"What word would you like to focus on for this upcoming year?" A month ago, I met up with friends for coffee and one of them posed this question. We proceeded to each write down our word on brown paper Panera coffee cup sleeves. Mine? Authenticity--a word that I feel encompasses many different areas of life. For me, authenticity means discovering who I am beyond mother/wife/friend and finding the courage to share whatever that may be. Authenticity means not hiding when I'm struggling because "it could be worse" or because I don't want it to appear as though I'm seeking attention.
Little did I know that it would be the last time for quite awhile that I would feel comfortable in a social setting and that my quest for authenticity would be tested. It's a long story that I'm honestly just tired of talking about but in short, the day after that coffee date, I began a battle with a skin issue on my face that has resulted in the most roller coaster of a recovery that I could have ever imagined, including the discovery of a serious medical drug allergy that gave me a two night hospital stay. So...yes, it's been an interesting few weeks, to say the least. At the time of writing this, I'm still dealing with it but after a great deal of research and discoveries I can only attribute to God, I'm cautiously hopeful that we might actually be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sharing my current struggle is something I've gone back and forth on because this is not my personal blog but at the same time, it has felt impossible to write something that does not address what has been/is happening. It's deeply affected me in a way that no one beyond my husband and children have witnessed and it feels like time to share that with others.
My physical appearance is something that I have never been terribly bothered by. Honestly, I don't have high standards for what I look like when I leave my house. As long as I don't smell bad and my clothes are relatively clean, I'm fine. Winter is great because I can just throw on a big coat and hat and that covers up less than fashionable clothes & unkempt hair wonderfully. I've never worn makeup other than the occasional under eye concealer and mascara. Being self conscious about my physical appearance has just never been an issue for me--until the last month hit me. I was initially diagnosed with a condition that is highly contagious (something I know now was the wrong diagnosis and that what I have is NOT contagious) and so between looking quite rough and wanting to protect others from infection, I basically quarantined myself in my home. I gave my husband and children small hugs but no snuggles and definitely no kisses. I washed my hands at least 20 times a day. Aside from essential activities, I stayed home and when I had to leave, I put on a baseball cap and kept my head down to avoid as much attention as possible. It was isolating and lonely and hard, to put it lightly.
My deepest struggle was maintaining hope each day. Some days I took a step forward and feel hope and the next day my health took a step back and I felt frustrated. After experiencing that multiple times, I began to get scared about being hopeful. It was as though my heart was beginning to build a wall around itself out of deep fear of heading into a battle that had no end in sight. I was becoming a skeptic and that's not usually a place where my head and heart reside.
I have long disagreed with the phrase, "God never gives us more than we can handle," because I believe that we are absolutely given more than we can handle because it's in our weakness and struggle where the most growth happens. This experience has been a prime example of that for me. When I have been struggling to hope, God has so graciously presented it to me through others: texts from friends checking in, friends & family dropping everything to care for our boys when an ER visit turned into a two night hospital stay, surprise visits from friends who don't care what I look like or that I'm too nervous to show others my face, tulips from my mom, a song of encouragement, and above all, my husband and children who went above and beyond to remind me that they love me no matter what I look like.
We weren't created to live life alone, to celebrate alone, to suffer alone and oh how I have seen that in my life. I believe that when we are struggling to hope on our own, God sends us something that shows us that hope still exists. Life is hard. It simply is. But that doesn't mean that life is also hopeless. When it comes to striving for authenticity, I believe that it differs from the "keeping it real" phenomenon. From my perspective, "keeping it real" tends to lean towards venting about a rough day/experience with the absence of hope. Authenticity acknowledges the difficult, removes the mask of perfection, and offers hope from within or actively seeks a community of support that will provide that hope for them.
I want authenticity. I want you to know that things have been hard, that my lowest days had me considering starting an anti-depressant so that I could get through this, that I've had moments where I didn't understand why God didn't just snap his fingers and take this & everyone else's pain away, that I've looked at other people's pictures and been so jealous of their clear, beautiful skin. I also want you to know that despite those questioning moments, I've never truly believed that God left my side. There have been too many times when in my lack of hope, something or someone filled with hope has come along. Just last night I was driving home from the grocery store and three songs in a row were about hope. My diagnosis does not improve with antibiotics but due to the initial misdiagnosis and being placed on antibiotics, I discovered an extreme allergy to an antibiotic that I was previously unaware of. We also discovered my real diagnosis in a way that can only be attributed to God intervening.
Some days/weeks/months/years are just HARD. They are. I don't want to gloss over the bad with a cure of bright and shiny hope. When my journey was starting, my aunt was diagnosed with brain cancer and now she and her family are heading down a tough, unexpected path. Could my situation be worse? Absolutely and I am overwhelmingly thankful that there are remedies for my situation. But I don't think that means I should hide my struggles and pretend that I'm ok. I haven't been ok. I'm doing so much better now, but the past month? No, it hasn't been ok. And if you're not ok, I hope you know that you can and need to talk about it. Other people may not be able to take away the problem but they can offer hope and love when you may be struggling to do that on your own.
Thanks for reading my story. I know it wasn't a typical blog post but it was cathartic for me to write and hopefully it was encouraging to someone who might be going down a tough path.
Lots of love to you all.