Thursday, March 10, 2016

One Year Later -- when my life fell apart

Today marks the one year anniversary of me falling through the floor.

Last April I wrote a blog post about my fall, and I thought that would be the end of it. After surgery and some physical therapy, I assumed that my life would return to normal and it would all be nothing more than a crazy mission story to tell. I was wrong though. You see, after I fell through the floor... my life fell apart.

How naive I was to think that God had finished working with me and that my problems would be over. Though this is a blog of my mission stories, I truly believe that the trials I experienced after my fall were an extension of my mission. And so to mark this anniversary, here is the rest of my story.

The first words my mom said when she saw me in the airport was, "She's walking!!" I was still so beat up from the accident that I was pushed around the airport in a wheelchair, but I managed to limp out to my sweet family waiting for me.

I went to an orthopedic surgeon immediately after getting home. They took my giant plaster cast off, re-splinted it, and scheduled my surgery for the next week.

This is me trying really hard not to pass out. Can you tell where my arm is broken??

I can't really remember how I spent that week before my surgery. I was nervous, but I had been told that after the surgery and a few weeks of physical therapy, everything would be fine. I knew nothing of what was truly to come.

I woke up from surgery in SO much pain. They kept me away from my family because the pain wasn't in control, and kept giving me more doses of pain meds. Nothing was helping though, so they finally gave me a nerve block. That numbed my entire left arm and was supposed to last for 24 hours. They told me to expect intense pain for the next 2-3 days, and then normal pain after that.

honestly I'm really surprised I could even smile in this picture

I was nauseous and dazed, but I insisted on seeing what they had just done to my arm.

I managed the first day home from the hospital fine, since I couldn't feel any part of my left arm because of the nerve block. My ribs still hurt too much to lay down though, so my dad made me a makeshift hospital bed.

The next day was the worst day of my life. When the nerve block wore off, the pain came and it didn't go away. I was supposed to take my pain medication every 4-6 hours as needed, but it only barely took the edge off of the pain for the first 2 hours. The rest of the time I laid in bed sobbing and literally begging my parents to let me take more narcotics. It's hard to describe how painful it was. Because of the severe trauma of the fall, the travel, and then the surgery, my arm was hypersensitive to the pain. It was an intense, sharp throbbing, a horrible, deep ache where the metal had been drilled into the bone, and the entire length of the incision site burned. Honestly, my elbow hurts right now just thinking about it. 

My poor parents didn't know what to do with me. They knew they couldn't give me the drugs I was begging for, so they tried everything to distract me. They painted my toenails, talked to me, and asked me about mission stories. Sweet friends sent me fruit, food, and cookies. But all I did was cry. All day. The next day was only a little more tolerable. The day after that was bearable. 

A dear friend returned from his mission a few days after my surgery and that helped to cheer my spirits. We planned it so that I would take pain meds right before seeing him. That way I could actually carry on a pleasant conversation instead of just crying. :) 

I look happy in the pictures, but around this time my heart started to crumble. The reality of my situation sunk in. I tried to have faith, but I was upset. 

THIS was how I was supposed to return home from my mission? 

I had been completely independent, and proud of it. I had been serving God and giving Him my all. I was happy that way. Now I was completely helpless. I felt pathetic, calling my parents from the room next door and begging for the next dose of pain medication in the middle of the night. I couldn't sit up from bed without help. My mother had to bathe me, her 20-year old, return-missionary daughter. She helped me get dressed and did my hair. My parents were the most loving caretakers possible, but I hated how helpless I felt. 

After a few weeks of waiting for the bone to heal, the cast was finally taken off. I couldn't bend my elbow at all, but I still managed to be optimistic as I started physical therapy. Just a few weeks of work, and my arm should be back to normal, right? I wanted this all to be over.

I started out making a little progress. My arm slowly moved a few degrees more each time I went. This is how much it moved after about two weeks. 

I was terrified that I would stop making progress though, and around this time that's pretty much what happened. I kept going to physical therapy three times a week and faithfully doing my exercises, but it never voluntarily moved more than a tiny bit on its own. My therapist was phenomenal, and she worked SO hard to help me. She did literally everything she and other specialists could think of to help my arm move again. Things would work for a few seconds and then my arm would go right back to where it liked to be. My surgeon didn't understand why my arm had become so stiff. The x-rays looked fine, the surgery had gone well, and no one's arm had ever frozen up as much as mine had. Someone suggested that they put me in a textbook.

my arm never moved from this crooked position

Each physical therapy session was excruciating. I did exercises to move it back and forth and strengthen the muscles. These were painful, but tolerable. All physical therapy is painful, as anyone who has ever done it knows. But elbows are apparently the hardest and most painful joints to re-mobilize after an injury. Because of their anatomy they get stiff really fast and are a pain to move again. And I mean literally, a PAIN. The worst thing was stretching it.

At the end of every session I laid down on a table and my therapist, whom I loved and trusted, pulled my arm out as far as it could go. She held it there for as long as I could stand, over and over again. Then she pushed it in towards me and held that for as long as I could stand. Not only did I have to let her do that to me, but I had to learn how to actually RELAX while she did, so that my muscles wouldn't contract and fight against her. I had to let her hurt me.

I have thought for a long time about how to accurately describe the pain that I felt during those stretches. I decided on this: Imagine that your entire arm was soaked in glue that someone let harden. Like when you use a paintbrush and forget to wash it out so the bristles all get stuck together and are rock hard. Picture that everything down to the bone is soaked in this glue. The skin is glued to the muscles, each little muscle is glued to another and to the bone, the bones are all stuck together as well, and it's all at a nice 90 degree angle. Now imagine that someone forcefully pulls your arm open and holds it there until it's unbearable. They stop and do it again. And then again. Then they push it in and hold that again and again.
If your eyes just rolled back into your head thinking about that sort of pain, then you've imagined it about right.

This is a device they gave me to stretch my arm out and hold it for hours on end. We named it "Hank the Crank."

My PT told me she was surprised I never passed out, that this usually made grown men cry, that childbirth would be a piece of cake for me, and that she wouldn't wish an elbow fracture on her worst enemy. I just laid there and whimpered. I took to listening to music while she stretched me to try and distract myself from the pain. Deeper (Paul Cardall), By Your Side (Tenth Avenue North) and Consider the Lilies (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) were my go-to physical therapy songs.

I laid there and thought about my Savior. Though I know that the excruciating pain I felt was only a fraction of the pain that He felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, in some small way I came to understand him better. I learned about submission. Christ knelt there in the garden and willing submitted to the pain of the entire world. "He... fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Christ didn't want to hurt that much. "...nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39).

Through the intense physical pain, I came to know Jesus Christ more. I gained a greater love and appreciation for the suffering that He felt. I knew that He was the only one to truly understand the pain that I was feeling. Physical pain was not the only thing He suffered though; he also experienced our sadness, grief, and heartbreak.

At this point in the summer I was seriously dating someone. We were high school sweethearts and had been dating for 5 years. We had dated through high school, college, good times, bad times, and 2 years away on missions. After waiting so long, we were finally together again and we were planning on getting married. Unexpectedly though, he ended our relationship and walked away from me.

Often I have felt the need to downplay this part of my story. I don't know, maybe it's not as socially acceptable to admit heartbreak as it is a broken bone, but the reality of it is that I was now as emotionally broken as I was physically.

I was depressed and confused. I was angry with God. He was the one who had let this all happen. People don't just fall through floors! I knew my life wouldn't be perfect after the mission, but THIS was too much. I was discouraged and upset by the lack of progress with my arm. I was terrified that it would never move again. I was devastated by the loss of someone that I had loved so much and for so long. My family was moving across country and we were leaving our beloved home of 20 years. Honestly, I didn't really see the point of continuing life like this -- with everything falling apart. My prayers were desperate and painful cries for help and for healing.

I distinctly remember the day I broke down. It had been a particularly hard morning at physical therapy, with no progress and lots of pain. I called in sick to work and laid on my bed sobbing for hours. I was so afraid. What if it were the Lord's will that my arm never move again? I couldn't do it. I didn't want to. It all hurt too much.

That day something snapped in my heart. I gave up fighting. In a good way though -- I gave up fighting God. I gave up kicking my heels and stomping my feet and telling him that it wasn't fair. I was too tired to be stubborn anymore.
What if it was His will that my arm never move again? Could I still be a good person with one and a half arms? Could I still help and serve others and testify about Christ? Could I still be happy?

I prayed and I managed to tell God that I could. I told him that if he didn't want my arm to move again, I would be okay with it. You see, I still hadn't finished learning about submission. I had to physically submit to pain to heal my arm, but my soul could not be healed until I submitted that to him too. When we give our hearts to him, we give up fighting against His plan for us. That sometimes means that we allow ourselves to be hurt along the way, but we trust Him enough to know that it will all work out for good. We allow ourselves to be molded in his hands, even if it is a painful process.

"Have thy own way Lord, have thy own way.
Thou art the potter -- I am the clay."

"Here's my heart, oh take and seal it --
seal it for thy courts above."

The process started that day for me. It didn't all get immediately better, but my heart was in a better place. As I continued to open my heart and cry to Him, the anger at my circumstances gradually subsided to acceptance and then to gratitude. I am grateful that my life fell into pieces -- because God took those pieces and put them back together into a better me.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

the Accident // the Lord's Will // the Butterflies

My apologies for the few weeks that have passed without anyone updating this blog. Though if you keep reading, you'll understand why. The past weeks have been full of some very unexpected circumstances. I'll start from the beginning:

After sending that last email to my parents on March 9, my life continued normally. That Tuesday we had district meeting, and afterwards we did divisiones with the Hermanas downstairs. For awhile I had consistently felt that we needed to have our new apartment dedicated, (which means the Elders come and say a prayer so that there's a spirit of peace in the apartment). I didn't entirely understand why, but couldn't deny the consistent prompting and knew it would be a good thing to do. We had a meeting with the office Elders and our ward mission leader that Tuesday night, so I asked if afterwards they would come and dedicate our apartment.
The three of them went into our apartment and my companion and I waited outside the door. Since we lived on the third floor, the hallway outside our room had a gorgeous view of the Río Paraná and Paraguay. I knew the Elders wouldn't be long but while we waited, I walked over to the window to look at the moon and the stars. I regret that decision so. much. The view was gorgeous, and as the Elders left our apartment I turned around to thank them, stepped forward, and fell through the floor.

I remember the sensation and confusion of falling, the abrupt shock of hitting the floor on the second-story underneath me, and the numb realization of what had just happened. I remember in the shock of it all, the loudest and most important thing became my pained breathing. In, out. In, out. More than anything, I remember the sound of the Elders and my companion thundering 3-steps at a time down the stairs to me, and Elder Roberts' urgent, "Hermana, can you hear me??"
I replied that I could. I had landed sprawled out and twisted, chest down and one hip down, with my arms above my head. I couldn't feel my arms. Everything was numb.

On the second floor, looking up at where I fell from.

The third floor looking down. This is the nice hole I created. :)

The floor I had fallen through was wooden, and because the floor I had landed on was wooden as well, the Elders were immediately concerned that I would fall through the next floor. The missionaries asked if I could move, and I managed to push myself up and scoot over to lean against the wall. As neighbors and landladies gathered and watched and ran to get car keys, I sat there against the wall and asked the Elders for a blessing of health. They laid their hands on my head and prayed for me.

On the second floor, showing the distance I fell. I fell from where I'm pointing at to where that plank of wood is on the ground.

The car ride to the hospital was one of the longest of my life. I remember touching my left elbow and feeling that it was not right. My ribs ached, and I felt every bump in the road. Panicked and beginning to feel more pain, I entered into shock and began to shake. (I made the poor Elders turn off the air conditioning even though it was really hot :). I was so cold. I prayed over and over again, "Heavenly Father, please let me be okay. Just please let me be ok." I made it through that ride thanks to Elder Collins, who turned around in the front seat and made me talk to him to distract me. Though we were speaking English and she couldn't understand, the land lady with us in the car said, "Wow, there is such a spirit of peace and tranquility with you guys. You can tell you have a lot of faith."

I had to go back to the emergency room alone, and it was an act of God that I managed all of that alone, in shock, and in Spanish. They repeatedly asked me what hurt the most, and the answer was always, "my elbow and my ribs." I remember shaking and singing hymns to myself while the doctors treated others around me, as well as the distinct impression that I was not alone.

I was told that I had a broken elbow that needed surgery, that my ribs were not broken, and I was sent home with doctors orders for the surgery. That night I slept in the apartment of the sisters downstairs (there was no way I could make it up the stairs, and no one really wanted to go upstairs and see the hole again anyway). I am SO thankful for those sisters who nursed my wounds, iced my bruises, washed my hair, and loved me. I could hardly walk or move from the injuries all over my body, and they took such good care of me. My mission president was in Paraguay and dropped everything to arrive in Posadas the next afternoon.

My faithful and loving nurses (plus my companion, who's taking the picture :)
The best picture I have of my injuries. I had huge bruises on each knee, my left hip, my ribs, and my right arm and elbow. And obviously, my left elbow. :)
The Elders dropped me off at the apartment late Tuesday night, and then promptly went and bought me a kilo of Duomo ice cream. :)

Wednesday the office Elders and Assistants visited me (you become really popular when you fall through a floor), and then President and Hermana LaPierre came and took us to another doctor to get a professional opinion. But since we didn't have an appointment, we got scheduled for the next day. My companion and I packed a few things and stayed at the mission home until everything could get figured out.

I was so terrified I would have to go home. With only 3 weeks left in my mission, I felt I hadn't made it this far just to go home early. I cried and prayed for Heavenly Father to let me stay. Just three weeks. Three weeks!! Thursday was spent going in and out of doctors appointments. We found a surgeon, did some tests, and felt good about doing the surgery in Argentina. That was what I wanted to do.

My parents still didn't know about the accident (my choice) so that night I skyped them from my mission president's office and explained everything. I will never forget their faces as I told them I had an accident and broke my elbow. "How?!" "...I fell through the floor."

my poor mother

My mission president and I talked to them and they agreed to let me stay since that was what I wanted. But after our conversation ended, my president received new communication from Salt Lake that the doctors had looked at my x-rays again and recommended that I be sent home. My parents were informed, given the x-rays, and told that the decision was in their hands.

That was a hard night for me. I'm really not sure if I slept. I sat there propped up on the couch and cried and begged and pleaded with God to heal my elbow and let me stay. Please.
I learned something that night -- prayer is not the way we change the will of the Lord. It is how our hearts are changed to accept His will. What God wants is ultimately better than what I want, whether I understand it or not. His purposes are great and will be accomplished, even if it means I have to fall through a floor. Amidst my tears I was given peace. I was given the gift of accepting the will of the Lord. 

On Friday we waited until my parents responded that yes, they wanted me to come home. It broke their hearts having to tell me that, but I already knew. I skyped them again, and my plane ticket was bought. My loving, merciful, and compassionate mission president fulfilled my last request and arranged for me and my companion to go to Iguazu Falls the next day, like all the missionaries here do when they finish.

I had peace knowing that I had already given my all to the Lord. My last three weeks were not going to change anything. I was not trying to make up for lost time or satisfy my conscience. I had served faithfully and steadily, and I knew the Lord knew it. So if He said "enough", I could take it. But I needed to know that my offering, though imperfect, was acceptable to the Lord. That night I prayed and asked to be able to know if after all this time -- the tears, the sweat, the joy and the pain -- if He was happy with me.

And then I went to Iguazu. 
It was absolutely gorgeous, and I won't even attempt to describe it in words. 

me and my wonderful companion

But the most significant part for me was not the waterfalls. It was the butterflies. Those of you who have followed this blog know about the butterflies. (If not, read this and this). 

There were many in Iguazu, though I was expecting that. There are always butterflies in Iguazu. I was touched by their presence, and knew it had been an answer to my prayer. I thought that was it.

This one flew up and landed right on me. 

Until right at the end of our day, when we rounded the corner to Devil's Throat. This is the sight that greeted us:

It was as if it were snowing butterflies. Like from Snow White or something. I couldn't believe it. 

God loved me enough to send not only butterflies, but clouds of butterflies to reassure me of His love and His awareness of me and my broken elbow. It was a clear sign from Him that I could not deny or doubt. 

After a few more complications and a few more adventures (that's a whole different story...) I finally made it home. I've had my surgery, and will begin physical therapy in a few weeks. I still do not understand entirely why I needed to fall through that floor, but I have learned that faith means we don't need to understand everything perfectly. 

I will be forever grateful for the privilege I was given of being a missionary and coming closer to my Savior. The people of Argentina and Paraguay will forever hold a cherished place in my heart. They are my people. My mission was nothing I expected, and everything I needed. It was the hardest and the best thing. I came to know my Savior Jesus Christ and just how much I truly need Him. I know that this is His church again on the earth. I know our lives can be changed and bettered through Him. I know that He is the only way to an eternal family and true happiness. More than anything, I know He is aware of us. I know He watches over and loves us. He knows when we are worried, upset, pained, or troubled. He lets us experience those things so we can grow. But He is at our side in every moment -- His faithful love and care never go away. 
And along our twisting paths of life, He always sends us butterflies.

Hermana Rawlins

Monday, March 9, 2015

Flight plans?! We have flight plans!?

Questions from the family:

Anybody you're teaching now that you want us to pray for? Besides you?
Good question. We have an investigator named C who could use some prayers. Also M. She's awesome, we can just never find her!! Besides that, please pray that we can find people who are prepared to come and learn and change. People who want the happiness of the gospel!! We're on the hunt. My goal is to leave my companion with a good, solid base of people to work with in the area. 

Registration for classes is the end of this month! should i just register you for stuff that is on the list of classes you still need to take? anything you know you for sure you need to take?  
oh gosh. I have no idea. Alli can you look at the class list for my major and sign me up for the next ones on that list? Just some basic stuff? What day is registration, will I have time to do some stuff when I get back?

So the week started out with President/the Assistants asking me to come to a district-leader-only consejo they were having, and speak for 15-20 minutes on how they should treat the Hermanas in their districts and also how they should work with the Sister Training Leaders. I was so intimidated!! I talked with some Hermanas to get their ideas before I went... and they had some rather strong opinions hahaha. So I stood up and told all the Elders that they were lucky it was ME talking to them and not other sisters!! I shared some opinions and advice and it turned out good! President was thankful and my companion said she wished she had recorded it to show the other hermanas haha. 

Then on Thursday we got to do divisiones with the Hermanas in Ituzaingo!! This time I stayed in Posadas, but next time I'm totally going to Ituzaingo! I want to conocer. :) I was with Hermana Hartley, one of the new Hermanas we had just greeted last week, and she is just the sweetest thing! It was an awesome day. During the afternoon I called M and asked if we could come over, and she said "look, this is my work schedule (and she told me) and so I'm literally only available sunday mornings... unless it rains. If it rains a lot I'm at home. You're gonna have to pray it rains if you want to see me". So I told her I would pray that it rains haha. 
And it did!  That afternoon a big storm rolled in so we went to the house of the yw we were out with and shared a message, and while I was sitting there I thought, "wait a second... its raining!" and we finished there and went over to M. We clapped there and she came out (really mad) and said it looked like God had sent us and I said "yeah God answered my prayers!!" and she said she had just had a huge fight with her boss and left early and come back home just steaming mad and I was like, "oh, I was talking about the rain." But hey! We shared a message and helped her out so I'm not complaining :)

Then on Friday we missionaries had organized a luau as a ward missionary effort. It turned out fun, the drama of the night was that here no one has ever heard of a GRILLED hot dog, it has to be boiled si o si, and so everyone was rather put out that we wanted to try and grill hot dogs. One member even said "Que me importa si asi se hace en Hawaii." haha. Then he went out, bought some sausage, and grilled that after the hot dogs were done. All ended up happy, those who ate grilled hot dogs, and those who ate grilled sausage. 

We also had stake conference this week, which was actually really weird for me. It was my first one in the mission, (because a district conference does NOT count as a stake conference) and it kept reminding me of stake conference in Philly where I see all of the missionaries together, and then all of a sudden I WAS one. Weird! (and a weird realization to make with only 4 weeks left).

Other good news!! M, a woman we were teaching in Saltos, got baptized last week!!! Also if everything went well, J, a youth we were teaching, should have gotten baptized last Saturday. Hooray!!

I have more stories but no time. I'll just tell you all soon :) (I'm excited too!!!!)
All my love,
Hermana Rawlins

p.s. sorry, forgot my camera so no pictures this week!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Availability Not Ability

Questions from the Family:

How are you? I can't believe this is your last transfer!
I'm good and I cant believe it either!!

How's your area treating you?
Well, its not treating me like Paraguay treats its missionaries, but its good. :)

Okay side note, family members being trunky in their emails but trying really hard not to be is one of the funniest things to read. No worries, I know I'm coming home soon. We can talk about it. :) 

on that note, can you guys schedule some doctors appointments for me?? I so badly want to go. Just like the dentist, regular doctor, something to test my thyroid, and something to clean parasites out of my intestines? (haha kidding... sort of.) 

This week's been a good one!!
On Wednesday we got to spend the day with the new hermanas who just came in from the MTC!!! Perks of being an HLC in Posadas. They were all super cute and new and we played games with them and then took them contacting along the coast in Posadas. It was really fun. My favorite parts were when we were practicing a contact with them and the two new american sisters walked up to me and I immediately said hi and kissed their cheeks. They looked so confused. :) Also when they asked me the difference between two sodas at lunch and I told them that one "doesn't have gas in it." After their weird looks I went, "oh, does that not make sense in english... uhh... uhh.. carbonated!! thats the word" If anyone wants soda with gas in it let me know. 

Then at the end of the week it was quite an adventure because we had to move apartments and so all of the office elders and the assistants came to move our stuff. It was an ordeal. But, everyone is alive and the new pension's nice. :)

I thought I'd share a few things that have helped me this week. 

Alma 18: 32-35 
And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts andintents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
 33 And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?
 34 Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;
 35 And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God.
Also, D and C 81:5-6. 
And this quote from Neal A Maxwell:
"God does not begin by asking up about our ability but only about our availability and if we prove our dependibility, He will increase our capability." 
Love you guys!!
-Hermana Rawlins
me and Andrecito, some giant statue that someone explained the meaning of to me and then I promptly forgot 
I love Posadas!! 
us and the new hermanas! they're all so cute!!
us moving!! was a pain. Actually it literally was, because now I'm really sore. haha.
you know you're in Argentina when... you find this graffiti in the hymnals. #mate

After church, we discovered little kittens trapped inside the motor of a members car and rescued them. It was quite the adventure.