With moving to a new place comes a laundry list of new things: new vehicle registration, new doctors offices, new dentists, new friends, new favorite restaurants, new grocery stores, new gas stations, new…everything. My strategy over the last few months has been to tackle all of the “new” items one check mark at a time. Last week, the time came to tackle the “find a doctor” item on my to do list. So I did my research, asked a few friends, and landed on my best choice. I dialed the number, made an appointment, and put a nice big check mark next to that line item. Check. One more item off the list.
And then I got sick.
And not just sick, but down-for-the-count, can’t-get-out-of-bed, losing-track-of-days kind of sick. By the time the day of my appointment rolled around, I couldn’t have been happier to have tackled that to do list item the week before. I walked into my new doctor’s office, conquered paperwork, went through the initial examinations, and then waited for the doctor’s diagnosis.
“I’d like to get some x-rays and blood work done to check this out a little further,” came her steady reply. “I think you potentially passed a kidney stone and I want to see if you have any other stones. You can get the x-ray taken care of today, and tackle the blood work tomorrow.”
X-rays. No problem. That’s practically like taking a nap. But blood work? Yikes. That wasn’t something I was prepared for. Let me explain why…
In 2009, I had orthognathic jaw surgery. In a memorable turn of events, the surgery didn’t go quite as planned and post-operation, I ended up in the ER dehydrated with nurses attempting to get an IV in my system. They tried 16 times before having any success. Just about every vein in my body was jabbed and poked as I pleaded with my own skin to cooperate. The final attempt happened to be in the veins in my neck. I vividly remember being positioned so that my body was upside-down, blood rushing to my head, and the nurse trying to secure an IV needle. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed as much as I did in those few moments. At one point, I remember my Dad, staring straight into my eyes, saying, “Emily, pretend you’re somewhere else. You’re on a beach! You’re on Sanibel Island. We’re walking there right now!” I could only look angrily as the pain continued. Finally, a baby needle was brought out and a vein in my hand decided to cooperate. Fast-forward back to 2014.
As soon as I heard the words “blood work” escape my doctor’s mouth, I couldn’t help but re-live the adventure I just described above. And believe me, that’s no walk down memory lane. It’s more like a sprint through nightmare avenue. My body tensed as I mentally made note of everything I needed to take care of. Pick up my medication at the Pharmacy. Check. Get x-rays done. Check. Buy a ton of cranberry juice. Check. Ask my Dad how to survive kidney stones. Check, check, check. Get blood work taken care of. I don’t want to say check.
But this was something I had to do.
So early the next day, my roommate and I made the trek back to the doctor’s office for my dreaded blood work. I was nervous. My palms were sweating. I wanted to cry. All I could envision was the nurse hanging me upside-down and drawing blood from my neck. The fear was real. I wanted to escape. And then my name was called. The moment had come. I walked back and took a seat. As the typical “find a vein” search started, I stared fearfully at Shelby and asked her to hold my hand. She tried to take my mind off of it as the nurse said, “Here we go.” And it just happened. I felt a tiny prick. But it happened. There was no pain, no second tries, no hanging me upside down. It worked. My baby veins conquered my blood work. I stared fear in the face and won. And after winning, I celebrated with a smoothie and the reminder to “squeeze” the day. It only seemed fitting.
The night before having my blood work done, I was on the phone with my parents, talking through the events of the week and my Dad said something that really resonated with me: “Emily, you’re not in the same condition that you were in back in 2009. You’re in a different place. You were dehydrated when they couldn’t find your veins. Now, you’re not.”
This may seem like a stretch to you, but to me, a lightbulb went off. There is pain, grief, shame and sorrow in my past that I don’t want to revisit. There are moments in life when I felt like I was hung upside-down, screaming in pain, angry at myself or the decisions of those around me. Sometimes thinking back to those situations, people, and places makes me feel the pain all over again. I don’t want to look at the dehydrated moments of my life. I want to run full-steam ahead.
But sometimes we have to face our fear, our pain, and our shame and choose to conquer it in order to move forward. Here’s what I’m learning to embrace: I was in a different place emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally in the moments of my past that bring me pain. The decisions I made then stem from a dehydrated heart, a heart not choosing to be the woman God made me to be. I’ve found healing from my past hurts, habits and hang-ups by nourishing my soul—replenishing that which was dead with the life-giving water of Jesus. I’m not that broken-down girl who made the decisions I’m ashamed of anymore. I’m forgiven. I’m free. I’m redeemed. And I am whole.
That being said, I don’t have to be terrified looking at my past. I don’t need to be nervous, scared or ashamed when I walk into a place that reminds me of past decisions, or see an individual that makes me think of past hurt. I can stare at my pain and conquer it because I’m not that girl anymore. I’m changing, growing, healing, and becoming who God made me to be.
You see, sometimes we just have to stare at our pain head-on in order to discover healing and breakthrough. And please hear me: I’m not saying to be unwise here. It would be foolish of us to deliberately walk into unsafe, unhealthy situations that could cause us harm or stunt the growth God is doing in us. I’m talking about situations and circumstances outside of our control: memories, flashbacks, people, and the healing process itself. Healing takes time. It takes a whole lot of prayer. And it takes the courage to face your fears.
I’m thankful I’m not the same girl from 2009 who was so dehydrated that it took 16 tries before the 17th IV needle stuck. I’m thankful I was able to look fear in the face this week and have blood work done without being hung upside-down.
I’m thankful I’m not the same girl who made those mistakes she wishes she could forget. Now, quite honestly, I’m finally coming to a place where I actually believe it’s ok to not be ok. And it’s ok to make mistakes. Perhaps the biggest mistakes and some of my deepest pain will be how I can help people the most. If anything, my biggest mistakes and deepest pain and shame have helped me discover more of who Emily is—and isn’t—than ever before. As a result, I’ve learned more about God’s grace in a way I never imaged, and I’m finally beginning to believe that shame doesn’t define me. The internal battles and fearful war can end because I’m not that same girl anymore. I’m a girl who can stare fear in the face…and win. I think it’s time for us to stand up and squeeze the day.