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”

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

When the Journey Changes

At the age of 15, I experienced intense, regular headaches. They came so often that I began to worry. By 16, I suffered with unbearable migraines. I would lie down in the school nurses station between classes so I could gather enough stamina to sit upright for the lecture. I would groan quietly to deal with the sharp twists and turns knifing through my head.

It was agony.

near the beginning of my chronic pain journey
Near the beginning of my chronic pain journey

For the last 4 years or so, I’ve recounted this tumultuous journey of chronic pain. Every chronic pain story differs, but each one hurts. My own journey holds much personal depth, and I hope that soon I can adequately communicate my experience with you.

However, in the past year, I have known healing and rest from physical pain. It still remains, but not in the same agonizing way. I am not in darkness. How unique that you and I should meet when this journey of mine has just begun to change.

You see, I recently did a 5-minute cardio workout. Those of you with chronic pain understand the significance of that statement. It feels so good to have my muscles burning again. It is a happiness that I have just begun to re-experience. I thank God for a body that can move intensely for 5 minutes and for these moments of exercise that leave my body burning in the best type of pain I could ever wish for.

This is healing pain. My journey has just begun to change, and I must record it.

I have clearly documented my chronic pain. It is set in my history, but I cannot only recount the dark and hard part of my journey. I must also share when it is full of light and ease. I must remember today. I must remember this healing. No journey stays the same forever. At times, I felt as though the pain held me tight, pulling me closer and swallowing me up. But that’s not the truth.

It can feel desperate, black, and eternal, but this chronic pain journey has slowly changed throughout the last 6 years. Here I am today, having completed a 5-minute intense cardio work-out! The journey does change. It just takes time.

Whatever you face today is hard and often unbearable. But if I could offer you a cup of coffee and have you sit at my kitchen table, I would tell you this …

Don’t impatiently wait for the journey to change. Keep living day by day, step by step. If you need to cry, do it. If you fall into discouragement, fall. But let every pain, heartbreak, and discouragement push you closer to Christ. He is your refuge. Trust in Him.

It is easy to remember and memorize the hard times, but when a moment of joy, light-living, and healing comes your way…savor it, recount it, weave it tightly into your history. That is your journey changing, and just as you remember the hard times, remember the good times too.

As you pray for healing, strength, and guidance, bind your heart closer to God. You may not always receive the answer you hope for, but never let your wishes stand as a barricade between you and the Savior who loves you more deeply, freely, and fully than anyone else ever will. To be frustrated at God is to forfeit your only peace and hope.

You are not alone on this path. Everyone deals with some type of chronic pain. It may not be physical, but it could be mental, emotional, and even spiritual. We all hurt in some way. We were not meant for this world after all. But we have hope! Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to You. Then, look at others and really see them. Ask how they are doing. See how you can share in the burden.

The journey will change, and it will most assuredly take a long time. But we cannot lose heart, God is our refuge and there is joy to be realized in this life of hard valleys. As a woman struggling under chronic pain, I experienced 5 minutes of intense cardio.

That is joy. It is healing.

And I am determined to remember it.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

 

 

 

On Worry | Part 3

It all came back. Not in the force of the dark thoughts that I had before. This was totally different, but it had the same effect. These new thoughts twisted my gut and imprisoned me. I didn’t expect it. I hadn’t dealt with an onslaught like this for a long, long time. But, it came. Fast and sure, and plunged me back in the depths. Even though I’d climbed out before, I didn’t know how to crawl out now. I felt trapped. I felt broken. I felt dark.

worry3I had succumbed, dived deep, and here I struggled again. Frustration and heartbreak overwhelmed me. This all over again?! The earlier darkness hadn’t returned but worry plagued me, thick and suffocating.

If only…

What if….

Maybe if I…

How come I didn’t…

It circled endlessly, tearing at my heart. As I backed away from social media, talked to my husband, and worked through these personal struggles, I realized the root of my worries. I also began to apply, once again, Scripture truths to my life.

I asked myself the hard questions. Who defines my worth? Christ. Is this____ true about my life? No. Is this____ real in my life today? No. So, what is true? What is real? I did the hard work once more. I wrote Scripture on 3×5 cards. I prayed. I even started re-reading Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George. (I highly recommend it!) I combated the wrong thoughts and chose to cling to real things and the truths of God. Once again, I found freedom from worry, from unreal things that didn’t matter. I found refuge in God, His Scripture. I’m 21 and anxiety, worry, what if’s, and unreal thoughts still come back to shake me to my core. I am imperfect. I get ragged and I fall back into the depths easily. Anxiety will follow me for the rest of my life.

BUT–

 There is hope. There is always hope for me and for you!

I have a sure way to fight this darkness. I know I hold the victory as I meditate on God’s truth, throwing out the untrue and unlovely, and embracing that which is real, honorable, and true. A lifetime struggle can look discouraging, but that is where I have to pause.

Am I facing the future right now? No. Is the future real right now? No.

What is true? This moment, right here. I can choose God’s truth or my own worry. What is real? The victory I have in Him. What do I need to think on? The truths of God.

Doesn’t all of this sound redundant? It is! We are experts at repetition. We just have to learn how to meditate the right way!

Perhaps, today you face discouragement because, after months of a worry-free mind, it has all come back. You crumple, not expecting this. The force of worry consumes you.

It buries you.

It pushes and pulls you.

It pierces you deeply.

You are not alone. It just happened to me. I am sure it will happen again.

BUT–

Decide to think on the truths of God. Ask yourself the hard questions, banish the unlovely and dark thoughts, and focus on real and true ones. Bathe yourself in Scripture. Experience refuge in God all over again.

Don’t despair! Rather, bask in the knowledge that God has the power to rescue you every time you fall! Every time! God will not refuse helping, comforting, and rescuing us — even after the 100th time you fall back into deep worry.

You will know freedom as you know Christ.

And you will have victory again!

Don’t dwell on the anxiety you may face tomorrow, two weeks from now, or next year.

What is real today?

The victory you have when you remain rooted in God.  

What do you need to think on today? 

The truths of God.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

If you missed them, catch Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

On Worry | Part 2

Last week, we talked about the depths of worry. (Don’t miss part one.) We discussed verbally admitting the struggle and touched the surface of freedom from darkness. By now, you know that I fight some deep, perplexing issues. We all do! We may struggle differently, but we all struggle deeply. This is a safe place for us to talk about it. So, let’s dive right in. If you haven’t written Philippians 4:8 on a 3×5 card yet, you will definitely want to by the end of this post!

worry2
 

For the rest of this article, you’ll read what I like to call the Truth Process. This process is hard and easy all at the same time. But the good news is that one can live free of worry, even when it doesn’t feel possible. I can’t express to you the depths of my worry. Maybe if we sat over a cup of coffee, I could adequately describe how far I sank, but we aren’t face-to-face, and I’d rather show you the way of HOPE than drone on about my own past darkness.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

As a teen, I began the process of thinking on truth. I memorized this verse. We often say it’s too hard to meditate. But if you’re the anxious worrier that I was (and still can be sometimes!), you are an EXPERT at it. In other words, we excel at meditating! But the problem comes in dwelling on the wrong things. We focus on what could be, what might be, what I might do, what I didn’t do, on dark things, on lies, and on destruction.

So how do we use our expert meditating skills the right way? Let me share three practical ways (aka–>the Truth Process) to change those bad habits.

#1. Write Philippians 4:8 and other Scriptural truths on 3×5 cards. 

Be sure to write down Philippians 4:8 (one of the most helpful verse for freedom from anxiety), but also study Scripture to find other verses that give you comfort, strength, and hope. Remember, God wrote these truths for us! He gave His Word to help and sustain us — to tell of His love, His care, His power! Keep that in mind as you look for Scripture to write down.

After you compile 3-4 verses, carry them with you wherever you go. Read the card(s) every time you walk through a doorway, pass a trash can, look out a window … you get the point! Pick a daily action that you do frequently, and when you find yourself doing that action, read the verse as well! Just do it. You will be amazed at the subtle changes you’ll begin to see. The invasion of truth in a dark, battered mind makes a huge difference.

#2. Ask yourself, “Is this True? Is this Real?” 

We can’t just read Scripture and be done with it. We have to apply it as well. When you read Philippians 4:8, pull your anxiety parallel to God’s Word. Is this _____ true about my life? Is this _____ real? Is this ____ lovely? Continue asking yourself if these thoughts line up with Philippians 4:8. If you can’t say yes to any of these questions, then you have to throw the thought out.

How can you throw out a thought? How can you stop thinking it? Restructure the questions above. So, what is true? What is real? What is lovely? Answer those questions after you reject the untrue, unreal, and unlovely thoughts that we are so apt to focus on. You’ll begin to see a huge change!

#3. Do this over and over and over and over again. 

You won’t see much change if you don’t continually think on truth, discard wrong thoughts, and think on truth some more. It took a lot of the same dark thoughts to plunge you into despair and anxiety. It’s going to take daily, hourly, minutely meditation on truth for you to live free from anxiety. You have to keep reading Scripture, memorizing it, knowing it, and then applying it.

Ask yourself the hard questions, throw away the untrue, unlovely thoughts. Next, think again on what is true and real. You will find that God’s truth overrides darkness every time. You will find freedom from despair.

Perhaps you say I’ve had victory before, but I’m ragged again. What do I do?  Oh my dear, I understand. I recently went through a whole struggle myself, but I’ll talk about that next week. You are not alone. Keep thinking on truth and come again. We will find truth and comfort together.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

P.S. Consider reading Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George. While I wrote this article in my own words, I’ve taken the advice from her!

On Worry | Part 1

I washed my hands all the time. I fretted about everything. I cried easily. Anxiety plagued me. I lived in prison — a prison of my own making. My struggle with anxiety increased in my early teens. I feared stealing, lying, cheating, killing myself, and so many others things.

Today, I open part 1 of my journey through worry. I hope you’ll stay for all of it.

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A life of constant worry lead to exhaustion. I felt stuck in a black hole, unsure of how to climb out. How could I go from chains to freedom? How could I break the cycle of questions and torments, especially when trapped so deep? Would it ever happen? Or would I always live like this?

These feelings tormented me.

As a young girl, this did so much damage. Such thoughts always lead to deep damage. Eventually, I voiced my twisted, dark thoughts, because I couldn’t cope alone anymore. It wasn’t hard for those close to me to know I struggled, but it was hard for me to verbally admit it.

But at last, I told my Mom the struggles I faced. I was tired of the endless darkness. My Mom gave me the first shreds of hope. She wrote Scripture on 3×5 cards for me to read over and over again. She also bought me Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George. This book pointed me to Scripture and showed practical ways to break out of my self-destructive thinking patterns.

However, it isn’t easy reaching this point. Admitting one’s struggles takes courage. It’s hard to share the dark thoughts inside us or to say, “I’m afraid I’m going to kill myself.” If I could travel back to my life as a young teen, I’d tell myself three things. Continue reading “On Worry | Part 1”

Straightforward

As I started the process of writing for this ministry, Takiela asked me to come up with a name for my column. I didn’t know what to do. It stumped me for hours! My husband had some really good ideas. He claims he’s not a writer, but he’s quite poetic. Anyhow, we threw around good names, but they weren’t quite right. So, hours passed and I remained stuck in a rut!

Then, straightforward came to my attention. I wish that more adults would be straightforward. Let me tell you something, spending time with children can be refreshing and embarrassing. Why? Because, they are straightforward. They say what’s on their minds without the expended energy of beating around the bush. Kids don’t have a bush!

As you get older, you learn discernment. This is good! We should be discerning with what we say. But with age, we’ve also learned how to hide within ourselves and shut people out. We’ve learned to gloss over our problems and only show so much.

However, as a young woman, I want older women to be transparent with me. I want them to tell me what they have experienced, what they have learned. I want to hear their stories, so that I can grow from them. As people, we have all these experiences that we stack in a corner of our heart. We don’t tell or show anyone. Our hearts are closed tight, and we are closed off.

 

Sierra Straightforward

But this little column here? It’s going to be straightforward. This place will share, open up, and welcome you in. This tiny nook is going to be the corner of my heart that you get to sit inside. I’ll be discerning in the things I share, but I’ll also be straightforward and transparent. I hope you’ll do the same. Leave comments, tell me your story, and become a part of this FLOURISH community. I want to get to know you as you get to know me!

You don’t know many things about me yet, so I hope to take the next few weeks to show you some of the biggest mountaintops and deepest valleys of my life. Let me tell you, my story isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. No one has a sunshine, lollipop story! We just don’t. Each life holds hardness, goodness, heartbreak, joy, suffering, pain, hope, wonder, fulfilled dreams, and unfulfilled ones.

My life doesn’t resemble Pinterest-perfect images, and I’m glad for that. Life is much better than a perfect image. The tattered parts bring me closer to God, as the joy and fullness show me how much wonder God has given.

I hope that as I write and we share our lives together — we will come to realize the joy of imperfection, the wonder of life, whole and beaten.

Oh, how whole and beaten it is!

I have struggled with anxiety since the age of 12. It doesn’t burden me all the time. Rather, it comes in waves and knocks me off my feet. I fall flat for months at a time as I re-learn how to apply God’s truth to the battles in my mind.

At 15, I transitioned into chronic pain. It confused me. My thoughts grew dark. I took various pain medications. At times that the pain became so bad, I just wanted to die. The deepest part of the chronic pain valley stretched on for four years before I found a semblance of relief. I still struggle with pain today, but God has poured His strength on me. I have sought and found the comfort He provides. Even more, He has shown the mighty power of His healing.

So you see, my life is beaten and torn, but it is whole and joy-filled. That’s what I want to share here, the details of this beaten, whole, weary, full life. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of my young heart, but today, I wanted you to see some of what Sierra Straightforward will be about. I’ve said it before, but I can’t wait to share this life with you. And perhaps, you’ll want to share your life with me too.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

Meet Sierra Fedorko

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How do you compose the opening sentences that will introduce you to a community of people? How do you jump in and introduce yourself? First meetings can be awkward, so maybe it’s nice you’re behind a screen for this one!

All that to say, I’m Sierra. I’m glad you joined me, and I’m thrilled to be here! I won’t attempt to explain myself in one post. You might get bored and my fingers might cramp. But I can tell you that I’m thankful to start this journey alongside you.

Before we dive in too deep, I will share a few things about me. I’m young, though this last birthday had me feeling old. I mean, I’m in my 20’s now! YIKES. Also, I’ve never been a flower girl, but both my sisters and a lot of my friends have. I jokingly started the Never Been a Flower Girl club. Feel free to join if you fall under this category! Our club is small. Really small.

I started writing at about the age 10 or 11, and I took to all things poetry. I had a little desk in the trees where I wrote quite a bit of my young poetry. As I got older, I continued to write, but my writing and thoughts became darker as I endured heavy, hard chronic pain.

I eventually created a blog. My need to write only increased as I journaled, composed short stories, and worked on my first book. The journey of my life traverses through valleys and mountains, and my writing expressed all of that. Looking back, I see joy and anguish in my penned words.

As life moved forward, I continuously wrote on my blog. I recorded my journey, wrote from the darkness, wrote from the joy, and shared my life with people. Then in December 2014, Leading Young Women to Hope presented me with an opportunity. After reading my blog, talking with me, and explaining the ministry, LYWH offered me the position of columnist. This provided a place to write, a place to share my hope in Christ, and a place that would stretch me. Of course, I was excited.

The opportunity was right there, open for me, ready for me. Without obligation, they gave me time to consider it. Boy, did I consider it! The opportunity dangled close enough to touch, but I found myself in the middle of the busiest two semesters in my life (so far anyway)! To top all that, I got engaged soon after the offer came in.

A bit into the New Year, I made the decision that I couldn’t commit, not yet. I wouldn’t be able to give my best, not between teaching, taking classes, planning a wedding, enduring chronic pain, and going to numerous doctor’s appointments while waiting for approval for surgery. I couldn’t dedicate the time needed when embarking on a new project. Time is tricky. You never get more of it, forcing you to choose how you use your limited supply. So I did. I said no, and in doing so, I said yes to commitments I already had.

I took my busy classes, continued teaching JH students, planned a wedding, went on school trips, had doctor’s appointments, had surgery, got married, and honeymooned.

AND SURVIVED.

November 2015 rolled around and with it, perhaps the time to say yes to this writing opportunity. I had less commitments now and could devote my time even if it came months and months later. So here I am. I can now confidently write, invest, and share with this community, with you. I look forward to it! I want to share many things in my life with you.

I want to impart my experiences, my hope in Christ, His grace in my life. I want to cry the anguished tears together and walk hand-in-hand as we encourage each other to press on for Christ. I don’t want to hoard this journey but rather open up and let you in. I want God to receive glory as we walk together along this beaten path.

Thanks for letting me be a part of your life.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

Caitlin’s Story

babyJanuary 31, 2014 didn’t fit the norm. I had switched my day off with a co-worker and dragged my feet toward the doctor’s office to figure out why hadn’t felt up to par as of late. As I pulled into the parking lot, I tried my hardest to prepare for what lay ahead. Though I only waited in the lobby a few minutes, they seemed like an eternity. When my turn arrived to head toward the examination room, I fought to maintain my composure even as it quickly dwindled away. I felt like a lifeless shell going through the motions.

After completing the test, the young lady looked confused and said we needed to wait another minute, as something didn’t seem right. I suspected the outcome, but wasn’t fully prepared to hear it.

“Congratulations, Miss Hood, you are pregnant.”

Anyone who knows me can attest that I want nothing more in this world than to be a wife and mother. Every emotion imaginable whirled inside me at once. I was a happy, emotional, nervous wreck.

As I attempted to pull myself together to safely make it home, the reality started to sink in. I was going to have a baby. Like any newly expecting mother, I started looking up everything I could related to babies, and my excitement grew with time. I also began to accept the fact that it didn’t go as planned or the way I had been raised. But I would take the bull by the horns and forge a future for myself — for us.

During this time, I craved chips all the time and couldn’t go a day without Raising Cane chicken (yes, I know what you are probably thinking), but I couldn’t rid myself of those cravings. I felt fat and gross every day but was okay with it because I knew that soon I would hold my new baby, or so I thought.

Not knowing what to expect while expecting, I Googled everything and asked my sister and best friend if things progressed normally. But nothing prepared me for what would come. I remember Wednesday, February 19, 2014 as if it happened yesterday. A few hours remained in my work shift, but something didn’t feel right, so I called the nurse and she told me to go to the hospital immediately. I was a wreck. I hadn’t planned for my parents to find out this way. I hadn’t even gone for my first ultrasound. As we drove to the hospital, I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t possibly be happening to me. That day proved to be the longest, most emotionally and physically draining day I’ve ever experienced.

The nurses ran tests and did ultrasounds but couldn’t tell me anything. Was I not as far along as I initially thought? Or had I just lost my baby girl? (Though still too early to know the gender, my gut told me I carried a girl.) But how could they not know for sure what was wrong with my baby?

I went to a specialist they recommended for blood work, and yet again, no one could give me answers. The days that followed seemed like an eternity as they passed with no word from the doctors. Then, while on my way to dinner with my boyfriend, I received the dreaded call.

“Miss Hood, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Someone might as well have sucked the life right out of me. The effect proved no different. Why was this happening to me?

At times, I still fight anger and sadness, but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that my day will come. Someday I will become a wife and mother, and experience that unconditional love. I never had the chance to feel her kick, but one day I will hold her in my arms and count her fingers and toes. I long for that moment, but for now God isn’t done with me here. I will always carry that pain, but I also hold the hope of a future. So until then, Baby Girl, Mommy loves you much and yearns to wrap you in her arms.

Guest post by Caitlin Hood.

God’s Hands, Heart, Eyes, Voice and Feet

“It’s so amazing to be loved. I’ll follow you to the moon and the stars above.”

3The words to this song came to mind as a man I interviewed yesterday walked in today for a second one with the client/company he would work for. He exuded confidence, spoke well, and although he had faced numerous obstacles to reach his interview the day before, he called to keep me informed of his status. He was determined to make it, so I kept changing my calendar to accommodate his late arrival.

Why would the words of Luther Vandross’ song “So Amazing” come to mind, you ask? Well, I believe it has all to do with the closet prayer this morning. I asked for God’s heart, eyes and words.

He let me see past the man’s repeat wardrobe and where he lived. God nudged me to ask this man’s story. After interview, I listened as he shared about his dreams for his family and future. I hired him, and so did the company. Outer appearance didn’t hold this man back because God said, “YES.”

God madly loves and pursues of each of us. We have the responsibility to respond as stated in Revelation 3:20. “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.”

Heavenly Father, thank you for all you give me and allow me to give to others. But more importantly, thank you for living in me and letting me be your arms, voice, eyes and heart. Amen.

Starlet