Life with a Rare Brain Condition | Visual Snow

Hi friends, due to the massive influx of emails and messages I've received about this post, I will no longer be responding to messages. Thank you for understanding! Please check the FAQ at the end of this post for my answers to questions I receive the most.   

On November 22, 2015 I was fine. On November 23, 2015 my world looked unrecognizable. 

Living with a chronic condition sucks. I may be an English major who knows lots of prettier and more sophisticated words to use,  but there is no other word I would put there. It just really sucks. And although keeping it bottled up inside is also quite sucky, I've had a lot of hesitations about writing about my experience.

I worried that writing about my chronic condition would make me feel worse—that writing this post would only make me more aware of my challenges. I worried that I would sound like I was complaining or asking for sympathy. I worried that people would scoff and testily remind me how other people have it so much worse. I worried that my words wouldn't help anyone. But as I neared the one-year anniversary of living with a chronic brain condition called Visual Snow, I knew I had to put pen to paper. It was time to find some sort of creative release. 

You've probably never heard of Visual Snow. My doctors hadn’t either. As an extremely rare, under-researched condition, Visual Snow is only "treated" by one doctor in North America. And just why did I put the word treated in quotes? Visual Snow is untreatable. 

Visual Snow is a condition in the brain that causes me to see television static ( “snow”) in my entire field of vision in both eyes and in all light conditions—even with my eyes closed. It’s hallucinogenic, meaning that this thick layer of little tiny dots moving and swirling and pulsating are not actually present in my physical environment. My Visual Snow causes double vision in the very center of my field of vision, light sensitivity, and palinopsia. It makes me feel like moving objects are flying at me much faster than they are, and that nonmoving objects are moving. It's a struggle to read a sentence without accidentally skipping up or down several lines, and I have trouble transitioning between focusing my eyes on something near and then far (or vice versa). I see stars à la old-school cartoons. Visual Snow has also caused my tinnitus, dizziness, heavy pressure in my head and face, lack of concentration, the feeling of my whole body buzzing, bright red eyes at the end of the day, and general cognitive fogginess. (Here I am sounding like an elderly lady at the ripe, old age of twenty-two. Pass the prune juice.).

Looking at me, you probably would never guess that I have a brain condition. Since VS is traced back to the occipital lobe, knowing that Visual Snow is "all in my head" doesn’t make it any less real—it actually makes it worse, as it means my condition is completely inescapable. The problem is inside my brain.

It's hard to put into words what Visual Snow looks and feels like, but below is a simulator to help you with visualizing it.  As I didn't make this animation, it doesn't perfectly align with my experience. If I could edit it, I would make the dots more transparent (which means I can still definitely read and drive and do all that, but it's like there's this staticky layer in my vision that I desperately want to peel away).

To someone who isn't afflicted with Visual Snow, this all sounds hard to comprehend. I get it. In the early days of my VS, I remember the pure frustration of trying to explain to the urgent care doctor what was going on. He was baffled, took X-rays of my neck (all clear), and told me to seek medical help elsewhere. A few weeks went by, and my weird symptoms hadn't cleared up, so I went to the emergency room and got a CT scan of my brain. The scan came back clear, and the ER doctor told me it was probably a migraine aura that just so happened to be lasting for a month. He gave me a muscle relaxant and shooed me out the door. I then went to my primary care doctor. He had no clue what I was going on about, but he ordered a cervical spine MRI for me, as I had experienced a low-key whiplash event (slamming on the brakes in the car—not even a true car accident) right around the onset of my Visual Snow.  The cervical spine MRI came back clear, so I was then referred to an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. After several tests, the ophthalmologist said that my eyes were structurally fine, and that there was nothing he could do to help me. The neurologist also did several tests and ordered a brain MRI for me. The tests and the brain MRI came back clear, so she told me to wait it out and come back in six months (!) if I were still having problems. It felt like one very frustrating game of hot potato. I, the patient, was the potato that none of them wanted to deal with for more than a few minutes. I so badly wanted a doctor to fully commit to helping me find relief. Instead, I was passed on from one doctor to the next, none of them wanting to take on my case and advocate for me. 

At that point, I had exhausted my local options, and I felt so alone in dealing with my mysterious condition. 

I had always pictured doctors as these all-knowing superhumans who, with their incredible intuition, could quickly figure out what was wrong with a person, treat them, bandage them up, and send them home with a lollipop in a matter of a few hours. Through my several-month escapade trying to find treatment for my Visual Snow, I realized that doctors and researchers are just humans. And that in the case of this exceptionally rare, under-researched condition, their guess was as good as mine. It was a very, very scary realization. 

There are Facebook pages and support groups and websites and forums populated by people suffering from Visual Snow and trying to find relief. And although I looked at those resources for a short while, I quickly realized that reading about other people's struggles with VS made me feel worse—reading other people's posts made me feel helpless, anxious, hopeless, and ultra-aware of the jumbled, whirling visual mess in front of me. I needed a plan to help me cope.

...so I did nothing. 

Well, I very strategically did nothing about my Visual Snow. I decided that if dwelling on my condition made it worse, then I needed to do the opposite. I needed to teach myself to forget about my condition. So I clicked out of the forums and Facebook groups. I stopped reading the jargony medical literature that I could barely comprehend anyways. I told my family to not even utter the words "Visual Snow" in front of me unless it was absolutely necessary. And I almost never brought it up with my friends. I was carefully guarding myself from spending any extra mental energy on my condition. I then turned to a twofold plan of my own invention: 

1- get my anxiety attacks under control, and 2- be very, very busy to distract my mind.

The latter was undoubtedly the easier of the two. Anxiety is something I haven't written about much here, as I try to keep my public writing centered on more joyful topics. But anxiety has had a presence in my life for a very long time, and its sharp edges make VS all the more mentally painful. Once I started reeling in my anxiety—which is probably worth a post of its own—I turned to part two of my coping strategy. I needed to be very, very busy in order to distract my mind. I thought about the things I was passionate and curious about (Religious Studies, filmmaking, literature, nature, entrepreneurship) and began pouring out my heart and soul into meaningful organizations, activities, and relationships. And after a few months, a strange and wonderful thing began to happen. I started to forget (at least on a surface level) that I had a brain condition. I just sort of stopped noticing that I was seeing the world through a very muddled lens. 

Of course, it hasn't been a perfect plan. I mean, it basically centers on denial. And there are certainly days or weeks where I have flare-ups, and my symptoms feel worse than usual, and my brain can't stop obsessing over it (...like this week, for instance). But I try to forget. I try to stay busy. And I try to stay calm. I am, of course, praying for new development in the medical world. I'm praying that the research currently underway in Europe is fruitful. But until then, it's reduce anxiety and do really neat things so that my brain has other thoughts to occupy itself with. So, friend, if there's something you're going through that's leaving you bruised and battered, I encourage you to sit with it and figure out a plan of action. Unlike mine, it probably won't include techniques for forgetting. It just might be one of those bear hunts (à la Helen Oxenbury's picture book), where you can't go over it, you can't go under it, and you've got to go through it.  

 

Abounding in hope,

 
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FAQ 

As a reminder, I no longer respond to emails and messages I receive about VS because there are just too many! My heart goes out to all of you, because I know that VS is scary in the early days. Since my story has been a comfort for a lot of people, here is a recap of the questions I'm asked the most, as well as my answers.

1. How do you deal with your Visual Snow? 

I try my absolute hardest to not let it control my days or my mental state. I make a very concentrated effort to stay very busy and fill my life with things that bring me joy.

2. Isn't that easier said than done? 

Yes, in some ways. I've had Visual Snow for over three years now, and staying busy has been the most helpful thing for me--I can actually forget about my VS on most days now! It takes a lot of mental toughness and tenacity to stay busy and focused on my goals and daily joys, but I promise it becomes easier with practice, like all things do. My advice is to keep pushing yourself to continue the activities you enjoy (in whatever capacity you’re able to do them), explore new hobbies, and spend time with people you love. Don't let your vision take those things from you--you do have some power over your VS, even if it doesn't feel like it. 

3. What about visual snow-related anxiety? 

I like to journal to stay calm and work through my anxieties. Talking with a therapist also helps. I've found that anxiety makes my VS seem worse, so being extra gentle with myself and tackling my anxiety helped my VS as well. Like any chronic condition, dwelling on your symptoms is only going to make you hyperaware of your condition and trap you in a toxic cycle of anxiety.

 

Twenty Life Lessons by Age Twenty

Life is messy, but here's what I know so far...

 

1. “There is nothing wrong with loving the crap out of everything. Negative people find their walls. So never apologize for your enthusiasm.” | R. Adams

Negativity is draining. It’s human nature to slip into sourness and (shamefully) take it out on those around us. But because of the complexities of the human mind, changing your thoughts is possible. Gently step back from your next negative/hectic/stressful situation (sometimes physically) and reframe. How could this experience help you? Stretch you? Lead you? Next time negativity comes knocking, kick it out of your mind.

 

2. “I have sea foam in my veins; I understand the language of waves.” | J. Cocteau

I grew up on the coast and had a happy, sea-salty childhood studded with camping and kayaks, boogie boards and wetsuits. My weekends consisted of watching my brother compete in rough water swims, or donning a snappy one-piece for my own swim meets. A towel and swimsuit took up permanent residence in the trunk of my car by the time I was sixteen (for spontaneous beach trips). And at age seventeen I was baptized in the ocean with one of my best friends, redeemed by God’s grace and humbled by his vast, oceanic creation. Then came eighteen—Texas. No nearby ocean. No tide pools to wade in, dolphins to swim with, or shells to collect. When I returned to the California coast two years later, the ocean welcomed me with open arms. It was only once I left that I realized how much the ocean means to me. Find your happy place.

 

3. “We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve.” | T. D. Jakes

As a sensitive old soul, I often set really high expectations for my friends/family/teachers/etc. and can’t help but be disappointed when said people don’t live up to said expectations. I don’t think the error is (always...) in my high expectations, but in failing to forgive easily. I need to be more generous in handing out my forgiveness. I can get a teensy bit upset when a cashier doesn’t smile at me, or when the secretary at the doctor’s office snaps at me on the phone! Although they need to read #1, I need to exercise tenderness and grace. We're all only human.

 

4. “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” | M. Oliver

Boys boys boys. Most girls want a guy that's honest, charming, funny, and blah, blah, blah... All of that is excellent, but you know what I really love? Curiosity. And not in a gossipy shallow way, but in a thirst-for-knowledge way. Curiosity is the desire to know how to do things. How a gadget works. Why whales migrate. What someone else's stance on carbon emission is. Curiosity enriches our lives as we learn from our neighbors, share our own experiences, and delight in the sweetness of learning something new. 

 

5. “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” | M. L’Engle

This lesson is challenging because discrediting other people or pointing fingers is often our automatic response (even if only in our minds). As a (world) religions major in college, I've been stretched and tested on a daily basis, studying other faiths and learning from/alongside people with different beliefs than my own. The gritty truth? It's hard. I remember calling my parents after my first world religions class, because I was having trouble relating to the diverse faiths in the classroom (present in both my classmates and in the textbook). But now, that's actually why I love studying all of the religions of the worldunderstanding other people and cultures is difficult without exploring the rhythm of faith that beats through their lives and hearts. As a Christian, I want to follow Christ with a servant's heart and act in a way that would make God proud.

 

6. “You can never get enough of nature. To be surrounded by it is to be stilled. It salves the heart. The mountains, the trees, the endless plains. The moon, the myriad of stars. Every man can be made quiet and complete." | A. Burns

I love being outside. If I could live in one of those open-air homes in Bali (outdoors and indoors at the same time!), I would. Even my best thinking (sometimes brooding) is done outside, as my feet lead me from one place to the next. I think just feeling the sun and wind on my skin and the grass or pavement under my toes makes me feel connected. Nature is humblingI realize I'm only a small fragment of His creation. In my oceanography summer school class, we learned that over 70% of the Earth is covered by wateras if I didn't feel tiny and wonderfully overwhelmed enough by the 30% of the Earth that is land! As my favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Side note: does everybody have a favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk?  

7.  “May you live like the lotus—at ease in muddy water.” | Buddha

In my childhood home, we had a huge koi pond beside the front door. Though the water itself was sometimes vile, the pond was my favorite part of the house (except for the bird aviary... more on that another time). The koi fish were each over a foot long, and one of them was in love with my brotherif he stuck his finger in the water, the fish would "kiss" it and not let go (oh, the memories). The pond attracted Snowy Egrets, raccoons, Blue Herons, and most of the passing by neighbors. But the most incredible part of it all emerged in May through September, when the water lilies bloomed. From the brownish-green, gunky water sprouted the most incredible pink and white and yellow blooms. And that's really the magic of itthe lotus will only grow up through the mud (though water lilies and lotus flowers are not the same to a botanist, they grow in the same conditions). We can only flourish by growing up through our own mud: the little annoyances, the big challenges, the life-threatening situations and the stubbed toes alike. Live like the lotus and embrace your circumstances. Learn from your mud. Grow from your mud.

 

8.  “Be careful who you open up to. Only a few truly care—the rest are just curious.” | Unknown

Remember the little distinction I made in #4? Curiosity comes in many forms, and it's important to realize that not everyone has sparkling intentions. Although this seems like a lesson learned in high school halls, I think this is one of those gritty, uncomfortable learning experiences that we all face more than once. It may be someone at work, in class, in your club/sport/group/whateversome people seem to prey on secrets and feelings and vulnerability. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), but don't shield it from those who truly love you. Be discerning.  

 

9.  “You have more to do than be weighed down by pretty or beautiful. You are a fiery heart and a wicked brain. Do not let your soul be defined by its shell.” | M.K.

As Ann Voskamp said, "Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things." You're more than lipstick. You aren't the frivolous, frolicking, fairytale princess that the world assumes you are and should be. You're a kick-butt, get-things-done, selfless, brilliant, fiery kind of gal. (Or maybe you're a male reading this. You rock too.)

 

10. “I used to wonder why I was busting my ass at calculus when I was interested in the arts, but I felt that there was a relationship between working hard at school and taking your dreams seriously. I still think that if you’re excited about something, you have to work at it.” | E. Koenig

I love school. I am, as Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote, "such a shameless student." The hand-raising, correct-the-textbook's-punctuation, set-out-an-outfit-before-bed type. Growing up, I was an okay student grade-wise, making As and Bs, with each report card praising my "citizenship" instead of my academic abilities. I felt like I had to try so much harder than all of the other kids: middle school homework would take me six or seven hours, I couldn't write notes fast enough in high school, and I had no real motivation other than to "get good grades" so I could "get into a good college." What's worse, my older brother was a superhuman student (Who manages to get only one B in an entire college career?! And it was actually a B+...).  Luckily, there was a shift in the universe. It wasn't until college that I loved learning. Yes, I still think tests are scary and a red correcting pen is the devil's writing utensil of choice, but there is so much joy in knowledge! Books and documentaries, classes and speeches! I wanted to gobble up all of the facts and poems and paintings like a glutton. Working hard and appreciating subjects outside of your career path can be enlightening and can help prepare you for that disinteresting task you have to do/that internship that you don't love but want to stick with/etc.

 

11. “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” | C. Stanley (Isiah 64:4)

Patience is my Achille's heel. Learning to wait on the Lord is somewhat of a work in progress. I hate the unknown (anxious person problems) and always want to be in control of situations. Since my leap out of one university in Texas and into uncharted waters, God is making sure I'm getting my fair share of practice. 

 

12. “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” | R. Marston

Last Thanksgiving break, I found myself on an extremely turbulent flight back to my university. The plane was lurching and dropping in the air (planes ride in the air like boats do in the water. There are currents both good and bad...according to the pilot), and everyone was screaming. My little soul didn't know what to do, so I ended up holding hands with the woman next to me as we prayed and tried to comfort her little dog. "Jesus has given the pilot all of the skills he needs to fly this plane," she told her dog. "The pilot is very capable."  I was taken aback by her positivity amidst the chaos. Maybe it was more to reassure herself than her pup (who surely had zero clue what was going on besides its little popping ears), but her positivity was leadership in those scary few hours.

 

13. “They want to see you do well, but never better than them.” | Unknown

I'm convinced that competition is engrained in our genetic makeup. As another one of those "human nature" things, we want to excel more than our peers, even if those peers are loved ones. In high school, there was a girl on my swim team who was both my biggest rival and closest friend in the sport. Every 50 freestyle we would end up 0.1 or 0.2 seconds apart, often with me as the loser (though not always... heheh). I was thrilled that she was doing so wellshe was my friend, after allbut I didn't want her to be better than me. For some reason, it hurt more to lose against her since we were friends! With a rather "colorful" background of 10 sports under my belt (thanks, Mom and Dad), I know what it feels like to be the sore loser and to receive the negative energy from a sore loserneither feel good. Can we just encourage each other? And hold hands? And all be friends? (Perhaps I also have a young soulprobably around kindergarten or preschool-agedpining for the days of sharing crayons and making friends by sharing my cool big Ticonderoga pencils.)

 

14. “Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart—one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” | M. J. Ashton

It's easy to yell at whoever left their stuff on the stairs (Whiskey, my Golden Retriever, is so guilty of this). It's tempting to snap at the cashier who forgot to take the security tag off of your new $200 swimsuit (I've actually been that cashier before...). It's second nature to do a little eye rolling here and therewhen parents get a little too micro-managey, when someone in the group project shows up late, or when the professor announces a pop quiz. It's easy to tear people down in these small but significant ways. But you know what's even more significant? Nurturing. Flick the little devil off of your shoulder (à la childhood cartoons) and resist the urge to snap/yell/gossip/whatever. Channel that energy for good. Build someone up. Listen without judgment. Help someone out even when it's inconvenient. To think someone could be left better after meeting you is a very powerful thing.

15. “Settling for less makes you feel less. It actually makes your energy smaller. Deciding to not settle might mean you have to wait longer or challenge the typical, but if you are passionate about what you are creating with your life, the way always appears.” | D. Claudat

Settling and apathy are dangerous drugs. As humans, we're often tempted by the safer option, the easier and faster option, or the higher-paying-yet-horrendously-boring option. Boys, jobs, universities, internshipswe're seduced by Settling's instant gratification. But if that boy/job/university/internship isn't everything you've ever dreamed of, pull on your patience pants and be productive in the meantime. Patience is wicked tough, but often worth it.

 

16. “Be with someone who doesn’t make you want to check your phone.” | Unknown

This is SO big for me. I am so tired of going to dinner with friends only to look around the table and see everyone on their phone. While it feels natural to do a little Twitter scrollin' or to edit Instagram pictures right then and there, this actually sends the message that what's on your little screen is much more important or entertaining than those actually sitting next to you. Be with the people you are physically with at gatherings. When I can feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, it takes 110% of my mind-over-matter powers to ignore. But relationships are worth the agony of missing some notifications. Give people your attention. Be fully present. Set an example for others. And to be frank, when it comes to friends or relationships, you shouldn't even want to check your phone around them! This past weekend I was in San Diego with my two best friends, and although we snapped a few pictures at brunch, we all waited to post until after. Easy peasy. 

 

17. “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” | M. Dell

It feels good to be the smart one. My former university required all students to take a general ed religion class, and since I was a religion major and was bound by this requirement, I excelled times 43,855,245 in the intro-level course. The professor would use my essay as a class example after every exam and everyone wanted to be my partner on group quizzes (though I don't think they even knew my name...boohoo). While it bolstered my self-esteem and confidence in the classroom, pridefulness snuck into the mix. Luckily, every subsequent course had me working harder and harder, humbled when the material no longer came easily to me. That's where the meaningful conversations, stacks of pored-over books, and the feeling of being so small in such a vast chasm of knowledge come into play. That's where the growth happens. (Growth seems to be the theme in this season of life.)

 

18. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. To be light and frolicsome. Improbably and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” | M. Oliver

I don't know if it's possible to change personality types while growing up, or if the "Type A and B" theory is even accurate, but I've always been a B: creative, reflective, and easygoing. By my second year of college, I was the hybrid mix: creative, reflective, driven, perfectionist, workaholic. It may have been the increased responsibilities or newfound passion in school that led me into Type A territory, but recently I've been missing my old "go-with-the-flow" nature. I think what I've gleaned from this is to enjoy every moment of youthto say yes to adventures, be willing to go exploring, and get out of the monotonous comfort zone. As the 1600s proverb goes, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" (James Howell).

 

19. “The greatest cruelty is our casual blindness to the despair of others.” | J. Straczynski

I received an email once from one of those people. If you've ever read the comment sections on YouTube videos, controversial blog posts, news articles, or celebrity Instagram photos, you'll know exactly what kind of person I meanthey hang around on the internet, search for a vulnerable target, and hit them (hard) with sharp words and painful phrases. The email snarled with harsh opening words, going on to insult me in ways I didn't know possible. The final line of the email? He or she wanted to kindly let me know that no one cares about my stupid, boring life, and that I should really look into writing about something important for once. Particularly the starving kids in Africa. Ouch. Swallowing these words wasn't easy. That kind of speech, funneled to a stranger behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen, is inhumane. This insensitive, remorseless email was cyber-bullying. I'd hate to sound like a Disney Channel commercial, taking about the dangers of the internet and why bullying is wrong, but my gosh, it's hard to really grasp how much words can hurt until it's directed at you. This experience left me with a whole lot of empathy for anyone who has dealt with cyber-bullying before. And again, it was a character-building experience. With 7.046 billion people on the planet, not everyone is going to like you or me. Pick your battles, say your prayers for the bullies, and "write hard and clear about what hurts" (Hemingway).

 

20. "To live content with small meansto seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not richto study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heartto bear all cheerfullydo all bravely, await occasionsnever hurry; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony." | W. E. Channing

Mr. Channing [note: not Channing Tatumthink 200 years older] is a smart fellow. Not because he was a Harvard grad in the 17th/18th century, but because of his awareness of what's actually meaningful and essential in life. I feel like present-day society is gluttonous, driven by validation, entertainment, and shock-value. And it's easy to be seduced by fancy cars, night life, and lavish clothesbut does it really matter? They're just things. Man-made things. The real treasures are in the moments, the relationships, the laughs and tears, and the things that GOD cares about.

 

Joyfully,

 

 
 
 

Emptied of Me to Be Filled with Christ (New Adventures and a Missing Sock)

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until the bags are packed and unpacked, the boxes are taped up and ripped open, and you’re sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor wondering how you’ve accumulated so many socks and realize that one is missing—potentially stuck to the wall of the dryer in your old apartment 1,700 long and looping miles away—and there is no possible way you will ever see that little pink Nike sock again.

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until you have one of those trippy moments looking in the mirror, when you really see yourself and realize "this is me... This is my life. I'm a person. I'm living" (Does everyone have these moments? Nope? Just me?)

Life has a way of having long days and short years, with months that drag on and decades that whip by faster than you can say “Beanie Babies” (or Furby, Skip-It, BopIt, or HitClips—I swear we’re still in the ‘90s). I still write 2012 on the headings of my school papers, which was the year I graduated high school (I’m currently a junior in college), not able to digest the fact that we’re almost halfway through 2014.

It didn’t feel real, buckled into my little hybrid, the back window plastered with my sorority letters and the back seat stacked high with Tupperware bins and random, single shoes (we got to the point where my car was so full that we had to stuff clothes and shoes into every pocket of air available—very Tetris-esque). It didn’t feel real as we drained giant cups of sweet tea in Texas, Sonic slushies in New Mexico, and In’n’Out pink lemonade in Arizona (such a California tease!). Even the lease paperwork, endless roadside gas stations/rest stops, getting whistled at by scary truck drivers, and the multiple hotels didn’t really solidify the fact that I was leaving Texas for good.

The road signs kept me updated as to how many thousands, hundreds, and tens of miles we had until sweet California welcomed warmly (literally), but even the giant blue “Welcome to California!” sign in a dusty corner of my favorite state didn’t make it feel real. I wasn’t reciting some sort of Texas eulogy, or caught in the thick of emotions from goodbye and change and a new hello. I was just driving.

It wasn’t till I was sitting on my bedroom floor, exercising my inner obsessive-compulsive, domestic, perfectionist goddess, surrounded by socks and sorority shirts and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, that I began to physically feel one chapter of life closing and the next opening. It wasn’t a sad feeling at all—just a sweet reminder that God’s hand is guiding me every day, and that I’m back in California for His purpose and by His grace.

I went to a beach bonfire with a friend last week.

After digging a fire pit in the sand (disclaimer: there was no sign saying it was illegal...although the cops showed up eventually), the fire was crackling and the s’mores ingredients were passed around (including S’moreos—s’mores Oreos—my new friend’s creation). After prayer, we all ended up singing worship songs led by a girl with a guitar and a voice that sounded “somewhere between Elvis [...or female equivalent] and angels,” to quote Hannah Brencher. With bare toes buried in the sand, a disposable camera in hand (I’m bringing them back), and the mingling song of the ocean and Jesus-loving voices, I felt the loving sovereignty of God, as he began to tie together all of the loose ends and frayed edges of my life, giving me new adventures, new hope, and new purpose. 

 

Joyfully,

 
 

Finding Peace in a Busy Season

IT'S FINALS SEASON.

Laced with energy drinks, late-night swipes into the library and printers running dry of ink, finals season is the microcosm of “real world” deadlines crammed into a two-week period.

It’s like the volume dial of the stress radio was crank, crank, cranked to full blast, then broken off and stuck in position. So here we are as college students, with broken pencils, messy hair and under-eye circles, fueling caffeine addictions and nursing (or numbing) our tired minds.

Although I’m not a late night studier (I’d rather get up at 5am—perhaps a rare trait in my age group), I fit every other finals week stereotype—sleepy, swollen eyes, clothes that I fell asleep in, and a textbook never leaving the crook of my arm.

I am a school person. A perfectionist. An “oh my gosh, I got an A-” kind of gal (although I would never admit it in a classroom setting—people who verbalize that really test my patience). Being so “schooly” has its pros (good grades) and cons (a bundle of nasty stress breakdowns/freak outs/meltdowns leading up to finals week). I make flashcards and rewrite notes, annotate books and fill the pages with sticky note flags on important bits of information.

And side note: that's okay. That's who I am. I think a lot of college students think it's cool to laugh about failing classes, brag about not studying, or joke about not even having the textbooks. And I say: It's seriously cool to be smart. It's not something to be embarrassed about.

smart

But... Even though I usually have a good turn out once finals week is over, I’m often left a little wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m so hard on myself that my emotions are usually frayed, and my self-reflecting thoughts aren’t exactly the kindest. My brain turns to mush (or is hollow with a dull humming noise vibrating off of the empty caverns). I’m sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and nutrition-deprived (real nutrition—my finals week diet of protein bars and water doesn’t count). And worst of all, when I get to this broken (but academically excellent) point, I’ve neglected my relationship with Christ.

It’s so easy for me to sink into the depths of my schoolwork, disappearing completely into projects, presentations, papers, and study guides. I get so stressed out and mad at myself for not remembering that phosphorous makes red blood cells with folate and that the Rastafarian religion stemmed from the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon (I always think it's David because he is associated with Bathsheba...close enough). I forget to brush my teeth (eww kidding...kinda) or my hair. I barely remember to take deep breaths, let alone pray.

But I’ve been realizing something this time around, when my stress is greater than ever before and when the two weeks to finals also means two weeks left in the state of Texas: God is great and I am not. Riding the rush of a good grade is sweet for a few moments, until the to-do list piles back up, there’s another test on the desk in front of you, and you’re trying to handle everything on your own. I’m realizing during this finals season how much I need God. I need someone to talk to, someone to love me when I can’t remember the stomach enzyme that breaks down lipids, and someone to calm me down when my computer crashes.

The gap between our frail discipline capabilities and God’s available strength for us is bridged with nothing but a simple choice on our part.
— Lysa TerKeurst, Made to Crave

His omnipresence is a great comforter—literally a giant, soft, squishy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. With Him I’m finding the peace and joy in this finals season, and in these last two weeks at this school. I feel blessed to be able to study exactly what I love, to have a cozy apartment (with a fireplace DVD playing on loop), and to have a family that knows I’m doing my best no matter what the outcome. He keeps me from falling. He holds my hand. And sometimes, when it’s the end of the school day but there’s still more to do, he just carries me. I’m thankful for a God like this. He is my source of strength and perseverance, my cheerleader (that’s a visual), and my Heavenly Father. And of course, knowing that in two little weeks I’ll be hopping in my hybrid and cruising back to California is a giant motivator.

Joyfully in Christ,

 
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