I'm not sure when it happened exactly. It happened subconsciously . . . . a gift from God in my sleep, maybe . . . . or perhaps through a series of small choices toward a common end. Regardless of how, the decision was made without my knowing it was made until after it was made that I was not going to allow my illness to define me. I would not allow it to consume me. I would not allow it to rob me of the joy of living. I would not be denied the pleasure of putting a puzzle together on the floor with my son--even if doing so left me stiff and sore. I would not miss an opportunity to gather with friends in my home--even if it left me tired and in need of a day of recovery. I would not let the sometimes searing pain shooting downwards from my shoulders into my fingertips keep me from enjoying the simple happiness of rocking my baby, holding a book, baking a cake or writing in my journal. I would not even allow myself to grow petulant or bitter about my very restrictive menu. I would live, and I would do it with joy.

I first noticed the shift in mentality the week before last as I was trying to decide how I was going to get the vegetables I needed to do my rice and vegetable fast for three days. I didn't really want the half-rate grocery store produce knowing that good quality produce could be attained at a local farmer's market. I did not feel like getting the kids out, driving half an hour and trying to keep kids happy while I shopped in the heat and humidity, but I decided to do it anyway. I had no delusions of grandeur. I knew I would need help, so I called my grandmother. She helped me get kids in and out of the car, helped me manage them as we walked around the Ruston Farmer's Market, sat with them as I grabbed a few things at The Olde Wheat Barn and distracted me with adult conversation as Sara screamed her head off on the car ride back to Farmerville.

I realized again several times over that something had changed within me as I did things like roll my eyes in annoyance at the pain in my hip and knees as I played in the floor with the children, ignore my fatigue as I priced items and shopped the children's consignment sale in Ruston, and grit my teeth at the pain in my shoulder and elbow as I mixed the batter for another, slightly better-looking, gluten-free apple cake (sans the cinnamon as I have discovered that I'm allergic to that, too). I found myself smiling instead of fretting about the fatigue and pain that was sure to follow a sleepless night of holding a sleepless Sara. (I will not pretend that I was not frustrated to be awake during perfectly good sleeping hours, but I had moments in which I could enjoy the fact that I was cuddling my baby, something I don't have much longer to enjoy as Sara's first birthday is quickly approaching and as we do not plan to have anymore children.) One rare hour in which Sara napped in her bed on her own, I chose to play with Micah in his room instead of rest in my chair. His pleased and satisfied grin was a far greater reward than any period of rest can produce.

Beyond discovering that I don't have to say "no" to all of life's pleasures, my heart has learned to embrace the yeses that my illness brings. I cannot be constantly busy anymore, so I can joyfully say "yes" to slow days at home with the children. I must take time to "sit on my laurels;" therefore, I can say "yes" to unscheduled time with the Lord. I have time to read, to think, to pray, to call my friends who live all over the continental U.S. and are still spreading, to listen to Timothy Keller's sermon podcasts (available for free on Itunes). And to my astonishment, I find myself once again dreaming about the future! You can't quite know the importance and beauty of dreaming until you are unable to do it. The abruptness and severity with which my apparently long-term illness came made me afraid to dream for awhile because I couldn't see a future without my illness in it, and that terrified me. Now I realize that I can live joyfully with my illness (thanks to the goodness and nearness of my Savior), and I am no longer afraid. I can dream as big and wide as I did before. My dreams are just . . . . different. In some cases, I would say that they are better . . . . improved upon by the refining work of a loving God.

It may have taken almost three months, but I'm finally happy in my new reality. I won't lie--there is a tension in this new reality. The tension stems from the belief that I shouldn't be and won't be in this place forever, and that I should try everything I can to get better. My next (and hopefully last!) course of action is another diet plan. You may ask, "Why another diet? The others did not work." I would agree with your assessment, and answer, "The other diets did not work because I had the wrong goal in mind." The other diets I have tried were intended to increase my tolerance of food, but only served to make me aware that I am a hot mess who is allergic to almost everything and can tolerate almost nothing. Thus, I was ushered to this very important question--"Why?" The conclusion I came to was a fact of which I had already been aware--"My digestive tract is so damaged that it is leaking undigested food molecules into my bloodstream, causing me to react to everything I eat." (This conclusion was made possible by reading lots and lots of research done by people far more intelligent and knowledgeable than me.)

I alluded earlier to the suspicion that God gives me new thoughts (and sometimes helps me connect old thoughts) in my sleep. Well, I believe that He may have helped me to FINALLY make this connection while I dreamed one night--"If the severity of my allergies stems from problems with my digestive tract, maybe I should begin the healing process by treating my digestion problems FIRST rather than my allergies." (I know . . . . DUH! Right?) The GAPS diet does just that. (For more information about the GAPS diet, click here.) The goal is to heal the digestive system using nutrition, supplementation and detoxification/life-style changes. My mom ordered some books about the diet on Monday. Once they come in, we have to do our reading. This diet isn't one you can just begin. You have to plan, gather food and products and prepare, and then you begin the multi-phase diet. I don't know what kind of timeline that puts me on for improvement, but for the first time since all of this stuff began, I feel confident that a new approach to nutrition will help me. Maybe it's because my mom and I decided this is what I needed separately, and then talked about it. Maybe it's because a product we tried earlier in this journey led us to this information. I don't know. I just feel like this diet is going to work!

My hope is that the diet/lifestyle will heal my digestive system, which will improve my allergies, which will then decrease or eliminate my pain. I say "improve" my allergies and not "cure" because my allergies existed long before my body went berserk. I expect to still have them on the other side of this health crisis. I don't believe that out of hopelessness, but rather out of logic and realism. Besides, I was okay with my allergies before all of this began. I will be completely okay with a few lingering food allergies after it passes.

 However, if my pain persists after I get a handle on my nutritional health, I am certain I will be okay with that, too. I have had the privilege of knowing and valuing the Lord in ways I had only dreamed of before this year began. I understand that God is enough--even when pleasurable foods, the thrill of success and carefree, good times are stripped away. I know that I can possess very little and still have joy because joy is not an emotion dependent upon pleasure and good times. Joy is a Person, a Person who is near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18), a Person who satisfies from the fullness of His house (Ps. 36:8), a Person who has blessed me with an illness because His love knows no depths. This illness will prove to be one of the greatest goods He will ever work for me and my family. And that conclusion is the ultimate breakthrough because it just doesn't get better than that.

Prayer Requests:

I am currently struggling. I have pretty severe stomach and intestinal pain when I eat. So sometimes, I don't eat. But then I struggle with hunger pain and low energy, which is difficult when taking care of small children. So, I eat again, and the cycle continues. I also eat because I'm afraid to go into the GAPS diet too skinny. My Grandmommy believed that everyone should have a little extra weight on reserve. I don't want to lose my reserve. I am heavily considering a visit to a GI specialist in Monroe, but I am concerned about spending unnecessary money and doing more harm than good. On another note, my arthritis pain has also been pretty intense for the past several days.

Sara has her first ENT appointment tomorrow. I am hoping that our doctor can help our girl, which will help us all. I expect a tube surgery in our near future, but we will see.

My appointment with the rheumatologist is on Friday! I have no idea what to expect. I do kind of expect them to think I'm crazy. (Sometimes, I feel like I'm going crazy.) My hope is that he can offer me some insight and guidance about how to manage my arthritis pain until I am better.

Please continue to pray for my Superman. Brandon has so much on his plate right now. An explanation is coming, but know that we are in the middle of multiple major family changes. Due to my health, Brandon is required to handle the brunt of the stress. Pray for his strength, his health and his relationship with the Lord--that it would continue to grow, strengthen and thrive.

Thank you for your continued prayers. It is a blessing I do not take for granted to have a large prayer support system. Grace and peace to you all in the Lord Jesus Christ!