Guest Posts

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Makeup as an Act of Self-Care: A Guest Post

Today is exciting because it’s Saturday and it is the only day this week that I don’t have work to do.  It’s also exciting because I get to share a guest post I had the privilege to write for my friend Kelsey’s blog.

Kelsey is a talented writer and great friend who I met through the internet. When she asked me if I would write a post for her series on Self-Care, I jumped at the chance. In the post I explain how doing my makeup has become an act of self-care and artistic expression for me.

“When I have to be at work by 8:00 I wake up before the sun. I feed my cats in the fuzzy gray light of the kitchen and brew a pot of coffee. Then I carry the steaming mug with me into the bathroom where I sort through my makeup collection, pick out what I want to wear that day, pull out my brushes, consider the blank canvas of my face, and start to paint.”

To read the rest of this post, head over to Kelsey’s blog! And don’t forget to check out some of her other posts while you’re over there!

Image Credit: Flickr via Sodanie Chea
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There’s Something About Mary: On Women and the Incarnation

Today I have the great honor of sharing a post over at CBE International’s (Christians for Biblical Equality) Arise newsletter which has now been reblogged by Scot McKnight on Jesus Creed (!). This past summer I wrote a satirical piece for Arise about what it means to act like a lady. This time I took a more serious route and wrote about something I think about a lot during the Christmas season – the role of women like Mary in the story of salvation.

“One thing I love about Advent is that you can’t get through it without talking about Mary. Whether you believe that Mary was a saint, an innocent virgin girl, or even if you’re skeptical about the whole virgin birth thing, you can’t deny that without Mary, there would be no Christmas story. Because the story of the incarnation, of God becoming flesh, doesn’t begin in a manger full of sweet, clean hay with a lullaby of softly lowing cattle—it begins in the belly of an unwed teenage girl.

Maybe you believe that Mary was chosen to be the mother of Christ because she was particularly pious and holy. Perhaps you’ve heard sermons like the ones I heard growing up where Mary is held up as an example of virtue, that we might all strive to be holy enough to be called blessed and highly favored as she was.

In reality, we have no evidence that Mary was especially devout. All we know about her is that she was a virgin from the line of David, betrothed to Joseph the carpenter, and that when the angel came to her with astonishing, even absurd news, she simply said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary was an ordinary girl who simply chose to say yes.”

Click here to read the rest of this piece!

Photo Credit: Symphony of Love, Flickr Creative Commons

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: For Antidepressants, and for Quitting Them

Are you as excited as I am for another Thankful Thursday? These posts always touch and inspire me and I love being able to share them with you. Today’s post is especially close to my heart because today’s writer is close to my heart. Laura and her husband Josh have been our closest friends during our two years in Korea. We had the great privilege of walking with them through Laura’s entire pregnancy, the birth of their first child, and the next year of transition into parenthood. This story touched me  because I was around to witness a lot of it, but also because I too have struggled with anxiety and depression and while I’ve never experienced the hormonal havoc of childbirth, I know what it is to have your mind and body betray you in frightening ways. I’m so thankful for Laura and her family and also for God’s work in her life through a very difficult and scary time.

For Antidepressants, and for Quitting Them

It was just shy of a year ago, as the clock struck one on a humid August night in Korea, that I birthed our beautiful daughter. My mom stood at one shoulder and my husband at the other and the doctor and nurses at my feet, all urging me to push as hard as I could after 24 hours of back labor had left me exhausted and whimpering.

Laura and Gen

Laura with one month old Genevieve

Then she was here, and she was perfect. I spent the next two weeks in a tired-but-wired state of attentiveness, Mom still on one side and Josh on the other, tirelessly supporting me in those early days of nursing and changing and cuddling and kissing this miracle, as I struggled to sleep when she slept and only managed about three hours out of every 24. Other than this, I felt like everything was going really well.

Until one morning a cloud descended. The adrenaline had run out, it seemed, and the rest of my hormones were going haywire in its absence. A few extra hours of blessed sleep did finally come, but it wasn’t enough. Something was wrong and it wasn’t just exhaustion. I had postpartum depression.

Except for how suddenly I crashed, it really wasn’t much of a shock. Throughout my teens and early 20s, I lived with low-grade anxiety, a constant tension in my tummy that I didn’t realize wasn’t normal till my chill-as-one-can-be husband came along and showed me how to relax. Then we moved to Korea to teach English, and the stress of doing a new job in a new country—and trying to do it perfectly—brought that anxiety back with a vengeance. This time depression came with it.

I limped through that year with copious amounts of pizza and beer and ice cream and TV (I know, I know), as well as a lot of prayer and care from Josh and friends and family. I did learn how to be a more effective EFL teacher and how to stop trying to be a perfect one, so things got better. But the lingering fatigue left me aching to go back home to Kansas, and we did, and it was good.

Fast forward three years to the August of our daughter’s birth, and we’d been back in Korea for almost a year. This time only Josh was teaching, and I was finishing up a low-stress pregnancy as a stay-at-home-mom-to-be, in a culture and with friends I was able to fully enjoy this time around. Some nausea and heartburn notwithstanding, I felt really good and right on track for an all-natural, “ideal” delivery and postpartum experience.

Maybe it was the intense back labor that kicked my body into high gear and kept it that way for those first two weeks postpartum until I crashed. Maybe I just didn’t prioritize sleep enough in those early days. Maybe I didn’t procure exactly the right nutrients to replenish my body and help my hormones rebalance themselves. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough sunshine and fresh air in our cave-like studio apartment at the end of a hot and rainy Korean summer. Maybe I was under spiritual attack in which evil voices whispered to me to toss my baby out our third-floor window so it would all just be over. Maybe it was some of all of these, or maybe I’m just wired for anxiety and depression, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent my curling into a ball day and night, my only real activities to nurse lying on my side and to choke down as much food as I could stand while my mom, husband and dad (who had since joined us) did all the diaper-changing, shopping, cooking, cleaning and loving on me and our sweet Genevieve.

Whatever the reason, it became obvious after two more weeks that fighting the PPD with food and sunshine and prayer just wasn’t cutting it (and the Lord knows we really tried). So on a rainy Wednesday morning my support group packed up me and our 4-week-old, and we all got on the bus to a mental hospital to ask for some antidepressants.

From here on out it is clear that I’m one of the lucky ones. Within days of starting a low dose of an SSRI that (please God, let it be true) seems to have done no harm to my nursling or me, my depression had eased and I was beginning to see the light. When Josh had to go back to work and my mom had extended her stay as long as she possibly could, my mother-in-law flew the thousands of miles to help us through the next few weeks, by the end of which even the anxiety had lifted and I was feeling downright happy. Our family of three started finding a “new normal” that involved leaving the house regularly, nursing in public on occasion and handling with relative serenity the caring, if nosy, advice of all the Korean grandmothers who treated us as their own.

The little white pills had pretty single-handedly brought me back to our world. So it was with intense gratitude (though certainly not always a perfect attitude) that I soaked up the next six months of motherhood while faithfully taking my meds each morning. And then spring came, and it was with cautious hope that I wondered if I might be able to wean myself off of them.

See, in addition to being a secretly anxious person most of my life, I have also been a not-so-secretly sensitive gal emotionally. I cry pretty dang easily, and while this is not always fun for those closest to me, my sensitivity and its related empathy feel like an important part of who I am.

But once on the antidepressant, I got to where I wasn’t crying ever, at all. And while no one else was complaining for sure, I missed being able to tear up during a touching movie scene or even break down a bit when something felt wrong in my world. So with the continued support of Josh and our loved ones both near and far, I decided to start cutting my dosage and see what happened.

Three months and just a few headaches and anxiety spells later, I am “drug free” and again one of the fortunate ones. It seems that my body just needed more time for the nutrition, sleep, sunshine, exercise, laughter, love and who-knows-what-else to help my hormones get back as they were meant to be, at least for now.

As an idealist, I wanted so badly to use only these “all-natural” gifts from God to bring about my healing (or even prevent illness in the first place), and it is possible I just didn’t figure out or follow through early enough with what could have allowed me to avoid the side effects and risks of manmade meds full of synthetic chemicals. But depression wasn’t waiting for me to fix things naturally, and I see the drugs as a stopgap measure, a less-than-sterile piece of cloth used as a tourniquet because you’d bleed to death waiting for a clean one to get on the scene.

I also see the hand of God behind this less-than-ideal means of grace. Even as I celebrate the fact that I don’t seem to need antidepressants anymore, I firmly believe that our Lord, who works in all the things of this broken world for good, can use even imperfect little white pills to fight the darkness and bring light.

And for that I am so very thankful.

Sweet Rhoades FamilyLaura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible. You can find her online at www.laurarhoades.com.

Laura Rhoades is wife to Josh, mom to Genevieve and photographer to women. Before moving back home in August to her hometown of Wichita, Kansas, she’ll be spending her final weeks in Korea singing karaoke, soaking and scrubbing at the sauna and scarfing down as much mul naengmyeon and bingsu as possible. 

Photo Credit: Symphony of Love, Flickr Creative Commons

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: When Losing Is Gaining

Today’s guest post comes from my friend, Sara. Sara and I went to high school together, but we didn’t really become friends until this past year when we reconnected through Facebook and blogging. I am constantly inspired by Sara’s outlook on her life, by the way she clings to faith in difficult times, and by her willingness and desire to do whatever God asks of her. She has such a beautiful, tender heart. I got chills reading this piece which brought me into her experience of living with a “disability” and reminded me of the God who is in the business of redeeming our brokenness.

When Losing Is Gaining

I remember.

I remember the day I woke up and felt like my only hearing ear was stuffed with paper, or cotton, or wax. I remember the dizziness I felt as I tried to get out of bed that morning, unaware that my life would change forever as I lurched forward to vomit. Confused. Dizzy. Vertigo.

I remember.

I remember how it felt as people’s voices grew fainter and fainter and I grew angrier and angrier, placing blame at the people around me for my not being able to hear them. It was their responsibility to enunciate their words. It was their responsibility to stop mumbling. It was them and it was not me.

I remember. I remember the look my doctor gave my mother and the tears in my mom’s eyes. The emergency overnight flight to Memphis and the 3 day hospital stay. I remember doctors talking all around me, tests being run every moment, people frantically trying to figure out what was going on and I was unaware. Unaware. They were unheard.

She’s deaf. In her only hearing ear. Meniere’s Disease. Steroids. Diuretics. Exercise. Dizziness. Weakness. Sun that hurt. Feeling faint. So tired. More steroids.

I remember. I remember looking at my mom as tears rolled down my face and I handed her the dry-erase white board I now used for communication scribbled with “Will this ever go away?” We cried.

I remember the man who came to visit me who sat down in front of me and anointed me with oil. He prayed over me and though I couldn’t understand a word that came from his mouth, I remember. And smile.

I remember my friends forming a fortress around me, getting out their cell phones and texting me so we could have conversations in the car… Conversations in the dark that anyone else could have heard, but me. We formed a clan that summer, a tight-knit group there to support one another, and those bonds – they have never gone away.

I also remember seeing sign language for the first time and smiling as I thought “Wow, my life could really change if I knew that!” I remember learning and practicing so that one day I could communicate without reading lips or using my white dry-erase board.

I remember the tender moments with Mom as she spurred me on to keep exercising. “Sara, I know you feel weak and dizzy, but you’ve got to keep on.” I remember with thankfulness.

I remember my first hearing aid. I put it on and heard them for the first time in two years. Birds chirping. As birds chirped, my heart flooded with thankfulness. I’ll never forget it.

Going deaf was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Even now, I open my eyes every morning and put my hearing aid on and listen. With my level of constant fluctuating hearing loss, some days I listen to the birds outside my window and can actually hear them. Other times, I can hear them only if I close my eyes tight enough and imagine. With a smile I feel my puppy’s steady breaths beside me and imagine what they sound like.

I go to “Silent Dinners” that are literally just that, where instead of hearing with my ears, I hear with my eyes. It’s miraculous. I meet, talk, and bond with people I never would have known before. I feel thankful.

I feel thankful when I chat with someone I know and they smile- through silent conversation. I feel thankful when I go to church and have the privilege to lead worship to deaf brothers and sisters in Christ who have become so close to my heart. Because they are my people. They are my people and their God is my God.

I remember with thankfulness those 12 years ago when I was so sick and lost most of my hearing, then regained some. I remember with thankfulness, because that’s made me who I am today. Would I be where I am and communicate with those I do if that hadn’t happened? Would I see the deaf community as my own and be in their family?

Even today, when I sit with hearing people at the dinner table and I get lost in their conversations, not knowing who’s talking about what or when. When my hearing loss threatens to isolate me from those I love most and I feel most alone. When I feel that I cannot connect with anyone. When fear grips me during a job interview when I realize a major part of the job is talking on the phone… I’m still thankful. I’m thankful because I get a just little glimpse in my adult life what people in the Deaf community have experienced their entire lives. I get that little glimpse and because of that, God has enabled me to minister, to develop the dearest friendships, and to love to the fullest.

I wouldn’t trade it. Not for the world.

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SaraAuthor Bio: Since moving from her home in Louisiana, Sara has found herself living life in the mountains of east Tennessee with her puppy, Watson. When she’s not saving kittens from trees and puppies from rooftops, she’s reading about spirituality, love, and life and writing about life in her blog at scarmichaelblog.worpress.com.

Author Bio: Since moving from her home in Louisiana, Sara has found herself living life in the mountains of east Tennessee with her puppy, Watson. When she’s not saving kittens from trees and puppies from rooftops, she’s reading about spirituality, love, and life and writing about life in her blog at

Photo Credit: Symphony of Love, Flickr Creative Commons

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: The Problem of Good Things

Today’s Thankful Thursdays guest post comes from my friend, Meredith. Meredith is one of the people who most motivates me to keep on writing, who makes me believe that we’re doing something worthwhile here. I’ve had Meredith share here before about her experiences with purity culture, sex, and marriage and I’ve been able to guest post for her as well. It’s always an honor for me to share her words. As someone who also struggles with depression and anxiety myself, I loved this beautiful piece that looks with both honesty and hope about the power of gratitude and joy, even when it does not come easily. 

Flickr Creative Commons: John Lodder

Flickr Creative Commons: John Lodder

The Problem of Good Things

The spring caught me off guard again with its explosions of pink and boughs hung low with purple blossoms. I never remember the way sidewalks can smell like walking through a bath and body works (with the exception of those flowering trees that smell like dead fish, those are the worst).

In a new house, you never quite know what potential flora hibernates in your lawn until the spring comes. The scrappy lawn of our rental house surprised me with lilac bushes in front, a few burnt out tulips struggling through weeds at the side of the house, and even some grape hyacinths like the ones next to the raspberry bushes at my childhood home.

Best of all, a patch of violets grew in our backyard, a wild and wonderful spray of purple flowers large enough to lie in. I imagined a quintessentially hipster moment where I would retire to the violet patch wearing a linen dress with my hair wrapped in a braid around my head. Drew could bring me lemonade with a sprig of lavender and a striped paper straw bobbing in the ice.

The violets reminded me of carefree days when yard boundaries weren’t prohibitive, and I came home with grass stains on the knees of jeans and the circle marks of dandelion stems speckling my shirt. Violets made wonderful flower crowns and handfuls could easily form bouquets to hand to mothers or neighbor ladies.

But busyness set in, and every day I’d walk past the violets with a growing sense of anxiety. I feared the lawn mowers of the landscapers, the heat of the sun, and anything else that would take away the violet patch. I stopped enjoying the flowers and started fretting for them. The lilacs in the front bloomed for only a day or two, then stood with bare branches with only a few leftover buds hinting at their former glory.

I developed a sense of cynicism toward the Magnolia and the dogwood trees; I wondered at the worth of planting such things of beauty in your lawn to flower for a week out of the year or less.

Flickr Creative Commons: Kikasz

Flickr Creative Commons: Kikasz

Each day when I came home, I checked the patch of violets, daring them to last another day. No sooner would a bloom appear than I’d be predicting its death, cursing the way good things slipped through my fingers and dropped their blossoms before I had a chance to enjoy them.

I frame many good things in my life this way; I immediately wonder when and how they will disappear. I do this with the love in my marriage, my parents health, and even the small blessings of the day to day.

Living with depression, sometimes there are days of amazing clarity where I feel awake and able. But soon enough, the sun sets, and the spell is broken. With enough of these days of jubilee under my belt, I rarely enjoy them anymore. Their goodness taunts me, and reminds me to fret for a tomorrow when the weight of the world will come back.

Opening myself to joy is risky like placing a big target sign on my back, hit me with your best shot; I’m happy, I’m relaxed, I’m confident, the flowers are blooming. I imagine a set of universal scales that must balance out eventually. If the universe heaps a job promotion and remission for mom’s cancer on the good side, I’m sure the article I submitted will not be published and there will be little chance of my improv show going well.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown calls this superstitious way of thinking “foreboding joy.” Its the sense that joy is rigged, that something’s gotta give. But shutting out the good based on its predicted transience means not enjoying the wild patch of violets, means leaving the walls of our rental bare, and missing connections with people who pass through my life for an instant.

I don’t want to live this way.

So how do I respond, when joy comes for a minute, for a week, not even long enough to take a picture?

Brene Brown says this, “…the shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us.”

I am on a mission to bless the temporary, to baptize the instant with significance. I want to seek the Lord where he may be found and dance in the yard while the violets still bloom. I want to plant gardens of risk though I am an exile in this place and to seek out the Joshua Trees, waiting expectantly for their time to blossom.

Flickr Creative Commons: Christopher Michel

Flickr Creative Commons: Christopher Michel

And even when the blossoms fall into carpets of petals, I long to wait with open hands for the beauty of the other seasons, stark cardinals on snowy backgrounds and trees catching fire in the autumn.

Perhaps the transience of the violets makes them even more beautiful. I thought I had learned long ago that I cannot subsist only on a diet of sweet things, but today I am learning again to take on a posture of gratefulness instead of trying to hold the flowers too tightly, crushing them in my clenched fists.

Dith Bazolli small for web-33-2Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer  living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday. You can find her online at Veryrevealing.com or follow her on Twitter @MeredithBazzoli

Meredith Bazzoli is a comedian and writer  living just outside Chicago. She spends her days as an instructional assistant on the west side of Chicago and her nights practicing and performing improv. She loves hosting and DIY projects and her tall, dark, and handsome husband Drew. Meredith loves hearing and recording other’s stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday.

Photo Credit: Symphony of Love, Flickr Creative Commons

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Old Friends are the Best Friends

I’m excited to share today’s guest post from fellow writer Cara Meredith. Cara and I “met” (online) because we run in some of the same circles, blog-wise. I’ve been enjoying her blog, Be, Mama. Be. for quite a while now and was honored to  do a guest post for her last month. Whenever I read Cara’s writing I just want to sit down with her, some big cups of coffee and a cozy couch and talk about all the things. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Old Friends are the Best Friends

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old Friends are the Best Friends.

Now I’m not knocking those who’ve only been in my life for a year or two, but to me, there’s something powerful about being around people who stake double-digit claim to how long they’ve known you. Suddenly, that which unites current, everyday friends – children who are similar in age or religious beliefs and practices or the city we dwell in – doesn’t seem to hold so much weight.

The irony is that when Old Friends step into the picture again, we can seem to hold little in common: staunch Republican, left-wing Democrat; traditional evangelical Christian, meditative Buddhist yogi; married with four children, single and still ready to mingle.  If you’d asked me ten years ago if I thought I could stay in relationship with those who hadn’t moved and grown along with me (and like me, I might add), I’d have likely mumbled a pithy reply.  I’d have shaken my head in solemn understanding of the sadness of my own plight.  I’d have said my good-byes, at least in my mind, no sooner than burning old letters and dreaming of Friendship’s Funeral.

We share great memories, I would have said to you, but memories can’t sustain a friendship in the present. 

Or can it?

I’m beginning to realize I was wrong.

Maybe wisdom is starting to grab hold of me.  Maybe I’m learning that life isn’t as narrow and compartmentalized as I make it out to be, at least when I’m hurting and sad and missing the people who make me whole.  And maybe I’m also realizing that life is merely and solely and wholly made up of relationships.  Life is made up of people, of lovely, messy humans who are mine – and who, the grand scheme of This One Beautiful and Precious Life matter to me.

To say that I’m thankful for Old Friends is an understatement. Because gratitude burgeons deep in my insides when their faces come to mind, while affection for the stories we share mercilessly stirs the waters of my soul.

Because the books I own, they don’t matter.  The writing I do, it too doesn’t matter.  The house we love, the television we watch, the baseball games we attend – don’t matter, don’t matter, don’t matter.

But the people – oh, the people, they do matter.

For me, I’m beginning to sprinkle a bit more grace into my relationships.  My standard for friendship used to be high, even though I wouldn’t have classified it as such – but for me, you were a good friend, we were good friends if you pursued me and sought after me, if you showed me you wanted to be my friend.  And maybe that’s why if and when someone – an Old Friend of sorts – didn’t live up to my standards, like the cardboard I stockpile in our recycle bin, I discarded them easily, carelessly, breezily.

But now I want my cardboard back.

I want and I yearn and I salivate for those Old Friends, for the ones I don’t have to explain myself to, for she who loves me despite my flaky nature.  I want to be around those people – who are, by all accounts My People – even if we don’t dress the same way or eat the same way or worship the same way anymore.  Because there is tenderheartedness toward each other in the stories we’ve shared, as we remember and retell and revisit our histories.

After all, we share us. We share the memories that made us and shaped us and defined us, the adventures we took together when we didn’t have more than $74 to our name, when we thought backpacking was the greatest invention since sliced bread.  We share stories of Europe and Costa Rica, of Santa Cruz and Portland and Seattle, of campfires and barbeques, sleepovers and road trips. We share the growing up we did together, as teenagers and as young adults, and we share the common experience of learning how to be our most raw and real selves, the Real Me hidden inside all along.

Because here’s the truth: joy and gratitude can mingle anywhere. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I believe they’re there, waiting for our cue to start the dance party, ready for our eyes to open to what’s already there.  For me, this mingling happened with old friends on Friday night, over wild boar and cheddar sausages and chunky summer salad and coffee mugs filled with chilled Chardonnay. We gathered to visit with our old roommate and friend who’d flown across the Pacific to say hello, but it ended up being so much more than a backyard barbeque.

It ended up being a reunion of Old Friends.

And Old Friends, as you well know by now, are the best friends.

Carabio1About Cara: 
Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco bay area. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can find her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter
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Photo Credit: Symphony of Love, Flickr Creative Commons

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Gratitude in a Nutshell

I first connected with Kelsey through my infamous Relevant article last summer, but it wasn’t until I wrote this post about friendship and social anxiety that we really got to talking. We have SO MUCH in common, both personality-wise and in terms of our experiences with the church and with faith. Although we’ve never met in person, I count Kelsey among my real-life friends because she is a true kindred spirit. She is also a terrific writer and you should read more of her posts over at her blog.  This post was, frankly, humbling for me. I hope you let it impact your heart, too.

Gratitude in a Nutshell

The intensity of the California heat felt jarring to our Washingtonian weather sensibilities and sunburned noses as we stood in line at California Adventure. There were Mickey ears and Disney shirts as far as the eye could see and horror-movie-quality screams kept floating through the air from the direction of Tower of Terror. But I wouldn’t have been able to scream if I’d wanted.

My throat was feeling restricted, as if a man had wrapped a giant, strong hand around my neck and was beginning to squeeze. Choking, suffocating. The clock was ticking, and every second counted. If we didn’t act quickly I could go into anaphylactic shock; if we didn’t act quickly … I could die.

My soon-to-be husband knelt by the bench I was sitting on as if he was proposing, but instead of a ring he was wielding an Epi-Pen. He called 911 and we waited anxiously knowing that if the epinephrine wore off before the medics arrived that the reaction would return in full force.

But soon the medics were running through the park. Soon I was lying in a bed at the ER, where I stayed until midnight.

I hadn’t noticed it until it was too late, but a woman next to me in line had opened a jar of peanut butter because her little kids wanted a snack. I hadn’t seen it, so I hadn’t had time to get away.

This is what life with anaphylaxis can look like. Everything is going along, business as usual, and the next moment someone’s jabbing you with an Epi-Pen and the medics are taking you on an exclusive ride, minus all the Disney characters, in the direction of the nearest hospital.

Even though I have an officially recognized disability, it’s invisible. So I look perfectly normal. But my life is defined by something people can’t automatically spot the first time they meet me the way they’d notice a wheelchair or a seeing-eye dog. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less present.

Like other disabilities, mine impacts, restricts, and defines every day of my life from choosing a new purse based solely on its Epi-Pen carrying potential to avoiding visits to most movie theaters and coffee shops because of the peanut-y treats that are served; from insuring my phone’s battery never gets too low so I always have the ability to call the medics should I need them to the very awkward introductions that go along with making a new acquaintance: “Hello. My name is Kelsey and if you eat peanuts next to me you could kill me. If I ever go into anaphylactic shock, if you could please use my Epi-Pen and call 911 immediately I’d really appreciate it. It’s so nice to meet you.”

After developing anaphylaxis after graduating from high school, there’s been a lot of grief, frustration, anger, and loss that have been a part of coming to terms of what living with a life-threatening invisible disability means. And for me gratitude — not some overly-perky silver lining kind of thing but the acknowledgement that there are still things to be thankful for — is what more than anything helps to pull me out of bouts of depression and enables me to enjoy my life even though it’s not what I planned.

I used to think of gratitude as a “but.” For example, “I live with a life-threatening disability … but I have a family who loves me so it’s okay!”  But I’m learning that, at least for me, gratitude isn’t a “but.” It’s really more of an “and.” Gratitude doesn’t negate problems or make things magically all better. Instead, it helps keep things in perspective: I live with a life-threatening disability and I have a very supportive family.

I hate having to ask for help with things like grocery shopping. And when peanuts are in season I can’t set foot in several of the stores in town. It makes me feel so much less independent and less like an adult. However, I’m also grateful for my husband and mom who are both willing to help out as much as needed when I can’t take care of something myself. I feel frustrated that I’m less independent and I’m also thankful I have support.

I can feel depressed or even angry that I have to deal with this, while also feeling grateful that I live in an age when there are life-saving inventions like Epi-Pens. I’m thankful for my doctor who helps me brainstorm about how to do things like go on vacation as safely as possible.

I feel so isolated from the world at large sometimes. And I’m also thankful for blogging because it gives me a community. I can interact with people all over the world; I can make friends and share life without ever having to worry about what someone next to us might be eating. For me, this is huge.

It can be challenging for me to make new face-to-face friends. And I’m also so very thankful for the ones I have. I’m thankful for the friends who have learned how to use my Epi-Pen so they’ll be prepared for an emergency. I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to be flexible about where we hang out or de-peanut their houses so that I can visit. I’m thankful for a friend of mine who is about to get married and ensured that not a single thing on the menu has peanuts because she wanted me to be able to come. It’s harder for me to meet people because so many things center around food and I’m also blessed with some extremely supportive people in my life.

I feel upset with my grandpa who uninvited me from family Thanksgivings and Christmases at his house because he likes to feed the squirrels peanuts. He keeps a very large bag of peanuts next to the dining room table, and was afraid the squirrels wouldn’t enjoy something else so I was uninvited. And I’m also thankful for my in-laws. They made their house completely peanut-free so that I can stop by anytime I want without having to call first to see if they’ve had anything with peanuts that day. I’m thankful that they’ve made sure every holiday dish is Kelsey-safe. I’m hurt by how my grandpa has handled my anaphylaxis and I’m grateful for my in-laws.

I feel grief and loss over my career dreams. During an interview my first questions would be, “Where do people eat? Is it possible for me to completely avoid where they eat? Does anyone ever bring peanut butter cookies to work? What about candy? PB and Js?” The hubby and I realized that a usual 9 am to 5 pm gig wasn’t safe for me. And there’s still grief associated with that loss. And I’m also so thankful that my husband’s top priority is keeping me safe, so he’s fine with us being a one-income family or me working from home even though that means we’ll have to be more frugal.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, and heartbroken; it’s hard to be grateful. But choosing to see the people and things in my life that make my life fuller, more beautiful, safer, and happier helps me to live. Gratitude isn’t a magic formula that makes everything perfect or happy or easy, but being grateful helps me to focus on the good and to keep a more balanced view of my own life. Gratitude doesn’t negate the negative but it helps me to not lose sight of the fact that there are some positive ands in there, too. Life is hard sometimes and it’s also beautiful.

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Hey Guys – It’s Lily here again. I just wanted to take a second to say that after reading this I was convicted to be more mindful about the foods I choose to eat in large public places. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies and the number of children with serious food allergies has doubled in the past decade. While I can’t possibly anticipate allergies in every person I come into contact with, there are a few things (such as peanuts and tree nuts) that are pretty easily avoided when in public that might make a big difference for someone else. One of my roommates from college suffered from debilitating chronic migraines that were often triggered by scents. It took some diligence, and I still forgot sometimes, but choosing to forgo the scented lotion or to paint my nails outside were barely noticeable sacrifices compared with the benefit to my roommate. Just something for all of us to consider as we seek to love the world around us well.

Kelsey bioAuthor Bio: Kelsey Munger is native Washingtonian who overuses hyphens, and is still undecided on her stance regarding the Oxford comma. When she’s not blogging, she enjoys reading about food, faith, feminism, and thanatology (but not necessarily in that order). Also loves fiction, a nice hot cup of tea, and marathoning too much TV with her nerdy husband. You can find her at KelseyMunger.com or on Twitter @KelseyLMunger.