Saturday, August 22, 2015

10 for 10.

I have a hard time understanding death.

Not the act of dying.  That seems simple to me.  Someone gets in a car accident, their organs stop working, and they're gone.

Sure, I don't understand all of the science behind it, but I know that much.

It's the other part that gets me.  The part no one wants to talk about.  The why.  Someone being here one minute and gone the next.  Sure, maybe cancer or a heart attack.  But why them?  Why now?  Why me?

It's the why that gets me.

I didn't know Jesus when we lost Kaden.  I didn't know that God had some crazy intense plan for it all.  I didn't want to try to understand why any of this was happening to my family and I.  The grief was all I could focus on.

And I think grief is a funny thing like that.  It causes you to forget the good and focus only on the loss.  The lack.  The thing that's no longer there.  It reminds you of that, time and time again.

I somewhat believe that grief never goes away.  It may get easier, it can be managed, but it's never absent.  You see a picture, a memory flashes back, and the feelings flood in again.

I also think it's okay to not be okay.  To be sad when you remember the loss and the hurt and the person who ceases to be.  It's something I've had to write on my soul since we lost Kaden.

It's funny how someone so tiny can make such an impact.  I still have the only picture of him and I.  It stay in my Bible, in Psalm 23, which was given out on a piece of paper with his name and picture the day we said goodbye to him.  His baby blanket and anklet from the hospital, along with cards of condolences from when he passed still hang at my aunt's house.

I still remember.  It's been 10 years and I still remember.  Kaden was a sweet kind of joy.  He was someone I don't think my family kenw we needed until he was here.  And when he left, it hurt.  It still hurts.

But I've learned a lot in the 10 years since he's been gone.  I've found the Lord in the pain and in the comfort He gives me in the moments I hurt the most.  There are lessons to be learned through the trials we face.  Here's 10 I've learned since Kaden died.

1 -- Tears are okay.  They are not something to be ashamed of.  They connect us in ways we may  never know.
2 -- God is constant.  He is always present and always comforting in our time of need.
3 -- Family matters.  They're the ones who understand when something like this happens, and they're the ones who understand still today.
4 -- Joy may not be easy.  Days will be hard, and sometimes it feels like too much, but we must feel the things we feel because we can't just lock it all inside.
5 -- Community is essential.  This is something I didn't learn and experience until college, but when I did, it began to change everything I knew.  It's good to have people who know to call when you just don't seem right.
6 -- Perspective is important.  I can't allow myself to shut down and shut off the world.  Plain and simple.
7 -- Truth is freeing.  I have to let others know how I'm doing for them to be able to do anything.  I have to be vulnerable with my aches and know that they are recognized.
8 -- I am not alone.  People struggle with grief and loss every single day, and there are people willing to step into my pain, say "me too" or "I'm here", and stay.
9 -- My pain is not my name.  It's a part of my story (a huge part), but it does not define me.
10 -- Heaven is my home.  This life is not the end.  M pain is not eternal.  It will one day be lifted off my shoulders by the One who died to take it all away.

I have a lot of words for a lot of love I have for a little boy who made a huge impact.

Kaden is not forgotten.  His memory lives on.  The joy of his life, though short, is constant.  I praise God for giving him to us, I'm learning to praise Him through our loss, and I will praise Him when the grief is too much to bear.

In loving memory of Kaden Michael Peterson.

June 21st, 2005 - August 22nd, 2005
Gone, but not forgotten.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My journey to donation.

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you know that I got some exciting news at the end of last week.  I was notified that I am a match for someone needing a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.  

Most people will get a little scared for me after just reading that sentence.  

Bone marrow transplant?  Doesn't that hurt?  Doesn't it take a long time to recover?  Won't you miss out on a lot?  

Here's the thing.  I'm not going to be missing out on anything.  Sure, maybe a few days of work, but I think I can handle that.  

I've thought a lot about this decision, even after having already made it.  I've done a lot of research and asked a lot of questions, so I want to let you know what I've found out in hopes that you become more educated on the topic of bone marrow and stem cell donation.  

Over two years ago, I registered to be a bone marrow donor during a drive at Kansas State.  At that time, I didn't know a lot about what it meant.  I knew I had to give a sample via a swab from the inside of my cheek.  I knew how a bone marrow transplant was performed, but that was about it.  I didn't know the logistics.  

And I surely didn't know that over two years later, I'd be emailed and called in the same day asking if I was still interested because I had been matched with a patient needing a bone marrow or stem cell donation.  

My heart probably skipped more than a few beats when I scanned over the email.  I read it four or five times, still not completely convinced that it had gone to the right person or that it was actually saying what I thought it was saying.  I, Brittani Rae Shank, had a close enough HLA (human leukocyte antigen) for a doctor treating a patient to want to reach out to me to begin pursuing me as an option for bone marrow or stem cell donation.  I'm in the less than 1% of donors who ever become a match.  

That was last Friday, the 17th.  

Today, the 21st, I've already filled out a pretty complete health history, talked to my donation coordinator twice, and am scheduled to go in for blood work tomorrow morning to see if I'm a close enough match for the patient I'm matched with to be able to donate either bone marrow or stem cells.  If I am, within the next few weeks, I'll be flying to either Denver, Chicago, or Washington DC to complete a physical exam (chest X-ray, EKG, and extensive blood work), then will be waiting until I get a notification that the patient I'm matched with is ready for the donation.  

You're probably wondering what that will look like.  Realistically. I may not be a close enough match.  But, there's a good chance I am.  When it comes to the type of donation, that's up to the patient's doctor.  I was told when I very first signed up to be a donor that I had to be okay with either method of donation -- bone marrow or stem cell -- and I said I was.  I was asked again, twice, while talking to my donation coordinator, and I still am.  

I've had a few people think I'm crazy.  I've had a few people who've been over the moon happy for me.  But I've had a lot of people who have just been confused about this donation and this transplant and everything that goes along with it.  

Stem cell transplants are performed 75% of the time in patients who are being treated for certain blood cancers or blood or marrow disorders.  In the five days leading up to donation, I'll be given daily injections of filgrastim, a synthetic protein, to stimulate the release of stem cells from my marrow into my blood stream.  The day of donation is a six to eight hour process where blood is taken out through a vein in one arm, passed through an apheresis machine, and then returned to my other arm.  This machine collects stem cells, platelets, and some white blood cells.  Side effects are mostly flu-like, and I would be monitored closely via communication with the organization and the transplant center once I returned to Kansas to make sure I was recovering well.  

Bone marrow transplants are performed in 25% of patients, typically when the patient is a child.  It's a one to two hour outpatient procedure performed under anesthesia, so there's no pain during the procedure.  Two incisions are made over the back of your pelvic bone (not the hip or spine), and a syringe is inserted into the incisions to extract liquid marrow from inside the bone.  No stitches are even necessary in this procedure.  I'd likely have some lower back pain and fatigue, but nothing more serious than that is experienced.  

In both cases, both stem cells and bone marrow replenish themselves in three to six weeks.  

When thinking about this after I got the email, the first thing I thought was: I have to do this.  It was never a question of the pain associated.  Because while not liking injections or getting my blood drawn, I need only to think about this patient and what they're enduring.  And the benefits far outweigh the risks.  

So the main thing I wish to ask for right now is prayer.  That the blood work tomorrow goes well.  That if it does, my travel to and from the transplant center for the physical exam goes well.  That the patient's health stays steady leading up to the transplant -- they'll be undergoing chemotherapy and radiation in the days leading up, and that the transplant itself is successful and leads to healing for the patient.  Through this I'm learning that we really do need other people.  That we can make a difference.  And that we can quite literally save lives through the decisions we make.  


Friday, July 10, 2015

Thirty reasons.

I wrote them in red because it made it feel more official.

Thirty reasons.  Thirty things to keep my heart beating.  Thirty possibilities to bring joy to my heart when I feel like joy is impossible to be found.

Inspired by something that Hannah Brencher retweeted from her book If You Find This Letter, I decided I needed to document my thirty reasons for living.  The thirty things that keep me going.  The thirty things that I look to on my hardest days for life, and the thirty things I rejoice over on my best days.

Because life is hard and messy and complicated.  People walk in and people walk out.  Some are only there for a moment.  Some come in, prove themselves, and bam, it's like you've known them forever, and suddenly, you don't know what you'd do without them.  I'm thankful for the few in my life who've proven themselves to me.  I'm thankful for the ones who haven't.  Because they've taught me a lesson in loving and letting go.

And for now, I'm just thankful.

thirty reasons.

1  My best friend
2  Matthew
3  stargazing
4  pretzel M&Ms
5  snail mail
6  my Harry Potter blanket
7  long text messages
8  Chacos
9  my sister
10  Sharpie pens
11  a good book
12  music
13  lemonberry slushes
14  hammocking
15  tattoos
16  black nail polish
17  pictures
18  crafts
19  sweet tea
20  the perfect long-sleeve shirt
21  a great cup of coffee
22  sunflower seeds
23  late nights
24  my parents
25  Chick-fil-A dates
26  hope
27  postcards
28  arrow earrings
29  roadtrips
30  lighthouses

These are my things, my joys, my people, and my quirks.  They're the things that bring me hope and build me up and make me new again.


Monday, June 22, 2015

The one who would've been.

I realized yesterday, as I sat looking at Kaden's picture in my Bible, that I've grown a lot since we lost him.  I've matured in ways I didn't think possible and now have a heart for others that sometimes feels as though it's going to beat out of my chest.  

And as overwhelming as that is at times, it's so good and so sweet.  It's a reminder that I'm still living and I'm still here and I'm still fighting and God is still good.  

I read an article the other day on something called The Semicolon Project.  It's a non-profit that's dedicated to bringing awareness to mental health and the importance of it that awareness.  "A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to."  

I think I've just been afraid all of these years; afraid that the end of his life would be the end of his story.  But I'm realizing more every day that he lives on.  In the ones who choose to love him still, and in the ones I choose to tell about him.  His tiny little self is leaving footprints that I may not even recognize.  

But the pain is often so real.  

His death was not a period, though.  It is not the end.  Just like my struggles are not periods at the end of a sentence.  Instead, they are a movement; a calling to believe better things and to live bigger dreams and to love so much deeper.  

And I choose to to believe and to live and to love because those things are worthy of my time and my offering.  My calling is bigger than my fear.  My joy is bigger than my despair.  And this life is bigger than my wildest imagination.  

Will you join me on the path that matters?  


In loving memory of Kaden Michael Peterson.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The story behind the ink.

I was pretty sure I hadn't done a lengthy post on my tattoos, so I wanted to do one now.

This is partially spurred by a post I saw on Facebook a few weeks ago that frustrated me, so I felt the need to defend mine.  

This is the picture I saw that a friend of mine had posted that said "sexism is gross".  And it struck a major nerve with me.  I like to think I'm not a "typical" girl, and also, I'm a woman, not a girl, but I do have one of those tattoos, and two of those placements.  But those weren't driven by anything society told me.  Those were driven because it's what I wanted.  Me.  No one else.  

So here's the story of my tattoos, not the story of the so called "typical girl".  


#1 - December 2011
This was my very first tattoo.  I'm so proud of the thought and intentional purpose I put behind it.  Identity and my self-worth has always been something I've struggled with.  This passage has been an encouragement and light to my heart since I came across it when I started following Christ.  It's a picture of God's purpose and passion in creation.  


#2 - June 2013
I'm way obsessed with my heart behind this one.  It's a tattoo I share with my sister and mom, and we decided on it for the simplicity of the "eternal love" meaning behind it.  My family is so dear to my heart, and goodness, I love them.  


#3 - January 2014
If I had to choose a favorite verse, it would be the verse this tattoo came from.  It's in James 1, and talks about how we are essentially promised that we will face trials.  But we will not face them without coming out stronger in the end.  This verse helped me through the grief of losing Kaden, and has had a huge impact on my walk with Christ.  


#4 - January 2015
I thought about this one for a long time before I decided to get it.  I wanted something that represented a big part of my heart, but was simple.  I wanted something that people would ask me about, and that I could share Christ's love through.  


#5 - April 2015
The cross was easy for me to decide on.  It know it's cliche, but that's not my heart behind it.  It's so easy for me to remember the love the Lord has for me, but not he sacrifice that Jesus made so that love could be fulfilled.  The cross is a simple reminder for me to be able to look at and remember.


There are the stories.  I'm thankful for these stories.  


Friday, June 12, 2015

A burden worth bearing.

I'm learning to trust the hard things.  To lean into the things that matter and lean away from the things that don't.  It's a battle I've been fighting against.  I've been railing against a God who loves me because I want to know everything He has in store for me.  

I want to know all the pain I'm going to face.  I want to be able to see the hurt I have coming.  I want to be able to prepare myself for the sorrow that I may feel.  

I try to hard to control my future.  I strive so much to fight against the feeling that I'm not really the one who has the control.  I've struggled almost my entire adult life with wanting to be able to determine the path I take.  I want to be able to look into my future, see where I'm going, and be confident that that's where I'll end up.  

But the truth is, that's almost never how it happens.  I constantly go off path.  Things don't go as planned.  Accidents happen.  People let me down.  

It's a fact of life.  One I really really really hate to accept.  I have this ache in my heart when things don't go as planned, when people choose to step aside, or when I think God doesn't come through like I think He should.  I get discouraged and anxious about the things unfulfilled.  

I'm trying to seek more of God's Kingdom and less of my own.  I'm so self-centered and focused on my well-being, without focusing first on what God wants for my life.  

Isn't that what it's all about?  Being committed to the plan He has set before you?  

But man, it's hard.  I struggle with not knowing.  I have a hard time believing that His plan is good when I can't see that plan playing out quite yet.  

Not quite yet.  

That seems to be the symphony of my last few years.  

But I'm stopping to breathe.  I'm stopping to refocus.  I'm stopping to remember the burden of the cross and the burden of my life and how the two are intertwined.  I do not walk alone, I have never walked alone, and I will never walk alone.  That I know is promised.  


Friday, June 5, 2015

This one's for the girls.

I think it’s easy for me to look at a situation, to see what it holds, and to either embrace or dismiss it based on what I perceive it to be offering to me. I choose to judge a book by its cover more often than I give it a chance. And it’s hard for me to be able to trust something that hasn’t been proven trustworthy to me, and this takes place even in my daily life.

When I began my journey through college, community was not a word that I knew very well. I wasn’t used to actually talking to people about things, and I surely didn’t want to tell them about the things that I was dealing with. And let’s be honest, most times I didn’t even know the things I was dealing with.

My walk since then has been a balance of this and that; of hope and pain, of joy and sorrow, of light and dark. But thankfully I haven’t had to walk that path alone.

I chose to take a step when I decided to say yes to the girls who lived on my floor in Goodnow Hall my freshman year of college. They were convinced that I needed to be a part of this thing called a “life group”. I was intrigued, if anything, so I took a leap of faith, a quite literal leap of faith for me at that time, and went to the little basement room on that Tuesday night. I’m fairly certain I spent a majority of that evening just observing. I noticed the women’s movements, voices, smiles, and laughs. I noticed the way they beamed when thinking about the things that brought them joy, and the way they winced when remembering a certain pain.  I was confused. How was it that they could still chose to be there, even though they were obviously facing so much more than we could see?

That’s the first thing that stuck out to me. I realized that it was a choice. Being present is always a choice. Being vulnerable is something we must work at, something we must strive for, and something we must be willing to take that leap of faith in.

So I jumped. I chose to begin revealing parts of my heart to these women that I knew for a matter of weeks because there was just something about them that made them seem like they were the ones I could trust. It’s not something I can explain, still to this day, but it’s something that I am over the moon thankful for.

Since then, I’ve realized even more how it’s a choice. There are still days when I don’t want to go to life group after a day of work. There are mornings I don’t want to get up for church. There are days when I don’t want to spend time with a friend because I am just too exhausted. But those are the days when it’s the most important decision I could make. Those are the days when the hope of the joy set before me is more important than the despair of the pain in my heart.

We need community. We need to be around the ones who know our hearts, who love our hearts, and who will continue pursuing the good of our hearts.

So this one's for the girls that have been there for me when I needed it most.  Who have loved me through the things I've done and said, and the ones who have walked away because they were only there for a season.  I get that.  Some friendships aren't meant to last forever.  Some teach you a lesson and move on.  But then there are some that hold tight, press in and press on, and are still there on the other side when things are still a little grey.  But this is for all of them.  The difference you've made and the life you've placed in my soul is something that's irreplaceable.  Thanks for being my people. 


Friday, May 29, 2015

Treat yo self.

Newsflash: I'm not good at taking compliments.  I get uncomfortable, I avoid eye contact, and I change the subject as soon as possible.  I've never been good at it, and I think a lot of that comes from the fact that up until I came to college, I never thought I was worthy of receiving those compliments.

I'm also not good at telling people things I'm good at.  My least favorite question to answer in a job interview is the classic "three strengths that you see in yourself".  I often have them thought up in my mind beforehand so I don't completely freeze when the question ultimately comes up in the course of the interview.

When I was in middle school, I got bullied a lot.  It felt like every possible flaw that my person contained was pointed out and made fun of.  I didn't see myself as someone who was worthy of being loved and cherished.

Going into high school, I chose to attempt to find my worth in the activities I was a part of.  Band, vocal, cheerleading (I know, an odd combination...).  I chose to place my identity in the things I thought that I could control.  But in the end, they ended up letting me down, too, because I realized that my happiness surely wasn't being found there.

Coming to college, I was shown a picture of Who my worth came from.  The One who gave all that He was for all that I am, and chose to prove His love for me on the cross.  In those moments, in that pain, He told me that I am beloved, adored, and chosen.  And in that truth, I find hope.

So, my best friend challenged me to write up a list of things that I'm "here for" -- the things that I see in myself that I possess as qualities that lift others up and encourage them in their time of need, or anytime, really.  I mean, I like encouraging others, so it's likely that it'll happen at any given time.  So here goes nothing.  I thought of this quote as I went to write this, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself.  It's thinking of yourself less", so here's the list of things that I see in my life that are the things that others see in me.

  • Encouraging
    • I don't want someone to go without knowing that I'm on their side.  People need other people.  
  • Compassionate
    • I choose to step into other's sorrows with them, walk through it, and be there on the other side when the skies start to clear.  
  • Empathetic
    •  I don't want to show that my pain has been the same, but just that I've been through pain and know there is hope to be found.  
  • Ability to be real
    • My best friend knows that I'm a realist, and she's definitely more of an optimist, so I tend to think that we balance each other out quite well.  In other relationships, this looks a lot like giving perspective where perspective is needed, but also doing my best to be a light when things may not be so bright.  
  • Intentionality
    • More often than not, I'll choose the betterment of a friend than the betterment of myself.  While this can backfire, I've seen it bloom greatly in the relationships in which I've shown someone that I'm not going anywhere.  It's good to know you've got someone just a phone call away.  
  • Sense of worth
    • I don't want a friend of mine going a day without knowing the beauty they behold, whether or not the people they think are important see that worth or not.  The ones who matter will see it.  
  • Forgiving
    • Holding a grudge is just too much work.  It's hard, it hurts, and it never ends in joy.  I've seen that forgiving, letting go, and making it known that yes, that person may have hurt you, but yes, you forgive them, is so freeing.  
  • Selfless
    • This goes along with intentionality, but I would much rather choose to focus on the good of a friend than something in my life that may not matter in the span of eternity.  I want to be known for my radical love.  
I think I'm done now.  It took a lot for me to write these words, but in a sense, it's a breath of fresh air when I'm reminded of the grace and the gifts that I've been given.  


Friday, May 22, 2015

The art of anticipation.

I have a lot of strange dreams (Kasee, here's the post you were waiting for!).  I know it's said that people dream every night and just don't remember them, but more often than not, I do remember mine.  And more often that not, they are just so weird.  

A couple of weeks ago, I not only didn't get to bed at my normal time due to circumstances beyond my control, but then I also had a really terrible dream that I woke up remembering.  While I don't remember exactly what the dream was about now, I do remember being told that something scary was going to happen in a video I was about to watch in the dream, then watching this video waiting for it to happen...and then I woke up.  

I never saw what was scary.  I was prepared for it, but it never came to be.  

That led me to this post.  

I'm a worried.  To my core.  I worry about what is going to happen with situations on the current day, next week, next month, or even next year.  I often expect that the absolute worst is always going to happen for a given situation, and prepare myself for that ending.  I build up all of this anticipation and anxiety and worry, often for nothing to happen.  

Is this you, too?  Do you fear the worst so much that you don't let yourself focus on the possible good that could come of a situation?  

I know it's hard.  

It's difficult to stay positive when so many things have gone wrong so many times before.  
It's difficult to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel when too often, you're faced with such darkness.  
It's difficult to be aware of the beauty in your life when there are people and things and situations that are thrusting the ugly at you.  

But I do like to think there's at least a little bit of good in every day.  As much pain as we're faxed with, as much struggle comes our way, and as much as you feel you "lack", you are never alone.  

Because it is in our lack that we find hope.  It is in our pain that we find strength.  And it is in our loss that we find joy in the One who brings us anything and everything that we could ever imagine.  I don't want to disregard the joy set before me.  I don't want to forget about the hope found in the cross.  And I surely don't want to put to shame the life given by the One who gave His so that I may live.  

I KNOW that life is hard.  
I KNOW that pain is real.  
And I KNOW that good things can be difficult to come by.  

But press on, sweet soul.  Keep moving.  Keep fighting.  And hold on to the things you know to be true.  

Press on, because He is pressing on for you.  


Thursday, May 21, 2015

I have redeemed you...

My sweet friend, Kasee, blogs over at A Reflection of Redemption, and I'm so honored to have her words on my blog today!  Read.  Enjoy.  Breathe it in.  This is Kasee's heart.  

**redeem- to buy back or repurchase; to get or win back; to free from what distresses or harms: as to free from captivity by payment of ransom (Merriam-Webster)**

How many of us reading this right now, can say we have a past? That we contain some sort of history that has shaped or defined certain events in our lives or specific characteristics about ourselves?

I believe it's safe to say all of us.

Now, how many struggle with the idea that our past MUST control the events that take place in our future?

I know that one is me, for sure.

So many times I find myself living in a place of fear or timidity, unwilling to do things I feel God has called me to do simply for the fact that my past just HAS to exclude me from that deal.

I often find myself doing these things without even really noticing it. I decide not to take a leap on a certain area in my life because of fear I will fail like I have before. I allow specific memories of my past to haunt me, teasing me with insecurities, self-doubt, hurt, and regret.
But the truth is, God is good...and one of the reasons He is so good is because He is the God of redemption. The Father who is willing to pay a ransom for my life...
to turn my mourning into joy...

my ashes into beauty...

and trade my weakness for His strength.

I know you may be thinking, "You just don't know what I did, or what my past holds." You're right, I don't. But God does, and He loves you all the same. He possesses the ability to rewrite your history with His love. It's your story, and a testimony He can use to touch the lives of many people if only you are willing to let Him.

Do we have to take responsibility for our actions and things we have done in the past?  Absolutely. But we serve an awesome Father who redeems His children; He calls us by name and turns our mistakes, heartaches, and brokenness...into something so beautiful. He is the perfect reflection of redemption.

What part of your past are you allowing to control things God may have for your future? What are some things you need to let God redeem and restore, to bring you to a place of complete freedom. His ransom breaks the chains of bondage off of your past and your future.
Look into the eyes of the One who loved you to life, and see the true reflection of His redemption.