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My Story | The Valley’s End

The Valley's EndAfter the surgery, visible healing followed. I could stand for longer than 5 minutes. I could walk and run without intense pain. Overall, recovery took longer than expected, but the joy of feeling my body heal was worth the struggle! I had finally reached the moment I had dreamed of for so long.

On May 23rd, Ben and I were wed, and over the course of the next year we became one. It was a wonderful first year, a year in the sunshine, a year of healing.

For a long time leading up to my surgery, I spent many nights crying, many days frustrated, and many months confused. But God knew all along that this would be my story. This would be the way of my healing. This would be my lot.

No amount of asking why or railing against the pain in anger could change the course of this story. I just had to wait. I had to learn WHO my God was, rather than WHY I feelt so much pain all the time.

I still get migraines often. I throw up. I get sick easily, and to this day, I deal with chronic pain. I believe it will follow me the rest of my life, but there has been incredible healing in this valley. I have learned to accept my story, to not be angry with it, to live within it even as I learn how to better care for myself.

Having emerged from the valley with scars to show for it, I urge you to wait patiently within the valley you find yourself in. I urge you to learn about WHO instead of always searching for the WHY. I encourage you to remember that while shadows, rocks, and unexpected holes litter your valley…you can also find sunshine, hope, and love.

Look up, not down. Grieve, but not without hope. Worship God through the tears. Wait on Him. His story for you does not change even when your feelings and emotions rage. Trust God with your life, the whole of your heart. Walk through the valley, and when you get near the end, reflect on all He has shown you. You will be amazed! You will see miracles. You will find love abundant, God ever caring!

Still reflecting,

Sierra Straightforward

My Story | Miracles in the Valley

Miracles in the ValleyThe healing process can prove slow and painful. Exhaustion dragged me down as I entered my sixth year with chronic pain. My determination waned along with my will to improve. A valley, though hard and fiery, can become in many ways a comfortable place to stay.

Ben and I dated seriously and knew that we would get engaged by the end of the year, though we kept our plans quiet. He was finishing his final year in the Institute of Ministry, so I left my beloved daycare job at Wolf Mountain to join him. I taught Junior High, did secretarial work, and took classes all while we happily dated. I also quietly sat undetermined to take the necessary steps for surgery.

Somewhere along the way, I finally picked up the slack and began making the calls to switch my insurance to my new county, hoping to acquire a primary doctor so my body could get on with physical healing.

On December 23rd of that year (2014), Ben proposed. My heart brimmed with dreams, and the planning began. Ben was my anchor and proved over and over that he really was the keeper of my heart. In the process of finding decor, making paper roses, and feeling beautiful in my simple (yet detailed wedding dress), my medical insurance finally updated me to my present county … in February!

Needing the surgery, wedding plans took a back seat while I tended to the medical hurdles. I hoped to accomplish it before our May 23rd wedding, but May approached quickly, and the hoops to jump through seemed endless. First, I had to have a series of doctor’s appointments in order for them to recommend me for surgery. Once they placed the request, the waiting game began.

Though simple in nature, the procedure still required the insurance company’s approval. As experience had taught me, a response could take a month if not longer. After that, we would need to schedule a surgery date, and then factor in healing time. It all seemed impossible to meet before our May 23rd wedding date. I needed a miracle!

Hope abounded and with it a renewed determination to heal. I made calls and worked hard to get the appointments as fast as possible. My first doctor’s appointment was scheduled for March 11, but I called the office every day to see if anyone had cancelled so I could have my appointment sooner. Finally, someone cancelled and I was schedule for March 3rd! Praise God!

After the multiple doctors’ appointments, I finally had a surgeon. I scheduled two appointments — the first so the surgeon could look at me and recommend surgery, and the second for the actual procedure. It would take a miracle to get this surgery less than week after the general appointment.

I prayed desperately for this desire of my heart, reigning in my wild pleas as I asked that it only be done if it was God’s timing. I would receive an answer on Monday or Tuesday. I was used to hearing a no, but I was convinced that God would give me a yes. Though I admit my confidence wavered, then flew back in with strength.

I let Monday go by without calling, because surely it would be Tuesday before we received an actual answer. Then Tuesday came … and I was not happy with what I heard. The request was faxed to my primary care doctor, but they never got it. My request for surgery hadn’t even crossed with the insurance company, and they would no doubt take days to approve the surgery. I was disappointed.

But this time, I wasn’t giving up! I picked up the phone and made calls back and forth between both the surgeon’s office and my primary doctor’s office. After things sorted out and my paperwork was submitted to the insurance company, I felt better. I had done everything on my part that could be done.

After all the calls on Tuesday, I stopped the work I was doing at the school and knelt to pray as I again begged God for surgery if it be His desire for me. Waiting wasn’t as difficult as I had made it in the past. God knew my needs, and He knew the timing with which those needs should be met.

I went to my IIM Tuesday class. Prayer requests were asked for, I gave mine, and we prayed that I would have surgery soon.

Minutes later, I was called with this news, “The insurance company went ahead and approved your surgery.” She kept on going, but I was amazed at God. The insurance company approved my surgery in less than 24 hrs! I cried in awe.

This is sunshine in the valley. This is healing in sight. This is wonder because my God is great.

Still in Awe,

Sierra Straightforward

My Story | The Hard Middle

Fall of 2013 dawned as a time of beginnings. I still struggled with my chronic pain, but my job as a child-care worker and my growing friendship with Ben added a vitality to my life that I had left behind in the many months before. The emotional cavities in my heart were healing as Ben helped me grow and live a fuller life. We began officially dating in October. We had a magical Christmas holiday and made long-lasting memories. I really liked dating Ben, and I loved him! By December of 2013, I was certain I would marry him.

We talked about everything that was important, shared the same passions, complimented each other’s strengths, and stood by during weakness. He became my best friend. I avoided calling him boyfriend because boyfriend seemed too shallow for what he meant to me. Long distance proved hard, but fun.

Story4Enduring chronic pain seemed more hopeful alongside a best friend who refused to leave and always comforted me through the tears. The following February (2014), while I took a shower, I noticed a lump on my body. Fear stole my breathe. I had never seen it before, but in the previous months I had experienced a different kind of pain.

Continue reading “My Story | The Hard Middle”

My Story | Shreds of Hope

My first year working at Wolf Mountain Christian camp was interesting, to say the least. I had never enjoyed children all that much, so working as primary child care provider for the staff kidsinfants was totally new and overwhelming. I didn’t have any real experience with little humans. It scared me! What if something bad happened on my watch?

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Strained health and tight finances prevented me from attending college, working a job, and participating in theater. While the child care job provided flexibility, stability, and time to rest, it didn’t come without its share of responsibilities and struggles.

Continue reading “My Story | Shreds of Hope”

My Story | The Valley Depths

Several months before I turned 17, I experienced strong chest pains. It became so intense I could barely breathe, carry my books, or even open a door. My parents had left on an important trip, so if I experienced any problems I was to call Grandma who lived close by. She came over in the night, checked my blood pressure, and made the executive decision to take me to the ER.

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I put on some clothes and got in the car with Grandma. Though my blood pressure seemed fine, the chest pain caused concern. It had started in my left arm and became progressively worse. On the drive there, the realization of how fast my life could change struck me. What I heard tonight could alter my life forever. Would I receive bad news? Did I have a tumor? Cancer? What was hurting my body? Even after leaving behind the overwhelming thoughts of death I mentioned in my last post, I still worried a bit of what might come.

Continue reading “My Story | The Valley Depths”

My Story | Age 16

I’ve alluded to my personal story in previous posts, but I wanted to take the next several weeks and share with you in detail the struggles, trials, and triumphs of the last 5 years! I want to take September & part of October to reflect on all God has shown me through these valleys and mountaintops.Story1

At 16, I was almost a year into my chronic headaches. I was a year into those beginning feelings of loss. Loss of health. Loss of physical ability. Loss of capability. Loss of confidence. To this day, I’m not certain whether or not I needed to feel those emotions, but I did and they hurt.

Moving from a physically-able body to a chronically-pained one proved to be a difficult process. I internalized the struggle and fought vainly to overcome it. I spent so much time in pain that I barely made room for anything else. In effect, I worshiped my pain.

 

In the summer of 2012, I worked in Leadership Live at Ironwood Christian Camp — a program for teens to learn about the ministry and apply that same knowledge to actual labor. I also grew up at this camp, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, I worked 6 weeks with 10 other girls, crammed into a tiny room, while serving in the camp kitchen! Surprisingly, I loved it. But my pain remained deep and perplexing.

Continue reading “My Story | Age 16”

Be a Good Steward of Good Times

Once upon a time when I was engaged, I learned something significant … but let’s back up the story to December 23, 2014.

engaged!Ben said he was going to take me to his favorite place. So on Tuesday, we walked behind his house and over the bridge. We strolled along the creek as we admired all those childhood tree-fort ruins.

We spread out a blanket and sat. Ben looked nervous, so I made light conversation, enjoying the breeze. After awhile, we walked closer to the creek and stood. Ben bounced with nervous energy. I didn’t say anything, but I could see the outline of the ring box in his jacket pocket. So, I waited.:) Continue reading “Be a Good Steward of Good Times”

Grief & Joy Can Coexist

While I suffered the darkest years of chronic pain, I learned a lot about grief, about loss. It was hard to live inside a day experiencing so much physical pain. I hung up my dreams and resigned myself to a short life. I let my broken body rule my emotions. I grieved in the wrong way — without God. I forsook joy though I had every reason to know it. I became bitter and let physical pain wipe out gratitude.

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We have all been there in one way or another. We have lamented without God, and in the long process of heartache, we forget the joy we have in Him. Somewhere along the way, I learned that grief and joy can coexist. I can feel both.

It’s NOT Too Late to Have a Good Day

JoyDo you ever feel discouraged because you spent the entire day in a way you wish you hadn’t? I’ve had more days like that than I care to admit! I come into the day with good intentions only to find myself wallowing in disaster near the end.

I get caught up in this, that, and the other and begin to live my day focused on me and all that’s difficult in my life. And why shouldn’t I? Am I not having a bad day anyway? Can’t a human have just one day that they get upset at every little thing? What about that person who really hurt me? Can’t I stay mad about that? Oh good grief! See how easy it is to get lost in this kind of thinking? It feels good to think this way even though this thought pattern sucks out joy and thankfulness. And let me just tell you that one day of ingratitude and self-pity turns into many, many more!

I’m going to let you in on a secret this morning. Ready? Here it is …

It’s NOT too late to have a good day! Even if it’s 11:55 pm, you can still turn in the right direction. When you ask forgiveness of God and pray for His strength, He never replies with “No! It’s too late. You should have asked 2 hours ago.” He never, ever does that. He grants forgiveness to the contrite heart. He gives strength to the weary. He gives joy to the one having an awful day. It’s not too late.

Last week, we talked about the foundation of joy, which is a relationship with God. I hope you have grasped that and have begun to live it out. But I also know that even as we strive to love God and live a joyful life, we all still have hard days where circumstances seem to pit against us and life  seems so difficult. Having a joyful life doesn’t mean we will never experience hard times. It simply means that when these things come along … we choose to handle them the right way.

So I urge you to:

  1. Wake up and give your day to God.
  2. Cry out to God if you need to. Life is hard! We need His comfort.
  3. Forsake bitterness, no matter how appealing it seems.
  4. Rest in Him. Throw your burdens on Him. He wants them.
  5. Ask God to help you see the good once again.

But, if you get to 11:55 pm and every hour before was full of bad attitudes, hard times, resentment, anger, or ingratitude … remember that it is not too late to turn back to God and finish the day in a good way. God loves you and He desires to restore you. Let Him.

A thankful life full of joy doesn’t mean you smile 24/7 and throw confetti everywhere you go, but it does mean that you seek God with the daily, and often hourly, challenges that you face. It means that you give to God what is hard. It means that you don’t wallow in self-pity. It means that you continuously turn back to God every time you go astray. As you seek God for strength, as you ask Him for joy, as you rely on Him for healing, and give over your days … you’ll find rest and inexplicable joy.

So … good morning!

It’s not too late to turn back to God and finish this day the right way! You can have a good day, even when everything else seems bad.

The Foundation for Joy

Joy and thankfulness are the two easiest things to cast aside when trudging knee deep in the drudgery of daily life. However, seeking joy is the overwhelming trend on Christian social media. This gratitude, living small moments, looking for lovely has come on us in a wave and we don’t always know what to do with it.

Foundation for Joy

So, we like the status, share the post, and go on our way. All too soon, the challenge to find the lovely gets tramped on and swallowed up in all the frustrations, relationship burdens, and inward feelings of failure. Thankfulness is hard and it’s not as hallmark as acknowledging a  moment of precious life. We are fallen humans, living in a sin-cursed world, clinging to God. We all know that gratitude and a heart of joy are no picnic … it’s a battlefield.

Today, I want you to consider something: You will not succeed in a life of thankfulness if you only find your gratitude in this earthly life. You cannot cultivate a true heart of joy only by finding the lovely things or enjoying the small moments. It’s not just about this precious life. Facebook posts and Pinterest quotes are catchy, and they can often persuade you of the shallow things. We make these earthly solutions our foundation, but when the moment of testing arrives a Pinterest quote can’t hold us strong!

To have a heart of joy, to fight for a life of thankfulness … you must have a relationship with God.

This is the foundation for joy. To have no relationship with God means you forfeit true joy. It means you will have trouble finding the precious moments in life. It means you will scramble to make small life moments into something great and worthwhile.

However, you can only know joy and live a thankful life when you know God. Having a relationship with God reminds you constantly of His love for you. It provides a way to fellowship with Him wherever you may be and in whatever situation you find yourself.

Daily life is difficult, but God gives you purpose, peace, and strength! He provides for you a sure and steady foundation. God is good and He never changes, so even when life is hard you can experience joy. God, Creator of Life, Savior, and Prince of Peace must first be your foundation. You must diligently pursue Him and know Him, and then these lovely moments, these small things, these bits of happiness in a chaotic life are easier to see and they begin to make sense.

Be wary of the feel-good quotes you see and the flimsy solutions we believe in for a thankful life. We are a people easily persuaded. If you only look for the lovely and the small life moments without knowing God then you will fill up empty every single time.

Seek God.

Know Him.

He is the Giver of Joy.

Still Learning,

Sierra Straightforward

Concerning Change | A Letter to You

We’ve spent several weeks discussing change. I’ve shared practical advice, showed you part of my story, and encouraged you to press on. Today, I write to you as though I’m writing a letter to my friend.

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Dear,

Don’t fear life and change. You should change, grow, and learn. Make mistakes and embrace the lessons learned from them. You should feel a bit disoriented every now and again because change comes fast and it can be hard! Find the joy in transition as your heart brims with gratitude for this beautiful and complex life. But above all, your changing heart should find inexplicable rest in your never-changing God.

You can embrace change with both hands and a steady heart because of God’s faithfulness and steadfastness. He has promised to never leave or forsake you. Let this ever-changing life pull you closer to Christ. You can depend on Him. You must depend on Him because He is the only One who can and will bring you through it.

You will only live life well when you fully and deeply rely on your never-changing God. The next time you crack under the pressure and the demands of life, feel that frailty, give it to God, and then rest in His strength.

Change can make you a better woman. Hold tight to God’s promises and rest in His never-changing character. Become more like Him. Don’t fear the transition that has the potential to bring you nearer to Christ.

My dear —

Don’t be afraid.

Trust God … fully, resolutely, faithfully.

Why?

Because God is with you and He will never leave or forsake you.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

Concerning Change | Part 3

Change can be beautiful. Strange, right? I often think of change as a negative thing. I like staying within the safety of my comfort zone and squirm at the thought of making new friends. Starting over proves exhausting, and creating new friendships can be awkward. You both feel a little out of place and apprehensive as you piece together a one-dimensional first impression. But beauty lies in all of it.

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The past few weeks, I’ve met new acquaintances, reunited with old ones, made a new friend, and learned some things as I’ve navigated the rocky road of adult friendships. Today, I want to share some of those with you.

  1. Don’t rely on first impressions.

I have fallen into this trap on more than one occasion. I find the girl that strikes me as confident, personable … and dare I say it, popular! This girl makes a stellar first impression, and I want to get to know her. However, I have found that I rarely become good friends with that girl.

Popular, confident girls that give a great impression are worth knowing and many of them are genuine. I am simply saying that first impressions are flimsy and you may find that the quiet, awkward girl becomes your real friend faster than the confident girl. You can never accurately guess which way it will go! So be kind to everyone, and rule out first impressions.

  1. Awkward first chats are so worth it!

AGH! Do you ever find yourself having that first conversation and feeling out of place? It’s strange to grow a real friendship in awkward, disjointed patches of conversation. Don’t shy away from the hard work and the discomfort of getting to know someone. You can’t completely avoid awkwardness. Embrace it, push through it, and get to know that person! Awkward chats don’t last forever.

  1. Ask but also share.

In our effort to ask questions and get to know someone, we often forget to share about ourselves. A friendship is a two-way street. You have to let the other person in your door. I’m not saying share your deepest secrets, but share about your life! You’ll never have real friends if you don’t.

  1. Real friendships take time … and effort.

DUH! Everyone knows this! But knowing is much easier than doing. Real friendships are hard, hard, hard. They don’t come when you snap your fingers or wish upon a star. You have to do the work and consistently choose to invest in another person. Pursue friendships no matter how long it takes. It is worth the time and energy, even if you only make one new friend.

  1. Learn to trust.

If you trust no one, you’ll be miserable. As an adult, you’ve probably been betrayed by more than one person in your life. You have the scars to prove it. Five years later, you might still feel the pain, but you can’t let that stop you. Choose your friends wisely, and then choose to trust them.

The truest friendships go beneath the thick layers of the heart and say “I’m staying anyway.” You will never know the beauty of this until you let go, embrace risk, and learn to trust. Be someone who can be trusted, and in turn, learn how to trust.

As you navigate the daunting world of change, don’t forget to “put yourself out there” and make friends. People are the beautiful things in life. Developing solid, enjoyable friendships turn new places into home.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

Have other tips? Share them with me in the comment section below!

 

Concerning Change | Part 2

Last week, I shared about our recent move back into Christian camp ministry. This week, let me tell you something else.

I am NOT a flexible person! I cannot do a somersault. My body refuses to move that way. Growing up, my friends would try and try to teach me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put my legs over my head.

I don’t only struggle with physical flexibility but also with being flexible in daily life. I like days full of routine and weeks that repeat themselves. I like to know what to expect each day.

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However, when you and your husband move to a new county, delve back into camp work, settle into a new house, and begin new work areas all in the space of a month … nothing feels the same, and your capacity to adapt is tested.

You can’t stop change, but you can improve your “elasticity.” Having undergone some major life transitions, I can attest that my ability to adapt and do a “life somersault” has grown. I admit that during this last stretching period I still found myself in a fetal position for at least two days before choosing to rise and embrace the inevitable ups and downs that come with learning something new!

I want to share some important lessons I’ve learned from this experience.

1. Never make a decision based on an emotional five minutes!

Emotions make powerful convincers. Don’t freak out and run from something because it doesn’t fit the initial image you envisioned. Avoid making decisions based on those first five minutes and the avalanche of emotions that barrel down with them. Change happens in a moment, but adjustments take time.

2. Find time to process.

It may take a few days, but process all that happens to you. As you do this, your heart rates slows and you can let go of some of the harder aspects of the transition.

3. New beginnings always produce discomfort.

We look forward to things that excite us with a sense of being grounded and experienced. Change never starts that way! New beginnings can lead to confusion and discomfort, but you need the beginning to reach the wonderful middle you’ve waited for. Appreciate those first steps and accept its discomforts.

4. Ask questions, and be confident!

Never hesitate to ask questions and do so with confidence. Embrace your new work area, neighborhood, or community. Understand that you’re inexperienced and you will have questions. Contrary to popular belief, you can be confident and still ask questions.

5. Make new things special.

When you get to a new place or a job, everything is different. You experience things for the first time. Nothing holds special significance. I have found that picking a tree I see every day or taking a daily prayer walk helps me to connect to this new environment. Every time I see that tree or take that walk, I start to view this place as home.

Find those things as soon as possible, and you will be amazed at how quickly you begin to see this new world as your home!

Sometimes following these tips won’t come easily, but the outcome will be worth the effort. I can truly say that they do help! I’ve lived here less than two months and have already found myself enjoying my new home and making memories in a place that initially caused a lot of uncomfortable havoc! Discomfort is not a bad thing when you undergo transition, just keep on taking the step and live the moment in front of you in the best way you know how!

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

 

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Concerning Change | Part 1

After marrying in May 2015, my husband and I decided to step down from camp ministry and take time to pray, consider, and seek God for our next life step. While away from organized ministry, I grew as an individual, discovered things about myself that needed changing, and came to conclusions about things in heart that had been submerged.

Throughout this time, Ben and I would ask each other — So, what do you think about camp? We’d discuss the pros and cons. At the end of most those conversations, we didn’t feel any closer to a decision. Although bit by bit, we made headway.

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Soon, it became clear that returning to Christian camp ministry was the next right step for us as a couple. We enjoyed camp work, loved the atmosphere, desired to serve God with all our hearts, and knew that camp ministry was a place where we could learn and grow for Christ! In December 2015, we confirmed our decision, and by January, everything was set to head in that direction.

Ben and I looked toward this next step with excitement. We prepared and enjoyed the remaining months before our move in May. When May came, it hit us hard and fast! Though eager for this new life adventure, transitioning back into camp life proved more difficult than I’d anticipated.

I wanted to take this step but struggled with all the change. Confusion and emotions warred inside me. All the new responsibilities and expectations felt unmanageable. I was overwhelmed. Questions flew through my mind. How? Why am I here? How am I supposed to do this? Change shouldn’t hurt this badly!

I experienced highs and lows, especially in those first 48 hours. As the days passed and the second week of this new life came, I felt more comfortable even as I gained confidence. However, the feeling of being overwhelmed would still rise and my physically tired body would respond in rebellion. No, I can’t! How will I make it to the end? I can’t do it! My mind continued to spin … how, how, how? NO, NO, NO.

Then, I received a gentle reminder. It was not my responsibility to deal with an entire week at once. God didn’t ask me to live Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday all in one fell swoop. How often I try to live all the days in one sitting! It’s exhausting. I can’t do it. I’m too fragile. God knows this and He only give me one moment at a time. One small, real, pressing moment. “Sierra, live this moment right here, right now.”

I am not to dwell on yesterday, or worry about tomorrow. I am only to live this small, real, pressing moment. Just this one. When I do this, it isn’t overwhelming. It doesn’t break me. One step at a time brings me forward. One step at a time brings me through a busy, transitional week. One step at a time has me living life well!

One step at a time for the rest of my life sounds daunting until I actually start living this way. One step. Two. Three steps. Four. I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t have to be overwhelmed. I don’t have to give up.

What is it in your life that worries you? Are you concerned that you can’t do everything that you’re asked to do? Remember that God doesn’t ask you to live all your days at once. He gives you strength for the moment right in front of you. Live that one moment. Live it well. Live it for Him!

Throughout the rest of July, I will share some personal stories, and some practical tips that I hope will help you as you undergo your own life changes!

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

 

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