It is a beautiful spring evening. The sun is slowly setting along the horizon, located on your right. A small river runs soundlessly on your left, hidden by some trees with faces carved in them. The sky is still a brilliant blue and the clouds are starting to shift from white and gray to warmer shades of pink and orange with the coming sunset. There is the sound of children’s laughter from the nearby playground. A very slight breeze sets the leaves of the surrounding trees into just enough motion to draw your eye.
You are sitting on a playground swing. The black stretch of seating beneath you feels smaller than you remember, but it still holds your weight. The chains in your hands are dark and weathered and in your mind you hear your mother’s voice saying, “be careful not to pinch your fingers in the chains!” You take a deep breath of evening air and push off, setting yourself into motion. The air whisks past you as you begin to pump your legs. The wind in your face is familiar and a smile begins to form as you slowly push yourself higher and higher.
Your hair shrouds your face and then is driven back as you swing back and forth. Joy bubbles up within you and you realize that your smile has broken into laughter, music to your ears. You remember a time when you never thought you could reach this height and relish the rush of wind in your ears. Your legs ache from the too small seat beneath you being pulled tighter in by the chains at your sides, but it is not enough to drown out the feeling of absolute exhilaration.
You cease striving to swing higher, and instead rest in the movement until it becomes a gentle sway to and fro. The pounding of your heart and rapid breathing slow as the swing does, until everything is once more at peace.
This is where my joy is found.
This is where I find Jesus. This is where I talk to the Lord and praise Him through my laughter. This is where I listen to His voice in the rushing wind and the peace that follows. This is where the chaos of the world around me turns into the rushing of the wind in my hair. This is where the anxieties and stresses of my life are released and I find peace in the movement and in the stillness. This is where I am free and the only chains that hold me are the ones I cling to, keeping me in my seat.
This is where my joy is found.
Where is yours?
At the beginning of my time as a graduate student, one of my professors had us write a letter to ourselves and seal it in an envelope. This was done so that we could read our letters one day. When things were tough and we couldn’t remember the joy we had at the beginning of it all. When the insanity that surrounded us never ceased and rest was no where to be found.
Today was that day.
Life is tough as is. Throw in graduate level classes, clinic schedules, enough homework to drown the most studious of individuals, financial struggles, and work responsibilities… Well, you get the picture. Basically life is crazy and we’re swamped. I mean, I’m sure there are some phenomenal women in my cohort who are thriving and pushing through this insanity with grace and ease. Sadly, I am not one of them. Not even close.
Today my professor brought our letters into class and I opened mine.
I pulled out the envelope to see that I had written quotes on the outside of my letter:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:13
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified or discouraged for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9
“Who by worrying can add a single day to his life” -Matthew 6:27
“Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7
“________ is a big problem, BUT GOD IS BIGGER!”
The one that caught my eye was the last one. It is something I came up with for a lesson on David and Goliath and one day I want a plaque with those words to hang in my home at the height of Goliath. I made each child a laminated bookmark so they could write and rewrite their problems on the line and then realize that although it was a big problem, our God is bigger. God is even bigger than the insanity of the Speech Pathology graduate school program!
Once I opened the first part of the letter, I realized I had written even more things on the next flap of paper before I was able to read my letter. These grabbed my attention even more than the first verses and quotes because they are all things that God has said to me. Whether through a time of prayer, a song, or a Bible study, each of the following has been the voice of the Lord in my life speaking directly to me. (If you need the Lord to speak to you, maybe He can use these!)
“It’s gonna be worth it all.”
“Seek Me and be still.”
“Quit worrying. I’ve got this. Now, let Me got this.”
“I will provide.”
“Don’t give up. I AM here and I always will be.”
“Be [I AM] still.”
“I will give you rest.” (PRAISE JESUS FOR THIS PROMISE!!)
“Circle, then shout, Gentry. Then I’m going to bring the walls down. This battle will not be won with muscle, mighty warrior. This battle will be won by faith.” (this refers to the battle of Jericho when the Israelites circled the city in prayer and then shouted in victory)
And the real kicker:
“I’ve gotten you this far. Do you really think I’m going to give up on you now?”
I don’t know about you, but that one just slapped me in the face. Duh! Of course God won’t give up on me. He’s been faithful and gotten me through every hardship up until this point and I firmly believe that He will get me through this insanity.
If you would like to know what my full letter of encouragement said, please feel free to continue reading. I hope these words can help even one person remember that God truly is in control and He has a purpose and a plan for everything that is happening in your life. Don’t give up. He’s got you.
Take a deep breath. You’re fine. The Lord’s got you in the palm of His hand, remember? Everything that you are going through has a purpose and He will reveal that purpose to you when you are ready for it. Don’t forget about all of the other times that He’s been there for you and literally walked you through.
Remember when you sat in a quiet room with your family and two doctors seated around a big table. Remember how it felt when you heard the doctor say, “you tested positive for Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.” Remember the days and weeks after that appointment when you realized that your mom and brother had VEDS too, that you would probably never have your own children, that life with Brandon would forever change, and that your life would forever be marked by a bracelet with a label on it. Remember that feeling of being completely overwhelmed?
Now, do you remember how the Lord got you through all of that? How He walked with you through every question and every valley of darkness. How He sent people to pray for you and help you through it. Remember that? If He got you through every part of that valley, don’t you think He will get you through these two years of grad school?
“You will get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God can use this mess for good. In the meantime, don’t be foolish or naive, but don’t despair either. With God’s help, you will get through this.” –You’ll Get Through This, Max Lucado
Calm down, be still, and seek the Lord. All you have to do is ask Him and He will give you what you are lacking. So ask. But make sure that you aren’t too far away to hear Yhwh speak. This graduate program is only two years of your life, but your relationship with God is eternal, so make sure you are putting Him and keeping Him first. “Seek first His kingdom and all of His righteousness and all of these things will be aded unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
You’ve got this because He’s got you. Don’t worry. It won’t help anything. Instead, pray like the overcoming warrior that you are.
-Your Wiser Self
In case you were wondering why I spelled Yahweh without the vowels, it was purposeful. Try to pronounce it without the vowels. It’s a whisper! Yhwh is a holy name of God that is literally only a breath. The thing is, you can’t hear Yhwh if you’re not close enough to hear His whisper. So get close and listen up!
Just a little food for thought. It’s one of my favorites.
There are many people happy to see 2016 go and welcome in the new year. I, however, would like to take a moment and reflect on my 2016 before 2017 begins and the new year’s clock is set back to a fresh start.
God has blessed me a great deal this past year. He’s opened doors and slammed others. He’s grown some friendships and loosened others. He’s opened my eyes to some absolutely incredible things as well as some completely horrible things. However, through each trial and over every mountain He has remained faithful and guided me along His path.
This year I was able to complete another year of working with a beautiful group of children at my church. It is truly a blessing to be able to teach them God’s Word and show them His love.
This year I attended my first tacky prom with a date (my first date to a dance!).
This year I wrote and directed my first Easter program at church.
This year I got to go backpacking with my family again, which is always a wonderful escape from everyday stresses.
This year I graduated with my bachelors of science in Speech Language Pathology.
This year I got to counsel the most amazing kids at Teen and Junior camps.
This year I got to direct Middler camp and serve with the most phenomenal codirector and volunteers!
This year I wrote or VBS curriculum and executed it with the help of the most amazing volunteers.
This year I learned how to paint with someone taking me through each step.
This year I got to spend time with my family at the river and relax with friends.
This year God blessed me with a new job taking care of the most incredible young man. I have been beyond blessed by having the opportunity to work with him.
This year I started grad school and survived my first semester of clinic at the University of Montevallo with these incredible ladies. I wouldn’t make it without them!
This year I celebrated (yes, I mean cerebrated) one year of officially being diagnosed with VEDS. (Every year is a blessing and a gift from God.)
This year we had a princess and pirates ball and I got to be Elsa!
This year I got to be a bridesmaid for the first time ever at a dear friend’s wedding.
This year I got engaged to the love of my life. A better man than my wildest dreams (because God knew better than I did).
This year Brandon and I were able to cerebrate our four year anniversary together. (This was the first year we’ve actually been together on our anniversary since it’s in Christmas Eve.)
With just a few blessings listed here, may the New Year bring more than my wildest dreams.
If you would like to read the rest of our story, you can find the highlights of our four year journey up to this point here.
Allow me to set the scene for you: I was sitting on the couch and Brandon walked into the room. It was such a typical, mundane act and yet it filled me with a shock of joy that I couldn’t contain. Before I was able to suppress it, a brilliant smile broke the stillness of my face. As he walked toward me, Brandon cocked his head and a slow smile spread across his face as well. “What?” he asked. “Nothing” I responded. But then I really allowed myself to think about it. As he sat beside me, I leaned my head onto his shoulder and quietly said, “I’m gonna marry you one day.”
Now, this happened about a year ago, and whereas it was most assuredly the first time I had spoken it aloud with such confidence, it had been a topic of quick conversation and much thought over the years prior to that moment. However, even though Brandon and I had discussed it, the idea of actually marrying him and spending the rest of my life with him didn’t fully sink into my consciousness until that moment. Until I saw him walk into the room and realized that he was indeed the man I would one day marry.
‘Maybe I’ll marry him one day‘ was nothing more than a fleeting thought in my subconsciousness that continued to make itself known time and time again, with more frequency the longer we were together. But, me being me, I always tried to push it away and I never truly let it become a solid reality. Instead, I would quickly follow thoughts of my future with things like, ‘but anything could happen! Who knows what God’s will is for us. Maybe it’s too good to be true and He’s just using this time we have together to prepare us for our separate futures…’ All completely valid thoughts!
If you’re thinking that I’m insane, especially after three years with the guy, then you would agree with pretty much everyone else I talked to. Needless to say, that way of thinking didn’t last forever. However, when I came to the realization that Brandon was indeed my future husband, things got rough.
I knew he was “the one.” I knew I would marry him one day. The problem was, we weren’t at all ready at that time for the next step in our journey: engagement. So, the days went by as if in slow motion and my heart ached for the day we could finally move forward in our relationship because I was so tired of everything seeming so stagnant.
It was during this time that the Lord confronted me and tested my faith in His timing by helping me to overcome the quick, bitter pang I felt each moment I scrolled through social media and found another of my friends engaged or married, or even just moving forward in their relationship at all. It took some time, but God is good and, thankfully, He is also patient. I turned my bitter spirit, covered by a facade of happiness, into a true joy for those around me who had finally found the person they would love forever. Then, He helped me to see that their joy in that moment and my prayers for them could fuel my joy in the waiting. Don’t ask me how it makes sense, because it doesn’t in my mind; but God is greater and He helped me to see that in this particular season, just as I had numerous times before.
Almost a year later, I am happy to say that the Lord heard my prayer and has answered with more blessings and joy than I could have imagined!
Brandon and my friend Katie literally had to drag me to look at engagement rings. And when I say drag, I mean that they lured me to the mall and then casually shoved me into a jewelry store against my will… They’re the best… (note the sarcastic undertone) But, I eventually warmed up to the idea and found a general style that I liked. The thing is, I absolutely refused to pick a ring myself or even narrow it down too much, even though I had one in mind. I wanted Brandon to pick my ring, and boy did he pick it! Literally. The exact one that I couldn’t get out of my mind.
On October 22nd, Brandon surprised me with a visit and also picked up my ring (which was the cause of the surprise visit). Yes, I knew he was getting my ring, I just didn’t know which one it was at the time. I was actually the one who carried the bag with the box with my ring in it from the car into the house. Where it sat. In my room. Taunting me. All weekend… He’s nice like that…
So anyway, I knew he had the ring. I knew I would say yes. Now all I had to do was wait. But praise the good Lord in Heaven above because I only had to wait a little while!
And so do you! Next time I’ll tell you all about the proposal, but for now you’ll just have to wait!
Haha just kidding!!! I’ll go ahead and tell you now.
On November 5th, my friend, Kayla, got married and she ever so lovingly allowed me to be one of her bridesmaids. (Congratulations Kayla and Chad! You’ve officially been married a week now!!) Brandon came up for the wedding and we were able to dress up and have a fun night celebrating with everyone at their wedding (for future reference, some of those in attendance included: my best friend Katie, her boyfriend and my good friend Coryghan, my sister Lauren, and her boyfriend Josh). Brandon even asked me to dance for the first time! It was perfect, I was shocked, and the song was A Thousand Years by Christina Perri.
Katie, Coryghan, Lauren, Josh, Brandon, and I had all planned to go to dinner together the following day. One thing you need to realize is that we aren’t the kind of people that typically dress up and go do things. We’re more of a ‘let’s just be comfortable’ kind of group. So, later that evening, when Coryghan told me to make sure that I dressed nicely for our triple date, I began to get suspicious…
My next moment of suspicion came when Brandon decided that we would ride to dinner with Coryghan and Katie, but we were going to make a pit stop (which just so happens to be WAY out of the way) at camp to see Lauren and Josh beforehand because Coryghan wanted to hand out there for a little while. (Brandon did really well. He made sure every piece of the plan came from someone other than him, but because I knew it was coming, I was suspicious.)
First off, remember, we aren’t really people who dress up just because. Second off, no one ever dresses up at camp unless they’re trying to impress a boy they have a crush on or they’re at a wedding or other event. In this case, neither was the cause. Or, at least, that’s what I was supposed to believe. I didn’t. I knew then that Brandon was probably going to propose that day at some point. Besides, where better to start the next part of our lives?
Brandon and I met at Camp Chula Vista in June of 2012.
Brandon asked me to marry him at Camp Chula Vista on November 6, 2016.
From the moment we stepped out of the car, I saw a picture that begged to be taken. So I grabbed my phone, walked down the hill, and almost laid down completely in the grass just to get the perfect picture of the swing. Then we moved closer to the lake and I started taking pictures of Katie and Coryghan as well as Josh and Lauren as we meandered around the lake.
There were many fantastic pictures taken that day, but my favorite one wasn’t taken by me. It was taken at four different angles, with four different cameras, by four different friends. It involves the man of my dreams on a knee, offering me a ring as a symbol of his love and devotion; as a symbol of the long life we will have together. It involves a proposal, not only of marriage, but of trials and difficulty and a promise to stand together no matter what we face. It involves a boy and a girl, ready to face whatever this life gives them with Christ leading the way. This is that picture.
He took me back to where our story began. And so, the next chapter in our story begins much the same way as the first: a guy and a girl at camp, led by the grace of God, surrounded by friends, destined to love each other more tomorrow than they thought possible today.
As you can imagine, I said yes.
Your prayers would be very appreciated. A long distance relationship is rough, but a long distance engagement is sure to test us beyond what we have previously known. Planning a wedding while in school and working will be difficult as well, but we believe that this timing is of the Lord and we are confident that He will provide all of our needs and supply us with abundant joy and strength to face each mountain in our path.
Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us and encouraged us over the years. It means the world to us and we pray the Lord blesses you beyond all measure! Y’all are awesome and you have blessed my socks off with the level of support you have offered us. So thank you. A million times. Thank you.
Have you ever had a crazy encounter with the Lord?
You’re sitting there, minding your own business and you feel the nudge to go grab your Bible or a devotional or just take a moment to pray. When you’ve fought with yourself long enough to realize that no, it wasn’t just you having a random thought, it really was the Lord nudging you to move, you get up and go find a quiet place and obey.
Then He hits you. Hard.
This happened to me in the beginning of August. The third day of August to be exact.
I was minding my own business when I felt the Lord nudge me to find a quiet place and do the Bible study I was working through, Believing God by Beth Moore. So, after a moment of soul searching, I knew that I needed to obey and I needed to do so right then. So I did. I’ve learned over the years that if the Lord tells me to do something and I don’t listen right away, or at least as soon as I can, then I’m in big trouble.
I settled down with my Bible, markers, and study in hand and opened the page to see that the topic of the day’s lesson was Joshua and Jericho. “Okay,” I thought, “I know this story. It’s a great story and I’m sure God has awesome stuff to tell me today.” Little did I know that what He had to tell me that day wasn’t something that I could shrug off. In fact, it took me 3 whole weeks to complete the task He set before me that day…
If you have never heard the story of Joshua when he faced Jericho, you can find it in Joshua 5:13-6:27.
Joshua encountered an angel who told him that the Lord had a message for him. That message included God telling Joshua that He had given Jericho into his hands; in other words, God was telling Joshua that he already had victory over the city of Jericho, which also happened to have a massive wall around it and gates that allowed no one in or out. God also told him the plan for victory: walking around the city. Not fighting or preparing a sneak attack. God simply told them to walk around the city once per day, for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day with the priests blowing trumpets and then give up a final shout. Then, after all of that, the Lord told him that the walls around the city would fall in so that Joshua and the Israelites could rush in.
When they obeyed and carried the ark of the covenant around the city once per day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day and offered up a shout, that is exactly what happened. The walls fell in and Jericho was taken.
The reason Joshua and the Israelites were faced with Jericho was because it was directly in the way of their promised land. To get to the promised land, they first had to get through Jericho.
As I read through the lesson, I was prompted to take a moment and ask God what my Jericho was. So that’s exactly what I did.
I put the Bible study aside, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. Then I saw it. I was standing high upon a cliff overlooking a vast, desolate wasteland. I searched the desert for a city surrounded by a round wall (because that’s how I envision Jericho must have looked). I looked, but saw nothing. I even tried squinting my eyes, but again saw nothing.
Then, suddenly, the Lord was standing on the cliff by my side. I asked Him to show me where my Jericho was; to point out the city and then name it for me. I knew my Jericho wasn’t actually a city that I needed to walk around. Instead, I figured the city I would find in the desert would be a symbol of something else and the Lord would name the city with what it was that I needed to pray circles around.
The Lord stretched out His hand and pointed into the distance. I looked, but I saw nothing but the desert laid out before me. He continued to point and said, “Look right down My arm to the point of My index finger and see what I see.” I leaned over; so close that I could see straight down His arm. He was pointing into the distance, beyond the vast desert before us. I could see mountains in the distance, but that was all. “No, Gentry, not with eyes of man” He said, “Look with eyes of faith! See? See it My way!”
Then I finally saw it.
The mountains weren’t just mountains, they were my promised land! Those mountains represented a previous vision the Lord had given me: when Brandon and I kneeled to pray, closed our eyes, and then arose from our prayer as an elderly couple, years into our marriage. “That is your promised land,” the Lord said. “This vast, desolate desert you see before you is your Jericho.”
Yes. the entire desert. As in all of it. As in a wasteland.
“Lord, how in the world am I supposed to circle the entire desert?” I asked.
I opened my eyes. I knew exactly how to circle a vast desert.
I found a piece of cardboard, a sharpie, a ruler, and a box cutter and I went to work. I measured the piece of cardboard and cut it into a 250mm x 250mm square. Then, I labeled it, “Jericho: a vast distance: 250 miles.”
That desert in my vision was indeed a vast, desolate wasteland, but that wasteland represented the vast distance between myself and the man I love. The distance which has been in place for more than four years and seemed to desire to stay that way for many more years, that was my desert. It had plagued me. That distance of 250 miles caused me so many days of worry and anxiety and stress and even depression at times. It was the source of so many problems, and yet I knew the Lord had that distance in place for a purpose. But I had gotten to the point of being so completely done with the distance between us and I was more than happy to circle that distance in the hopes of it crumbling.
I had grown so tired of the distance. So tired of only seeing Brandon for one weekend out of each month, save those nice times when we were at camp or able to visit after three weeks or even two at times. I had prayed so many prayers outlining just how tired I was of the distance and asking God to lessen it. And it seemed in that moment that He may have finally heard all of my prayers and finally decided it was time to let the distance crumble.
I was dedicated. For three weeks I laid that piece of cardboard on the floor and silently walked around it as I prayed in my mind for six days and on the seventh, I walked around it seven times while praying aloud and claiming the victory of my promised land even in the face of my Jericho.
During that time, God gave me a very specific prayer to pray, which aided in my circling. That prayer had to do with asking the Lord to hasten the day that Brandon and I would finally be able to be together. At the time, it looked as if we would have to wait another three to four years to be together because of school and work and the insanity of life. So I gladly prayed the hastening prayer that the Lord gave me.
At the end of those three weeks, the Lord answered my prayer for hastening and cut the projected time we would have apart in half. Praise Jesus! He opened doors and opened our minds to see His plan for us. He opened our eyes to see with eyes of faith, rather than simply seeing what was placed before me in this life with the eyes of man.
I found my Jericho. I circled my Jericho. In reality, I still am circling my Jericho, but victory is already mine and I can see my promised land looming on the horizon.
Now it’s your turn. Take some time and ask the Lord what is standing in the way of your promised land. Identify your Jericho and then circle it until the walls shatter into oblivion. You might just be surprised by what He shows you, but I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Have you ever had someone look you in the eyes and say, “Dream bigger! Your dreams just aren’t good enough.”?
Well, me either. Not really. It wasn’t so much a person as the Lord’s voice in my head one day as I was praying. He was very clear, though; my dreams were not up to His standards. So I upped my game.
First, I brought Him all of the dreams I did have: a house, family, good job, blah, blah, blah. Basically, all of the typical girl dreams, including a nice guy with a ring and a wedding eventually. Yeah… I’m pretty basic.
Then, I gave up my dreams and asked God what it was that He wanted me to be dreaming of. (That is an absolutely terrifying question to ask Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God… Do it. I dare you.)
His answer wasn’t what I was expecting. Actually, He rather surprised me.
It was as if my dreams were pieces of clay that I had molded and spent so much time perfecting myself. They were well thought out and I had taken pieces of each of my dreams from different places: a detail from my best friends dream wedding, a characteristic from the storybook prince, a spark of life from my past experiences. But all of my hard work wasn’t good enough…
The thing is, God didn’t just waltz in, snatch up my dreams, and throw them by the wayside. Instead, He asked. He requested that I willingly surrender the things I had worked so hard on, but He also promised something better. So I did. I gave them all up. And what He offered me was so much better than I ever could have imagined.
I gave Him my dream of a house in the country with a wraparound porch and a swing. He gave me a massive house ready to hold friends and family from near and far, ready to serve anyone who walked across the threshold. He gave me a home filled with love and joy that echoed off of every wall. He gave me a wraparound porch for all of the kids I love and teach to run in circles throughout the day. He gave me a swing to sit with friends and family and converse about life and to sing to the kids around me as we swing away from the worries surrounding our lives.
I gave Him my dream of a family which had been shattered by the diagnosis of VEDS. He gave me a home filled with kids from all over the world. He gave me a family of adopted kids better than anything I ever could have imagined on my own. He gave me a church family bigger than any biological family I could ever have.
I gave Him my dream of a good job with good pay. He gave me a better job than I ever could have found on my own. He gave me experiences I didn’t know I needed. He gave me coworkers who would support me in Christ. He gave me my mission field in the midst of my work life. He gave me everything I would ever need, provided by His hand, not mine.
I gave Him my dream of a nice guy, of prince charming or whomever else girls dream about. He gave me a man to stand by my side when no one else could. He gave me a man wiling and able to support me when I forget to support myself. He gave me a man better than any prince charming, shadowhunter, Mr. Darcy, or superhero could ever be. He gave me a man who kneels in prayer with me and worships beside me. He gave me a man who would never run away, no matter how bad life gets.
Then, He gave me a new dream: to travel. To see the world He had so deftly created and continues to create and renew each and every day. But He didn’t just give me the desire to see it on a TV or computer screen. No. He gave me beauty beyond my wildest dreams and joys I never knew I could behold, all with my own eyes. Adventure. Journey. Explore. Travel. To see it all for myself and enjoy every step of the journey, every moment of the adventure that takes me wherever He leads.
The Lord didn’t take my dreams and toss them in the trash. He transformed them. He remolded them into something more beautiful than I could have imagined, something I never knew I wanted.
So go ahead. Dream bigger. I dare you.
As awesome and incredible as my relationship with Brandon is (at least in my eyes, anyway), we have had more than our fair share of rough patches. There have been a couple of times that we’ve come close to ending everything and walking away from each other forever. This post is about one of those times.
If you want to read our story, you can find the entirety of our rather long story here.
A couple of months after I was diagnosed with VEDS, my friend, Katie, and I went to Chic-fil-a after prayer. We started talking about different things and somehow we got on the subject of my relationship with Brandon. Things went South quickly…
I questioned everything. I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t done that before. I had. I’ve had many conversations with the Lord, asking whether He was sure that Brandon was the right guy. (Don’t judge me. Every girl has their doubts. Even girls who are blessed with young men who don’t tuck tale and run when their girlfriend is diagnosed with an insane genetic disorder with more problems and future complications than could ever be noted… I know. I’m insane.)
Allow me to describe myself while in this type of mindset. I worry that I haven’t heard the Lord correctly and I question every decision I’ve made concerning Brandon. I worry that I have fabricated God’s blessing for our relationship over the last years. I worry. I doubt. I don’t trust. In other words, I allow Satan to whisper lies in my ears and I choose to believe them over what I know the Lord has told me.
So, there we were: Katie and I were sitting across the table from one another in Chic-fil-a. A few others were seated in various places around the restaurant, but we were far enough away to have a conversation without worrying that we would be overheard by our nearest neighbors. Because of that, our conversation flowed for a while and then moved on to the terrible subject of long distance relationships and my doubts.
I didn’t know what the cause of this incredible and sudden onslaught of doubt was. I couldn’t pinpoint where the overwhelming feeling that I had to break up with Brandon came from. All I knew, is that after spending an hour or so in prayer with our prayer group, I felt this burden and I felt that it was from the Lord. It terrified me. I felt as though the Lord was telling me that I needed to break up with Brandon. No reason given. Just a heavy burden that weighed heavier with each passing moment.
Of course, we had problems. Every couple has problems. Our main struggles consist of distance and a love language barrier (on top of me being an overly emotional person), but it isn’t like we wallow in our struggles and allow them to consume our every thought. We had difficulties. We still do. But in that moment, it seemed as though every trial we had ever faced rose up before me and would not allow me to ignore them or pray them away. Instead, the mountain of never-ending trials threatened to overshadow everything and plunge me into a despair so strong that I would never be freed from it.
However, the most peculiar aspect of it all, is that it seemed to come from God! It didn’t feel like a temptation. It didn’t feel like doubt. Actually, if I’m being completely honest, it felt like a test.
Talking with Katie, I came to the conclusion that God was asking me to break up with Brandon to prove that I loved God more than I loved Brandon. But this wasn’t just a ‘break up with you today and date you again tomorrow’ kind of feeling. It more along the lines of a ‘break up with you and never see you again’ kind of thing. So, with a heavy heart and tear-stained face, I walked to my car and sobbed a prayer on my drive home. I begged God to show me what His will was. I begged Him to ease the weight I felt in my soul…
He didn’t. The weight clung heavily all the way home. It worsened as I texted Brandon the most dreaded words: “we need to talk.”
Later that night, when Brandon got off of work, he called me. My heart hammered and I was crying before I was even able to say, “hello.” I must have said, “I don’t want to do this” and “I love you” a million times in that conversation…
I told him that I felt like God wanted me to break up with him. I told him that I had felt unloved and unwanted by him because he still didn’t speak my love language, even after multitudes of conversations about what that means and how to do so. I told him about my doubts and worries that I had heard the Lord wrong when He gave me the blessing to date him. I told him all of it. Let me rephrase that: I sobbed my way through attempting to explain everything that was chaotically clanging about in my thoughts. I’m pretty sure the whole, “let’s be friends” thing was even stated and explored for a while.
When I finally gave him time to speak, he was calm. (That freaked me out more than anything.) His voice was quiet. He listened to each word I said and simply replied in a manner of acceptance. He didn’t seek to change my mind. He never once raised his voice, he simply said, “if you feel like this is what you need to do, then I understand.”
There was no fight, no anger, no frustration. There was simply an acceptance of the inevitable end.
And in that moment, I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t bring myself to hurt this young man I loved so completely. That was the thing, I still loved him! It wasn’t like I was fed up with him and he had frustrated me to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore. I simply felt like the Lord was calling me to do the one thing I never wanted to do. So, regardless of my feelings and desires, I was determined to do what God asked of me.
I have never identified so completely with Abraham than I did in that moment.
There is a man in Genesis, named Abraham, who was told by God to sacrifice his son as an offering to the Lord. Not like, give him up, but sacrifice, as in kill on an altar. Abraham obediently took his son, Isaac, up a mountain with everything needed for the sacrifice except an animal. Once they reached their destination, Abraham tied Isaac to the altar. Then, just as the knife in Abraham’s hand, poised to kill, came slashing down, and angel of the Lord stopped him. The angel called out to him and showed him that the Lord had provided a ram stuck in a thicket for the sacrifice so that Isaac didn’t have to die. The hard part is, if Abraham wouldn’t have tied Isaac up and raised the knife to sacrifice his beloved son, he never would have been shown the ram.
The willingness to sacrifice our own desires has to come before the Lord’s provision and blessing.
That’s what I learned while on the phone with Brandon that night. Only after I had come to the point of being willing to end my relationship with Brandon and had actually attempted to do so, was I able to see the provision. As soon as I had told him that I had to break up with him because I honored and loved God more than I loved him, the weight seemed to lift.
This simply confused me even more. First, I felt as though God wanted me to break up with Brandon. Then, only a short while later, I felt as though God was saying that I didn’t actually have to break up with him, I just had to be willing to do so. I had to show where my loyalties lie. I had to prove who I loved more and who I truly served.
As the weight lifted, and the confusion set in, I had to talk it out with Brandon: the one person who was completely fine with me breaking up with him… (I personally think that is a whole other problem we should probably address…)
In the end, through every sob and change in thinking, we ended up staying together and promising to pray it through to determine what exactly the Lord wanted us to do and then reevaluate where we were and whether to continue our relationship or end it when he visited almost a month later. Praise the good Lord in Heaven above that the final decision was to stay put, together, and really strive to focus on Christ, keep Him at the center of everything, and listen to how He wants us to live our lives and then obey.
So here we are, still together, and still waiting to see where He takes us next.
After I got diagnosed with VEDS, my relationship with Brandon took a negative turn. If you want to read the beginning of our story, you can find that here.
A few days after I was diagnosed, as I was driving to work, I prayed that the Lord would give me something to hold onto while I grappled with living with VEDS on top of every other thing I was dealing with.
So He did.
I was sitting in my car with tears streaming down my face. I was praying. Asking God to give me something, anything to hold onto. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like this new knowledge that I did in fact have Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome was going to send me into the darkest pit of despair. I needed something to cling to; to keep me from falling into the pit that threatened to ruin my life and steal every ounce of joy I had ever known.
So I pleaded with the Lord to give me something. Anything.
And then it happened. In my little two door car, trying to see past the tears that filled my eyes, hearing the cracks in my voice as I cried out for help. I saw it.
It was about five years into the future. Brandon and I were married and we were in our room getting ready to go to sleep. We walked over to the bed and he reached out his hand to me. I took his hand and we knelt down beside our bed with our clasped hands between us on the quilt. We closed our eyes and started to pray. Just like we did every night. When I opened my eyes, our clasped hands were old and wrinkled. We had the hardest time getting off of the floor with our old knees. But we still knelt beside our bed and prayed together every night. Just like we always had.
I was frozen.
That was it. That was my hope. That was my promise. That was the thing that I could cling to for the rest of my life. When my world started to crumble again, I could remember that promise that came straight from Heaven.
I had been given visions before and I’d had dreams that I knew were from the Lord, but nothing had ever compared to this. It was so vivid and I knew it was just for me in answer to my prayers. I had asked God for hope. I had asked Him to give me something to cling to; to keep me from slipping into the darkness. And He answered me. He is so good.
He gave me hope. But not just a fleeting hope. This vision that He gave me filled me with joy and hope and peace. It has continued to fill me with joy and hope and peace. Through every trial and every temptation to give up and sink into despair, this vision has been a reminder of God’s plan for me.
Just because a doctor says that my median life span is 48 years doesn’t mean that I can’t live to grow old and kneel with my husband in prayer every night. Just because a doctor says that I’m at an incredibly high risk of rupturing anything in my body at any moment doesn’t mean that I can’t live a full life. Just because a doctor says that it’s really risky for me to have kids doesn’t mean that I can’t adopt the sweet kiddos that need someone to love them. Just because a doctor says something doesn’t mean that God can’t turn what he says into a new dream, a new blessing.
Just because I have VEDS doesn’t mean that I can’t live a long life with the man of my dreams. It doesn’t mean that I have to live in fear. It doesn’t mean that God has turned His back on me and I have to walk this road alone. Actually, it means the opposite.
Being diagnosed with VEDS has opened my eyes to just how near God is every single moment of every day. The vision He gave me has reminded me of that more times than I care to count. Chronic pain and a different issue every day makes life a little more insane. But it also makes me a little more thankful for each day I see and each moment I get to live. It makes me realize how incredibly blessed I am to have a man like Brandon who is more than just willing to walk through this insane life with me. He wants it. He is actively choosing me, with all of the crazy complications that come with a life entangled by VEDS.
He chooses to stay with me instead of walking away like most rational people would. He chooses to help me through the nights that I’m plagued with negativity. He chooses to hold me when the tears overwhelm my joy. He chooses to pray for me when I don’t know how to pray for myself anymore. He chooses to pray with me and help me to see the good all around me. He chooses to point out the positives and remind me of all of the blessings the Lord has given me. He chooses to walk with me through each of the painful moments, letting the Lord lead us on this crazy path that we call life. He chooses to love me, in the rare good moments and the frequent bad ones.
So, Brandon, it means the world to me that you actively and presently choose me, regardless of every problem we have faced and all of the craziness I’m sure we will face. You are my sunshine. Truly. When skies are gray and all I can see is the negativity, you help me to see the sun hiding just behind the clouds. You remind me that the Lord is still there and He is ready and willing to carry my burden and give me joy. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. And I pray the Lord never takes you from me.
This post is going to serve two purposes. The first is to take a look back at a year ago, September 17th 2015, when I was diagnosed with VEDS (which in turn, led to this blog). The second is to continue my story with Brandon as it relates to that fateful day. If you would like to read the beginning of our story, you can find it all here. If you would like to know more about VEDS and how I explained it, you can find that here.
One year ago today I was diagnosed with Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, otherwise known as VEDS. When I walked out of that doctor’s office, I knew my life would never be the same. One year after that day, I can say that I was definitely right.
The doctors gave me so many limitations: don’t lift more than 20 pounds; don’t exercise with any repetitive motions or heavy weights; don’t run; try not to do anything that makes your blood pump harder in your veins; oh yeah, and if you ever get pregnant, it will immediately be a high risk pregnancy and you have a 50% chance of passing VEDS to your kids. Just to name a few. They even threw in a median life span around 48. Have they stopped me? No. Did they give me pause? Heck yes.
The thing that gave me more pause than anything else had nothing to do with me. It had to do with my mom and Brandon.
First, let’s talk about my mom.
She’s literally one of the most incredible women on the planet. I’m pretty sure she knows everything and I’m not the only one who would say that. She is asked about anything and everything, unless it’s sports. But I don’t have to defend her to you. If you know her, then you know how fantastic she is. If you don’t, then you are missing out on knowing an amazing woman of God.
When the doctor told us that based on the data they had, VEDS patients had a median life span of 48, my first thought was, “I can’t lose my mom. That would only mean a few more years with her. That can’t happen.” I held it together in the doctor’s office, but trust me, I had more than my fair share of tears over that thought when no one was around.
Yes, it was an awful thought. Yes, I cried over it. And yes, there have been many prayers over that whole situation. But a few months later our suspicions were confirmed when my mom’s dad was also tested and diagnosed with VEDS. Considering that we have some semi-distant cousins who also have VEDS, we are also assuming that my great grandmother and her sister also had VEDS. Why is that important? They both lived to be in their 90s. My grandfather is currently in his 60s.
Know what that means?
We are defying the odds and making the doctors eat their words! Life span of 48?? Ha!!
There is so much peace in knowing that the Lord has been watching over my family with VEDS for decades. He has been helping us defy every odd that has been placed in our path. That, my friends, is one of the many ways I know that God is good.
Now let’s move onto the second thing that gave me pause: Brandon.
Before I was able to walk out of that doctor’s office, it was as if moments of my future life were flashing before my eyes. The problem was, they weren’t very nice ones… *insert dramatic blur to dream vision* I was in my 30s sitting in yet another doctor’s office and he had no answers for why this was happening. I had to visit what seemed like a hundred doctors each year because of all of the problems I was having. I was being wheeled into the emergency room because a major organ had ruptured and they were going to try to save my life, but the likelihood of them being able to save me was minimal. I was slipping away while giving birth to a child, realizing that I would be leaving my husband wifeless, perhaps childless if the baby didn’t make it, and that baby may have the same disease that caused me so many problems if he or she made it… A life of pain. A life of heartache. A life of frustrations and trials and worries… *insert blur back to reality*
Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind.
My brother, Parker, was diagnosed with VEDS a couple of months before, which is why we were tested for VEDS at that time. Since Parker had already been diagnosed, we knew what to Google. We knew what the geneticist said about it and we had some resources to look at, so the 6 weeks between when the blood work was taken and the results came in were filled with learning more about VEDS and how it could potentially affect us for the rest of our life.
Brandon and I had talked about the fact that I was in the process of being tested for VEDS. (Granted, I waited a few days to tell him that my mom, sister, and I had gotten tested… He wasn’t too happy about that…) So when I called to tell him that the blood work had come back positive, it wasn’t a big surprise. We had been planning for that.
I’m sure that Brandon wasn’t too thrilled when I basically told him that I thought it would be better for him if he let me go and found someone else to be with. His life would be better. He would’t have to deal with all of the doctors and medications and bills and problems. His life would be easier and probably a lot simpler without me in it. So I offered him an out. I gave him a way to leave without guilt and without any hard feelings. I didn’t want him to be stuck with me and VEDS for the rest of his life. He deserved better than that.
The problem with that whole conversation was that he didn’t agree.
A year ago we were 21. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many 21 year old guys who hear that their girlfriend has a progressive and chronic genetic disorder with many limitations and still decide that they would rather live that life with you than leave you for anything or anyone else.
That moment made me realize how much Brandon really did love me. It wasn’t that he felt obligated to stay with me or anything like that. He had prayed about it and thought about it deeply. He actively chose me, knowing everything that came with that choice. He chose me knowing how many sacrifices he would have to make. He loved me not only in spite of all of those things; he loved me because of them.
Here are a couple of the things he told me after I was diagnosed with VEDS:
“Let me be your leg to stand on when you can’t stand on yours. Let me be your rock when you need it. I’m here for you and I’m not going anywhere, so you better get used to it because you have a long time left with me!” and “I know that there’s a lot that I’ll have to deal with in this life if I’m with you, but who’s to say that it’ll be easier without you? No one!”
Each day and each moment that has filled the last year of life with VEDS has taught me so much. But most of all, it has made me realize how short life is and how quickly it can all change. Brandon not only loved me in that moment, he loved me for every moment after that. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He held me while I cried and suffered through an insane diagnosis. He kept telling me it would all work out and God had it under control. He worked with me through one of the roughest seasons in my life and he continues to do so each day. I guess you could say he’s a keeper.
The Lord was able to take that crazy day and turn it into a blessing. It has definitely been a rough year, but I have been blessed beyond measure since that day.
However, as blessed as I was and as loved as I was after that day, I went through a rather difficult time. I felt guilty for dating Brandon because I felt like I was dragging him into a terrible life. I felt bad for the people around me who had to deal with everything too. In reality, I would have preferred leaving everyone I knew and living by myself and taking care of myself so I didn’t burden anyone else. Granted, that didn’t really work. At all. But I did still slip into a short season of not understanding why this was happening to me.
One day on my way to work, I prayed that the Lord would give me something to hold onto while I grappled with living with VEDS on top of every other thing I was dealing with. So He did.
But I’ll tell you about that next time.
Here’s the beginning of our story.
So 2013 started off with my first kiss. Even if Brandon did technically miss the first time. But that was just the beginning. As if the missed first kiss, in the dark, on the side of the road, with my sister waiting in the car wasn’t awkward enough, we were also in the most awkward position ever. I was carrying stuff in one arm, which ended up wedged awkwardly between us, and my other arm was slung around his super tall shoulder. It wasn’t super romantic, but it’s one of my favorite memories and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Can you imagine that my life got more awkward than that? Not even two full days later, I found myself in one of the most awkward situations that I have ever experienced to this day. And believe me, I’ve had more than my fair share of awkward moments in my lifetime…
Allow me to set the scene for you. We were sitting in my very small, 2-door car. It was late, and even though I didn’t have a curfew, I probably should have been driving home. But I wasn’t. I was sitting in the driver’s seat across from the guy I was very quickly falling for, talking. Yes, we were actually talking, not being typical teenagers. And then it happened. The words I never dreamed I would actually hear come out of a guys mouth when they were talking to me.
“I think I love you, Gentry…”
The words hung in the air.
I knew I was supposed to respond. I knew exactly how I was supposed to respond: “I love you too, Brandon!” But I didn’t. The silence lingered. My facial expression was probably priceless. I racked my brain for an answer. This is what I found:
“I really want to say it back, Brandon. I’ve thought about saying that a million times over the last six months. I’ve prayed about it. Literally. But I can’t. I can’t say that right now because I’m not sure that I know exactly what love is. You’re the first guy I’ve ever liked this much and I want to say that it’s love, but I’m not positive. I’ve never experienced that kind of love before and I don’t want to say it and then not really mean it because I don’t understand what I’m saying. I’m sorry. I just can’t say that right now.”
I realized I was rambling and repeating myself, so I stopped talking.
If you told someone that you loved them and they gave you that response, how would you respond? Honestly.
I expected shock or silence or something other than what I got.
The look on his face was purely apologetic. He started apologizing profusely for springing it on me so suddenly and saying that he didn’t want me to say that I loved him until I really meant it. He was completely understanding and never once made me feel uncomfortable.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was extremely uncomfortable and felt like the most awkward person on the face of the earth.
So, I didn’t tell Brandon that I loved him that day, but I did eventually. I probably would have the next day if he wouldn’t have left to go back home. But he did go home and that wasn’t something that I wanted to say over the phone. So I waited a month until he came to visit again in February.
* * *
It was like a flashback in my mind. A month later we were sitting across from each other in my car once again. Brandon hadn’t told me that he loved me again since that first time a month ago. But this time, it was my turn.
My mind was muddled and my heart hammered in my chest. My mouth was dry, but I had to say it. I had to tell him.
“Brandon. I love you.”
The next words out of his mouth shocked me more than the first time he told me that he loved me.
“Are you sure?”
It wasn’t a movie moment where he kissed me or we had a nice romantic moment or he even said that he loved me too. Those three words, not “I love you” but “Are you sure,” through me for a loop. I questioned everything I had been thinking for the last month.
“Uh… Yeah.” I mean, I was sure, right!?
He looked worried. Not happy, but worried! (I’m literally laughing as I type this.)
“I just want to make sure that you actually want to say it. I don’t want you to say it just to make me happy.”
I had just told this boy that I loved him and he was worried about me saying it just to say it. That was why I loved him in that moment. That response is what solidified my love for him and my resolve to tell him. He never pushed me. He never tested my boundaries. He respected where I stood and stood beside me until I was ready to take the next step.
The best part? He hasn’t changed. He still stands beside me and respects my boundaries. He doesn’t push me to do anything that I’m not sure of. But he also doesn’t just let me stand still in life. He pushes me to be a better person and grow each and every day. He prays for me and with me and he supports me in my classes, work, relationships, and family. He really does love me. It wasn’t just three little words that he said one day. He lives it. He actively loves me. And that is one of the many reasons that I love him.