Sunday, March 15, 2015

That Girl

I love the month of March. I love spring. I love watching winter come to an end. Seeing birds return. Feeling warmth in the air. I love discovering grass again. Going for walks without having to put on triple layers. Sensing nature waking up. Feels like such a hopeful time of year. I also love March because it represents a birthday of sorts for me. Eleven years ago this month I gave my life to Christ. And a few years after that, also in March, I was baptized. Before I can tell you about my new life, I need to tell you first how I became That Girl.

In the fall after my senior year of high school I received a phone call that would change my life forever. It was a Wednesday morning, my third day of college classes. After my morning class I stopped in the mail room where I got a care package from my boyfriend. Getting any mail in college is exciting. Getting a big box is super exciting! So it was with excitement that I opened it to find a bunch of my favorite snacks, some sentimental items, and a note letting me know I was loved by him. I headed to the computer lab and began to type him a thank you email when my phone rang. That call set off confusion and panic to where I would eventually learn that my boyfriend had shot and killed himself that morning. In just one moment I went from feeling on top of the world, to watching my life come crashing down around me. And instantly before I even knew it, I had become That Girl.

I quit school and went home. Home. Where I was That Girl. That Girl moving through time, but feeling like I wasn't really even there. That Girl that some thought should have known something was wrong. That Girl that some thought was crying too hard, exaggerating my position in or connection to the tragedy. That Girl that still others had an overwhelming sense of pity for. That Girl that people found easier to ignore for fear of not knowing what to say, but undoubtedly would ask those around me, "How is she?" That Girl that lost a sense of the future. That felt alone everywhere. That belonged nowhere. Including home. So in January I went back to school. To my surprise, I was still That Girl.

At school I was That Girl that was new...again. That Girl that missed fall training for track and field. That Girl that many knew something had happened to. That girl that was fragile. That some professors, my coach, my advisor, etc. knew to be sensitive towards. That Girl that still felt alone. Still didn't belong anywhere. Still was moving through time in a state of numbness. That Girl that fell into all kinds of destructive behaviors because the future didn't really matter anymore. That Girl that was afraid to take her life, but no longer desired to live. That Girl that felt guilty for smiling, pathetic for not being able to get myself out of the pit I was drowning in, hopeless that much could ever really change for me. That Girl that became a master at going through the motions, learning how to put all kinds of barriers up so that no one could really get close to me again. And then in a moment that once again would change my life forever, something happened.

It was March, just a year and a half after that Wednesday morning that ended in tragedy. I went with one of my roommates to Upper Room, which was a student led worship service. I was unsuspecting. Once again, I was going through the motions. Singing songs to a God I resented. One of the girls in the student band stopped worship to say that God was putting it on her heart that somebody there needed healing. That they didn't understand how God was going to be able to bring that healing. But that God was telling that person just to trust Him. There isn't really a way for me to describe to you how I knew that I was the one she was talking to. I will just say that when you have a true encounter with God, you know. You know that you know. There is no second guessing or wondering. You just know. And I knew. And I had a vision of light and a hand outstretched toward me. That hand was beckoning me to let go. Let go of everything I was holding onto. My broken heart. My hopelessness. My relationship with my boyfriend. My misunderstanding of who God is. My future. My identity. My life. I knew in that moment I had to choose to let go so that I could walk forward. I had to die to myself so that I could begin to really live. And I did. Some people around me layed hands on me and prayed. I surrendered. And the peace that I heard a lot about from churchy people, became a reality in my life that day. I was different immediately. I was new. No longer That Girl. I was a daughter of the King. I was far from alone. I belonged. I had a destiny. A future. A hope.

The next time I was home on a weekend, I stopped by my boyfriend's grave for the last time. I had to say goodbye. I loved him. Thought my future was going to include him in it. Was broken when I learned that it wouldn't. But I told him my God is bigger and that in order for me to move on, I had to say goodbye.

Sometimes I forget who I am. Even all these years later. Maybe it is brought on by the anniversary of his death. Or a memory is triggered. Or sometimes just simply being in my hometown. Lies start to creep in. I can feel myself falling back into an old identity...That Girl. But then I remember how in John 8:36 I am promised that, "He whom the Son sets free is free indeed." And I remember who I am and Whose I am. I remember that in Romans 8:38 I am promised that "...nothing can separate us from His love. Death Can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away." 

I don't know what your life has brought you. What has made you That Girl or That guy. But I know who you are. Even if you don't know yet. I am praying for you right now. That you too would surrender that old identity that you were never created to put on. And that you would claim your new identity, your position as a daughter/son of the Most High God. "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17    


Monday, March 2, 2015

Vaccines: Our Story

This post is about my family's journey with vaccinations. I would like to say that I have felt compelled to share my experiences and thoughts a number of times, but keep resisting. First, I really don't desire to enter discussions about such polarizing topics. And second, I am not confident I will adequately express myself on the matter. Please know that I am not speaking from a position of judgement, I am simply sharing our story.

In case you don't know, I have three children (ages 4, 2, and 1) and another one on the way. My husband and I have made different decisions for each child when it comes to vaccinations. With our oldest, I was still working full-time, and so we often would go to well baby checkups together. We both were a little concerned over the amount of vaccines our daughter was supposed to receive, and so we decided at that time we would spread them out on a delayed schedule. In the end, she received all recommended vaccines (minus the rotavirus and flu vaccine-no one in our family has ever received a flu vaccine) and is considered now to be fully vaccinated. By the time our second daughter was born, I had quit working full-time and assumed the responsibility of taking the girls to their checkups. In all honesty, I was overwhelmed with being a mom of two, and though I still thought it best to spread out vaccines, the thought of returning to the doctor multiple times to make that a reality seemed like too much. Consequently, our second daughter followed the normal vaccination schedule until she was a year and a half when we decided to stop vaccinating her.

By this time we had experienced what I am confident was three vaccine induced illnesses. The first occurred when our oldest daughter contracted the chicken pox after receiving the varicella vaccine. Our, then, 13-month-old baby woke up in the middle of the night screaming uncontrollably, thrashing, had a high fever, had bumps scattered over her body, etc. We rushed her to the ER where they offered a slew of tests, but determined she had a double ear infection. Within about a week and a half, my husband became ill with the shingles virus as a result of being exposed to our daughter's chicken pox, our second vaccine induced illness. Another trip to the ER and more medical bills piled up. Lastly, our second daughter contracted the measles after receiving the MMR vaccine. At 15-months she got a rash that covered her entire from her scalp to the bottom of her feet and everywhere between. She had a fever, red, watery eyes, was fussy, had a runny nose, etc. It was frustrating to go through those illnesses as a family. But, in the end everyone recovered and medical bills eventually got paid. We could have just gone on not thinking of it again like you might with the common cold or flu. But we actually couldn't just forget about it. Because what was far more disturbing to us than the actual illnesses was the reaction we received from the medical professionals involved. At the ER with our daughter that night, we were asked all kinds of questions about what we had been doing prior to the onset of symptoms. We listed everything we could think of which ranged from going camping to having just received the varicella vaccine. The possibility of her symptoms being related to her vaccine were immediately dismissed and we were told the bumps on her body were likely bug bites from our camping trip. Bug bites? Like 20+ bug bites? Bug bites...even in her diaper area? When we got home we looked up chicken pox signs, symptoms, etc. Red flags began to go off because it seemed so simple and plain that our daughter indeed had chicken pox. Fast forward to the measles. When we called our doctor's office to give them a rundown of our daughter's symptoms, the doctor looked through her chart, made mention that she had just received the MMR vaccine, but upon noticing we didn't get her a flu vaccine, told us it must just be the flu and that it would run its course. We were intrigued that she had even mentioned the MMR (it hadn't occurred to us yet that it could be an outbreak) but she refused to acknowledge at that point that it could be related. We began to learn quickly that there was something unapproachable about questioning vaccines. Again, a quick online search of measles perfectly and simply described what it was we were seeing in our daughter. I think it was probably around then that I stopped just trusting.

When our third daughter was born it is fair to say I was hesitant going forward with vaccines. Something in me told me it wasn't right to just blindly follow the recommended vaccination schedule, but I was unsure of how to become educated to make another decision. I expressed my concerns with my husband. We agreed that if I could put the time into researching and acquiring valid information we could then discuss what we might want to do differently. I didn't know where to begin and by the time her first well baby checkup came, I wasn't prepared. I spent a few hours the night before scouring the internet and decided that I should go ahead and get her the DTaP (for the pertussis because it seemed scary) and Hib (because of links to meningitis that also sounded scary to me). Since then, and for the past year I have taken things much more seriously. I started by contacting a natureopathic doctor and asking for resources on vaccinations. From there I have spent countless hours listening to lectures given by medical doctors, reading books that are hundreds of pages long, reading online articles, and putting together over 18 pages of notes. I've specifically studied the who, what, when, where and why behind vaccine development. I've studied each individual vaccine and the viruses they are created for...the risks and benefits of both. I've studied the ingredients, the manufacturing process, the side effects, the difference between vaccination and immunization, and so on. All information has been retrieved from medical professionals, medical/scientific journals, and statistical information gathered from entities such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Health (DOP), World Health Organization (WHO), etc.

Having said all of that, what position have I taken on vaccines? Personally, with what I have learned along the way, I simply could not, as a mother who loves and desires to protect her children, continue to vaccinate at this point. I cannot ignore the facts that I have learned. I am completely aware how even stating this might bring judgement, condemnation, ridicule, etc. And I am okay with that. Because at the end of the day, I am the one who is responsible for making decisions that are in the best interest of my children. I feel confident that I have made an informed decision. And I am completely dedicated to continuing to study, learn, read, watch, etc. and to go forward with an open mind. 

I want to end by encouraging others who might be on a similar journey. I want you to know that you are not an idiot simply because you choose to question, or possibly to take a different position than the majority. I want to encourage you that there is solid, reliable, trustworthy, scientific, medical information out there available to you. If you are in need of some direction, some resources, please feel free to contact me. While I don't feel it is my duty to lay out the facts of the argument for anyone other than my own family, I am happy to point you in the right direction so you can begin to gather your own facts. So, be encouraged. While we can always choose to vaccinate later, we can not ever un-vaccinate. For that reason, I think the journey is worth pursuing.