This, my friends, is the story of how my four months of “hives” actually turned out to be bed bugs. Read on! I know you are all curious to hear the tale!
So within my group of friends, we have a little Twitter-related joke where we “hashtag” things. You know… like on Twitter you might seen “#YOLO” (YOLO = You only live once) or “#firstworldprobs.” Well with my friends, we’ll often just say it out loud, like “Hashtag: Things I wish I knew earlier,” or, one of our favorites, “Hashtag: community.” You see, “community” is one of the Christian buzzwords about how your church family should be like a real family and take care of one another and live near each other… and honestly our church does a good job of fostering community in our small groups called homegroups. So when we cook for one another, or borrow each other’s vacuum cleaner, or just go into someone else’s house because the door is always unlocked, we often jokingly say “hashtag: community.” Well Ags, here’s a little story that shows just how awesome my hashtag: community is. But first we have to sum up the last 5 months of my life.
Back in January, I came back to College Station after being home for winter break for about three weeks. After one night in my CStat bed, I woke up and noticed I had mosquito-like bites on my arms and legs. It was strange because it was January, which is not a month known for its mosquito infestations. I ignored it for a few days, but when more showed up and started itching, I started thinking it might be more than mosquitoes. My next thought was, “OH MY GOSH I HAVE BED BUGS.” So of course I Googled it. The bites actually didn’t look like bed bug bites, and after inspecting my mattress and not seeing anything, I figured it most be something else.
I spent the next 2 months scouring the Internet trying to figure out what invisible creatures were causing me intense discomfort and constant itchiness. I went to a few doctors. I thought it might be spiders. Bird mites. Rat mites. Bed bugs again. Mites again. Nothing really seemed to match. Bed bugs bite in groups of three usually, and you should be able to see bloodstains on your sheets. People slept in my bed and didn’t have any problems. After exterminating for spiders and mites, the bites got worse, but every time I checked my sheets and mattress for bed bugs, nothing showed up. But things got better when I spent the weekend out of town or went home to Arlington. I started to feel like a crazy person. Why was I itchy all the time?!
Finally in mid-March I broke out in a sheet of hives on my right shoulder. HIVES. That could explain it. I used to break out in unexplained hives when I was little, and maybe I was allergic to something in College Station. These little spots could just be hives. I went to an allergist who agreed that the spots didn’t really match bed bug descriptions, but he also couldn’t really find a reason that I would be breaking out in hives. We tried several over-the-counter anti-histamines, and while they sort of stopped the itching, they weren’t really working that well. He told me he was really sorry, but they the hives were probably because of stress, which I admitted to having plenty of. He told me I could manage the itchiness with creams and some steroid pills, and that he hoped they’d go away over the summer when my stress was reduced.
At this point, in April, I had basically learned to live with the itchiness and to not leave the house without anti-itch cream. It was my new way of life. I hoped that being away from College Station would solve the problem and that it wouldn’t return in the fall… well, I was somewhat right.
While I was in Italy, I got an email from my roommate telling me she and my summer subleaser had found bedbugs in my box spring, which I had never checked. I felt awful. I had inflicted this plague on my whole house, even though it wasn’t really my fault. And there was nothing I could really do because I was thousands of miles away in Italy. I felt horrible.
Together, my four roommates began the process of ridding out house of bed bugs, which let me tell you, is a complete and total nightmare. Everything fabric must be washed and dried at high temperatures to kill any bugs or eggs. Anything that can’t be laundered has to sit out in the sun and heat all day. Essentially six girls pillows, blankets, sheets, clothes, shoes, towels… anything we own that was cloth, had to be bagged up and washed or taken outside. Then the whole house had to be cleaned and sprayed. Our instruments (guitars, violin and viola) had to be de-stringed and treated. Our house was in complete chaos. And this all happened while I was in Italy.
But here’s where the hashtag: community comes in. My roommates weren’t alone. We had the support of so many friends and two churches helping them accomplish everything. A total stranger from my roommate’s church washed all my clothes and bagged then. My homegroup came over and helped bag things. When I got home from Italy and burst into tears because I was exhausted from travel and everything at home looked like a refugee camp, a couple from our church let me sleep at their house. Another couple let me shower at their house. The next two nights I stayed with some guys from my small group in a spare room they had open. In short, we could not have survived this hell without the body of Christ.
And that’s why I wan to tell this story! Even though us having bed bugs is awkward and kind of embarrassing (even though it is not a comment on our cleanliness! We are clean people!) and there’s that stigma attached that we should be ashamed, I want everyone to know this story because it is truly a testament to God’s provision.
1. Thank God I wasn’t there when we found this. This semester nearly killed me, and having me at home would have sent me over the edge. My roommates just kept saying they were so glad I was in Italy and didn’t have to deal with the stress of the clean up. And they had wanted to find a way to serve me, and cleaning out my whole room was how they accomplished that. I felt totally blessed to come home and have all that work done on my behalf.
2. Thank God we found them after school was out. This was three of my roommates’ final semesters, and it was by far the hardest semester I have ever taken. Finding this during the school year, especially during the nightmare that was April, also would have sent all of us over the edge. Weirdly enough, God’s timing in us finding this was perfect. Everyone had more time on their hands and less on their plates to deal with than they would have during the school year. Even if it meant I learned to live with itchiness.
3. We got to see Christ’s body at work serving as it is designed to. Everyone pitched in during our time of need. Everyone served selflessly. Strangers served people they didn’t even know. Even after all the bags were taken care of, my friends helped me look through bags to find everything I needed to get for Oregon. People prayed for me to find things quickly, and I did! There was more than one occasion when I found exactly what I needed in the first bag I opened. This was the perfect example of community.
4. I truly believe God takes these awful experiences and uses it for his glory and to remind us to rely on him always. Some thoughts from II Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God… Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by our prayers.” (II Corinthians 1: 3-4, 9-11a)
So that’s what I got from this experience. Sometimes life throws you awful, awful, insidious, evil curve balls, but God uses it for his glory. And then you have an awesome story to tell. As I read in Mark on my plane ride to Oregon the other day, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So here I am, telling you.
PS: Sleep tight! Don’t let the bed bugs bite! (Isn’t that childhood rhyme just horrifying now?! It is for me at least…)