experience was overwhelmingly healing for me in many more ways than I originally anticipated. I have massive amounts of medical trauma, mostly stemming from an abusive doctor that performed 5 surgeries on me when I was only 13 years old. To be able to feel safe in an OR for the first time in my life was such a gift, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Knowing that there are doctors out there that care for patients as humans, and not just case numbers, has completely changed my perspective.

The entire process of receiving and accepting this miracle was a beautiful illustration of the mysterious ways that God works, and how He will literally take me to the ends of the Earth (or just to Abilene…) to show me how much I’m worth to Him and the people that love me.

I realized shortly after this final surgery that this whole journey was always intended to end like this. Both of my implant surgeries served a purpose – the first one showed me that my pain could be healed. The second surgery showed me that my heart could be healed.

Healing is an ongoing process, and I still have a ways to go. But now that I’ve made it this far, I couldn’t be more thankful for where I’ve been.

Thankful for my miracle.

What Happened Next

Wow, hi Internet. I missed you.I know I told you I wouldn’t run off again, but nobody should be surprised. I’m here now. I found some time to sit still and think and write, and that’s exactly what I’ll do. I owe you an update, I know.

I’ve been spending every day with my favorite people and friends, and one thing seems to be consistent: they all just want me to be real. They ask about my writing. They ask where it is. They know me well enough to know that once I’ve lost my ability to write my thoughts, I might as well have lost it all. I’ve been telling them that I just can’t right now – surely nobody wants to hear how challenging things are. I never wanted this to become a negative space. My people have been telling me that it doesn’t matter, that you want to hear it all. As one friend put it: I have to tell you the truth about my reality, if only just so you know how to better love me and pray for me. Wow I have the greatest friends!!!!

So, where do we begin?

Lets go back to what I last told you a few months ago in this post: I spent several months last fall waiting for a surgery that never happened. My doctors decided that a spinal cord stimulation is pretty much my only option left for treatment of my Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. For the first time in my life, I agreed and I was READY for that surgery. Well, as you know, it was cancelled indefinitely when my insurance denied to cover it. In fact, from that point on, my insurance cut me off completely. I spent the last few months of 2017 paying for everything – appointments, medications, even my flu shot. I was incredibly defeated and angry. Insurance companies have never been my friend.

What happened next?

January finally rolled around. Thanks to my dad’s job, I have a different insurance company this year. I met with my doctors as soon as I could, and we immediately placed an order for the spinal cord stimulator. We scheduled it for early February, and we waited. I waited three weeks. I am not always the most patient girl, but patience is probably the one thing I’ve learned the most about this year. The week before the surgery, the insurance still hadn’t made a decision. I was told I had until the Friday before the surgery to get approval.

Friday happened.  I called my case worker one more time, knowing full well that she had spent the entire day on my case. In the most casual way, she told me she hadn’t had time to call me yet… but it was approved!

Wow okay slow down. I found out FOUR DAYS before my surgery that it was ACTUALLY happening. That was terrifying. You see, I had given up by then. I had decided that it would be batter to prepare myself for another denial. I thought that was the safer route. So when I got approval, that was a whole different experience that I wasn’t ready for. I’ll share more about those emotions some day soon. I want you to hear about it, just not right now.

So yes, the surgery happened. February 7th. It was the most insane day.

My sweet sweet sweet best friend picked me up bright and early and we made the hour long trip to north Austin. We prayed in the car and headed upstairs, and I was in pre-op five minutes later. While I was being prepped for surgery, I met at least a dozen different people who would be in my OR, each one with a very specific job to ensure that everything went perfectly. Everyone was ready to go, and I went under with no problems. But nobody was prepared for what would happen next.

First, let me tell you that the surgery itself went perfectly. Everything went in exactly as it should have, and ultimately (spoiler alert) it was a success.

I wasn’t even out of the OR when the seizures started. There were 3 of them. I remember being slightly aware between numbers 2 and 3. I remember hearing the staff call EMS while someone else put what I assume was a breathing tube in my throat. They didn’t have time to secure my airway before the next seizure started. The last thing I remember is being rolled, and my only thought was “please don’t ruin this stimulator.”

I’ll make this really long story a bit shorter by telling you that it had a happy ending. I was taken to a hospital, and ultimately my seizure disorder was finally diagnosed as hypomagnesemia. I don’t know why, but this ER doctor ran some tests that must have been missed before, and I was discharged a few hours later with a new body full of magnesium for the first time, and a bunch of supplements to take. I still have a bit of a journey left to go on with the seizures and tremors, but I at least see the light at the end of the tunnel there.

Back to the stimulator.

After my little trip to the hospital, my team of St. Jude representatives turned on my device. I’ll make a post on the science behind spinal cord stimulators later if you’re interested, but for now I’ll keep it simple. The whole point of the device is that it is supposed to cover up the pain in my lower body. The insurance looks for a 50% improvement in pain… and I got 80%! The device they put in on February 7 was just a temporary trial to see if this had potential. With so much success, I’ll be getting a permanent one implanted in about 2 weeks.

There’s so much more that I want to tell you. But for now I’ll leave it here. The excitement is dying down for a minute in between surgeries, so I finally have some time to reflect and prepare for round two. I’ve had to give up so much for this journey, including school and work, but I know that I’m going to get so much more in return.

 Alive Blessed Grateful

I might be a little nervous, but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m so so SO happy that I get to share this whole thing with you. I hope you stick around to see what happens next. I’ll try not to leave you in the dark this time.

With all the love,

A

 

 

New Year, New Site

Teaspoon of Sprinkles, New Website

Hey friends! Happiest of New Year to you!

If you’re anything like me, you LOVE fresh starts and new beginnings. For some of us, this day is the beginning of new journeys towards dreams we can’t even fathom right now.

About a year ago, this little place right here was my dream. I had been writing for Teaspoon of Sprinkles for six months, and it was growing faster than I could believe. I knew that someday I wanted to truly own this place and the words that I wrote, but I never knew if that day would come. It was my goal to own the rights to my content, I wanted the power to choose who and what I worked with, and what I was able to share with the world.

If you’re not a blogger, I know what you’re thinking: “Ally, ToS has always been yours. It has always been your content. Your blog. Your site.”

See, it isn’t that easy. In the next few weeks I’ll dive into more of what it means to become an independent and self-hosted blogger and own your rights, but for now, just trust me that this is a huge deal. Like really huge.

Enough about me, what does this mean for you? Content UPGRADE.

In the last few months I’ve been contacted by companies and brands that I LOVE and want to share with you, but haven’t been able to. But now, you will have access to all of the surprises and deals that I have been holding onto for you.

You’ll get more consistent (shhhhh!) and quality content, along with some fun free things along the way.

Wow this is like my own version of Christmas!!!

I want to stop right here and say thank you to those who have made this transition possible. From the girls in my blogger communities, to my sister who tells me I’m pretty almost every time I ask, and my friends who stop me from doing stupid things but encourage me to chase my dreams. Every single one of you rock. A lot. Forever.

Okay, so where to now?

For today, feel free to get to know our new site. Under “contact” above, you can send me a message or pitch a deal if that’s what  you’re into! You can also find my Instagram feed over there and join in on the daily shenanigans.

Are you new here?

Welcome!!!!! Yay!!!!!! Head on up to the “About” section in the main menu, and learn about me (Ally) and my service doggie (Mali). I also recommend going back to these posts just to get a feel for what you might find here on any given day: Teaspoon of Sprinkles Part 1 and Part 2.

Make sure you look over there on the right side of your screen and subscribe to this blog, that way you will NEVER miss a post. Were you subscribed on the old site? Go ahead and subscribe one more time just to be safe. My content made it over here, but I’m not so sure my subscriptions did.

THIS IS SO EXCITING. Make sure you stay connected on all of the social medias, and check back often for fun new content. I promise not to let you down.

Leave  a comment down below and tell me what you would like to see more of here. I want this to be a place for you, just as much as it is for me!

With all the love,

A

Stuck Right Here

Six weeks later… here I am. I miss this space, and I think about it all the time. But currently I don’t feel like I have any thoughts worth sharing. Things are pretty negative around here. The best news I have for you is that I put my shoes on this morning without crying. Literal baby steps.

Last we talked I told you about the two part surgery that I was looking forward to. It was scheduled for mid October, and then cancelled. The insurance denied it. Multiple appeals later, still denied. I’m pretty devastated but holding on to the hope that my team will find a way around this roadblock. We have some options to look into, and other doctors offering to help. I’m frustrated, but my friends and family are pretty good at keeping hope alive for me. I probably won’t share any more about this surgery until the device is permanently in my body, just to keep you all out of the mess. In the meantime, I’m medicated and hiding from the world in my closet. It’s safe in there.

Like I told you before, I can’t make any promises of scheduling or content. But I want to be here. I have some ideas in mind- things I want to say/do/show you. In the next few days, I’ll be sharing a comprehensive review of the She Reads Truth Bible, and probably some cute pictures of my dog because we all know she’s the reason you’re here!It’ll happen as my life allows, and as I find the words and courage to keep this space alive. Until them, you know where to find me.

Tell me something good in the comments down below. Give me a reason to celebrate today.

With all the love,

A

A Month to Forget

Hey friends, here’s an unexpected Saturday post for you. This one’s coming from my lil bitty heart after a lot of conversation with friends (both personal and blogging friends) during the most unexpected month. We all came to the conclusion that raw and unedited honesty seems best for now.

I’m really frustrated, in a whole lot of ways. A month ago, I sat down and planned all of my blog posts for the month of September. I had all of the outlines written and even had the whole first week written and scheduled (which is why you got posts for a few days earlier this month). I even had a few brand deals in the works, and I was so excited.

And then I got sick. Like, really sick. Sicker than normal. It always starts as a sinus infection, and ends with much more extremes than that. Two hospital trips within 24 hours, my parents even had to come down here and stay with me for a while. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I have very few memories of that week, and I know that is probably for the best. I remember crying a lot. There were a lot of literal and figurative pills to swallow. A lot of phone calls to be made. A lot of things to figure out.

Less than a week after the first trip to the ER, I found myself in the office of a new pain management specialist. Meeting new doctors, filling out millions of forms, retelling my story dozens of times. I’ve gone through this stage of treatment a few times in my life, and it never gets easier. I hate telling my story, believe it or not. I can do it in bits and pieces, but when I have to look someone in the eyes and tell my 9 year long story in one breath – that takes more strength than I currently have.

This new team immediately scheduled my first surgery. They said it would be my first of at least 3 (but more likely 6) before Christmas. I drove home running through all the memories I have of being in the OR – none of them worthy of reliving. The procedures I am currently having done were done on  12 year old Ally too. They didn’t work back then. The “doctor” I had at the time told me it was my fault. He ruined a lot of potential healing for me.

One week later: I’m in the OR. They took my dog away from me, even threatening to kick her out of the building for not having “papers” (remember: theres no such thing as SD papers). They had drugged me enough to make me forget why I was scared. I don’t remember going to sleep, but I remember waking up. I remember the gold fish crackers that the nurse fed me.

I remember feeling warm. CRPS takes away my ability to regulate my body temperature. I have been about 3-4 degrees colder than a normal person for 9 years. I was warm.

For a minute, the surgery worked.

That night came the fever. The headache.  The infection. The pain in my back that prohibited me from even feeding my own dog. Friend’s were in and out – feeding me, walking my dog, holding my hand. It sucked. A lot.

The pain in my back is still not gone. My legs are no longer warm. But my doctors see some hope for me.

So I’m having the same surgery repeated in 5 days. We’re hoping for the same warmth, and maybe even some pain relief. We’re just hoping. Or rather, everyone else is hoping for me because I’m currently still frustrated and hurting.

A few weeks later will be the big surgeries. A “pace maker for my nervous system” (aka a spinal cord stimulator) is being implanted to replace the pain in my legs with a more tolerable and less painful sensation. It’s a two part procedure that is meant to last 8 years. This is my big hope. This is my biggest chance.

Enough of my month long sob story, I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: I don’t know what to do with this space now. Some days I’m just too tired (or drugged) to write and edit. Some days there’s nothing to say. I can’t commit to a schedule, and I definitely can’t commit to content. I have no idea what is about to happen with these upcoming surgeries, but what I do know is this:

Writing is often my only outlet, and even the only way I can form words at all. I’ve been encourage to share this journey, and to be honest. I’ve been reminded that there may be one other person out there, or millions, who need to hear my story. Why not tell it as it’s happening, rather than wait for an outcome that may or may not occur?

So here I am. I don’t know how often I’ll be here, or what I’ll have to offer. But I’m here now, and ready for whatever is next.

I hope you’ll stay here with me.

With all the love,

A

Forgiveness

Hey friends, a little disclaimer here: I wrote this post two years ago and kept it hidden away until I found it last week. IT was incredibly heavy on my heart then, and super relevant now, so I think it’s time to share. Let me know what you think! 

 

Forgiveness is such a weird thing. If you’re in a position where you find yourself needing or wanting to forgive someone, that means that they’ve done something to hurt you. They’ve caused pain in your life, whether it is a small scratch on the surface of your heart, or a deep laceration straight into your soul. Pain is pain. None of us enjoy it. We all want it to go away. Some people believe the way to make that ache escape us is to cut the person who caused the ache out of our life. That might work for a hot minute, but I promise you that it won’t be the most fulfilling healing process. True, genuine, complete healing begins when we forgive.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean the pain never happened. It doesn’t make the current moment any better than it is, but it’ll make your future so much lighter and brighter. When you take the opportunity to forgive someone who has done you wrong, you open the door to building stronger relationships and the chance to replace the negative memories with positive and lasting memories.

You see, we forgive because we are forgiven. We learn by example. Our Holy Father has taught us that forgiveness is such a blessing, and such an opportunity. Every day, constantly, he is forgiving us for our wrongdoings. No matter how many times we mess up, he continues to love us all the same. When we sin, his heart aches. Not because we have hurt him, but because he wants so badly for us to do better. He see’s so much potential in us. He knows that we are capable of so much more than whatever situation we are stuck in. He forgives us eagerly, every chance he gets. When we reach out to him and ask for forgiveness, his heart bursts with that forgiveness and love without a second thought.

Why can’t we be the same way? Instead of seeing the negative things people have done to us, why can we not believe that those people are worth so much more than their downfalls? Why can’t we see the potential in people to learn and grow from their mistakes, rather than wallow in the pain?

Forgiveness is hard. It’s so hard. I get that. But The Lord won’t cause us pain without allowing something beautiful to grow from that pain. We just have to take that first step towards becoming more like Jesus. Loving more like Jesus. Forgiving more like Jesus.

With all the love,

A

It’s Not a Race

Today is my first day of senior year. I’m supposed to graduate in May and start a real job and be an adult. It’s supposed to be almost over.

I won’t be graduating in May. Or August. Or even next December.

If all goes according to plan (fingers crossed) Malibu and I will walk the stage in May of 2019. A whole year late, because I dropped out one semester, cut down to part time in the middle of another semester, and will continue to be part time for 4 more semesters. It’s been frustrating and exhausting and disappointing. I’ve spent a lot of my school days feeling like a failure as I struggle to balance life with school. It’s been this way since I got sick in the seventh grade, and I’m assuming it’ll be like this for every season of life to come.

Instead of continuing to feel defeated and disappointed in myself, I’ve been trying hard lately to appreciate the progress that’s been made. I’ve come much farther than I ever anticipated. I can remember a time when I thought my illness would stop me completely. There was a point in time when I didn’t think college was even an option for me. My first semester I went from walking to wheelchair almost over night, and still managed to get a 4.0. I worked incredibly hard to get myself back to school after taking a semester long break for treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. I’ve shown up to school just hours after being discharged from the hospital, and battled symptoms and fatigue just to make it through an exam. In fact, this past Summer, I had class Monday through Friday for 10 weeks straight and was only absent once.

These are all things that I never thought possible. As disappointed as I was that I’ll be in college longer than what’s expected of a girl my age, I’m equally grateful now to know that I do have the ability to succeed.

Who said college had to take four years and not a semester longer? It’s not a race. I’m not losing, and I’ll cross the finish line eventually. Until then, cheers to senior year (and the senior years to come!)

With all the love,

A

Tips & A Testimony (Guest Post: Cassie)

Hey y’all! I’m Cassie from Anchored in Amazing Grace & I’m so excited to be here! Today I will be sharing a bit of my testimony and how it affected my freshman year of college, as well as a few tips for all new and returning college students.

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So I’m gonna keep it somewhat vague, because detailing out 19 years would make for a quite lengthy read, but I’ll jump right into it. Now I’m gonna share a bit about who I am & what God has taught me in my short time on this earth.

I had a pretty “normal,” stereotypical, Christian childhood- I was a happy kid who attended church 2-3 times a week, and I was usually quite optimistic and cheerful. At the ripe age of 7, I decide to ask Jesus Christ to be my savior- because that’s what Christians do & my parents were proud. It was very exciting. As a 7 year old, though, I didn’t quite grasp the power of God’s love, or what being a Christian entailed. I hadn’t really gone through anything that tested my faith, so how could I not believe in and trust this wonderful creator I’d been learning about in Sunday school my whole life?

About a year later, God gave me the gift of dance- a sport that became a huge part of my life in the years to come, but it had rocky beginnings that I didn’t quite enjoy. In fact, I was absolutely awful. I’d never really been bad at anything before. I was considered quite smart for my age back in the day, as I did very well in school and took part in the Gifted & Talented program, drama clubs & other sports I participated in. But dance… yikes. Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent, God gave me dance. I didn’t know it then, but this was working towards a grander plan for me! The next summer, I was about 9, my aunt lost her battle to cancer, and within 2 consecutive months I lost 3 other family members. This was my first experience with death & I was unsure how to handle it. I continued going to church- I didn’t really have a choice- but something changed inside me. I felt anger, confusion, and darkness fill me. I believed in God, but I was upset with him for taking the people I loved from me. How can this perfect, merciful creator I have been praising take the lives of his creation early? Why them?

 

For the next 8 or so years, the childhood illnesses I had progressed and caused me a lot of problems. I went to dance as my release, and advanced quite quickly because all of the pain I bottled up was only released while I danced (and I attribute that to keeping me alive- Thank you, God for giving me a creative outlet), but inside and outside of the studio, I faced severe insecurity, bullying, depression and anxiety. I carried around so much darkness & wore a sparkly, perky facade so that no one- not even my parents- would know how I felt on the inside. I knew all of the “Sunday school answers” at church & didn’t get into trouble. I didn’t rebel, at least not in the way other kids did, but I was crumbling.

Fast forward to high school. I was on the drill team when I suffered a hip injury that made me unable to dance for 6 months. That was an adventure. I struggled fitting in, as I was shy & very self conscious. At this time, every girl was dating & guys paid no attention to me- which only built on my insecurity (pro tip: don’t rely on guys to make you feel beautiful- you already are and God loves you SO much!!). I was still struggling with my health & anxiety, and the stress of school got to me- I’m a perfectionist and nothing I did ever felt like enough, including who I am. I was not confident in myself: a nerdy, passionate, artsy, caring & introverted individual. I focused a lot on being someone else and that was not okay. I continued walking my distorted and dark road that was disguised by a sparkling facade that I had created. I continued to let the devil convince me how horrible I was. I didn’t have any joy most of the time, and I didn’t care to be alive. I didn’t have suicidal thoughts, but I didn’t really care if I lived- if something happened to me. That’s such a dangerous place to be in & if you or someone you know is there, please get help! So summer rolled around & my father got very sick and was hospitalized. My dad is my best friend and this was a breaking point for me- but also my turning point. We weren’t sure if he was gonna make it and I didn’t know what else to do. My siblings had already moved out, so it was just my mom and I at home. I tried to be strong for her, I didn’t want her to see me cry. When I was alone, I bawled my eyes out. At dance, I released all my pain. One day, I was particularly stressed and turned on my pandora to hear a song I hadn’t heard in a while by one of my all time favorites, Relient K. The song was “For The Moments I Feel Faint,” (check it out, so beautiful!) and one line struck me: “never underestimate Jesus, they’re telling me that there’s no hope, I’m telling you you’re wrong, when the world around you crumbles, he will be strong.” I fell to my knees and cried out to God, and prayed for a few hours to help my dad, and to help me. An instant weight was lifted off of my shoulders & I rededicated my life to Christ. It hasn’t been an easy road since, but my perspective has changed. I’m genuinely optimistic and am a lot more secure with who I am. I found God and he brought me through my darkest points & I dove into the word. I began to believe I was beautiful, that I had worth, that I didn’t have to be perfect, that I deserve love and that I am not alone. This has made all the difference. My dad got better & is doing better than he’s ever been. We’ve been facing financial struggles & I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness that is sometimes quite unbearable, but I am able to face it and fight it with optimism and hope. Hope to use it for his glory & hope to overcome. This hope comes from Christ. I am just a mere vessel that was constantly getting lost at sea, but Christ is the anchor that stabilizes me and keeps me from capsizing adrift.

This newfound hope has helped me so much with my journey of getting to college and actually living on my own in a new place. I just want to offer love, hope & encouragement up to all who are reading this. You’re not alone and through Christ, you can get through anything. Keep the hope, stay anchored.

Before I go, here a few must-haves/tips for all college students:

  • Emergen-C: y’all, I swear by this. Everyone gets sick in college, but this really helps boost your immune system!
  • a planner! It is so important to keep a routine and stay on top of your schedule/deadlines to help reduce stress
  • Okay not really a thing, but check your email daily! You never know when due dates change, classes are cancelled/rescheduled, or when extra credit opportunities come up!
  • Brita water filter: this comes in handy if you’re in a dorm and need a way to stay hydrated, because sink water isn’t ideal!
  • Go to office hours! I kid you not, this is so important when it comes to success in your class and final grades. It could be the difference between a B and an A!

Thank you for reading, and feel free to stop by sometime! I talk about God, school, missions, and the occasional nerd blurb!

“Sea” ya later,

Cassie

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,”

 -Hebrews 6:19 NIV

Service Dog FAQ: Public Interaction

Hi friends!! First of all, I’m so sorry this post has been delayed… BUT today I’m excited to share some basic guidelines and answer your questions about service dogs and public interaction! As always, if you want to know more or have other questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on any of the social medias!

  1. Can I pet service dogs? They’re so cute! Short answer: probably not. If we’re going to be technical, if you absolutely can’t ignore it, ask the handler if you can pet their dog. Sometimes they’ll say yes, sometimes they’ll say no- it really depends on the environment and situation. Either way, ASK first. Also, pay attention to their patches if they have any on their vests. Some dogs (like mine) have patches that specifically say “Do Not Pet.” When in doubt: please don’t pet a service dog.
  2. Why can’t I pet a service dog? Once again, there’s no simple way to answer this question. Basically, petting and interacting distracts a service dog. Some dogs are alert dogs, and if a stranger is distracting the dog from doing its job it might miss an alert and put their handler in danger. Some dogs help people who have severe anxiety and the interaction not only distracts the dog, but also makes the handler anxious or uncomfortable. Ultimately, it’s just not a good idea to pet a dog. Also: please don’t make kissy noises or any other sound to distract my dog while we’re walking by.
  3. My kids are scared of big dogs. What do we do when we see a big service dog? I’ve literally been asked this question, and I really don’t have an answer for you. I used to feel guilty when my dog made a small child scared. I do have a fairly large dog, but most people tell me she’s beautiful rather than scary. I get it, everyone has their phobias (hello, I’m terrified of cats). To be brutally honest, there’s nothing I can do for you if you or your kid are scared of big dogs. I won’t avoid a place just because people there are uncomfortable with my dog. She’s legally allowed to be there and I know she’ll do no harm. You do not have to be near my dog if you don’t want to be. I suppose the best you can do if you or your child are scared, find ways to learn about dogs and the good work that service dogs do. Be assured that service dogs are polite and well trained, and will not hurt you.
  4. My friend has a service dog! Can I pet it while we’re out since I know the dog personally? Probably not. I have a lot of really great friends who love me and my girl. When we are at home or settled in somewhere, sure you can pet my dog! Especially when her vest is off. Malibu loves a good belly rub. But when we are out in public or walking around a store, I’d prefer that Malibu be left alone. First of all, if people see my friends petting the dog they assume that they can pet the dog as well. Also, I need Malibu to be focused on me, and not paying attention to what everyone else is doing. It all comes back to the idea of not distracting the service dog. I promise that you will have plenty of play time with your friend’s dog when it isn’t working!!
  5. What should I tell my kids when we see a service dog? My favorite question!! First of all: tell them not to pet the dog… but then explain why! Tell them that the dog is special, and it’s working. Explain to them that service dogs are trained to help the person they are with. My trainer likes to use the superhero analogy, and the vest is their “cape.” Use whatever analogy works for your child. Most importantly- use it as an opportunity to educate them! Nothing makes me happier than hearing parents educate their children on service dog rules and norms. Education is the most important aspect of service dog interaction.

Have any more questions about service dogs? Let me know! Next up in our series, I’ll do my best to explain the training options and processes and what goes into making a dog a service dog.

With all the love,

A

The Hope in Saying “No”

Hey friends! I definitely fell off the radar again, between moving into my new apartment and breaking my collar bone and turning 21, I’ve been a little busy. BUT! I have a ton of new things that I’ve been working on, and super cool opportunities coming up that I literally can not wait to share with you.

But today I’m a little broken hearted.

This morning I had the chance to buy really cheap tickets to tomorrow nights Ed Sheeran concert. I would get to go with a friend that I love and it would have definitely been a night to remember. I’ve been listening to the Divide album on repeat for MONTHS and it’s one of the only secular albums that I know every lyric to.

But, I can’t go. Why? Because I’m a sick kid.

The same reason that I can’t go to parties, movies, conventions, or even church some weeks.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go. I knew that the lights would stimulate my broken brain too much, the sound would hurt my bones to the core, and the crowd would terrify me to no end. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring my service dog to help with my symptoms, and I knew that any medication I took would put me to sleep before we even arrived at the arena.

And yet, I still did everything I could to make it work. I could picture the perfect night that I wanted. The fun we would have, the memories we would make. I was excited and the anticipation of going was nearly unbearable.

Once I made the realization that I would have to say no, I was devastated. I’ve had to say “no” way more often in my life than I’ve been able to say “yes.” I’ve missed so many birthday parties, Six Flags days, concerts and even camps and retreats because my body forced me to say “no.” I’ve always felt deprived and isolated and less-than because of that.

My first question today was why did I get so excited when I knew the answer was going to be no? I knew this was an unrealistic situation, so why did I even bother entertaining the idea?

After being sad for a solid 4 hours, I realized that the entire reason I experience disappointment is because I have hope. If I didn’t have hope, there’d be no reason to ever get disappointed. For nearly an hour today, I had SO much hope in going to the concert that I completely forgot my limitations and pain.  I have the hope of one day living a normal and healthy life (whatever that may look like), so therefore it’s devastating when I am reminded of my current inabilities and differences. That’s not to say that my hope is lost, because it definitely isn’t. It just means my present reality has to be altered a little bit.

So at the end of the day, I’m feeling a whole lot of gratitude for my heart’s ability to find hope amidst devastation. I’m thankful for that hour of extreme anticipation and hope this morning that allowed me to completely forget the realities that I’m facing currently. I’m comforted in knowing that my hope has not been lost, and that someday I will get to have that perfect and healthy body- even if that might not be here on Earth.

With all the love,

A