Writing My Way Back to School!

 

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This was taken just after my admission packet arrived šŸ™‚

Hello, blogging family! The first fall weather of the San Jose year had our apartment smelling like cornbread and chili all week, and I selected this moment to write so I’m not tasting the pumpkin bread as it cools off. (No, curious minds, I’m not a baker. Trader Joe’s has wonderful mixes and Ivan is a wonderful helper in his spare time.)

This past month was not just the first month of Fall for everyone who doesn’t live in California. This past month was also my first month of graduate school. Last October I got a nagging curiosity about going to grad school after my English degree. I tried to talk myself out of that insanity: I have a brain injury even if you ignore the other neurological drama. Still, the thought wouldn’t go away. Ivan and I began praying about the idea and I started researching graduate schools. Not two weeks later, one of my CBU professors who didn’t know about my accident at the time, wrote me to ask if I was interested in continuing my education. We took that as God’s confirmation that my grad school idea wasn’t so insane after all.

I compiled a list of potential schools and decided to target two degrees: an MA in literature and an MFA in creative in writing. The MA in literature was a realistic choice since it was a standard degree in an area I enjoyed, and my CBU faculty felt confident I could get accepted to some good programs. The MFA in creative writing was a long shot. While “MFA” stands for “Master’s in Fine Arts,” it’s a terminal degree and is only called a masters because there’s no foreign language requirement. Furthermore, CBU only offers one creative writing course, so applying to MFA programs meant I’d have to submit work I’d done outside of school. I added a couple of MFA’s to my list because creative writing was my dream, but prepared to do an MA in literature.

My longest of the MFA long shots was the Savannah College of Art and Design. Yes, they are located in Savannah, GA, and yes, my family is from Savannah. But SCAD is also home to one of the top online MFAs in the country. Their program is 90 units long, and their thesis requirement is a publishable manuscript. I applied because – well, why not? But I knew my odds were scanty and went back to filling out the other applications on my list. You can imagine my surprise when my acceptance letter arrived three days after Christmas.

School started on September 6th, and I can honestly say I feel like I got hit by a….oh wait, I did. šŸ˜‰

I haven’t been stretched this far by something I love since I left Eastman, and I do find myself working for around 7 hours every day just to keep up. But I love it! It’s a blessing and a wakeup callĀ to learn from excellent faculty and classmates who are more experienced than I am. After all, the best way to improve is interacting with people who are farther along than you are.

I’m very grateful to God for a blessing that I called insane this time last year, and I’m thankful to my parents and Ivan for all the extra study time and encouragement they give me every day. Can’t wait to see where this next path will lead!

Wellness Shots

 

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First time I got to see Ivan in action!

 

Hello, blogging family! I had no inkling of the wave of support that was headed my way after my last post. All I can say is, thank you for being some real walkers! Or readers, rather. God uses you all to bless me more than you know. šŸ™‚

“Wellness” is a funny word. It shows up in magazines, TV shows, podcasts, and – of course – your doctor’s office. Ā It also seems to mean something different almost everywhere you find it. Well, I looked it up this morning, and the primary definition I found was: “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.”

These past two weeks have beenĀ wellness weeks.

You all joined me in celebrating just how healthy my mind has remained over the past two years, and your enthusiasm over my online degree reinforced what a loving internet community God has created for me since my outdoor activities remain…umm…limited.

God timed your response perfectly, because the next day I was in my neurologist’s office getting 16 shots in various parts of my head to try to break the migraine. This is no longer a recovery blog, but it’s hard to write about wellness and ignore 16 shots in the head. Just for some perspective, I’ve had a continuous migraine for 45 days now. I get to take pain meds around 3 times a week, but the rest of the days are…au natural. This is the only reason why I agreed to head injections. What they did not tell me ahead of time was the exact number of injections. Or on which parts of my head they would be given. (I’ll spare you those details.) No, they just started injecting and stopped 16 shots later. The situation struck me as hilarious while it was happening, which was God’s way of sparing me a public meltdown, but I admit to crying like a baby later that night. Also, I still have a migraine.

School and shots aside, Ivan and I made one more push for post-graduation wellness last weekend. The VCS Conservatory had a high school music retreat in La Honda, and I was able to tag along and hang out in the lodge. This was one of those rare opportunities that actually met my long list of do’s and don’ts. I need lots of rest and quiet time. Unfamiliar lights are a no-no, but noise is not my friend either now that I have a migraine. No worries! It’s a camp, so kids and teachers are in rehearsals almost all the time. Oh, and did I mention that La Honda is in the mountains? Natural light and stillness are the order of the day. And thus, I packed my duffle bag. (Although at that point I still thought the shots would work.)

The migraine shots underwhelmed, but La Honda was a wellness shot that did its job. I grew up on large helpings of fresh air and nature, and being able to step in and out of a cabin without fearing for the next seizure trigger probably added some years back to my life. Or at least emotional life. Noise and non-natural lights limited me to five minute reconnaissance chunks, but I fit in enough of those toĀ finallyĀ see my husband at work. I also got to meet some of his pretty cool kids. In addition to Vivaldi’s Gloria, they learnedĀ that he was not, in fact, married to the Bride of Frankenstein. I think that may be a common misperception. How did I spend the rest of my time at camp? Long walks in the fresh air and natural light, naps (of course), and…lots and lots of writing. (More on the writing part to come later.)

But what about spiritual wellness? Church has been out of my reach for a while now. I thought camp might be a relatively safe way to challenge my old assumptions, but unfortunately I found those assumptions still held true. According to my iPhone, I lasted less than 10 minutes at an open-air chapel before I got nauseated and had to leave. Crowds, noise, and lights, my friends. But college isn’t the only thing that’s gone online. Hillside Church recently started a women’s Bible study that meets online once a week, and it’s been refreshing to connect spiritually in a manageable venue. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for going to school online for the past 14 months, I would have been too nervous and confused to know where to begin. Thank you, God, and thank you, Hillside!

I haven’t gotten my flu shot yet, but I’ve gotten plenty of other wellness shots over the past 14 days. The latest one being this blog post. I had time to write because I was awakened early (as in, think earlier than 5 am “early”), by Friend Migraine. But how could contemplating God’s blessingsĀ notĀ count as a wellness shot? “Wellness” may be a subjective word, but I think the dictionary nailed the last part of its definition: “especially as the result of deliberate effort.” Wellness isn’t just something that happens to you. It’s a choice you make for yourself. May God give us strength to keep making healthy choices!

 

 

A Picture and a Thousand Words

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The coffee was strong with this one…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I’ll excuse the time lapse since my last post by saying abbreviated word counts are often in readers’ best interests…and therefore I’ve been waiting on a picture to help tell my story. Ā Hopefully this photo makes the words IĀ haveĀ typed here worth reading.

Yes, folks, I did it. I finished my Bachelor of Arts in English. Although I mentioned taking online courses in a couple of earlier posts, I purposely deferred mentioning the actual degree until my last postĀ because I wanted to complete all the requirements before going public with my long-term goal. Even passing a couple of classes would have been a major Ā accomplishment given the past 2 1/2 years, but I was hesitant to broadcast my attempt until I was certain I would graduate. This diploma represents more than just another bachelor’s degree, however. It’s the first significant goal I’ve achieved since my accident. It is also a very specific demonstration of God’s protection three years ago. My verbal IQ is one of the few cognitive functions to remain unaltered after the traumatic brain injury. Ā Said unimpaired verbal IQ is also pretty much the only explanation for how I earned that diploma, with “summa cum laude” stamped neatly on the lower right hand corner, while the rest of my brain went haywire.

I’m not sure why God is doing what He’s doing, but I am grateful that He allowed me to come this far in a subject I love. I’m also curious to explore why He protected the words in my brain and to discover what His ultimate purpose for all those words will be!

For those of you who are still interested in a thousand words, feel free to check out my senior project:Ā If I Should Die. CBU typically requires English majors to write a research paper as their final degree requirement, but I was allowed to write a creative nonfiction piece instead. I was given this choice for a couple of reasons…one of which is that I hope to begin a book about our accident in the next few years. My senior project narrates the first day of the accident and is a practice run for what the beginning of that book might look like. Feel free to check it out! But I do owe you one disclaimer: it is way over a thousand words.

 

Lighting my Shadows

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Much Shakespeare hath been read.

My last post ended with the word “thrive.” A different writer might substitute “die” for “thrive” since unsolved neurological disorders have kept me indoors for the last 18 months. But I can assure you that my word choice was no mistake. While God may have limited my tolerance to most things connected to a battery or electrical socket, He’s still provided a special kind of light to brighten my days at home.

Ivan and my parents report that one of the questions they hear most frequently is “What does sheĀ doĀ all day?” That’s fair enough, given that I live with most of our apartment lights switched off and rarely venture into the great outdoors. But I also can’t just sit staring at the wall all day, and I most certainly never have.Ā I can and have been taking online college courses.

Two years ago my occupational therapist suggested I take an online course at a community college. The purpose was twofold: I needed more structure in my day, and she needed to evaluate my cognitive ability. My goal was to keep up with homework assignments and score a C or higher. I enrolled in a literature class since literary translation had been one of my minors and…let’s just say I scored higher than a C. We also discovered schoolwork was easier on my brain than social activities because I could take a break the moment I began to feel tired, whereas long conversations required more energy and endurance. Keeping my brain well-rested became essential as my seizures grew more and more serious.

When therapy and the online course ended around the same time, both Ivan and I agreed that I should keep taking classes. Not only had I fallen back in love with literature, but my need to stay occupied was even greater now that leaving home was almost a thing of the past.

But I never do anything by halves.

Not only did I keep taking classes, but I also convinced Ivan to let me enroll in an actual English degree program at our old school, California Baptist University. If I was going to keep taking classes in a subject I loved, why not work toward a larger goal? I’d already completed all my general education requirements during my first bachelor’s degree, so it was only a matter of more literature courses – and some creative writing, too!

Ivan doubted the sanity of my venture at its outset but graciously agreed to a trial quarter. When I got A’s, he told me to keep running. I can honestly say that school became my lifeline as the months slid by. It might have been true that I couldn’t do more than twenty minutes of schoolwork at a time. It might also have been true that those assignments were at the university level, and that I initially didn’t tell the faculty about my brain injury since I didn’t want pity grades. But it was absolutely, 100% true that those twenty minute chunks added up to success, and that they lifted my mood, filled my days, and expanded my intellect. Yes, in spite of being a prisoner in my own apartment, I was thriving.

And then the big seizures hit.

Listening to podcasts, keeping up with reading assignments, and writing papers became a lot less feasible once I had to sleep for hours after every seizure. I suddenly felt like I was earning a college degree in time management as well as a college degree in English. Thankfully my time at Stanford reduced the severity of my actual seizures, but the migraine disorder made attempting any sort of schoolwork even more daunting. Very. Very. Long. Breaks.

These past quarters would have seemed like the logical time to quit if ever there was one. But the truth is that God has brought something into my life that I love passionately. I hope it’s obvious how much I love writing. After all, I have maintained a blog for 2 1/2 years now! But I love the process of school and studying literature just as much. Physical lights may be fading from my life, and I’m not sure how they’ll come back, but God’s given me a mental and creative light that thrives in my (literally) darkest shadows. I haven’t felt this fulfilled since the last time I played a violin concerto.

Speaking of writing, I’ll be writing more in addition to the blog now that I’m done with Stanford. More coming later…

 

A New Way to Walk

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Ivan will be walking with us, too!

Hello, everyone! It feels amazing to be back on the blog again…I definitely missed y’all over the summer, but my brain also definitely needed a breather while we were at Stanford. šŸ™‚

Now that we’re reunited, I’d like to lead us down a bit of a different path. Ivan and I started this blog in early 2017 believing it would be a short-term continuation of his initial Facebook updates. (For those of you who joined us later in our journey, Ivan began posting Facebook updates on my condition within the first day or so after the accident.) Your amazing support and enthusiasm transformed a short-term experiment into a long-term staple of my recovery and…here we are today! I still can’t believe we’re approaching our third “accidentiversary.”

Every recovery is different, and mine seems to have ended with seizures and long-term migraines. I’ve seen literally the best neurologists around (praise God!), and am grateful for all they’veĀ done for me. Remember how y’all were praying that I wouldn’t have seizures where I almost stop breathing? Well, God used Stanford to answer that prayer and I don’t have seizures like that anymore. Why I ended the summer with another bizarre brain scenario (2 and 3 week long migraines), I will never comprehend, but at least I was seeing highly trained neuroscientists when it developed! Does it feel unfair to be limited by severe neurological conditions after all this time? Absolutely. But numberless other people around the globe are also limited by “unfair” health problems. And my very good God knows why.

My very good God has also given me a blog with a fantastic readership that has walked with me for over 2 1/2 years! My neurological conditions are so complex that I will probably always have occasional complications or developments, so Ivan and I will continue sharing updates as needed. But for the most part, I want to write less as a patient than as a recovered twenty-six year-old. I’d like to invite you to continue walking with me as I take on this new writer-ship to explore the humor and the challenges God sends my way as I inhabit a world that wasn’t exactly custom made just for me.

So, with this new angle in mind: How did I thrive while being trapped inside a 700 square foot apartment for the past 7 months? How am I thriving now? And yes, I used the word “thrive.” Stay tuned! šŸ™‚

 

 

Do You Trust Me?

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Stanford sunshine was a winner at our last visit! (3 weeks ago)

“Did you know your Dad mentioned your blog in the sermon on Sunday? It was really emotional.”

I literally almost rolled my eyes, but not for the reason you might suspect. Yes, Anna and I didĀ develop a holy terror of certain disconcerting situations while growing up as pastor’s kids. Number One was being referenced in any way whatsoever from the pulpit, but others included sitting near the front row, occasionally having to wear dresses when other kids our age showed up in jeans, and similar minor travesties. Thankfully we’ve grown out of most of those, including the pulpit thing (I think?).

But this past Thursday I suppressed the eye-roll not out of pastor’s kid’s exasperation, but simply because of where I was, what I was, and who I was. I was sitting across from Mom on an Urgent Care exam table with an IV pumping an extremely strong anti-migraine drug into my arm. I’d morphed from my “normal” neurological mystery into a neurological mystery in the middle of a drug-resistant migraine. At the moment Mom asked her question, the migraine had already lasted four days. Who was I? Well, I’d been in unmanageable pain for four days, and I was extremely out of practice facing pain graciously. Mom was sitting with me so that Ivan (my superhuman Energizer Bunny) could “take a break” from dealing with me for a couple of hours. Yeah. Not blog worthy. Absolutely not sermon worthy.

“Umm…no. What was it about?”

“He was talking about all things working together for good. You wrote this one post years ago where you said you could see God using your accident for His glory, and that you wouldn’t change a thing.”

Honestly, I felt like someone had just slapped me in the face. It’s one thing to survive extreme pain in most parts of your body, but extreme pain behind your left eye takes it to a whole new level. Then add in the pain of light, the pain of sound, the inability to sleep, the nausea. At that moment I wanted to change a whole lot of things aboutĀ everything. The worst of it was I knew that I was not making life a cakewalk for my family, either.

Just that morning I’d found myself begging God to reconsider whether my situation was working out for that Romans 8:28 best or not: “When is it enough? Isn’t it enough that I’mĀ stillĀ in brain therapy? That I’m still stuck at home? That I don’t even have brain power to write anymore? Why this on top of everything else?” And now Mom was sitting across from me reminding me that I’d given public testimony that I wasĀ SO confident that all things DO serve God’s ultimately good purposes that I wouldn’t change anything about my accident.

It was almost like God was testing me: “Do you trust Me? Or don’t you?”

I wish this post had a better immediate ending than it does. The migraine ended up lasting 10 days. Urgent Care didn’t work. The ER didn’t work. Heavy duty drugs didn’t work. All the “right” things that you’re supposed to do at home didn’t work. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that my neuroscience team was out of town for part of the migraine, but now that they’re back we’ll have a better plan moving forward. So I’m not planning a migraine encore of that magnitude! (Lord-willing šŸ™‚ )

Writing blog posts is not one of the “right” things I’m supposed to be doing at home to help my brain recover from its latest setback.

BUT I wanted to write this one anyway to remind y’all that Romans 8:28 is not a truism. I listened to Dad’s sermon when I got home from the hospital and am still realizing how easy it is to read something in morning devotions, or listen to it on Sundays….or in my case, blog about it…but how humanly impossible it is to convince yourself that you actually believe it while you’re in incredible pain. If I wrote anything of the kind three years ago it was only by God’s grace, and the past two weeks have been a sobering reminder of theĀ gift that faith is. We talk of peace that passes all understanding, but when you’re in intense pain, faith passes all understanding too.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” ~Ā Romans 8:28

Yes, He does.

 

 

 

“Everything He Does…”

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Photo op at Stanford!

“Everything He does reveals His glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails.” (Psalm 111: 3).

Hello, blogging family! May has been a “milestone month” for us the past two years, so I wanted to pause and commemorate past blessings with a “thank you” note to the Lord, and also to you as our prayer partners. Ā šŸ™‚

This month marks…

  • Two years since Ivan graduated with a Master of Music in Piano Performance and Music Composition. He finished his degrees on schedule even though his last semester was spent working overtime, hunting for jobs, and team-caregiving with Mom, in addition to keeping up with school.
  • Two years since I turned in my cane and graduated to walking unassisted. The journey was painful at times, but SO worth it. Thanks to God and my therapy team, I finished re-learning to walk six months ahead of schedule.
  • Two years since we packed our bags and made our way to San Jose! Many thanks to our Riverside friends who got us packed and loaded, and a GIANT shout out to Dad who sacrificed his Memorial Day weekend to drive the moving truck from Riverside to San Jose. The truck’s air conditioner wasn’t very cooperative and Central CA is like an oven, if you’ve never made that trek.
  • Two years since Ivan signed his contract with Vally Christian. We were grateful for any job at that point, much less a dream job!
  • One year since I went back to school to study English and creative writing. My therapy goal was to see if I had the cognitive focus/learning retention to pass a class with at least a “C.” It’s a struggle with everything else we’re up against, but I’m still in school and still passing classes! This experiment is also an example of God providing way in advance. We had no idea I’d return to being housebound and unable to handle a lot of visitors, but reading lots of books and setting daily goals is my lifeline to staying sane and happy!
  • Around one year since Ivan began his doctorate. We thought he’d need to shelve such an enormous undertaking until our lives evened out, but God provided the right opportunity, the right means, and just the right amount of endurance to jump in and stay in. Turning in papers at midnight in the emergency room, anyone?

This list is only a flyover of the two amazing Mays we’ve had thus far, and I’m positive we’ll have more to add to our “thank you” list next year. We’re almost half way through my time at Stanford, and although we don’t have updates to share just yet, I’m thankful for how hard my family worked to get me there – and the fact that somehow we were assigned to the best doctor they have. Only in God’s world!

Milestone Mays would also not be possible without each and every one of you. Your commitment to cover us with prayer is an Ā instrumentĀ of grace in our lives, Ā and we’re unbelievably blessed by the support we constantly receive. Thank you for walking for us and with us every step of the way!

 

Inching Forward at Stanford

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Mom is my designated Stanford driver ā¤

 

Hi Everyone! It’s about time for an update on our journey at Stanford. My biggest blessing so far is that I’m being followed by one of the top research scientists for my particular neurological disorder. If anyone can come up with a solution for my seizures, it will be her!

So far, my new doctor has just been collecting data about the way my brain responds to the environment. She seems to think my condition doesn’t match currently available scientific data, but the good news is we’re still early on in the diagnosis process. As for me, I’m just grateful that I finally made it into the Stanford clinic and that God has placed me in the hands of the literally THE best possible doctor.

As you continue to walk with us, we’d love prayer for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, as well as strength for our daily challenges. We’re still dealing with the same frequency and severity of seizures as we were earlier in the year, and while Mom, Dad, and Ivan are doing their best as caregivers, we’d all be grateful for some relief. I always joke that they’re the ones who suffer most from my seizures. While I hate having them, I go to sleep right after they finish and usually sleep for a few hours before I try getting out of bed. In contrast, Mom, Dad, and Ivan have to watch me have the seizure, make sure I’m safe in bed afterwards, watch over me while I’m sleeping, and then help me after I get up. Their job is definitely more difficult than mine!

As always, thanks for your prayers, and we’ll let you know as we have more information. šŸ™‚

 

 

Thank You for Your Prayers!

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Headed to Palo Alto!

Hello, Stanford! It’s surreal that we finally made it. I think these 67 days of waiting may have been the longest 67 days of my life (except for the last 67 days before my wedding, of course! šŸ˜‰ ) On behalf of myself, Ivan, and the rest of my family, I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who’s prayed for us, written, texted, and offered encouragement in other ways throughout this difficult season!

We were very pleased with my initial appointment this past Tuesday, and feel like my new doctor will be a great fit. The treatment process will most likely take a few months, but we’re excited to see how God will use us, and appreciate your prayers during this exciting but also exhausting new phase in our journey. We will keep you updated as things develop. ā¤

How Much is Enough?

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Once upon a time, Baby Daisy had to learn how much was enough, too!

 

“Even when you get this, you’ll just want the next big thing.” I remember thinkingĀ No, this is THE big thing,Ā although thankfully I didn’t contradict Mom aloud. I was around fourteen years old, and wilting through my first cognizant lack of love interests. Being homeschooled did nothing to revive my drooping boyfriend prospects.

I obviously outgrew this perceived life crisis, but Mom’s point stuck with me. There’s always a next “big thing.” When IĀ didĀ get my first boyfriend (yay Ivan!), I suddenly started imagining being engaged…then being married…then finishing grad school… And that was all before the accident. By now y’all know many of the things we’ve wished for afterwards!

God wants us to dream big dreams. He loves it when we ask for things! But how much is enough? I suspect that however much He gives me, or, you, or anyone, there’s always going to be a next “big thing!” No matter how certain we are that what we want is our ONLY big thing, or our LAST big thing, or our [insert other applicable word] big thing, it’s human nature to start wishing for something bigger and better later on. It’s also human nature to start taking our old “big things” for granted. How do we know when we have enough?

I’ve had plenty of time to consider this question while waiting for my first appointment with my new neuro specialist at Stanford. (52 days down, 11 to go!) This holding pattern has reinforced how much I’d love for my seizures to improve…but it has also reminded me how many times I’ve thought they were improving in the past, only to be disappointed later. In the middle of this internal back-and-forth, God brought to mind that early conversation with my mom about letting go of my next “big thing.” Last week Mom and I started remembering how many marvelous gifts God has given us over the past two and a half years, number one being my life. Then my legs. If they had broken a quarter of an inch higher, I still wouldn’t be walking. I might also be missing a foot. Believe it or not, next on our “big things given” list comes my brain! It may seem like a side show right now, but I had a decent chance of waking up with a child’s mental capacity, for all doctors could guess in December 2016. On the family front, God quickly brought Ivan a picture-perfect job in the Bay Area. Poor Mom couldn’t spend unlimited time helping out in SoCal, after all!

Suffice it to say my “big things received” list could go on indefinitely. Stanford is my current “next big thing,” but I can guarantee there will be more to come. So when I do I hit “enough?” I don’t know. I doubt anyone could ever know. But God knows, and I think He’s given some pretty great pointers for how to live while asking, and while waiting, and while second-guessing. Most obvious would be His directive in Matthew 6:33. “But seekĀ first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” He wants us to ask Him for Himself and about Himself before we ask for anything else. But what are “all these things” that He promises to add? If you back up a little in Matthew 6, you’ll discover that Jesus is talking about meeting His people’s needs. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s pretty hard for me to tell where a need ends and a want begins. I’d call Stanford a need, but God might call it a want, depending on His purpose for my life. God grants all needs. He also grants many wants, but not necessarily all of them. So where does that leave me with my upcoming appointment?

For now, my first job is to ask God to give me more of His Spirit and show me more about Himself. My second job can be to ask for neurological progress, but I need to hold that request in an open hand. Is there a job from Him while I’m waiting for an answer? Daily life goes on, no matter the urgency of my or anyone’s request. Thank goodness God already answered this “what about right now?” question!

He wants me to cling to 1 Timothy 6:6. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” More healing would be amazing, but my greatest priority should be to keep growing more like Christ…and to keep practicing contentment with the big things He’s already provided. In His eyes, that is better gain than anything else ever could be. That gain also lasts a lot longer than my body. It lasts forever!