It was 6-2, 5-0 as I walked back to the baseline. All at once my eyes filled with tears. Not because I was about to win, but because I never thought that this, this circumstance right here, would ever be able to happen. I gathered myself together to finish the last game of my second collegiate tennis match. My first match was 5 years ago before every aspect of what I have ever known would be tested and tried. Dreams were left to die, and new ones formed.
Lots of people know, but some don’t. 5 years ago today I went to an on-campus event my freshman year of college and someone thoughtlessly threw a huge sports cooler that hit me on the head. My friends didn’t see it happen, but I was told it came from the balcony. I had a traumatic brain injury and was told I had 2 contusions on the top of my head.
I was on medical leave from college for about 2 years, and it was a total of 5 years of seeking doctors who would not be able to help. I could not read for more than 5min without my eyes seeing in double-vision; I was ever-presently nauseous and dizzy; I was falling down or throwing up daily; my short-term and long-term memory were very much affected; I even forgot close friends from high school; I would “reset” not knowing what I was talking about, where I was, who I was talking with, etc..
Normal tasks were now nearly impossible. Even simple things I loved to do such as baking, math problems, reading, any exercise whatsoever, etc. were taken away and doctors said they would not return.
With help from my amazing mom, boyfriend, and whole family, we made the best of it. Not only did we make the best of it, we were prepared to live like this indefinitely. I would go to events, take pictures like everything was ok, and then I would literally throw up on the streets afterwards because basically every task made me nauseous.
Social media is such a joke. For years I could barely do anything but sit in bed while the room rocked like a boat, around me making me puke. Meanwhile, my internet life looked like a dream. I am not sure why posting a picture of a landscape makes people think you’re doing ok, or smiling makes people think there are no problems, but that’s a discussion for another day.
I loved people thinking I was doing great because the reality was that everyday I got out of bed was a tough day. I went through so much physical pain in my eyes, head, neck, back, and so forth, and so much emotional pain when I would forget people or places. I was too debilitatingly tired to drive, so having a life of my own became very difficult.
The craziest thing about my story is that no doctor could make me feel better or offer significant relief. One doctor we went all the way to Chicago to see was able to make some slight changes that were helpful, (after we exhausted the entire New York doctor scene) but time after time I was “let go” because I was “too symptomatic” for them to provide significant or lasting relief.
The amazing thing about the brain is that it finds ways of coping. My tolerance for life got stronger because I became very smart about doing things with the help of family. I would do schoolwork for 15min at a time, splitting it up with something like painting, to relax my double vision and ease my nausea.
I learned how to document everything I did so I would not forget. My boyfriend would call up restaurants to see if there were loud noises or people in the background and hang up if there was too much noise. I always had to cancel plans or find very creative ways of going to an event for only a period of time. Generally I would go to an event, take some pictures, and then peace out with someone who understood the pain I was in. If that was not an option, I couldn’t go. I hate feeling left out, so I pushed beyond healthy limits. I spent vacation days with my family lying in the hotel room puking because we had driven or flown into town the day before and my body felt like it was still moving. But would I rather not go? I could be in bed at home by myself, or decide to suck it up and have some fun along the way. I almost always chose the latter.
While I was being torn from everything I knew about myself, God taught me so much about purpose. There was a huge emotional aspect to my physical pain, and God met me there. I used to think that purpose was about how many people you were impacting. However, I now know that there is purpose in every circumstance we are placed in, and impacting one person is just as meaningful to God as impacting 300.
God also taught me so much about identity. I lost everything I wanted to be, and was given a body that reacted poorly to EVERYTHING besides Swedish fish and ginger ale for almost 5 years... However, I learned that my identity is not in what I can do, or the labels that the world gives me. My identity is in Christ. God is pleased with us when we choose to follow Him and trust in His son. He is just as happy with us when we are unable to move on the couch praying for someone He is laying on our heart, as He is when He asks us to speak and share His love with 300 people. Some days we are called to the multitudes, and some days we are called to share with our doctors who tell us they have no idea how we have hope based on our circumstances (yes that happened, a doctor literally told me he had no idea how I could possibly have hope for the future because of my limited ability, and you better believe I told him about the hope and peace of Christ).
Earlier this year, almost 5 years after the accident and no physical healing, God healed me. It was at our Church Women’s retreat. Friday night of the retreat I left throwing up in the parking lot, and my eyes were in searing pain from all of the lights and surroundings. This was my “normal” for being in a church setting. The lights, people, noises, etc that would exacerbate my symptoms.
Saturday of the retreat, I woke up and God told me to go back through a funny sign. I just wanted to be in the parking lot praising Him even if I could not go in.
I showed up in earplugs and sunglasses like I did the night before, and the speaker called my sister and I out to pray over us. God doesn’t care if you are in the front row or the back of the church, He sees and loves us where we are. After the speaker’s prophetic words, I went upstairs and we all pressed in to the Holy Spirit with tears. I walked out of church that day healed.
It is the CRAZIEST MIRACLE!!!!! I AM NOT NAUSEOUS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 5 YEARS!!!! I honestly forgot what it felt like not to be nauseous, or to feel like I am being rocked on a boat all day.
My doctors who are not professing to believe in Jesus, gave Him all of the glory for healing because there is no other explanation.
As doors begin to open and life is DRASTICALLY changing, one thing remains: God is my purpose, my joy, my truth, my hope, my peace, and my all.
Why? Because even in this incredible time, the happiness I have felt does not compare to the joy of Christ which was in my heart in my biggest trials, and my greatest triumphs. The peace I felt when I surrendered to God when I had no idea what kind of full-time job would ever hire me with all the symptoms I had, is the same peace I crave now when life circumstances are better than ever. For me, it was harder for God to do a miracle in my mindsets and heart to feel total purpose and love in such brokenness, than to heal me physically.
How am I doing now? I’m EXHAUSTED. Not debilitatingly tired like I used to be, but definitely exhausted in a different and healthy way. It has been such a rollercoaster these past 5 years. Now that I can do more, I have been! And my body is like “whaaaaattt are we doing........”. These days I am getting to know what feels like a new body. Just as I had to get to know how I felt and reacted to things after the accident, I am once again thrown into a completely new situation (but obviously a great one). I am trying to test limits and fight for endurance. My nervous system is sensitive and my body reacts as if it plans for me to fall down or collapse like it used to... but then I DON’T! I am taking life slow but also so fast comparatively. My endurance on many, many tasks is down, but my future in it is so bright. The thing I hated most about the accident was that the harder I pushed my body, the worse it was for me. Doctors always emphasized rest, and my body collapsing was just one of the signs that told me I had to stop a task. Now, as I am seeking endurance on many tasks, pushing my body to do more is SO healthy and rewarding in moderation.
Nausea, dizziness, and debilitating fatigue 100% of my days, to 0% of my days is the best feeling ever. I am free to drive and have my own life back.
I lived a life that made each day impossible unless God was going to show up. Every day He showed up and brought me through countless obstacles. I pushed through school a few classes at a time, fighting for everything I did, and through God alone, I kept going. By the grace of God I plan to graduate in May with a great GPA and life ahead.
God is a God of emotional healing, peace, and purpose, as well as physical healing. I was humbled and restored in different ways, and walking through life with Christ is oh so rewarding. I would not change my story. This is not because the pain was “worth it”, but because God entrusted me with this story, and I am honored to learn and share more about His stability in truth apart from circumstances.
You don’t need what you don’t have in order to fulfill God’s plan for your life. You don’t need what you used to have in order to fulfill God’s plan for your life. Walking moment by moment with Christ has shown me the limitless nature of who He is, and the lack of power that worldly labels hold.
One of the hardest things for me throughout this entire journey was not being able to play tennis. Sure, I posted some pictures from a mixed doubles tournament I did with my boyfriend where I tried to quit mid-match and sat in bed recovering for a week after, but that doesn’t really count. I would play for a little while and then get very dizzy. The court would come out from under me, or so it looked, and I would generally fall down. I would also fall down when I would look upward to serve. It was a mess! It’s funny because of all the things I could be upset about long and short-term, giving up tennis always made me sad.
I never dreamed I would be able to play a full 2 sets against someone ever again. I furthermore never imagined I would be able to play on a college team again.
I had made the tennis team at my first college 5 years ago and played one match. Never could
I have imagined playing as a “super senior” at 23, at a different school, and going through what I had to go through. To tell you the truth, it’s actually great I did not know that, because I would have cried and told you I would rather die than go through what was coming. I mean those words sincerely, because there was so much pain in the breaking of each plan I had made for myself. I wanted nothing to do with myself if I could not live up to the unattainable standards I had set. Each and every worldly “label” that described me was taken away, and the only label I had left was “Child of God”. Let me tell you, I learned through difficult measures that that one label is ENOUGH. True love for myself came from God’s love for me and walking moment by moment with Him. God makes life “worth it” and has SO blessed me in different ways along the journey.
God is the God of miracles and He IS who He says He is. He is our Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Lord of All, Emmanuel (God with us), and more. Christ wants to be our full identity and source of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. I was not sure if physical healing would come in this world, or in heaven, but I always knew it would come. God continues to be my only hope. Why? Because He is the only true hope in this world because His love extends beyond this world, and into the next.
I am healed by God and God alone; physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Life is now about finding a healthy lifestyle, gaining endurance, finishing school (I’ll be graduating in May!), and continuing to follow wherever God leads.
I am icredibly thankful to Team Jenna - my parents, incredible boyfriend, siblings, friends, doctors, church, and everyone who prayed and walked this journey with me. Thanks for following along, my story is far from over ;)
PS - If you don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, I urge you to start one. You can pray right now, and it will change your life.