I grew up in northern WI, a daughter to a mother who was a believer and a father who at the time, was not. My older sister, younger brother, and I would go to church and Sunday school with my mom each Sunday. When I was 4, my mom took me to our local county fair and we attended a children’s event put on by the Campus Crusade for Christ. The gospel message was shared and the children were asked if they wanted to accept the Lord as their Savior. I remember excitedly raising my hand and went to talk with an adult who went over a booklet of colored pages with me. Each color represented a part of the gospel; for example, red represented the blood that Jesus shed for our sins. I was only 4, so I didn’t know all that living your life for God entailed. I remember excitedly kneeling by my bed side when I got home to “ask Jesus into my heart” again. I told my mom I had prayed again and she chuckled, amused by my enthusiasm.
Growing up, I continued to grow in my knowledge of the Lord and my relationship with Him through continuing to go to church and Sunday school, children’s church, Vacation Bible School, Bible Camp, and youth group. I was given my first prayer journal at age 8 and began praying for my dad to know the Lord as his Savior.
During my 6th grade year, my dad got injured on the job trimming trees and decided to go back to school at the age of 45. I think it was then that the Lord began working on his heart and reminding Him that ultimately, He is in control. My dad accepted a new job in Postville, IA toward the end of my 8th grade year and moved to northeast Iowa ahead of us to begin working. He started to attend church on his own and it was then that I knew that God was working in his life.
Our family began attending Grace Fellowship Church in Decorah and we open enrolled in the Postville School District. During the summer before my Junior year of high school, I began to notice that something was off with my digestive system. My abdomen felt sore and looked very bloated. I went to the local clinic and had a scan done. I was sent home with something to clean out my system and received a phone call saying I would need to have surgery to remove a cyst on my right ovary.
My parents wanted to get a second opinion, so we went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I found myself in a patient room listening to a pediatric surgeon telling me I had a 5 pound tumor on my ovary the size of a volleyball and would be scheduled for surgery immediately the following day to see if it was malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). I thought there was no way that at the age of 16, I would be told that I had cancer.
The surgery lasted 6 hours and my surgeon was so worn out that he had to call in extra help from the Rochester Methodist Hospital. The cancer had spread to my peritoneal lining (protects your organs), so they had to remove parts of that near my diaphragm and removed my appendix as a precaution. The surgeon shared with my parents that my tumor was malignant and I was told my father wept when he called to tell my grandparents I had cancer.
I woke up in the ICU and was transferred to a patient room where I was informed of the news. Tears streamed down my face as I entered survival mode. I went through 4 rounds of chemotherapy and lost my long brown hair. Around the 3rd round, I became very depressed and had to be evaluated. I had to spend every spare moment at school catching up on school work with teachers and saw my typically high grades plummet from missing so much instruction.
After treatment, I started feeling better and went out for a school play and track again. About one year later, I started experiencing some pain near my lung and had it biopsied. It was cancerous and I had to be opened up again from breast bone to pubic bone. The oncologists believe some cancerous cells had strayed and formed a nodule near my lung. During this second surgery, it was discovered that my peritoneal lining was “peppered” with cancerous cells. They couldn’t just remove all my peritoneal lining and the cells looked stagnant (not growing), so they closed me back up again. To this day, I do not know if the cells remain as they were too small to appear on a CAT scan. I didn’t need chemotherapy this time around.
I graduated high school and went to Hawkeye Community College my freshman year. This was a really spiritually dry time for me. I lived in the apartments across from the school and partying, although I did not partake in it, was commonplace. I went to church sporadically and struggled to honor the Lord in the relationship I was in. Before the year was through, I was asked if I wanted to be a camp counselor at a Bible camp back in northeast Iowa. While I didn’t feel qualified, I agreed and was really grateful I did.
Beulahland Christian Camp is where I spent that summer. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by other believers-convicting too. I began to develop a heart of service and felt convicted to end my relationship. I also first noticed my husband Matt and his admirable work ethic that summer.
When summer was through, I transferred to Iowa State for Child, Adult, and Family Services and began attending the Salt Company ministry and church at Cornerstone Church. I also joined a small group and really grew in my faith through the study of God’s Word and great Biblical teaching. I ended up living with 3 pastor’s daughters and a cousin to one of them. We formed a close bond and could be found sprawled out talking for 6 hours straight or eating pazookie-a giant cookie with ice cream on top. We all got engaged within 2 months of each other and coined the phrase, “Apartment 3-the Marriage Factory.”
Matthew (the camp counselor) asked me out to coffee in the spring of my sophomore year and we dated for 2.5 years. During that time I ended up taking an 18 credit semester so I wouldn’t have to go back for an extra semester. One of these classes was a graduate level course I had to take to replace a required class that was full and I was still holding down a job and wedding planning at this time as well. It ended up being one of the most stressful times of my life. I pulled my first all nighter and late nights became commonplace. I started having panic attacks in class and a lot of anxiety about how I was going to get it all done. I am also a perfectionist by nature and always did my best when it came to school.
I had gotten to a point where I wasn’t sleeping and talking very quickly for long periods of time. I wanted to be around my family, so I packed a bag and went to spend some time with my sister and her husband for awhile (She also lived in Ames). My mom came down to be there for me and my situation wasn’t improving. I knew I needed help and didn’t know where else to turn but to a mental health institute, as this is where I received treatment when I was 16. So, I packed a bag and after seeing a campus physician and therapist, voluntarily went to seek treatment at the mental health unit in Ames. I was given medication to help me sleep and spoke with a psychiatrist who after several days of being in the unit, diagnosed me with Bipolar. I was shocked. I didn’t know how all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I could receive such a strong diagnosis. I was instructed to take medication and after about 5 days in the unit, was released.
Surprisingly, after that semester, I agreed to be the director at Beulahland Christian Camp. I didn’t want to have a bunch of free time on my hands back home and camp kept me busy for sure. After a few months, I began tapering off of my medication under a doctor’s instruction. I inquired about tapering off because I was in denial that I had the disorder. I got married in the Fall and all was well-for awhile.
Due to some negative experiences I had had in the mental health unit, I started having flashbacks similar to symptoms someone experiencing post traumatic stress may have. I was also experiencing some mania in which I was sleeping for short periods of time. I would start cleaning as a form of stress relief. This period of time was also brought on by the stress of starting a new job and care taking for the camp I now lived at. I decided to let my job go to focus solely on my camp responsibilities. I ended up seeing a great doctor and going back on the medication I had been on in high school.
Over the next several years, I had been on and off of medication but decided to stick with it when asked by my mother-in-law, “If you find that it helps you, why not take it?” It was a very refreshing conversation and I am very grateful that mental health is a topic I feel very comfortable discussing with her as a nurse and family member.
In February of 2016, I saw a local psychiatrist after a really hard bout of depression and anxiety I experienced after the changes of having a baby, some changes at work, car trouble, the loss of 5 family members in a short period of time, etc. On Valentine’s Day, after reviewing my past and current experiences, he said, “Yep, that sounds like Bipolar.” Specifically, he diagnosed me with Bipolar II which is characterized more by episodes of depression. It is supposed to get harder as you get older-oh joy.
Since then, I have seen 2 other mental health professionals and currently go to Ames to the new Cornerstone Counseling Center that was established by the same church I used to go to in college when they saw a need for it.
Since becoming a stay at home mom, I had a great 3 months in the summer and after fall hit, I began to feel restless, which turned into anxiety, which turned into some depression. I would pace around my house looking at online job boards and could barely do the laundry or plan meals for my family. I was worried about everything and afraid that I was ruining my girls. I felt I had made a huge mistake staying home and didn’t think there was any way to reverse it. At my husband’s urging, I saw a psychiatrist recommended to him by a friend whose wife has Bipolar. Since then I have started taking new medication and am doing so much better. I am back to my usual self and am enjoying staying home again!
I say all of this not to gain sympathy for what I’ve been through but to shed light on how faithful our God is. I’ve never liked the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I think I remember hearing this when I was diagnosed with cancer. The truth is-I’m not good. None of us are; but we serve a good God. A God who took our place on the cross and bared the burden we should have paid for our sin. Through all these things, 2 miscarriages, and other health setbacks I haven’t mentioned, God has never left me. He has remained faithful to His daughter.
A few of my favorite verses can be found in Psalm 103:1-5:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
During this Corona Virus outbreak I am reminded that despite fear and illness, God is still faithful. He is bigger than all of this and it is not a surprise to Him. Let us be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).