On Sunday, February 14, 2021, I was baptized at Kensington Church in Traverse City, Michigan. That morning, I shared the following words – my testimony – with my family, friends and members of the church.
I grew up going to First Presbyterian Church of Northville with my family. I was baptized as a baby and confirmed as a freshman in high school. In high school, I joined youth and adults from my church on two mission trips to Mexico. Those were transformative experiences for me, and looking back, I can see how they played a role in shaping who I am today and planted a seed for the life I’m living now.
Growing up, church was always something I did with my family. My faith and relationship with God didn’t come to feel like my own until I was 23 years old and living and working in Berkeley, California.
This year has been a big one, so to speak, in countless ways — and it’s not over yet. It’s a year full of some of the most difficult days of my life, and those of my family, and simultaneously a year of abundance and blessings. I fully feel the second part of that statement. God has shown up time and again this year, and I’m encouraged by the challenges and the victories because I see how He is there in all of it. He is a good, good God. Every day, I’m learning more and more that so much of life truly is about our perspective, the way we choose to see and respond to what’s in front of us — no matter who or what we believe in.
Shortly after Christmas last year, my dad was hospitalized. On January 3, 2019, he was diagnosed with B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The doctor who broke the news to us, while kind, was vague in terms of my dad’s chances of beating this and how long he might have to live. We learned a week or so later that, were he to continue without treatment, the cancer would likely take his life in 4-6 weeks.
So once an abscess in my dad’s intestine was treated — another story altogether, one where I also 100 percent see God’s hands at work — he started a month of inpatient chemotherapy at University of Michigan Hospital. Another round of outpatient chemo followed in March. In April, we learned my dad had several strong matches for a bone marrow transplant, and at the end of April, he successfully received a bone marrow transplant from a 20-something-year-old man in Germany. While the transplant was successful, my dad was not in the clear, and I would argue that May and June — though still full of blessings — were his toughest months and the most challenging for all of us. I know they were for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to sit down and just write in recent months. To write about how I’m feeling. To write about the mountain tops and valleys of life and everything in between. To write about my family. To write about the pull that I feel between here and there — at a time when “here” was Michigan and “there” was Patagonia. That pull is the same, but “here” is once again Patagonia and “there” is now Michigan.
I feel as though the wind has been knocked out of me in recent months. I feel as though life is a bit of a blur these days, and I’m having a tough time bringing everything into focus. I feel as though I’ve been running on autopilot — I can’t imagine how my mom, or my dad and sister, must be feeling — trying my best to support, take care of and be there for my family, those I love and myself.
I’ve felt dried up, void of emotions and words. At times, I’ve felt as though there’s nothing left for me to give to those I love or myself. I’ve felt numb.
The last 2-3 months could be a novel in and of themselves. I suppose all of our lives are that way to some extent. Each day carries so many ups and downs and details that are small but important.
I’m getting ahead of myself. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where this story begins, but I think this is a place to start.
A few years ago, after a particularly tough night — one of those nights where the weight of the world seems to come crashing down all at once — my mom wrote these words on a Post-it Note for me and left them on my bathroom counter.
“I love you, Em. You don’t always have to be so strong.”
I have that note saved in a box somewhere up in the U.S. And even though that note is not physically with me here in Argentina, my mom’s simple-yet-profound words are with me always.
You don’t always have to be so strong.
I’m realizing more and more that I tend to carry the weight of what can sometimes feel like the world on my shoulders and that no one is putting that pressure on me but me. I think this is human. I think we are all guilty of this to varying degrees.
I think about my sister a lot, but this week, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, a lot. She’s spent the days leading up to her 25th birthday — a time in a young person’s life that’s typically about dreaming big, testing the water and living freely and fearlessly and without abandon — in a hospital bed.
For 4-5 years now, Kathryn has been living with epilepsy. Doctors haven’t found the right prescription to control her seizures through medication, and over several months, she has undergone / is undergoing a series of tests while hospitalized to see if and how surgery might be an option as well. She’s living with a great amount of risk, but it’s not the kind of risk you want or seek out in your 20s — or ever, really.
I think about my sister, and I cannot help but imagine how terrifying it must be to be in her shoes. For so many reasons. For reasons that don’t even cross my mind, reasons I can’t comprehend. I think about my sister and everything she’s facing, and I think about how she’s taking it in stride, how she’s working two jobs, how she doesn’t complain, how she isn’t quick to anger. When it comes to my sister and her health and her life, I think about a lot of things, but more than anything, lately, I think about how brave she is.
Brave. That’s the word I keep coming back to.