health

They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

Back in January, I deactivated from Facebook. I needed a break. A breather. A social media detox, if you will.

I had become addicted. And let's face it. I'm not the only one.

Have you seen the haunting photographs from Eric Pickersgill's project Removed? Oh my word, what an indictment!

It's a sad deal when we take something good and make it ultimate. Social media is purposed to bring us together, but when we look to it for validation and use it as an emotional numbing agent, it divides us.

That's what happened to me. So to break my habit, God put me in social media rehab for eight months. Here's an overview of how that went:

Facebook Rehabilitation Diary:


Day 1: Good day. Withdrawal set in this evening, manifesting in agitation and a pounding headache. Apparently, Facebook withdrawal is a real thing. Who knew?

Day 2: Devastating news for our family. Glad I'm not on Facebook.

Days 3-10: Undulating between rage and depression with almost no in between. Trying very hard to be a supportive wife and mother. Wrestling with God over the first few chapters of Job again. I was one chapter from the end of the book, but my heart is in chapters 1-3. So thither I return.

Week 1: Rediscovered Pinterest. In my defense, I'm using it to learn how to write a better book. Mostly. Also, I discovered cat memes.
 

Week 2: Lonely. Had things to say and no one to say them to. I texted instead. That helped. Can't go outside or stand near the door because of the cold So depressed all I want to do is eat and sleep. Since I don't have FB, I spend free time doing novel research.


Week 4: Not as angry now. Seeing good come from the bad. Stronger relationships with B and the kids. Spiritual growth in B. Began Draft 2 of my novel.

 

Month 2:  Beginning to crawl out of The Pit of Despair. Family vacation. Hit my writing stride.

 

Month 3: Look how much I can accomplish without FB! Look at all these inflammatory events I'm missing! All the stress I'm avoiding! What is this new, fabulous world?



Month 4: Turns out...to be accepted by an agent and sell actual, real-live books, I must have an author platform, which includes FB, Twitter, and an active blog. Bubble busted.


Month 5: Draft 3 of my novel complete. It's probably time to return to Facebook. Resistance. Anxiety. Avoidance.


Month 6: Suddenly realized I'm lonely. Returning to FB now would be like a recovering alcoholic strolling the liquor aisle after his dog died.



Month 7: Working on face-to-face relationships. Draft 4 in progress. Facebook return imminent.


End of Month 7: Submit manuscript to beta readers. Deep breath.

(Dog memes are also fun.)

Almost month 8: Logged back in.

What I Learned:

 

1) Facebook is legitimate community.

While nothing can replace the people in front of me, there's something truly grand about the ability to connect with human beings all over the globe. My best friends live out of state. I've met some incredible people who live in other countries. I missed them while I was away. 

2) Facebook is its own kind of social assistance.

We don't have time to keep up with every person we care about. In our fast-paced culture, everyone is swamped. During the eight months I was away, I talked to my best friends maybe 2-3 times each and saw almost no one outside of immediate family. Every now and then I would get a text or hear from mom that someone missed me or wanted to know how I was. People didn't stop caring just because I was away. Neither did I! But without Facebook, we no longer had a convenient way to check in.

3) Facebook hiatus was good for my health.

Facebook stresses me out. It's not just the drama over politics, current events, and what Christian women consider acceptable entertainment (read into that what you will), though that's plenty bad for sensitive folk like me.

The main reason Facebook stresses me out is because I walk through life with this strange, genetically-rooted complex which makes me believe every vague or negative status and delayed private message response is my fault and that I somehow offended this person and I must do something to make it right.

Slowly but surely, I'm learning I'm not the center of the universe and not everyone is thinking of me when they type in their various vague/negative statuses and that I should calm the heck down and give people the benefit of the doubt. *breathes into paper bag*


Stress is mast cell trigger. I don't think it's a coincidence that I enjoyed the healthiest few months I've had in a while during my FB absence.

4) Facebook hiatus doesn't automatically strengthen face-to-face relationships.

It's far easier to swap addictions than it is to learn new habits. I struggled with this throughout my hiatus. If it wasn't FB, it was Pinterest. Or music. Or Netflix. Or my novel. I had to work to connect.

Though my health is stable now, life is still hard. Painful, even. It's easier to self-medicate with technology (since I can't do it with food, liquor, or medication) than it is to acknowledge the pain, process it, and relate to others.

5) The world keeps spinning with or without me. 

For eight months I was invisible to nearly everyone except the people under my roof. And the world didn't end. Everyone was fiiiine. (I know. I can't believe it either.) I find this both humbling and comforting.

6) Now that I'm clean, I enjoy Facebook more. I'm free to enjoy the gift without the gift possessing me. Which is way more fun.

All in all, I loved being away and I love being back. The thing that was poison to me in January is a treat to me now. And that's a good place to be.



What do you think? What pros and cons does Facebook hold for you? Is its cultural impact mostly positive or negative? Does it connect us or divide us? I'd love to hear your thoughts!











Back to the Music

After nine months of needful rest, I'm baa-aaaaaack! And I thought, "Hey. A life update might be in order."

The Highlights:

  • I'm officially Facebook sober and in a much better place than I was in January. I really enjoyed my time away. So much so that I considered NEVER going back. There are things I am so. glad. I. missed. (Someone's saying "amen" somewhere.) And yet, it's time. It's as needful for me to return as it was for me to leave. So, hey y'all! *waves* (You can also follow me on Twitter.)
  • My marriage is the healthiest it's ever been. We've had some hard knocks this year, but the Lord has used them to bond us in incredible ways. Brandon has really grown in the Lord. It's thrilling to watch. I am humbled and grateful for the bad that has worked for good.
  • I had a GREAT summer. I felt almost good. Seriously. The best I've felt in more than four years. I ate tomatoes and watermelon. No insect stings of any kind. No emergencies. I even took a weekend trip to Baton Rouge to see my mentor Dixie Perry. I did exceptionally well. 
  • I gave the kids a few piano lessons this summer. I also taught Micah to read. Without losing my will to live. 
  • My annual end-of-summer health nosedive happened a bit early, but the plummet was less harrowing this time because A) I expected it and B) It wasn't as bad. The most annoying thing is I've begun reacting to sweet potatoes, and pardon my French, but that just sucks. 
  • I've been to church six times since June. I've only left sick twice (the last two times, actually), and each time I was only down for the rest of the day. Miraculous.
  • I sent out my novel to beta readers yesterday. All 17 of them. (What was I thinking?) Mom and Brandon read it. They loved it. But you know, they're partial, so we'll see what the others say. (You can read about my "writing a novel" experience here.) My current plan is to self-publish, which means I should have it out next spring or summer. It'll be a $2,000-$3,000 investment, so I will need you to buy a copy and tell your friends. Just putting that out there. 

 Recent Events:

  • Sara broke her arm last Wednesday. We have two fractures. Good times. We're just happy she gets to resume dance lessons next week...


    ...oh, and that the cast is pink.  

  • Micah is back to school and doing well. The dude has memorized two Robert Louis Stevenson poems, partitions like a whiz, and writes better than I do. We have to get him over this whole perfectionist thing though, or we will all lose our minds. Starting with me. (Prayers appreciated.)
 

A Journey Back into Community: 


About a month ago, I woke to a keen sense of loneliness. It had been lurking in the grass for some time, and then pounced all at once.

I spoke with Mom about it. She smiled and said, "Well, you've been in isolation--writing your book--for months. Now that you're done, the novel is gone, and you're left with the isolation."

"So, what do I do?" I asked.

"Tell people what you want. Invite them back in."

Even before this, God was speaking to me about community. He hit me with the topic in conversations, blog posts, writing advice, and Bible study.

But I wasn't sure what He meant for me to do. I mean...I'm a shut in. I risk anaphylaxsis every time I walk out of the house. I often return home sick.

What do you mean, God?

While He hasn't handed me "The Shut-In's Five Step Guide To Community," He's dropping a trail of breadcrumbs, and I'm doing my best to follow.

My next few posts will be a series about what I'm learning and what I'm doing with what I'm learning and my questions as I go.


In the Midst of the Ashes: Where Loneliness Meets Its End



The following is a devotional I presented at a tea party for widows yesterday. These ladies are a fun group, full of zest and spunk. They entertained and blessed me with their sharp wits and sweet spirits. I don't presume to have taught them anything. In truth, they have much to teach me. But I pray they were encouraged and that I was a faithful messenger of God's extravagant love for widows and lonely hearts everywhere.

In the Midst of the Ashes: Where Loneliness Meets its End

 


You may wonder what a married 30 year old mother of two knows of loneliness. In short--enough. 

Last year, the doctors at Mayo Clinic diagnosed me with an illness called Mast Cell Activation Disease, an allergic disease which upsets every system in the body. Following the birth of my daughter in 2011, my health spiraled out of control, and has worsened over the years. I became a virtual shut-in before age 30. No church, no parties, no dates, no restaurants, no movies, no Disney vacations, ball games, or dance recitals. A lot of life passes me by, and all I can do is watch. 

In August 2012, under serendipitous circumstances, I met Jenny, who quickly became my best friend. She, too, was a young mom, her kids the same age as mine. She loved the Lord and struggled with an all-consuming disease of her own, which put her in a position to understand me better than anyone else. We spoke on the phone and texted daily, encouraging one another, learning and growing, sharing the joy of the Lord. Like David and Jonathan, our souls were knit together by the hand of God—until the cancer ripped her out of my arms and put her out of reach. Jenny died in March 2014.

I haven’t lost a husband or a parent, and I hope I don't for a long time, but my heart is a graveyard marked by lots of little tombstones. So while I won’t pretend to understand loneliness as you do, I can relate.

Loneliness is a kind of suffering.

Suffering, to me, is any event or circumstance that challenges or destroys the identity—who we are, how we define ourselves. Think of the injured athlete, the CEO who loses his job, the young mom diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer, the wife who loses her husband.

Suffering strips us down and leaves us naked. And it's in our nakedness, we discover a problem.

The Problem: We are alone.


You aren’t lonely because you’re a widow.
I’m not lonely because I’m a shut-in.
We’re lonely because we’re alone.
This goes for sufferers and non-sufferers alike.

That feeling we get that no one really understands? It’s not just a feeling. It’s reality.

Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.” (NLT)

This is true even in the best of times, but suffering makes it truer. Suffering comes with a veil that hems us in and keeps others out. Fellow sufferers can come closer than others, but even in your common sorrow, you are alone. You are individuals shaped by unique circumstances. Not one of us can understand another perfectly.

So what’s the remedy?

First, let’s look at the example of someone who survived extreme loneliness.

The Example: Job


Two men in the Bible understand loneliness better than anyone else. One is Job.

In October of last year, I began studying Job and haven’t really stopped. He’s become my friend, and I love him dearly.

In the first two chapters of Job’s story, he’s called “blameless and upright” three times, twice by God Himself. When God calls Job “blameless,” He doesn’t mean sinless. He means genuine. Job genuinely loved God. And it was his conspicuous godliness that drew the attention of both God and Satan--the catalyst for the destruction of the wisest, richest, most righteous and beneficent man in the East.

Don’t miss the height of the fall. The longer the fall, the more bones you break. 
The longer, the richer, the deeper the marriage, the greater the loss.

Satan predicted Job would curse God when he lost it all. But he didn’t.

Instead, Job tore his clothes.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return” (Job 1:21).

Job was stripped. His true self was showing.

Job grieved.

“…he fell to the ground…” (Job 1:20).

And he worshipped.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Job’s identity wasn’t rooted in possessions, influence, or even his family. So Satan went after Job’s health. And Job was struck with a painful, repulsive, isolating disease.

In this, Job met his breaking point. But not because he lost his health.

Job broke because he knew that God was ultimately responsible for what happened to him. God let the lion loose. Job knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, yet God had apparently turned His back on him.

Job shattered because he believed he’d lost God’s love.

Immerse yourself in this stunning imagery:

“And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life. So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes” (Job 2:6-8).

Look at Job. Impoverished, bereft, sick, and apparently forsaken by God, he makes his way to the ash heap outside the city where refuse is burned.

The ash heap outside Jerusalem was called Gehenna. Jesus used Gehenna as a metaphor for hell. Hell is “where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die” because man is separated from God (Mark 9:44).

Alone, dejected, rejected by his wife, and taunted by the people he’d once helped, Job climbs a lonely hill of smoldering garbage and makes his bed in hell (Psalm 139:8).

Scrape, scrape. The potsherd is his only friend. It alone empathizes with his broken state.

After months of isolation, Job’s dearest friends gather to him, but all they can do is weep. They don't recognize him. He's emaciated, bald, scarred, and there's something deeply wrong in his eyes. His suffering terrifies them into a week long silence (Job 2:13; 6:21).

Scrape, scrape. The potsherd and the snap and crackle of flames are the only sounds. Until Job opens his mouth, and sobs into the dark.

Satan had predicted Job would curse God. What Job does instead is curse himself. Then he leans in, and calls out to God from the ash heap.

Job challenges God, doubts Him, praises Him, pleads for Him in some of the nakedest prayers of the Bible. And it’s there—in the midst of the ashes—that God stoops to Job, and Job gets more of God than he bargained for.

Job’s story raises two questions:

  1. Why did God allow Job to suffer so much?
  2.   How did Job survive?

The answer to both is Jesus Christ, who is also the solution to our loneliness.

The Solution: Jesus Christ


Prior to Job, there was no room in the world’s wisdom or moral canon for innocent suffering. Job’s friends insisted he must've sinned because all they knew of justice was “reap what you sow” with an immediate harvest in mind.

Job’s validation by God in the beginning of the story and his vindication at the end of the story bust that theory wide open, making room for the truly innocent suffering of Jesus Christ.

The stories of Job and Jesus are strikingly similar: A prince plummets from glorious heights to the depths of hell. He’s a good man—innocent, blameless, accepted by God, deserving blessing, honor, glory, and power, and yet, he receives God’s wrath.

Why?

For the glory of God and for the good of the world.

Jesus experienced true loneliness so you would never know it. So the worst Satan could do is make you feel lonely.

He accepted my isolation so I could have a Friend who doesn’t weary of my overwhelming needs.

He absorbed your widowhood so you could marry a Husband that can’t die.

But Jesus isn't enough. We need the Helper, the Advocate. 

Loneliness ends only through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Job didn’t have the Holy Spirit as we do today, but the Spirit evidences Himself in Job’s worship, his boldness, his faith, in prophecies, in images of the cross, in spiritual fruit such as patience, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-restraint with those insufferable friends of his.

Job didn’t know God was with him the whole time, but He was.

We’re like Job. We’re unaware of the Holy Spirit. We undervalue Him, underutilize Him, and misunderstand Him. We don’t comprehend that the gift of Emmanuel—God with us—is something better than God beside us.

We have God in us.

The Holy Spirit lives in us to give us peace in an uncertain world (John 16:33), to tell us the truth (John 14:17), to help us bear fruit (John 15:5), to give us faith in the dark (John 14:20), to help us see Christ for who He is (John 14:19), and know the depth of God’s love (Romans 5:5) so even if we don’t know why we suffer we know what the reason isn’t.

It isn't because God doesn’t love us (Timothy Keller).

God doesn’t leave us orphans and widows (John 16:18; Isaiah 54:5).
He stooped to us, died for us, and now He's in us.

Listen to the gospel according to Hannah:

“The Lord kills and makes alive;
He brings down to the grave and brings up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and lifts up.
He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.”
(1 Samuel 2:6-8)

To survive loneliness, we must:

  •  Look at Jesus and gaze at the cross.
 “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him—[us]—endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

  • Attune to the Holy Spirit.
Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Walk in step with the Spirit (Galations 5:25).
Listen to the Spirit. Give Him opportunity to speak in His word and through prayer.

May 2013 may have been the loneliest month of my life. I suffered a major reaction to a pesticide, and became so ill I couldn’t eat. My grandfather had terrible complications with his heart surgery. We all thought he would die, so my mom was with him. Jenny was dying. I didn’t expect her to last through June. My husband thought I was dying, and emotionally checked out. (This disease is so big and bad it's too much for Superman sometimes.)

I was alone in an empty bed, in an empty house, on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.

But my heart was filled with the love of the Father, my vision enraptured by the beauty of the Lamb. The Spirit sat with me in the midst of the ashes, and my lonely bed became a gateway to glory.

I remember being on the phone with Jenny one day during that time. We were both on what could’ve been our death beds but for the grace of God, and we prayed and praised with frail hands lifted to our Father. For a moment, the clouds parted, the Spirit smiled, and we ascended.

It's a glorious memory. But loneliness is a long suffering. And survival isn’t enough.

Our destiny is to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), to take the very thing Satan sends to destroy us and use it against him to the glory of God.

To achieve such a thing, we must answer the gospel call.

The Call: Clothe the Naked People


The world is full of naked people. Really naked people. A few who know they’re naked and many who don’t. These include church people.

          To the lukewarm church, Jesus writes:

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:17-18)

Suffering separates the sheep from the goats. Once suffering rips off our clothes and our true selves are exposed, we’ll know whether we wear filthy garments or the rich robe of Christ’s righteousness, and so will everyone else (Zech. 3:3-5; Isaiah 61:10).

And sometimes, our temporary nakedness exposes the real nakedness of the happy and oblivious.

When a hungry sister sees us fat and satisfied with the fullness of God, she may be inspired throw the door wide open next time Jesus knocks.

The way we deal with loneliness may help others see they’re the lonely ones.

So put that loneliness to good use. Curb the empty calories of activity, and feed on the Bread of Life (John 6:48).

Be brave. Walk deeper into dark Gethsemane, and get alone with God. Be willing to leave your friends behind for a while.

We often have to travel farther into the desolate wilderness to find our way to the Promised Land.

Holy solitude is the remedy to loneliness.

It's the thorny prison where the Lord is sanctified in our hearts and we learn our defense for the hope that’s in us (Hosea 2:6; 1 Peter 3:15). When we come out on the other side, people will know that we’ve been with God. 

Believe me—when they see the fire in your eyes after everything around you has burned to ash, they’ll ask about your hope. I was never asked about my hope until it defied rational explanation.

Last year, a friend of mine, who’s also a mom suffering chronic illness, asked me how I stay content in isolation. In my letter to her, I recalled the ache I used to carry in my chest, and compared it to a black hole. After brushing up on my quantum physics last week, I understand what an inspired metaphor that was.

Black holes form when stars can no longer support the weight of their own gravity and collapse on themselves. This is suffering.

The star then creates a cosmic vacuum so that anything that crosses the event horizon gets sucked in without any hope of escape. Suffering stimulates the insatiable hunger of our souls. Without realizing it, we consume resources and people ill-equipped to meet our needs until there’s nothing left.

The more a black hole eats, the bigger it grows. Support, attention, entertainment, distraction—instead of satisfying us, they make us crave all the more, which inevitably leads to addiction. Addiction has been a constant battle throughout my illness.

So what’s the end of it?

The black hole needs a taste of something as infinite as its need.

Particle and anti-particle pairs pop into existence all the time throughout the universe. Usually, the opposing energies just cancel each other out. But when they form near the event horizon of a black hole, one can get sucked in before they cancel out.

The other particle escapes, emitting something called Hawking radiation. The black hole which threatened to eat the universe alive is now sending out pieces of itself. Over time, it loses energy and evaporates.

There is no better imagery to describe what happened to me. The black hole of my loneliness ate everything, and grew bigger with every bite. In desperation, I cried out to Jesus and ate Him.

Little, daily bites of infinite, eternal God satisfied me so well I began emitting holy radiation back into the lives I’d sucked dry until the vacuum evaporated.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the end of black holes everywhere.
We eat Him, and go feed the world.
We’re clothed, and invite people under the robe.

Because there’s no end to Christ, there’s no end our supply. Like the widow’s jar of oil (1 Kings 17:14) and the five loaves and two fish that filled 5,000 men with leftovers to spare (Matthew 14:19), there’s enough Jesus to clothe you and the entire world.

Clothing naked people is the heart of the gospel. It’s what Christ came to do, and He calls us to share in His mission.

Jesus says in Matthew 25:34-40,

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasumuch as you did it to one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.”

Which leads us to the promise.

The Promise: The End of Loneliness

This is Isaiah 58:6-9:

         “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say,
‘Here I am.’”

The promise is God with us—the end of loneliness. We aren’t widows anymore. Our Eternal Husband is with us in our grief, in our loneliness, in the midst of the ashes, and He says to us:

Here I am.”

A Rest

"God does not write the music of our lives without a plan.
Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests....
If we will only look up, God Himself will count the time for us.
With our eyes on Him, our next note will be full and clear.
If we sorrowfully say to ourselves, 'There is no music in a rest,'
let us not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music."
--John Ruskin from Streams in the Desert 

It's time for a rest. Following this post, I will rest from social media. My Facebook account will be deactivated, and my blog will be left fallow for a season.

As a musician, I think of rests as intentional silence. Intentional silence isn't not having things to say. It's choosing not to say them. For a reason.

There are several reasons behind the decision, but before I share those I want to clearly state what my reasons are not:

  • I am not angry with social media or with any individual who uses it. 
  • I do not believe social media is an inherent evil. In many ways, it is a good.
  • I am not unhappy with the pitfalls of Facebook or blogging. I don't care much about page hits or likes, and I don't begrudge anyone their pizza, night on the town, or Disney vacation. 
  •  

The bottom line of my choice: My life presents many difficulties and challenges, which I have taken to God in prayer. In response, He has offered a season of rest as a solution to all of them.

Choice. That's an important word. For once, I'm the one closing the door. God guided me to the threshold, displayed my options, and while I know full well He is sovereign over my choice, He has also entrusted the verdict to me. His confidence is precious to my soul.

Piece by piece, the Lord has created a mosaic with my questions and His answers. Now the picture sits complete before me, and I can see the thing that needs doing.

Embracing Obscurity

The first piece came to me two years ago when I read the anonymously authored book, Embracing Obscurity. My disease has forced me into obscurity, and I have complied without bitterness. But now I have the opportunity to actively, worshipfully embrace it by laying aside my online presence. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but my online presence is the only presence I have in the world outside of my home. I don't work. I don't have a church. It's me, my family, and a handful of friends brave enough to enter into my madness.

You may ask why anyone would want to embrace obscurity. Here it is--the kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom in which the truths don't always make sense. Sometimes, the truths oppose sense (i.e. the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus had a lot to say about condescension preceding exaltation, most of which was spoken with actions, not words. As a believer, I desire to follow in my Savior's footsteps. But more than that, this is me cooperating with what God is already doing in my life. This is my "yes" to His call to become less that He may become more (John 3:30).

Addiction

I'm Melissa, and I'm addicted to Facebook.

I'm not being cute or silly. I'm dead serious. I use Facebook like druggies use heroin.

I'm not happy with my life at the moment. Things have been hard since October of last year. I thought I'd be healed by now, but I'm caught in this crazy cha cha of two steps forward, three steps back. I'm lonely, sad, and discouraged, and too spent to deal with any of it. Escape is easier. I fill empty moments scrolling my newsfeed because I am too terrified of my own darkness to face it.

There's a flip side to this addiction. When I'm doing well as I was last summer, I can easily shift from being a Facebook addict to what Paul David Tripp calls a "Glory Junkie." According to his two part article, I exemplify at least 5 of 8 signs of glory addiction.

(You can read Tripp's articles here and here.)

By eliminating Facebook and my blog for a season, I can rehabilitate from both addictions at once. But according to this article, which discusses the probable cause of addiction, I'm going to have to do more than cut myself off. I also need to reconnect with "actual, real-live people."

Elsa is Winning

In my previous post, I elaborated on how I resemble both Elsa and Anna in Disney's Frozen. But let me tell you--I'm in full-blown ice queen mode right now. Emotional detachment is the name of the game because it's easier than feeling the pain.

Facebook enables me to detach. I can scroll my newsfeed, and not have to connect to anyone, not even the souls living in my own house.

My Facebook addiction is a double-edged sword because it's both the enabler and the drug. You want to know what scientists believe may be the cause of addiction? Isolation. Let that soak in for a moment.

Johann Hari writes in his article "The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think:"

"The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did....
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days -- if anything can hook you, it's that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can't recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is -- again -- striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them....
Here's one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin....[I]f the old theory of addiction is right -- it's the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them -- then it's obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit. But here's the strange thing: It virtually never happens....
The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.
This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction....
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."
My goal is to improve human connection, and thereby kick the habit.

Better Invitations

My connection to my kids needs improvement. The first part of my mornings are spent away from them in sick person self-care. After that, breakfast and email. Then I lose myself in Facebook Land until it's time pick up Micah from school, cook lunch, do laundry, etc.

When the inevitable "Look, Mom!" comes, I greet it with a passive "Mmhmm" at best, with a side of grump at worst. But "Look, Mom!" shouldn't be a burden. "Look, Mom!" is an invitation into their world, and if I don't start accepting the invitation, I will eventually stop being invited.

If I need a drug to ease my pain, Kid Land isn't a bad choice. It's costs very little and gives quite the high. Strong relationships with the kids are a side-effect of regular trips.

Meaningful Communication

The reason I did not simply fade into online oblivion without comment is that I'm not seeking further isolation, but deeper connection. Whether we visit face to face, over the phone, through text, or by email, it's all more meaningful than likes and page hits.

"In The House"

Christian friends: That moment when you are--tra-la-la--reading your Bible and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit lifts the words off the page like a hologram. You know what I'm talking about. It would be super-duper awesome if the words didn't trample all over your toes. Right?

So there I was memorizing the beatitudes and similitudes when I came across Matthew 5:15--
"Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house."

God isn't so interested in me shining for the world right now. He wants me to shine "in the house." I'm not the only one around here flailing dangerously close to the mouth of a pit. My entire family is in a rough spot. Sara is now a threenager. Micah and I were once thick as thieves, but have lost our closeness. And while I do my best to honor Brandon's privacy here, I will tell you his life is far from easy.

The world doesn't really need me but my family does, and I only have a little to give. It's time for my smouldering wick to focus it's light upon those "in the house."

 "Shut The Door"

The hologram effect happened last summer, too, when I read the story of Elisha and the widow's oil in 2 Kings 4. In the story, the widow owes money to creditors who have threatened to enslave her two sons. She seeks the prophet Elisha's help. He tells her, "Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors--empty vessels; [gather many]. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones." The next verse reads, "So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons."She followed every detail of Elisha's orders, filled many vessels, and sold enough oil to pay her debts and cover her expenses. Her sons were saved.

There are no small details when it comes to God's commands. "Shut the door" was an important aspect of the miracle. God wanted to work something in the widow privately before He provided for her publicly.

Just as there are times husbands and wives must shut the door, there are times the believer and her God must do the same. What happens behind the door is private, but it eventually evidences itself.

God and I have a lot of work to do. There is sin to be put down--yes, always--but there's more. God and I are in a grappling match. I know He's going to win, but the work must still be done. Here is a recent excerpt from my Job study notes which will give you a peek into my heart--

"....[Christians] isolate a piece of God's sovereignty--His goodness, might, or wisdom--and reject the piece that doesn't fit with the God they want. In this, the Christian becomes a practical atheist. Here is the the truth: No one is 100% comfortable with I AM. We all like the loving God who paints beautiful sunsets and blesses us with prosperity, but we don't know what to think about the God who feeds young lions with innocent lambs, who allows children to die, and who destroys a good person's health. But God does not exist to be liked. He exists because He exists. He is I AM WHO I AM. The work of an authentic worshiper is to accept the wild and glorious God who has accepted us. To take Him as He is. To say with Job, 'God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?' (9:4)...Like is too insipid an emotion for a God like this. He leaves us with two options only: to reject Him or worship Him."
Since the day the words "shut the door" leapt off the page, I've had to continually ask, "Is this something I should share or keep to myself?" So many ideas never made it to the blog because the Holy Spirit within gave a great big "NOPE!" as the words began to form. Now I don't have to wonder, decide, or waste my time forming a post only to have it axed later. I'm shutting the door.

But not forever. Eventually, these intimate moments will produce something to be shared with the world. Like the city on a hill, it won't be hidden.

Making Space

If I want intimacy, I must make space for it. Because I fill every empty moment with social media, there is no room for silence. Silence is vital to the believer because it is in silence that God speaks. I need to give God room to work life in this mortal body, to revive this wounded and weary heart.

Speaking of silence, I think it's time for me to shut up for awhile. I need to improve my listening skills. Not only with God, but with people. Sufferers don't need a blog post telling them how to manage their suffering as much as they need a listening ear and a praying friend. I have a lot to learn, which means I have lot of listening to do. It's time to step away from the podium and open my ears and my heart.

And, of course, there's the novel. I completed my rough draft December 20, 2014. And--wow--is it rough. Since then, I've taken the advice of a family friend who is also a published author, and set the work aside for a time in order regain a reader's perspective before diving into rewrites. Meanwhile, I've been researching in order to better define the world I've built around my characters and story. Rewriting is the real work of writing, and it's time-consuming. I'll be in that place soon. By giving the blog a rest, I can focus my mental energies upon my larger project rather than dividing them between the two.

Accomplishing My Goals

Before the pieces were all in place, before social media rest crossed my mind, I journaled this list of goals for 2015:
  1. Listen. Listen, listen, listen. Listen carefully, respectfully, humbly, thoughtfully, and compassionately.
  2. Wait to speak. Wait 30 chapters before uttering a peep.
  3. Speak when it is time to speak. Be brave!
  4. Speak truth in love.
  5. Love mercy. Show mercy.
  6. Be thank-full.
  7. Forget myself.
  8. Dance! (Learn "Thriller." It's time.)
  9. Be "joyful in hope, patient under trial, faithful in prayer."
  10. Love creatively, thoughtfully, meaningfully.
  11. Look for the plank. It's there. Forgive the speck. It's small.
  12. Produce a readable draft of the novel. Let someone read it.
  13. Read more. Facebook less.
  14. Live. Consider risk and reward. Choose life at every opportunity.
  15. Live purposefully. Seek God's will. Do it.
Do you see how many of these goals are met in this one goodbye? Do you see how God had this all figured out, and led me here in His own gentle way in His own good time? Do you see that stepping away is necessary?

Even if you don't, I do. I see it, and I'm certain. And I'm not often certain when it comes to change. 

So this is goodbye. For a time, anyway. If you want to keep up with me while I'm away, I plan to send out periodic newsletters via email. You may send your email address to melkeaster@gmail.com if you would like to receive those.

Now for a poem I recently penned to mark where I am today so I can appreciate where I'll be when I return--

Some diseases are a death sentence.
Some are a life sentence.
Which is easier to bear?
A small cell or the chair?
A cage or a casket?
No one knows
and both are hard
on the sick one and the watchers.
Some of us die in here,
but I believe
there is a key
for me,
an early release.
Or so I've been told
by the Prison Ward
who is kind and good and wise and hard.
The door will open
when the cell has done its work
and the bars have made me free.
Or so I believe.
But all I see
are steel and concrete.
Spare walls and a lonely lock
mock my faith.
I smell sky and pine.
Sun shafts through the window.
Voices chuckle and cluck,
a murmur through stone,
a reminder of what I'm missing,
a promise of what's to come.
But the Warden visits me--
and this place has be-come
Home.
"For a while," He corrects.
So I believe. 


"Let us not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music."






Three

Something happened to my girl child when she turned three. A switch flipped, and I'm not sure I like it.

The last few weeks have been.....intense. Yes, that's the word.

What has happened feels like regression. Three's a biter. Three has forgotten her potty training. Three's testing limits, observing reactions. Like a tiny, mad scientist.

My hands were plenty full before this nice little developmental stage sniffed us out. Now I'm all I have no idea what I'm doing! I was such a great mom last month and now the whole thing is falling apart!! What happened!?!

Y'all, Three is hard. 
Three presents all kinds of problems, problems I have no idea how to solve.
Three scares me. Scares us.

Three keeps me on my toes and on my knees.
Three is good for the soul.
Three reminds me I'm not in control. Of anything.

And Three heralds precious moments like this one from last night:

Three still likes to be rocked. As we tilted back and forth, she tapped her chin with that still-chubby index finger, a contemplative expression in those big, brown eyes.

"How to make Momma feel bettuh?" she wondered aloud.

I smiled, waiting. I knew whatever she came up with would be good.

"Hmmm.....I know! I'll pway for her! And sing her a song!:
God is so goo-ed. God is so goo-ed.
God is so goo-ed. He's so goo-ed to me.

Jesus loves me dis I know
For da Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
Dey are weak but He is stro-eng."

I tucked her in as she prayed, "Dear Jesus, Please help Momma sleep good tonight and help Micah to have a good day at school tomorrow and thank you for this lovely day and for Momma cooking us lunch. Amen."

"Kiss!"
Our lips met.
"Honk!"
I didn't understand this one. Reaching up, she clarified. "Honk! Honk!" She squeezed my nose, and demanded I honk hers in return.
"Honk! Honk!" I said, laughing.
My reward? Giggles. Three giggles.
Three giggles are the best.

A song and a prayer and a couple of nose honks were just what the doctor ordered. Funny--I didn't know I was sick until I was made well.

To my Momma friends who also have no idea what you are doing, I lend this little ruby of wisdom from the mouth of Three:

Little ones to Him belong.

All we can do is love, love, love, pray diligently, and do our best. We'll have victories. We'll have failures. No one gets this Mom thing 100% right, and chances are if you are daily rolling up your sleeves for hard work in the Mommy Trenches, you can't get it 100% wrong either.

[We] are weak but He is strong.

So you don't feel up to the task. Let me tell you a secret: Whether it's because of poor health, a full quiver, a special needs child, an absentee father, or what have you, most moms feel inadequate. We all have days we believe the lie, "I can't do this."

(Which is why it's so important to encourage one another rather than compete and tear each other down.)

Maybe you can't in your own strength, but you can through Christ who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13). With God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

God isn't looking for Supermoms. He's looking for moms who are dependent upon their Super God (2 Chron. 16:9).

We can't always do the right thing. Some problems don't have three step solutions. And the wisdom of the world can only get us so far. But in Christ, there is grace to cover every mistake, wisdom in abundance for the asking, and everlasting arms to hold the whole she-bang together.

My favorite Momma verse is Isaiah 40:11--

"He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young."

Little ones to Him belong.
Three is carried in His bosom, right next to His heart. 
My days are long and hard as a sick, overwhelmed Momma, but the Shepherd leads me gently on, day after day, question after question, problem after problem, through victories and failures, when I get it right and when I lose my mind and get it so wrong I'm sure my kids will be ruined. 

God is so goo-ed.

So I'm out of my depth. Okay. I know the One who made the deeps and we're in this together.
Three will be just fine. And *deep breath* so will Thirteen. 
But we'll cross that bridge in a decade or so.



And for the record, Jesus did help me sleep good last night.


 


 

Closed Doors, a Reluctant Ice Queen, and Frozenness

Confession: Having escaped multiple daily viewings of Disney's Frozen, I still like the movie. In a lot of ways, I live the movie.

Because I'm a human being and not a caricature, I fall in the ambiguous zone between fun-loving Anna and isolated Elsa, and sometimes the two within me are at war. Honestly, it would be sweet release to just let the Elsa in me take over. Fear, false freedom, and emotional distance seem easier somehow. But my inner Anna refuses to stay down.


The last four years have been a series of doors in my face. One after the other--bam! bam!--until I'm all but trapped inside a 16x72 mobile home on a little dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

I suppose the Ice Queen's heart must break before it can melt. 

So cut through the heart, cold and clear.
Strike for love and strike for fear.


The reverberations of the last door slammed still rattle my bones.

On Thursday, I ventured into 20 degree air to pick up Micah from school, and suffered my first reaction to the cold. While driving, no less. With my two preciouses in the back seat.

When my chest tightened, I concentrated on deep, slow breathing as I now do automatically during reactions, a technique which has calmed or delayed serious reactions in the past. This time, however, I was not relieved.

Thank God for Acute Rescue drops. But even they didn't keep my brain from fuzzing or my limbs from turning numb and useless. 

Driving while reacting with my babies in the backseat is pretty much my worst nightmare. I was scared, but I couldn't think clearly enough to be as scared as I should've been. Why didn't I pull over?

Graciously, God heard the desperate "Help!" of a sick mamma who couldn't think beyond that one word, and guided us safely home. Getting the kids inside and dropping into bed like a rag doll is a watery memory. Brandon was home soon after. Provisions all around.

The irony of being an obligatory "Ice Queen" who is bothered by the cold isn't lost on me. (There is always a laugh buried neath the snow even if it does sound hollow.)

The days since have been tired, achy days. January and I were getting along just fine this year, then this happened. And the world turned gray.

While it's okay to grieve, I must hold fast the truth--sometimes love is a closed door.

Sometimes love puts you in prison. All for good reason, of course.

God is not the author of evil or disease. He is good. He is Jehovah Rophe--the God who heals physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Complete health is my ultimate destiny. But that doesn't mean He shields me from every harm along the way. He took upon Himself the Big One, the one that would destroy me. The ones which will work together for glory and good, He lets through.

The arrows loosed from Satan's bow are aimed to kill, but God transforms them into surgical instruments and uses them to remove the cancer in my soul.

The hammer swinging down upon my head is remade into a chiseling tool which shapes me into the image of Christ.

The thorny messengers sent by Satan to prick and poison my heart against my Creator (2 Corinthians 12:7), God shapes into an inside-out hedge of protection, one that keeps the world and all its lover gods out and me in. With Him, my Ishi.

Therefore, behold, 
I will hedge up her way with thorns,
and wall her in....

(Hosea 2:6)

That may sound harsh, but my prison is no stark, lifeless place. He has magicked my "kingdom of isolation" into "a door of hope" (Hosea 2:15), delivering me in my affliction rather than out of it (Job 36:15). And I sing and dance about on high hills in broad places as if there was no restraint (Hab. 3:19; Job 36:16), until I no longer grieve the life I left behind.

I get there on my good days, but haven't figured out how to stay.

I often sing in minor keys.
I dance. I weep. Sometimes I dance while weeping.
I'm happy, sad, restless, and content all at once. It's exhausting.

That's okay, you know. God is honored by honest, trustful suffering. So go on and feel. Don't conceal. Let it hurt.

It's not "blessed are the tough." Nor "blessed are the strong or independent or happy." It's "blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Our blessedness is not derived from our emotional state, but from what God does when we live in honest relationship with Him.

Fight that frozen heart. Let them see you cry. You never know who you'll bless with your brokenness.
Soak that handkerchief if you need to. God counts and keeps your tears like treasures (Psalm 56:8).
Let 'em go.
Souls are worth melting for.

We aren't meant be ice queens. It's okay if we are bothered by the cold. Figuratively or literally....as in my case.

When Elsa stormed out of Arendelle, she thought she was free because she could finally open and close doors at will and do whatever she wanted. But options aren't always helpful. They weren't for Adam and Eve. They lived in a "garden of yeses," and chose the single wrong option. Left to myself, I do, too.

Do you know why God hedged Israel in?

So that she cannot find her paths.
She will chase her lovers,
but not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say, 
"I will go and return to my first husband,
for then it was better for me than now."
For she did not know 
that I gave her grain, new wine, and oil,
and multiplied her silver and gold--
which they prepared for Baal....
"And it shall be, in that day,"
says the Lord,
"that you will call me 'My Husband'
and no longer call Me, 'My Master.'"
(Hosea 2:6-8,16)

God hedged Israel in to limit her options. They had given their dowry from the Lord to Baal, and thought of God as a slave driver cracking a whip when He just wanted a marriage, one in which He would do the brunt of the work. But Israel preferred to whore around with the real task master.

As Timothy Keller says, "We are all in bed with something." For one person, it may be money. For another, family. Sex, status, substances, whatever. You're spiritually sleeping with something, and that something doesn't have to be a bad thing to be dangerous to you.

Before I was sick, I was in bed with admiration. I was willing to do almost anything to get it, which is why my personality changed depending on who I was with at the time. But there was no way for me to know that until it was taken away.

How do you spot the alcoholic? When the rum's gone.

How can you tell if someone needs their wealth? When the stock market crashes.
How can you tell if someone's identity is rooted in being the good girl they always have to be? When they fail big (i.e. throwing Arendelle into an eternal winter, shooting ice into a beloved sister's heart, etc.).

A baal will never forgive failure and cannot satisfy a heart. It takes and takes and takes and never gives anything back.

Jesus Christ, our Ishi, will always forgive failure and never ceases to satisfy. He gives and gives and gives and only asks for our hearts in return.

"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38), meaning there is always more of what we need in Christ. It never runs out because He never runs out.

My illness is not punishment for sin. Jesus paid my debt in full. I owe nothing. Rather, God has taken the thorns of Mast Cell Activation Disease and FQ poisoning and shaped them into a hedge.

Sing it with me! All my life has been a series of doors in my face. Then suddenly I bump into Yoooouuu.....



Notwithstanding nobody wants to be hemmed in with this guy.
Important life lesson: Beware [the overly compatible stranger with] the frozen heart.


My options are painfully, mercifully limited. And yet I'm free. God has hemmed me in with Himself so I can forget those Hans-like lovers of the past and we can go about the business of becoming one.

He has overcome my people-pleasing addiction by cutting me off and filling the infinite void with His infinite self as only He can.

That's what God does. He fills the voids.


True freedom is when you don't have to run from anything to be liberated and you don't have to succumb to emotional iciness to survive. It's not needing transient things to give you purpose. It happens when Christ is enough and you're free to feel and let Him fill you up. You're free to live. Closed doors and all.

One day when the bars of my little cell have served their full purpose, I'll rise like the break of dawn. This chronically ill, people-pleaser will be gone. I'll stand in the light of day for the first time in forever. With "actual real live people. It'll be totally strange."


Until then, I'm looking forward to summeeeeeeerrrrrrrr!!!!!!









Graveside Thoughts

Every December after Christmas, I review the year in journal entries. Progress seems almost negligible from day to day, but when you take stock of what God does with 52 weeks, it knocks you breathless.

I've always liked that winded feeling.

This year's review has been hard. My grief over losing Jenny is poured out over the pages, some marked by literal tear stains. Grief is messy.

Yesterday, I came across my entry for 9/4/14--two days before Jenny's birthday and the day I visited her grave. The words resonate with me more now than they did four months ago when I wrote them.

Though deeply personal, my thoughts want to be shared. It's like they know they're for someone. I hope my honest and hopefully hopeful grief strengthens you somehow. One soul nourished is a worthy cause.

So here goes:

9/4/14 


Brandon and I went to Jenny's grave this evening. My mind went back and forth all week deciding whether or not to go. On one hand, it felt silly--visiting the grave, bringing flowers, and paying homage to one who is now too happy to care--and it seemed foolish to spend so much time--precious time--doing something silly. On the other, I acknowledge Jenny's resting place as important. Her body is important enough to Jesus to raise up and restore it to everlasting perfection.

Either way, I needed to honor her memory.

Her birthday is in two days. I am ever so glad she was born. This time of year is full of her memory. I met her on 8/19/12. My first visit in her home was on 9/30/12. My last special visit with her was almost (exactly?) a year ago today.

We went. A bouquet of spray roses sat in a vase of cold water anchored between my feet, the flowers beating themselves senseless against the vase edge as Brandon drove the unfamiliar, winding roads a little too quickly. We left late in the afternoon, and drove into the sun all the way there.



Everything looked different after six months' time. Green grew thick and close on either side of the highway. Instead of frisking about in cool, spring air, the cows flicked their tails and shook their heads to shoo pestering flies.

All the change reminded me of the trip to church two Sundays ago, my first trip back in almost a year. It was very near the second anniversary of mine and Jenny's meeting. On the drive that day, I realized I had worn the exact outfit I wore the Sunday I met her. I almost crumpled.

Then I walked into the church and realized something else--my skin was the same, my clothes were the same, but the world was different. The foyer looked nothing like the foyer in which we met. The old-fashioned floral upholstery and bulky, out-dated coffee table had been replaced with monochromatic furniture featuring sharp edges and smooth lines. Modern and sleek.

The way I understood church and life and people and suffering and God were all different, too.

My world had changed. Jenny had a lot to do with that. Probably more than anyone else, she taught me about courage. The real kind that looks like weakness but packs a punch so powerful it reverberates through the cosmos.

We arrived at St. Rest Cemetery without issue, solely relying on Brandon's memory of a single trip, and parked beneath the shade of an oak. We passed through the gate, and walked up the hill to a spot where the red dirt was packed tight, no grass. No headstone either. But someone had lovingly marked the spot with one of those gaudy funeral wreaths made of silk flowers in various shades of pink, a potted plant now dead, and a sun-faded, plastic bouquet of something that looked like weeds.



Death is sad. And every attempt we make to preserve our memories is sad. Like the flowers, they fade.

I think I'm scared of this most of all. I don't want to forget the one who showed me what it is to be brave, what it is to forget myself. I don't want to forget her face or her voice, her best qualities or darkest secrets. I don't want to forget what she meant to me.

I didn't weep. A few tears had leaked out of my eyes on the drive as I listened to the playlist I'd made about her and our friendship, but out there standing right above her decaying body, feeling a connection so strong it's almost physical even in death, the closest I came to crying was when I stared too long into the setting sun. Its brilliance burned my darkness.



Fire ants were busy in the dirt. Brandon brushed several off my shoes before admonishing me to be careful and walking away so I could figure out what one is supposed to do at the graveside of a beloved.

I didn't talk. There was no point. No one could hear my words but God, and He knows my every thought. So I thought at Him and to my soul.


I thought about Jesus weeping at Lazarus' tomb. He wept knowing what He was about to do--at His friend's graveside and on the hill outside of Jerusalem not long after.

Why?

Because death is an enemy. Because death is sad. Because decay wasn't the intention. Forever was.

Because death tears souls apart, souls once knitted together, and the tearing leaves at least one soul mortally wounded, so much so she's afraid to stay the bleeding because it doesn't feel right to heal. And if she does heal, she hopes to get a scar because the idea of everything going back into place just as it was feels like a lie--a heinous, blasphemous lie.

Jesus wept at death because He had created everything for life unto life. A broken world, a broken order deserves our grief. Even if it will be made right one day.

I looked to the eastern sky, a welcome respite for my aching eyes. Her grave points east. When she is collected by her Savior on that last day, she will be facing the right direction. I wondered if all Christian bone yards are designed this way so up we'll come, bursting through earth from caskets rusted shut to face the One our souls have known but eyes have not seen. Will we rise as bones, ashes, and dust and be restored in the air or will we rise perfect and beautiful? Will the soil cling or fall away?

Regardless, there is a giant oak in her way, Lord, and unless You return in winter, she'll have to wait until she reaches the treeline to see You. That seems frustrating. Maybe the people who decide graves should face East can cut it down or lop off the top.

A stinging pain upon my shin pulled me out of my reverie.

This is why graveside visits seem silly--fretting over overgrown oaks and fire ants staking claim on Jenny's piece of earth.

I brushed it off quickly, and stayed a couple more minutes. I didn't have long before the swelling set in, but as always with Jenny, I wasn't quite ready to leave.

I placed my bouquet of spray roses and goldenrod where I imagined her hands to be clasped over her chest.

I never had the opportunity to see her body or place flowers on her casket. These will be as dead as she is by tomorrow morning.

A prayer for Jenny's people: May they feel the consolation of your sweet Spirit, Lord. And may you fill them with Christ--the hope of glory--which promises death is not the end of us and this grave is not goodbye. Hope that whispers hints of a happy ending to all this heartache.

Sweating and swelling, my body urged my soul to leave. Funny how I had almost convinced myself not to go, and now my feet didn't want to move. The tightness in my chest made me move.

My legs returned me to my husband who was perched lazily on top of the car. The words, "I got stung," brought him to life. Scolding me for standing still too long, he took my shoes and began the treatment with that look he gets when I get sick, the one full of irritation and blame I've learned to ignore.

The look isn't for me.

It's like Jesus' tears. Brandon knows every little thing will be alright, but disease and death are still enemies worthy of tears and anger.

I sighed. "It wouldn't be a trip to see Jenny without something interesting happening."

He didn't reply. A one hour drive through the middle of nowhere with me mid-reaction was on his mind, and he was not ready to joke. He's never as ready to joke about it as I am. Of course, you'll never see me laughing at cancer.

Thankfully, I did not go into shock, and we were able to drive away from the sun this time.

The song, "I Love It" by Stephanie Treo, came on. I turned up the volume joining Jenny's old defiance of disease, missing her sassy side and all her sides.

We crossed D'arbonne Lake at that royal moment when the sun sinks behind the trees, casting rays of pink and gold above its head like a crown which reflect upon the water like a train.

Smiling, I noted I could still see the light of the sun. An old oak tree is nothing to worry about, and because of Jesus, death is just a fire ant sting.



My 2014 Thanksgiving Menu (AIP, GAPS, Paleo-friendly)



For those new to my blog: I began my real food journey after becoming very ill in May 2012 with what I now know to be Mast Cell Activation Disease (MCAD). Even before I understood the scope of the problem, my intention was to heal through nutrition. From the outset, it was very important to me to eat well in spite of the changes. I love food. 

I’ve tried a lot of nutritional programs over the past couple of years. GAPS didn’t work out for me. Not enough variation. Not enough starches. Too much histamine. (Histamine is a major nemesis for those with MCAD.) Paleo wasn’t quite right. Low sulfur didn’t do it for me. Vegetarianism was a short lived experiment. Everything I tried seemed to backfire.

To further complicate matters, my trigger foods continually change. I’ve had to stay on my toes.
Until March of this year, I was kind of at a loss. Enter Jennifer Nervo of 20 Something Allergies and her fabulous nutritional therapy program.  

With her help, I learned how to manage and maintain a low-histamine, autoimmune paleo diet on a four day rotation. Eating this way has vastly improved my health. Thankful doesn’t begin to describe my feelings for this woman. Thanks to all she taught me, this year’s Thanksgiving menu was scrumptious without the unpleasant side-effect of making me ill. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the gathering and gratitude and food without the pressures which accompany the Christmas season.

This year, I had much to be grateful for.  Just one year ago, I did not know the name of my disease or how to properly manage it.

I’m not certain I would have obtained any level of stability health-wise without Jennifer’s help, and here I am actually better though I have been diagnosed with a progressive disease. I was even able to attend a family gathering after eating a quick bite at home! Praise the Lord! 

So what did I eat that was free of grains, dairy, nuts, legumes, eggs, nightshades, seeds, squashes, dried herbs and spices, high histamine foods, and latex cross-reactive foods?

The Menu

I began by considering my protein. I chose pork because I rarely eat it. It’s a treat, which keeps it from becoming a threat. (Except for bacon. Bacon makes me pay every. single. time.) If I’m going to roast pork, I might as well add some vegetables to the pan because YUM! So I came up with this recipe for Cider Glazed Ham Steaks with Roasted Vegetables. 

 
Cider Glazed Ham Steaks with Roasted Vegetables:
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
2 pastured ham steaks, 1-2 lbs. each
1 T. coconut oil (ghee, lard or tallow would work well, too)
1 leek, sliced into 2-3 inch strips
2 medium-sized parsnips, sliced into 2-3 inch spears
1 large carrot, sliced into 2-3 inch spears
Sea salt to taste

Glaze:
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 T. honey
sea salt to taste

Place ham steaks in salt water for 1 to 24 hours. I brined mine for a little over an hour. I wish now I had let them sit overnight. If you go the overnight route, be sure to keep them in the fridge and take them out an hour before cooking so they won’t be cold going into the pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm coconut oil in an oven-safe pan over medium high heat. Remove ham steaks from brine and pat dry. Salt the steaks generously. When the pan is hot, place the steaks in, and sear on both sides (5-10 minutes per side). While the steaks are searing, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, honey, and sea salt in a small bowl. Remove the steaks from the pan, and turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add sliced veggies, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula until the vegetables are lightly browned and covered with the juices. The salt left in the pan should be enough to season the veggies. Add the steaks back into the pan, brushing the entire surface of the steaks with the cider glaze. Cover pan and place in oven for about an hour or until the steaks reach an internal temp of 165 degrees. 

Like I said, I wish I would have brined my ham steaks for much longer, but those vegetables were amazing. 


Cranberry Sauce:
Serves 4-6

For me, cranberry sauce is a must on Thanksgiving. I went with this recipe by Nourished and Nurtured, subbing 2 drops of Young Living's orange essential oil for orange extract.





Sweet Potato Casserole:
Serves 4-6

I’m a Louisiana girl. Casseroles are our thing. Sweet potato casserole has been a favorite of my people for years. Most traditional recipes call for milk, eggs, wheat flour, and nuts, none of which are safe for me. So I came up with my own version. 

Ingredients:
3 cups yams, boiled and mashed (5-6 medium sized yams)
¼ cup honey
1 t. sea salt
1 t. vanilla extract
½ c. coconut oil (ghee or butter would work well if not on AIP)

Topping:
½ c. shredded coconut, unsweetened
¼ c. coconut flour
¼ c. arrowroot flour
2/3 c. coconut sugar
1/4-1/2 t. sea salt
¼ coconut oil (ghee or butter)
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, cube and boil potatoes until fork tender in a 2-3 quart saucepan. Drain. Add honey, coconut oil, salt, and vanilla to pot. Puree with an immersion blender. (A food processor would work just as well, but you will need it for the topping.) Place potato puree in a greased casserole dish. In a food processor, blend shredded coconut, coconut flour, arrowroot flour, coconut sugar, and salt until well combined. Add coconut oil and vanilla extract. Blend until you have a moist, crumbly consistency. Crumble evenly over the top of the potato puree. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

This recipe did not disappoint. It would have served perfectly as dessert, but in the south, sweet potato casserole is just a side. 


Ginger Apple Crisp:
Serves 6-8

Because pumpkin, pecans, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice are all triggers for me, finding a satisfying fall dessert was not easy. In the end, I decided to go with a cinnamon-less apple dessert because apples were already in the cranberry sauce, and I needed to save a few foods for the next three days of the rotation.

I’m not usually a big fan of apple desserts, particularly because cinnamon isn’t involved, but Brandon likes them. I almost did not eat any, but the chef has to taste her own food, right? I was not expecting it to be so delicious! My review? Delighted giggles. That’s right—giggles. My apple-dessert loving husband was impressed, too. He didn’t even add cinnamon!

Ingredients:
2 large apples of choice, cored and sliced thin (about 1 quart)
½ lemon, juiced
zest of ½ lemon
½ inch grated ginger root
¼ c. coconut sugar
1 T. arrowroot flour
2 T. coconut oil, solid

Topping (same as the Sweet Potato Casserole topping):
½ c. shredded coconut, unsweetened
¼ c. coconut flour
¼ c. arrowroot flour
2/3 c. coconut sugar
1/2 t. sea salt
¼ coconut oil (ghee or butter)
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, grated ginger root, coconut sugar, and arrowroot flour. Stir until the apples are well coated. Pour apples into a greased baking dish, and evenly distribute the slices. Disperse small pieces of the solid coconut oil over the apples. In a food processor, blend shredded coconut, coconut flour, arrowroot flour, coconut sugar, and salt until well combined. Add coconut oil and vanilla extract. Blend until you have a moist, crumbly consistency. Crumble evening over the top of the apples with your fingers. Bake 30-35 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the topping.  Serve warm.


Now that was a thanks-worthy meal!

For those on restricted diets this holiday season, I hope you won’t lament over stuffing, rolls, and pies (which, in many cases, be modified into a safe version). If I can enjoy a holiday meal without having to choose between feeling deprived and getting sick, you probably can, too. I hope my menu offers you some ideas. If not, I would be happy to help you meal plan! I enjoy a good challenge!

Accepted

No miracle yet.

Beloved autumn hasn't been too kind to me. Something in my body shifted with the weather, causing the past couple of months to be more eventful than I would like. Particular triggers have increased in intensity, and I have lost four foods in four weeks.

My old friends arthritis, fibromyalgia, and fatigue have come back around. I keep dropping hints they aren't welcome. They aren't getting it.

Fresh waves of grief roll over me, taking me by surprise. One moment, I'm washing dishes, and the next I can't breathe. I'm deeply grateful for my "little infinity" with Jenny, but it's unlikely I'll get over my loss on this side of heaven or even the losses of her husband and kids because loss like that is immeasurable. It's not so much about the things that were as it is about the things that will never be.


And then there have been family struggles, difficult decisions, emergencies, emotionally draining events, and woes of dear friends.

This illness has no respect for church attendance, long-planned weekend visits from deeply missed souls, or my daughter's birthday party. Actually, it seems to take delight in raining on my parade. But with the rain, falls grace.

Even still, an air of sadness hangs about my shoulders because--well--I can't help it. Like most of you, I was hoping my prophesied miracle was on my heels, just inches from taking me over.

It seems God would have me wait a little longer. So I wait.

As I wait, I trust I'm not just twiddling my thumbs here. I trust God is doing something with the waiting. My aim is to cooperate in His doing--to take hold of life and joy today, to engage and pay attention. To learn what He would teach. To hear what He is saying.

Such as--
It's okay to have exhausted all means to help myself.
It's okay to be messy. It's okay if others see the mess.
God works glory in messes.
I'm not my own savior.
I'm not my friends' savior either.
Their welfare is not correlative to the intensity of my prayers.
God's plan does not hinge on my performance. 
I am accepted.
I am accepted as I am.
Not because of what I am or what I do, but because of who Jesus is and what He has done.

Let's allow that word to wash over us for just a moment--

"Accepted."


You, me, all who place their faith in Christ--we are accepted by God (Ephesians 1:6 NKJV).

God gave me this word out of Job a couple of weeks ago--

"And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job." (Chapter 42)

Acceptance is arguably our most basic emotional need. Think of how desperately we seek it. We are willing to compromise our integrity for it. I was willing to lie for it.

The very day God put the word "accepted" in my mouth to chew upon was the day He sought to teach me something about it. I was out and about buying Sara's birthday party supplies with my grandmother when I had a reaction to some chemicals in one of the stores. Attempting to describe the way I felt, I told her I was drunk, "or at least how I imagine being drunk feels."

Every time I have described this type of reaction to my grandmother, I've always tagged it with "or at least how I imagine being drunk feels" because I didn't want her to guess the truth--I know exactly how being drunk feels. Even if it has been a few years.


I didn't want my grandmother to know my drinking history because I didn't want her to think less of me. You see, before my Papaw was a believer, he was a drunk. Nona, my mom, my aunt, and my uncle experienced the devastation of alcoholism firsthand, which made drinking kind of taboo in our family. So I kept my love for red wine and margaritas to myself. And few beyond Brandon knew I sometimes drank too much.

The funny thing is when you offer unnecessary information over and over again, intuitive people notice.

"Melissa, have you ever been drunk?" Nona asked.

Because I was drunk at that very moment, I answered, "Yeah! I've been drunk!" Almost like I was proud of it.

And so we have this long, uncomfortable conversation about drinking and alcohol that I don't entirely recollect (thank God) due to the fact I was inebriated on airborne chemicals at the time, but even I didn't miss the important things which took place that day.

My sin was confronted. In confession, I was freed from the lie. And I was met with acceptance. Not because Nona was thrilled that I know what it is to be drunk or that I had misled her, but because I am her granddaughter. My position as her grandchild--not my moral performance--makes me acceptable to her.

Nona took excellent care of me that day. She drove me home, learned the "woo-woo" acupressure technique we use to treat my reactions, performed said "woo woo" technique without comment, washed my dishes, made sure I was alright, and left me with an "I love you," which loudly translated into "I accept you--even if you have been drunk, have lied to me about it, and do weird stuff I don't understand."

I was relieved to be freed from the lie and still find myself accepted.

So acceptance is important. It was the most important thing to Job--before, during, and after his suffering. He wanted more than anything to be right with God. (Job may not have known as much about God as we do today, but he definitely loved God more than we do today.) 

Before his suffering, Job believed he was in good standing before God because he was blessed with health, wealth, and prosperity. We see him acting as a kind of intercessor for his kids (1:5) and a savior of sorts to the poor and needy who lived near him (25:7-25).

But then the suffering comes and strips it all away, and suddenly he sees he is not enough to save anyone, not even himself (19:9; 40:14). He sees he has nothing to offer the God he loves, and there is nothing he can do to improve his standing with Him.

Job needs a Mediator (Chapter 9). He needs an Advocate (16:20; 17:3). In desperation, he cries out for both and for a meeting with God that he might be absolved. And God answers. But not as Job expects.

God manifests Himself in a whirlwind, an uncontrollable power and the very thing which uprooted his hope in the beginning of the book (Job 1:18-19; 19:10). Instead of questioning God, Job himself is questioned, and he is found wanting. Job finally sees he has no case to make (Job 40:3-5).

But God looks centuries into the future. He sees the Mediator, the Advocate, the Redeemer in whom Job has placed the last of his hope (19:25-27). He sees Him hanging on a cross, experiencing all that Job suffered and infinitely more. God sees His precious Son paying the debt and it is enough.

God says to Job, "I accept you." 


When he had nothing, when he was nothing, and when everyone else had rejected him, Job was accepted in the Beloved. 

It wasn't the loss of all he once had which tormented Job so in the days of suffering; it was lack of assurance he was beloved by God. It wasn't the restoration of his health, wealth, or family Job most prized at the end of it all; it was divine acceptance.                  

Today, we stand on the other side of the cross. We don't have to wonder if God really loves us. He has proven it! Divine acceptance is available to all who place their faith in Christ's work and acknowledge the deficiency of their own, and it is divine acceptance that will get you through any loss. Just look at Job.

The antidote for my sadness isn't happy thoughts. It's gospel. I require, at minimum, a daily dose.

There may be sadness on my shoulders, but there is joy in my heart. There is an anchor for my soul.

Our greatest need has been met. Life's biggest question--how can I be right with God?--has been answered (Job 9:2; 25:4). In Jesus.

Gaze upon the cross with me. Let's bathe in our acceptance.

The acceptance He earned for us is all the health, wealth, and prosperity we will ever need or could ever desire.



Sarah's Disaster

Sara is three years old today.


Three.

How is she already three? The days, weeks, and months scurry by in a white blur without a proper greeting, and they never stay for tea. Tomorrow is always the most important date. No time to say hello, goodbye. And before I know it, a season's gone.



How is she only three? So much life has been lived. So much new has come into our lives. Surely she is halfway through childhood by now.

But no. She's three--already three, only three.




I tell the kids Micah is the boy I always wanted and Sara is the girl I never knew I needed. But God knew. When I was still a child myself, He whispered her existence into my imagination.

During my homeschool years, I wrote prolifically--for my age, anyway. I followed some kind of curriculum which offered lots of creative writing prompts, and loved every minute. I wrote short stories, sketches, journal entries, plays, and poems. I discovered a few of these assignments when I went through my old keepsake box Dad left for me to go through or toss. Most of the art projects were trashed. I am no artist. But I kept almost everything I wrote. I didn't read it all or even most of it, but one single-paged sketch caught my eye:


It reads:

Sarah, a cute, sweet child of three, loved to help her mother cook. Most of the time she just stirred cake batter and maybe every now and then, her mother would let her crack eggs and drop them in.

Well, one day, when her mother was taking a nap and her father was at work, she decided to make her parents a big [surprise] cake all by herself.

Her mother had always told her to wash her hands before she cooked, so she did. Then, she got out a bowl and the cake mix.

She knew that milk must be put in cake so she dumped 1/4 gallon in the bowl. Then she got out some eggs, cracked them on the side of the bowl, dumped them in, and threw the shells across the room. Last, she put in the chocolate cake batter and then she leaned over and started to stir. Some of her soft, blonde curls got into the chocolate concoction.

She decided the spoon wasn't working [too] well, so she started using her hands and she knocked the bowl over! She put her chocolaty hands to her face and started to cry.

Her mother was awakened, and she got up to see what was wrong. She walked into the kitchen [which] was now covered in chocolate. She looked down at Sarah who was also covered in chocolate. All she could see was Sarah's big brown eyes brimmed with tears. 

She knew this time she would not punish Sarah. 

There is no date on the paper, but judging by the handwriting and style, I wrote it around 1997. I was probably thirteen.

Fourteen years before she was born, I wrote about my daughter.

Guys, it's her! The name is spelled differently, but it's her! Both Saras like to help their mom in the kitchen. Both girls like chocolate, cake, and chocolate cake. Sara is just independent enough to try something like this, and if I wasn't standing over her every moment, real life Sara's baking style would closely resemble shadow Sarah's.




Big brown eyes. Soft, blond curls. I saw her before she was a thought in my mind. She was God's dream before she was mine.



I wanted three boys. Thank God He gave me this extroverted, delightful, hilarious girl!



I'm almost certain the day my immune system shifted was the day I gave birth to her. The labor and delivery was considered to be perfect--no complications--but something went wrong in my body three years ago. I felt it.

 (You can probably see it.)

So it was the day the darkness sniffed me out that God wrote Sara into my story with all the light and laughter she would bring.

God knew I needed her. Our family needed her.

So today, we celebrate our little luminary. We thank God for seeing our need, and sending her to us.

We make chocolate cake! Per her request, of course.

And I ponder the last three years. How full and brief they have been with the little girl I unknowingly penned seventeen years ago.





The Better Miracle

I am doing very well.

There, I said it.

I've been afraid to, you see, because every time I share how well I'm doing, something unpleasant this way comes. Inevitably, there will be a freak trigger exposure or a virus that lays me low for a week.

But I will not be bullied by circumstances! I will not be a slave to fear! I'm going to say it loud and proud and expect the best, trusting the Rock beneath my feet to steady me in the face of the worst--God has granted me an increased measure of health, and I am doing very well. 

Bless the Lord, O trembling soul.
Bravely bless His name.

My energy is up, I've gained weight, my pain is more manageable, I'm sleeping better, and I recently returned from a five day anniversary trip to San Antonio where upon I actually left the resort to do things, and had not one episode of anaphylaxsis.

Believe me when I say this is a miracle. 





Dr. Yakaboski checked my adrenal and thyroid function last week. For the first time since I began seeing her, my adrenals are functioning properly, and my thyroid isn't looking too shabby, either. Dr. Frieden reports I no longer harbor an overabundance of candida albicans in my belly. So that's good. Detox reactions are not the problem they once were.

I am doing very well.

Last week, I masked up and went to two appointments, Micah's school orientation, and church on Sunday morning. Not one emergency.

Micah began kindergarten this week. My days are longer, fuller, and more demanding. I'm feeding people all day long. (School apparently requires an additional meal per day. For both children. That's five meals per day for them. Help me.) I see Micah off every morning and pick him up every afternoon (so far). I assist him with homework. Though exhausted, I made it to the end of the school week, and am still functioning. A blog post is happening. Miraculous!


 

I am doing very well.

I would keep it to myself for the sake of my safety, but some things are more important than safety--like you knowing that God hears your prayers. He is listening to you, and He is acting because you ask Him to. Take heart: you are heard and loved.

So let the sky fall. Let it fall because there is a better miracle pulsing beneath the obvious one, the visible one telling the invisible story. There is a better miracle working health in my soul as my cells dump poison into my blood and my body pushes back against a supposedly degenerative disease.

The physical healing taking place is only a parable of the real, unshakeable healing which cannot be maimed by degranulating mast cells.

The parable whispers a secret--feasting works the healing.

Nutritional therapy for the sick person is essentially eating lots and lots of nutrient-dense calories to encourage the mitochondria of the cells to wake up and work life and healing in the body. Junk food just doesn't have that kind of power.

Nutritional therapy for the soul isn't all that different.

"And you who seek God, your souls shall live."--Psalm 69:32

I may follow Autoimmune Paleo protocol, but I daily feast upon the Bread of Life and drink deep of Living Water, thereby awakening the mitochondria of my inner being, the little powerhouses which produce joy and delight on a plane more real than flesh and bone.

My daily coffee enema and detox bath require a total of two hours per day. Until this summer, I squandered away that time with the distractions of Netflix and Facebook--junk food for the soul. A few months ago, I finally heard God's invitation to something better. There is nothing wrong with a little junk food, but why choose a processed snack cake while a perfectly cooked steak sits before you? One leaves you empty and sugar-crashed after a very short while. The other satisfies.

Now that I've thrown out the junk food, I have two entire hours built into my day for Jesus alone! What a blessing!

While nutritional therapy for the body is taking in calories targeted for biological healing and support, nutritional therapy for the soul is taking time to feast at my Savior's table and rest my sin-diseased and broken spirit in the Healer's arms. I couldn't have dreamed more poignant imagery to illustrate "mortality [being] swallowed up by life" than spending my sick-person-to-do-list with the Source of Life Himself (2 Corinthians 5:4).

Before I felt better, I was able to say, "I am the happiest I've ever been." Singing, dancing, smiling-like-a-love-struck-school-girl happy.

Before I felt better, I confessed, "Sometimes, I forget I'm sick," which really means this--"Sometimes I forget myself."

Self-forgetfulness is healing. It's life to the dead, rest to the weary, and freedom to the shut-in.

When we are continually looking at Jesus, we forget to check the mirror. When we forget to check the mirror, we begin to see the pain of others. Thus self-forgetfulness often means more tears because you aren't just shedding them for yourself anymore. Yet all the while, God magically, mysteriously invites us into the miracles He's working in their lives through prayer and service, rendering smiles through the tears and joy in the mourning. 

Miracles for everyone!

Self-forgetfulness is an awesome place to live. I just wish I knew how to stay. 

"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above."

Though I have learned to live above my disease, I still want complete physical healing. I'll want it until I get it. In the meantime, there is a better miracle beneath it all.

There is a happiness to be had when the sky falls and health fails and dreams die and people wound us. There is a strong current of peace flowing beneath the tumultuous waves of our stormy seas. When life spontaneously combusts, there is One like the Son of God who stands with us in the fire.

You can do better than survive your suffering. You can thrive there. I've seen it. I've lived it. But there is only one Way, one Truth, one Life.

You'll find Him at the cross--arms open wide, bearing your sin and pain, forgiving your unbelief, loving you and wanting you in spite of your filth, foolishness, and propensity toward the junk food of the world.

I hope you'll seek Him because if you do, you'll find Him. And your soul will live. 


(If this post leaves you with unanswered questions about finding joy in suffering, please read my amendment post here.)



Mixed Bag--An Update

I've been home from my mountain-top experience at Mayo for a little over a month. Things have not gone exactly as I had hoped. The last few weeks have been hard and good, beautiful and heartrending.
  • I turned 30.
I had always imagined turning thirty would be a difficult thing. To my surprise, it was no big deal. It was pleasant even. I had both a good birthday and a lovely birthday party. On June 3, I posted this story to Facebook:

When I opened my eyes this morning, I asked the Lord to be present in every moment of the day. That would be gift enough. I did not expect a literal gift from Him--

I went outside to hang Sara's diapers to dry in the sun. Brandon's trailer seemed like a good spot. Out flew an angry wasp feeling threatened by my close proximity to his home hidden below the wheel. My peripheral vision caught him coming in for the sting, but suddenly he deflected away from me, as if he had bounced off a surface I couldn't see. I think it was my "blue shield" I dreamed about almost 3 years ago. "Happy birthday to me, from God," I thought.

I shared the story with Mom who reminded me of Psalm 91. I have
lived the truth of these verses for years, but it was the promise God makes to the psalmist at the end which brought me to tears--

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”

And almost a whisper in my ear, "Happy birthday to you, from Me."


See? Good.

A week later, I hosted an (herbal) tea party in my own honor. You get to do that when you turn thirty, are too sick to go out, and are kind of eccentric.



 Kids' table

 The menu included three herbal teas-- Rhubarb and Strawberry Hibiscus Iced Tea,
Peppermint and Raspberry Leaf, and Nettle and Rosehip--
gluten free zucchini cake, and Melissa-friendly Paleo treats.

 Most of the guests.

 Morgan and I reunited after our respective adventures, which the Lord saw us through. It was a kind of celebration of His generosity to us. Please continue to pray for Morgan. 
She is still suffering from surgery complications.

 My beautiful Mom.

 The smallest guests. Love them!

  • I have settled back into my routine.
The Mayo experience was more of a spiritual retreat than a medical trip for my mom and me. It was glorious to be home, but it took a few days and lots of grace to find my legs again.
  •  I have finally begun the first draft of my novel.
Until a couple of weeks ago, it had been a long time since I had accomplished any serious work with my novel. I lost my drive in the midst of health struggles, grief, and preparations for Mayo. I also lost interest in writing back story. I was yearning to write the real story, and that is just what I have been doing. I am writing it longhand, which I find to be extremely satisfying. Something about it summons the muse, and it definitely reduces distractions. When I am writing longhand, that is all I'm doing. No peeks at Facebook or Pinterest. Just writing. And it feels like a real craft.
  • I began my prescribed medications. Kind of. 
Upon returning home, Brandon and I discovered pretty quickly that I could not take the Zantac, Zyrtec, and Singulair in their marketed forms. They contain too many fillers. That's right. I'm allergic to antihistamines. But honestly, this is not uncommon for people with MCAD. Brandon checked into using a compounding pharmacy to obtain pure forms of the drugs, but this route proved to be cost prohibitive. In the end, we asked Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski to create a homeopathic form of the drugs. These are not as potent as the actual drugs, but I have found that a little goes a long way with just about anything. I do notice some relief when I remember all of my doses, which is good.

I began Gastrocrom two weeks ago. This drug only contains cromolyn sodium and water. I have had no adverse reactions thus far. Praise God! If it works for me, my GI pain and swelling will begin to resolve in about a week or so.

  • I am failing my dietary protocol. Which I still need to blog about.
I cannot stay out of the tomatoes. I try. I really try. Yet I fail. They make me sick. They make me hurt. They cause me misery. And still I am lured in by their beauty and promise of palatable rapture. Le sigh.

  • I'm getting "grounded." Explanation here.
An earthing kit has been on my wish list for quite some time. Brandon bought me one for my birthday. We began using the sheet right after I returned home, and it immediately improved my quality of sleep.
  • I have added castor oil packs to my health routine. Explanation here
These. are. awesome. I began about two weeks ago. They bring on the sleepies, and reduce the ill effects of my tomato lust. I feel a certain amount of histamine relief after doing them, which calms the flushing and "tired and wired" feeling enough to induce sleep. I put it on every night for about an hour and a half--just long enough for Brandon and I to watch two episodes of BBC Robin Hood on Netflix. Then I go to sleep. Like it's no big deal. Like falling asleep wasn't the hardest thing ever just a couple of months ago. Praise God for earthing sheets and castor oil and heating pads! Praise God for sleep!
  •  I've been using my unique skill set to serve my sister.
Since becoming pregnant, my sister has experienced serious health problems similar to my own. We think the shift in hormones has upset her system, and she has been having allergic reactions to foods, animals, and bug bites. I have been able to direct her to safe, nutritious foods, treat her reactions with TBM and BioSet, and offer her gentle, pregnancy-safe home remedies like poultices, herbs, and essential oils. I am loathed to see my sister suffer, but thankful I can help.

  • Grief continues to rock my boat.
In many ways, I feel Jenny's loss more profoundly today than I did when it was fresh. There is so much I want to tell her. I want to hear her laugh. I want her unique perspective and the artful way she crafts her sentences. I want the light in her blue eyes and her hearty "hallelujahs" in response to every good God has sent. A memory sparked by a conversation or activity will initiate a tiny, seismic shift, sending an unexpected tidal wave to my shore. In these moments, I am thankful for the "hope we have as an anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19). Without it, I would be reduced to rubble every time.

  • There have been two episodes of anaphylaxsis, one of which resulted in shock.
Until about three weeks ago, I had not had an anaphylactic reaction in a record length of time. Since then, there have been two episodes. The first occurred following my tea party, after which I felt uncommonly unwell. I thought my body was rebuking me for the almond flour treats I had eaten. But I really hadn't eaten that much, so I was confused. The next night, my mother-in-law and I shared a warmed cup of left over peppermint and raspberry leaf tea.

BAM! I was struggling for air. I knew it wasn't the raspberry leaf, which exposed the peppermint as the culprit. I had drunk so. much. of this particular blend the day before it is no wonder I was so ill after the party. Bummer. It was a good blend.

And then there was the freak peanut exposure this past Sunday night. Brandon and the kids wanted an Eskimoe's treat after completing a little errand in town. We went through the drive-thru. The window was on Brandon's side of the car. I detected a shift in my body during the transaction, but I had to do the whole self denial routine.

"You're not sick," I told myself. "That would be crazy. You are fine. You are fine. The swelling will subside. You are fine." I continued like this for the 15 minute ride home. I eventually believed myself, so I didn't understand when my blood pressure went on the fritz upon getting out of the car.

When things got bad, Brandon was outside talking to my parents. I was inside with the kids. I was able to take my rescue homeopathics and get a text to him before I was useless. By the time he began performing our tried and true rescue treatment, I was exiting reality--a cold place where it was painful and difficult to breathe, think, move, and obey--and entering the floaty space where it's warm and pleasant and everything is peaceful.

Shock is a siren song. Unless someone tethers you to the ship, you will bail. You cannot help yourself. B wasn't having it though. He says he yelled at me. I was vaguely aware of it, but it came to my consciousness rather muffled, as if I was hearing him from underwater. He demanded I come back, so I did. I am thankful the Lord spared me once again. I must have more to do! Praise God!
Brandon and I have agreed--
In some ways, I am better than I was last summer.
In some ways, I am sicker than I was last summer.

Last summer was nothing short of miraculous. I was knocking on death's door, and then God just turned it around. I went from eating nothing to eating baby food to eating anything I wanted. Eggs? Every day. Tomatoes? No problem. Watermelon? For the first time in years. I could eat any food, any time as long as it came from our garden.

And the garden itself was a miracle. Dad and Brandon were first time gardeners. They only kinda sorta knew what they were doing. Everything planted thrived. Rain came at just the right times. June and July were just mild enough. The bugs were a minor nuisance, and were well-controlled without the use of any substance, organic or otherwise.

This year? Squash bugs destroyed our crop. Tomato worms are having a hey day. We even have bugs in our kale, which is weird. Dad is using an organic, essential oil-based spray to repel them, but it doesn't seem to be working. And with the exception of kale and the now gone broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and yellow squash, I am not tolerating anything very well.

I do not understand why the foods God used to bring me back to life last summer are now my enemies. I do not understand the complexities of why one crop is blessed and another is not blessed in the same way. I am not wise enough to guess the purpose of all this waiting, circling, cycling, and disappointment.

Why have I not been healed? I am doing everything right. With the exception of my tomato addiction, I eat perfectly. Well, except when I eat a bit of dark chocolate or have an almond flour treat for my birthday, but still! I detox, rest, sleep, exercise, get sunshine, manage my stress, and avoid triggers. I seek the Lord with all my heart. I pray, meditate, memorize scripture, and make my mind to dwell on things above. I want to be healed. I expect to be healed.

I am doing everything right, and I am still not well. Not even close.

Dear friend, this is life. We can do all the right things, and still not achieve the desired outcome. That is why we must desire a Person more than a circumstance. Someone who cannot change. An anchor for the soul.

Because here's the truth--
You can parent perfectly and your adult child may self-destruct.
You can make good health choices and your body may malfunction.
You can study hard and fail the class.
You can work hard and not land the job.
You can pray hard and not receive the desired answer.
You can do aaaaaaaall the things and miss the Whole Thing.

Now this doesn't mean we throw up our hands and refuse to invest. All things of worth require faithfulness. Laziness is not allowed. We have many seeds to sow. Marriage, motherhood, friendships, nourishment, health, career, craft, and our walks with the Lord all demand that we show up, game on, every day.

This week, Micah and I sat on the back porch and watched an afternoon storm roll in while Sara napped late.

"God brings the rain and makes it stop and makes the garden grow," he observed sagely as we listened to heavy drops pound the tin roof like a drum.

"That's right," I affirmed. "He brings rain and sunshine and gives growth to the seeds we plant. He makes all gardens grow, even the ones hidden inside of us." I touched the center of his chest.

"What kind of garden is inside of me?" he asked, eyes wide. "Will I grow vegetables?"

"No," I laughed. "You will grow fruit. Mommy plants the seed of the gospel of Jesus and the cross in your heart. Then God sends rain and sunshine and gives increase just like our garden out there." I pointed. "And after time, you will bear fruit--love, joy, peace, goodness, and faithfulness to name a few."

But it does not always work this way.

We are not as in control as we would like to think we are. We do not command life or death or cancer or disintegrating mast cells or squash bugs or people or rogue peanut particles. This is okay. Because the One who is in control is eternally, irreversibly good. He has our good at heart. He even takes the evil things of this world, and alchemizes them into good. It's a mystery, but it's true. 

We must stop serving the god we want, and start loving the God Who Is. We must surrender our idea of  good to His definition of good--the Church "conformed to the image of His [suffering] Son" (Romans 8:29).

For me, this means I show up. I do all the things God has tasked me with. I invest my heart, knowing that--yes--it may be broken. It is broken.

A friend told me this week she is hesitant to try gardening while she is already so busy and tired with little ones because she is afraid she would put in a ton of work only for the crop to fail. Oh, goodness--how her trepidation hits close to home. The threat is very real.

Disappointment is a bitter fruit. It's the risk we all take any time we do or love or work for anything. Christian or not, no one is exempt from the risk, but if you are a Christian, you can take comfort in knowing Christ drinks the wine of disappointment right along with you. If you are a Christian, you can rest your head on the pillow of promise--God is weaving your disappointment into an epic tapestry which will at its finish be a glorious work of art. You will one day gaze upon it in wonder, and you will agree--your suffering was not worthy to be compared to the joy you now know.

Life is a mixed bag of happinesses and disappointments, successes and failures, patterns and adjustments. It's devastating and magnificent and ridiculous and wonderful. I could never survive it without Jesus. And having tasted the exquisite joy of His presence especially in the midst of sorrow, I can tell you--I don't want to.

He is our Living Hope. He is our assurance that one day the disappointments will be no more, that all sad things will come untrue. Praise God this mixed bag is not all there is!

Mayo Clinic Trip: Naked Edition

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
and whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, 
which spreads out its roots by the river,
and will not fear when heat comes;
but its leaf will be green,
and will not be anxious in the year of drought,
nor will cease from yielding fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately wicked;
who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
even to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of His doings."
-Jeremiah 17:7-10


"If I was a tree," I told Mom as I looked up at its crown, "I would want to be this one."

Our bench sat in its shade. The roots sank thick and sturdy into soft, lakeside soil. Its trunk stood fat and strong at the bottom, and reaching skyward, one became two, became three, became four. Supple boughs hung from brave limbs growing away from Mother, and came to life as the wind rushing off the water proposed a dance. We were mesmerized by the waltz. Sway, two, three. Sway, two, three. How many long seasons of nakedness, of bone-crushing winters she must have endured by the water waiting, waiting to achieve such poise and grace. 

Why must she be naked in winter? I want to know for it seems the Lord requires the same vulnerability from me, and the winter has been long. Ten years I have been sick, frightfully so for two. We began planning this trip six months ago, and here we are waiting, waiting over a long, holiday weekend for test results, for the next step. 

But I am like a tree in Louisiana, shedding its clothes in stages, hanging onto my last layers well into winter. I've been fearful to expose too much, afraid of being hurt. I did not know this about myself until last night when God showed me in the quiet and vulnerability of a bath. It has taken all this waiting to really see myself.

When friends asked why I was going to Minnesota, I would say, "Out of obedience to God," which was true. God made it plain I was to take this trip though I could not see the benefit. In my mind, diagnosis was unlikely and the odds of tolerable treatment options were dismal. I planned and prepared out of duty and love for God, but I dared not hope. Hope leads to disappointment, and disappointment after disappointment wears on a soul.

After the encounter with Arthur on Wednesday, I felt hopeful for the first time. The first time. I met with Dr. Park the next day, and left him feeling that maybe my new found hope was justified. He would check for systemic mastocytosis while doing some gentle "fishing."

And then Friday came along, and pressed the hope right out of me. 

The day was long. I woke before 5 with a twinge in my stomach telling me the day ahead would not be like the day before. I prayed, tried to push it aside, and left the hotel at 6 am. Six in the morning, y'all. The day began with blood work, a necessary photo, and "checking" in the dermatology department. An appointment could not be scheduled until June 23, so I was encouraged to wait to be fit in. I was seen quickly--probably because it was Friday.

Though the doctor was very kind and professional, the appointment was kind of degrading. The hospital gown--if one could call it that--was a joke. I was entirely unclothed and entirely unprepared for such a thorough exam which concluded with no clinical findings of cutaneous mastocytosis, a skin biopsy nonetheless, and a psych referral for anxiety. Apparently, my mask had raised a red flag.

After dropping off my 24 hour urine sample, Mom and I made our way to the psychology department. I had been warned by a friend ahead of time to not resist this appointment. It wasn't too bad. A nice lady asked me many, many questions, which led to the sharing of my story for the next hour. 
The "container of shame"

She peered at me keenly from behind her glasses. "This illness has left you disabled, hasn't it?"

I hadn't thought about it that way. "I suppose it has."

"Do you feel sad, depressed, or hopeless?"

I thought how to answer, and smiled when the words came. "You know, I used to, and I probably still would if it weren't for Jesus. But because of Him, I take joy in my life, and even though my life is small, I feel like it's valuable."

At the end of the appointment, the psychologist and a psychiatrist sat down with me. Were they concerned about anxiety? No. Depression? Nope. They wanted me to see a specialist of behavior modification for my migraines. Migraines. I was baffled. Yes, I have migraines. Yes, they persist, but they don't make the top 10 list of my most pressing complaints. Weird appointment. But they recommended Silver Lake Park to us, so it wasn't a completely wasted visit. 

Afterward, I was starving and on the brink of collapse. We ate lunch in "our" little courtyard, and made our way to The Quiet Room. The Quiet Room is this magical, sound-proofed space filled with hospital grade recliners and darkness. Mom and I both took an overdue nap. A half hour later, I woke with a start feeling strongly my next appointment would be the most discouraging of the day. I prayed and braced myself.

"Our" courtyard. So peaceful and empty. Mask not required.

We waited a long time to see the gastroenterologist, and when we were finally called back I was underwhelmed to say the least. The doctor did not listen to me. I don't think he read my chart. He recommended a gastric emptying test, an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. I asked if he would do a stain for mast cells. He gave me a blank look, and assured me he would biopsy anything which looked abnormal. He had no clue what I was talking about, and had already made up his mind I had Celiac sprue. He asked me for my departure date. I told him Friday the 30th. I left his office with test schedules and instructions for the gastric emptying test, which required me to eat bread, milk, and eggs and drink radioactive water. The scopes were scheduled for the 30th, which would require me to stay another weekend. 

I was so tired at this point, all I could do was let the information crush me. 

The doctor ordered immediate blood work to test for Celiac disease. As I trudged back to the Hilton Building, I was so defeated I knew the only solution was a song. Not really caring if anyone overheard, I sang softly:

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
how I've proved Him o'er and o'er.
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
O, for grace to trust Him more.

After labs, we were finally free to leave. While Mom and I waited for the shuttle back to the hotel, she put her remaining brain cells to good use. I could only nod in agreement. No gastric emptying test. Duh. And the scopes--if necessary--could be done at home. Genius! I high-fived Mom for still being able to think. By the time we returned to our room, it had been an 11 hour day at Mayo. I have no idea how I managed it. 

Grace, grace, God's grace. 

Over the weekend, test results trickled in, all coming back normal. I can see all results on Mayo's Portal application, which allows patients to see consult notes, test results, appointments, etc. online. I've trembled inwardly each time I've pulled up my information, feeling a mixture of relief and frustration with each normal lab. I couldn't help but wonder what those trembles meant. 

On Sunday, we went to Silver Lake. Our thoughts and hearts were still as we watched feathered mothers teach their tiny flocks self-sufficiency. 


I read Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 aloud to Mom as we gazed at the tree by the water. My tree. Softly, so softly, God began to speak. Through creation and His word, He whispered subtle truths and made connections in my mind. It wasn't until I was naked and alone that He grabbed me by the shoulders. 

I opened my records again on my iPod in the bath, heart beating fast. And suddenly, I knew. I had been lying to myself. The heart is deceitful above all things. We don't even know our own selves. Until God shows us. 

I have been telling everyone I don't know what I want to come of this trip and diagnosis doesn't matter. But if that were true, my heart wouldn't pound so every time I access my records. All along I've been saying, "I don't know what I hope for, so I will hope in God." But what does that mean, really? Here's the truth--I have not allowed myself to want anything too much because I'm afraid of disappointment. Disappointment hurts.

Stoicism may look like faith, but it's a fake. Faith requires risk. Stuffing desires is not risk; it's self protection. It's the very opposite of faith. 

Can I truly claim with Job, "Though You slay me, yet I will trust You" if I don't give God the opportunity to make me bleed, if I don't put my desires on the altar (Job 13:15)?

Here is my honest desire--I want answers, and I want them desperately. 

Suddenly, I was pouring out my heart to the Savior as I sat in the bath, physically and spiritually naked and vulnerable before Him. And it felt good. Nakedness felt wrong in the dermatologist's office where I was being meticulously examined for flaws by indifferent, clinical eyes. In that hotel bathroom, I was being looked upon with the greatest love of the universe by eyes which see me as perfect and radiant. The love made me bold.

For the first time in two years, I begged God for an answer. I pleaded that I would not return home empty-handed. I sobbed with the psalmist in desperation, "Let me not be ashamed!" (Psalm 25:20) For I would be ashamed if I have come up here for nothing, risking my small measure of health and abandoning my family for ten days on a fool's errand. I reminded Him I had prayed for Him to be glorified. "How can you be glorified unless I am given an answer?" I cried through tears. I know my sight is limited and my wisdom is small, but I just can't see it. 

I. am. terrified. It is so scary to make these admissions to myself, more so to make them public. I am standing stark before you, feeling all the cold of uncertainty in my own Winter of Wait. But here is what I know--God brought me up here. God has led me to this terrifying place of risk, trust, and honest faith, and God wants you to see it. There must be a purpose. There just has to be! I don't know what that purpose is exactly, but I know the purpose is good. I know it will showcase His Son.

God gave me these desires. I didn't go looking for them, so I believe He will answer me. I am so, so afraid. But I believe.

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:7).

Maybe one day I'll attain to the strength and grace of that tree. For now, I'm going out on a limb. 

In Jesus' name, I believe.

Now let's see what He will do. 

Mayo Clinic Trip: Taxi Cab Edition

Aslan is on the move.

Shimmering ripples in the fabric of space and time dazzle our vision here in Minnesota. We stand in awe of the evidences of God's sovereignty. We arrived safely yesterday evening, and though I have been exposed to several triggers which have made me ill, I have not missed a breath or a step. Those Everlasting Arms are flexing (Deuteronomy 33:27). Mercy is holdng me up (Psalm 94:18).


Because this trip was not my idea but God's, I have felt since its inception I should leave the details up to Him. I bathed every decision in prayer. I felt His direction at every turn. But there was one question left unanswered until two weeks before the trip, and we needed to decide--taxi or car rental?

I immediately thought rental. Mom immediately thought taxi. We debated all the practical points. Which would be safest? Which would be the most economical? Which would save us the most stress? We did not know.

I was reading 1 Kings and the book of Acts at the time. In both books, there are examples of God's people casting lots to determine His will. In modern American culture, lot casting is considered to be a game of chance, but the book of Proverbs tells us differently--"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Upon the belief God was leading me to determine His will in a new way, I asked Brandon to flip a coin. Tails. Taxi. Okay.

Our first taxi ride was uneventful. The driver was polite and friendly. He wore cologne, but left the windows rolled down. No big.

Today, we needed a ride to the grocery store in downtown Rochester. Once again, the driver was polite and friendly. And interesting. We small talked on the way to The People's Food Co-op without an inkling of how special this ride would be. We were mostly looking forward to the grocery store. Which. was. fabulous.



It was a mecca of organic, Melissa-friendly food and stuffs. Local farmers sell and trade their produce and meats at the store, which makes them available to the public. Most of the produce is organic. All of it is gorgeous. The meat is local and in some cases grassfed. There is also a large selection of specialty items and natural body care products. Mom and I were in grocery shopping heaven. Seriously, this store made the trip feel like a vacation. I could almost ignore the debilitating pain in my stomach, legs, and arms growing, growing, growing as we passed through the aisles. Almost. Until it began taking my breath away.


On the ride back to the hotel, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit as if to say, "Things are about to get interesting." It took a couple of minutes. We were almost at our destination when our driver began telling us about some of his experiences as a driver.

"I've laughed. I've cried. I've prayed with sick people," he said.

"Cool!" Mom replied. "Do you believe in Jesus?"

"Oh, yes. I used to be a pastor of an Assembly of God church."

He proceeded to tell us how after he had prayed for this one man with cancer, the cancer disappeared to the bewilderment of his doctors. He once led a girl to Christ in the front seat. And then he asked if he could pray for me.

"I would love that," I told him.

He took Mom and I by the hand, and began praying. The Holy Spirit fell in that vehicle. There was power in the prayer. I felt a warmth in my chest and torso I cannot explain. And suddenly, the pain all but vanished. I could breathe evenly again. No longer did I feel the need to hunch or clutch my rib cage. Never have I experienced immediate physical relief during or after prayer, but I did in that moment. I was stunned.

We asked his name. Arthur.

Arthur shared with us he was going through his own time of difficulty. No details. I asked if I could pray for him. He said yes. There were tears. I pulled out a handkerchief.

"This is for you," I said.

I told him my pain was better. He let me out of the car, and I couldn't help but embrace him. I loved him. He is my brother. Forever.


When we walked back upstairs, the cleaning chemicals and intense floral perfume did not overpower me. I have enjoyed pain relief all through the evening. Most of all, I have tremendous assurance we are right where we need to be. God has made trust incredibly easy.

He gave me three signs when I asked for one. He worked out every detail. He ordained we take a taxi. He put Arthur in my path as a result. God is here, and He is up to something good.

Thank you for praying for divine appointments! God has already begun answering your prayers! Glory to His name!

Update on Morgan: Surgery went incredibly well. It was not exploratory after all. Her doctor was able to assess and correct the problem immediately. She was discharged today with her pain under control. Praise God! Thank you for praying!


A Legacy of Grace

Mother's Day is almost here. I've been gratefully thinking of my mother and wondering what kind of mother my children will remember when they are grown. It won't be Supermom. She died long ago. I no longer measure my worth by perfect birthday parties, trips to the zoo, little league, and ballet classes. (Not that I think there is anything wrong with these things. I just can't do them due to my health. If I could, I would!) I don't beat myself up over dirty bathrooms or piled high laundry. I know I don't have to follow the latest Pinterest trends to be a good mother. But last night as I lay wide-eyed in the dark listening to swirling wind and pelting rain batter our little tin roof, I wondered what legacy I am creating for my kids. What impression are my words and actions leaving upon the little souls I care for?

Though I'm glad I have learned not to hold myself to an impossible standard, I know I sometimes allow my illness to excuse bad behavior. I'm ashamed to admit it, but deep down I justify my sharp tone, exasperated sigh, and angry body language with the pain turning my stomach inside out and the fatigue transforming me into a useless rag doll. Extenuating circumstances permit me to withhold empathy from the small boy who late at night cries real tears over real fears which seem ridiculous to me, right?

Wrong. 

My illness does not entitle me to any free passes. I have one shot to make the most of this parenting thing. Disease has stolen so much from me. I cannot play the victim, and allow it to thieve away my best opportunity to make the love of God tangible to my precious ones.

But there is this very real problem of being a sinner. Trial is a wine press--it squeezes and applies pressure until juice is extracted from the fruit. What is inside is what comes out. I exude sin because I am full of sin, full of self. Despite my best efforts, I am unable to live up to even my reduced standards of "good motherhood." I will inevitably fail to be the woman I want to be.

It was with these thoughts anxiety began to use my insides as percussion instruments, almost drowning out the sound of the rain. I remembered how I had endlessly chided Sara for picking the pretty purple flower out of the butterfly garden with a disgusted tremble. I shuddered as I recalled my impatience with the kids as they noisily dragged up chairs to our too-small counter in our too-small kitchen, crowding me out of my workspace, asking to "help," which may be the most exhausting request of all. I saw in my mind's eye two sets of sweet brown eyes filled with confusion and hurt, and had a wild thought--I'm failing! I am ruining my children!

I suddenly realized I was trying on that old cape I thought I had put away two years ago. Supermom may be dead, but the woman left behind is still trying to save herself. She still believes her performance will determine how her kids turn out. Gently, tenderly, Truth sidled up beside her, and whispered to her in the dark--

Micah and Sara don't need another savior. They already have One.
They don't need a perfect mother. They need a penitent one.
They don't need to witness unflinching strength. They need to behold God's glory in human weakness.
They don't need a hero. They need a damsel running again and again to the ultimate Hero with all her inadequacies, failures, and sin.
They need "I'm sorry," "Please forgive me," "Mommy was wrong," and "This is why Jesus had to die--for mommies like me."
Micah and Sara need grace.

Grace doesn't give me permission to be the biggest brat in the house (Romans 6). Rather, it gives me the grit to keep aiming for God's smile in the face of failure. It assures me that He is somehow working good in, through, and in spite of my brokenness. He does that, you know.

Grace holds the balance--I can neither parent so poorly I ensure the destruction of my children nor perform so well that I ensure their success. Grace both covers my failures, and puts me in my place. It supplies a welcoming smile on my tired face when baby birds chirp--"Help! Help! Wanna help!" It provides binding when sharp eyes and words wound tender souls. It silences the broken record-like reproach, and finds a glass jar in which to showcase a purple flower freshly-picked by tiny, well-meaning fists. It calms the fears of a sick mother in the night, inspiring her to rise, lean on fresh mercies, and try again. It fills her with the Sweet Spirit who enables her to love in the little things until the little things make well-worn trails through the little ones' hearts, leading them home to Grace Personified.

The mom who burns her cape is the bravest mom of all. This mom courageously admits her limits, and waits with expectation upon the Lord to perform what she cannot. She plants the seed and pleads for it to be given growth. She knows how weak she is, and trusts in the infinite power of her God. She is a mother on her knees because she knows without her Savior neither she nor her little ones can stand. She knows God is after her dependence, not her capabilities.

I am not the mother the holiday cards talk about. I am the mother who yells and fails and falls flat on her face. But from the ground I call out to my God. My kids hear it. They see it. They drink of the wine pressed out by trial--fermented, aged, entirely transformed by glorious, glorious grace.

Grace, grace, God's grace......

Feet quick to run to Jesus and an extravagant expenditure of grace. This is my legacy. And I'm okay with that.







Happy Mother's Day! 

I have a cape to burn.

The Upside to Being Laid Low

Things fell apart almost immediately after I posted my most recent health update. I am usually a fan of irony--this time not so much. After posting an encouraging report of my progress, I proceeded to have three back to back food-related reactions, which put me into crisis mode. The morning following the third reaction, I opened my eyes to see Brandon looking me over. "Morning, Sexy," he greeted me with a mischievous gleam in his eye, "you look like you've got the mumps!" And indeed, I felt like I had the mumps.

Everything was painfully swollen, especially the lymph nodes in my face and neck. I could not talk or move without wincing. I could tell my digestive tract was ready to revolt given the smallest opportunity. As post-reaction fasting has never served me well, I opted for a diet of white rice, freshly prepared veggie juice, vegetable purees and a tummy-soothing mixture of slippery elm and marshmallow root powder. I was the most fatigued I have been in a long time. My body could do little else but sleep.

Throughout the week, I improved little by little and was almost back to eating my regular diet when I was hit with another wave of reactions. I inhaled food particles in someone else's home, made skin contact with a preservative wax covering a vegetable I was preparing for dinner, and had a mystery reaction to what may or may not have been Sara's baby wipes. The reaction to the vegetable wax was particularly nasty. I had difficulty speaking, walking, or gathering my thoughts for almost 24 hours. I have not recovered my energy or mental clarity since. 

Over the last two and half weeks, I have spent a lot of time in bed. Rest is nice, but it is not my preferred lifestyle. I like full, productive days. It is a difficult thing to get a good taste of hope only to choke on it. It's hard to feel like things are finally going where I want them to go only to find the path has circled back on me. I dislike full-body pain, the choice between hunger and discomfort caused by eating, and the feeling of being so tired I can't hold my head upright on my neck. I despise the loneliness of a bed, the emptiness of not being able to take care of my children, husband and home. I hate giving up any more of my life to this disease--even quarter inches. Left alone in necessary solitude, I must face my frustrations, doubts, fears and grief. There is no escape.

But even there--

His grace is sufficient for me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I have a High Priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses. (Hebrews 4:15)

As the sufferings of Christ abound in me, so my consolation also abounds through Christ. The cosmic scales are always even. (2 Corinthians 1:5)

I am hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--always carrying about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in my body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

His mercies hold me up. His comforts delight my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)

He considers my trouble. He knows my soul in adversities. (Psalm 31:7)

He is a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. (Psalm 3:5)

Ultimately, it is in these moments of distress I know my Savior best. It is when I am laid low that I enter the veil of Christ's sufferings. If I know pain, He has known it far better. I may face loss, but never more than He. He has insight into grief I will never have for while I have lost a covenant friend, He lost His Friend and Father who had been with Him always, since before time was a concept. He has drunk dry the cup of disappointment, need, and all the wrath of God I deserve. It is when I am laid low enough to taste it with Him, I am invited in--into the inner sanctuary which the happy never see.

It is there I receive something better than happiness. I am able to "rejoice to the extent that [I] partake of Christ's sufferings" (1 Peter 4:13). I am made "exceedingly glad with [His] presence" (Psalm 21:6). Time and time again, my sick bed becomes a magical place where suffering is transformed into joy.

This season of Lent has been difficult. I did not feel God leading me to formally participate, so I didn't. Nonetheless, I have lost without meaning to. I lost my comfort foods when I began my new diet. I lost one of my closest friends. I lost my momentum in the pursuit of health. All of this loss has driven me to study the sufferings of Christ with greater attention to detail. And I have noticed something new.

In His final hours, He never spoke a word on His own behalf. In every gospel account it is written, "He answered nothing" in His own defense. But He speaks for those He loves. He serves them and prays for them until He is taken in the garden (John 13-17). When the soldiers ambush Him, He pleads for His beloved--"If you seek Me, let these go their way" (John 18:8). When from the cross He sees His mother weeping for Him, He provides for her another son to love (John 19:26). He prayed for His persecutors as they bruised and mocked Him (Luke 23:34). In His darkest hour, He looked out.

When I suffer, my instinct is to curl in on myself, but the example I found in my Savior inspired me. In my moment of trouble, there was such a sudden outpouring of need all around me that I could not help but be distracted from my own. My loneliness gave me time to pray. My discomfort made me instinctive about what to pray. My grief granted me empathy. I was not separate from my sufferings friends; I was one of them. I was able to pass along the strength God was lending me. God even gave me opportunities to serve others in a practical way, which is something I am rarely able to do. It was such a delight!

Before I knew it, I had forgotten myself. Forgetting oneself is absolute bliss. Really. I wish I never had to think of myself again. In prayer, God has altered my vision, and in doing so He has altered me. May I never forget that suffering is a privilege and an honor. I am ready for some relief, but I'm not sorry over what has transpired. 

Sick and struggling friends--I have not forgotten you this week. I'm still praying. It's just the fatigue is eating me for breakfast every morning, and all I can do is pray. I believe you need my prayers more than you need my words anyway. Know that when I feel my own exhaustion, pain, hardships, sickness, loneliness, anxieties and grief, I am thinking of yours as well and bringing them all before the Lord who loves us, who gave Himself for us, who is with us and for us through it all. Because of the cross. Because of the resurrection.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Happy Easter.




The Art of Tug of War

 
I am learning the art of tug of war. For two years, I have battled on both sides of the rope. On one side is acceptance of my lot. John Newton once wrote, "Everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds." For reasons known only to Him, the Lord deems my trial needful. I do not understand, but I trust the heart that bled for me. On the other side of the rope is the full collection of my efforts to be well, which are many and varied. I never stop trying. I don't feel allowed. As much as God wants me to gratefully accept what He has justly and righteously given, He also wants me to want to be well. The only surrender I am permitted is to His plan for my life, not to this illness. It's an exhausting game, but I hold my grip for the grip of Sufficient Grace on me.

After numerous dead ends, setbacks, and advancements on one front as I lost ground on another, I am thrilled to report I am finally, undeniably better.
  • My reactions are not as severe as they once were. This time last year, I was going into anaphylactic shock 1-3 times per week caused by an assortment of triggers. As I write this, I cannot recall the last time I "shocked." I still experience chest tightness, a barking cough, mental confusion and an overwhelming drunken sensation during acute episodes, but these symptoms are not life threatening. We know how to deal with them. And thankfully, I am no longer terrifying my family on a regular basis. I continue to react to a frustrating number of things most people would never consider to be unsafe, but the receding strength of my reactions gives me hope that one day I may live a life with fewer walls.
  •  I have more energy. I continue to experience fatigue, but it feels more manageable now. I don't think it's easier just because I'm used to it. I don't think anyone ever gets used to feeling like standing is the healthy person's equivalent to a half marathon. I just understand it better and can anticipate it with more accuracy, which makes it livable.
  • For the most part, my pain remains manageable. I have good days and not so good days. I can't do everything I want to do, but I can do most of it without pain taking me over.
  • During my check up with Dr. Yakaboski this week, my thyroid, adrenal and liver function all showed improvement! Praise the Lord!
Truly, God has done this. He has heard and honored our prayers. His hand has been so evident, His direction perfectly clear. He has given my doctor wisdom concerning my needs. He has sent people into my life to offer me a helping hand. He has given me the strength and resolve to press on each step of the way. Thank you for "helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on [my] behalf for the gift granted to [me] through many" (2 Corinthians 1:11). Please don't stop praying!

I want you to know where your prayers have led my family and me. So in the spirit of full disclosure, I will share a few key elements which have helped me to heal:

  • Let's get this one out of the way: Daily (and sometimes twice daily) coffee enemas. TMI, I know. Whatever. Let's get over it together, shall we? They have been a huge help in reducing my histamine burden and toxic load. My entire body feels instantly better afterward, especially during acute episodes. Coffee enemas are a key aspect of natural cancer treatment per recommendation of The Gerson Institute. You can read an article about it here. My friend Caroline (aka Gutsy) also has an informative post about coffee enemas if you are curious about the method to my madness. 
  • Stress management. We all know that stress is bad for us, a fact which is doubly true for people with chronic illness. Stress is an actual trigger for mast cell activation disease patients, and can cause anaphylaxsis all by its lonesome. I have been forced to learn to manage my stress. I realize that not everyone can live how I live. Some people work 9 to 5 jobs or are full-time students, some mothers have 8 children and some people have zero familial or community support. Nevertheless, I think everyone can afford to adopt at least one of the following principles:  

    •  Prioritize your life by what must be done today, what should be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow. Guard your "spoons" so you can do the things which matter most. 
    •  Have a plan, but hold it loosely. This helps you to balance rising above your disease and giving yourself permission to be sick. Frustration about your illness only adds to your stress load. Believe me. Holding your plans loosely also gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to shape your day as He sees fit. His plans are always better than yours. Living life at the ready for Him to sweep through and involve you in something eternal is the most adventurous and fun way to live!
    • If you are able to get out of the home, limit yourself to one event for the day. No more. If you work or go to school, that is your one outside event for the day.
    • If you are running behind on dinner or kids are whining or you feel the pressure of a million things left undone, STOP, BREATHE DEEPLY, AND PRAY. God is eager and able to give you the grace you need to complete the tasks of the day. Running about all frantic and flustered helps no one, least of all you.
    • Smile, laugh, sing and dance as often as you can. Especially if you don't feel like it. Force feed yourself with happiness.
    • Spend time outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine are good for all the bits that make you you.
    • Reserve time every day to do something creative or enjoyable. I learned this one from my Jenny. She was good at knowing what was good for people.
    • Take mornings slowly as often as you can. Sleep in whenever possible.
    • Limit toxic and difficult relationships. Many people would advise you to nix these relationships altogether, which is great advice in very particular situations. But I often find it is neither practical nor biblical to completely sever all ties with the unlovables in our lives. Many of these relationships cannot be escaped for one reason or another, and Jesus calls us to love the difficult ones because He does. But create boundaries. Boundaries are a form of love. No one should be allowed to have a free go at you whenever they please. It's not good for you or for them.
    • Deep breathing and meditation. I recommend specific meditations such as memorized scripture and reflections upon God's character, His blessings, and His history of faithfulness with you. Read and ponder His promises in the Bible. These good, wholesome thoughts nourish and invigorate the soul, which is what stress management is all about.
    • Count your blessings. Keep a gratitude journal. Anger and bitterness (stressors) cannot find entry into a thankful heart.
  • Daily detox baths. I take a 30-45 minute bath every day using 2 small scoops of magnesium crystals and sometimes add either 2-3 cups of organic apple cider vinegar or 1 cup of bentonite clay.
  •  Regular exercise. I have experienced health slumps which have caused brief lapses in the discipline, but if I can at all, I do--usually 4 or 5 days per week. I like a mixture of low impact cardio and yoga. Usually, I use the Wii Fit board as a step, and walk up and down while I watch something on Netflix. Sometimes, I do a few minutes of light rebounding sitting on the side of my bed. I try to do at least a little yoga at the end of every workout. Yoga is my favorite. I like it because it's challenging without being harmful or dangerous for my joints, and it makes me feel oh so good.
  • Twice monthly lymphatic drainage treatments at Dr. Yakaboski's office. My frequent reactions cause my lymph nodes to swell painfully. These treatments give me welcome relief from discomfort and healing support for my body. During the treatment, Dr. Yakaboski also performs acupressure work to balance my emotions using a technique called B.E.S.T. A particular application of this technique, which takes the body out of "fight or flight" mode, has proven to be life saving for me during anaphylactic shock. I have purchased the instructional DVDs so my family can learn to perform it in case of fire ant or wasp stings this summer.
  • Twice monthly chiropractic treatments. I firmly believe chiropractic care is essential for overall health. If the spine is not properly aligned, the body is not operating optimally. My chiropractor specializes in a program called Total Body Modification (TBM). TBM is another form of acupressure work (dealing primarily with the acupressure points on the spine) which can treat specific symptoms as well as support the operation of full body systems. I use the most basic TBM techniques for every acute allergic reaction at home, and have Dr. Frieden do the more complex, fancy-schmansy stuff in her office during my visits. Last October, I told her of my anaphylactic reactions to every little thing. She performed a specific TBM sequence, and since then I have had significantly fewer and less severe episodes of anaphylaxsis.
  • Regular at-home BioSet and TBM treatments. These acupressure treatments slow or stop reactions very quickly. It's like pressing a "reset" button on my body. It's difficult to explain what it is or how it works, but I love my sister's take on it. After having a systemic reaction to Chinese food, she asked me to treat her even though she isn't much into my hippie ways. She came over to the house and after the treatment, she commented, "That is some weird crap, but I feel a lot better!"
  •  Nutritional therapy as directed by nutritional therapist, Jennifer Nervo of the blog 20 Something Allergies. I discovered her blog in September 2012, and have followed her ever since. Her Baby Steps to Better Health series helped me a ton in the early days of my illness. For 18 months, she has assisted me as I have fumbled and bumbled about in an effort to get food safely into by body. She is now directing that effort. We've only just begun the nutritional protocol, but I have been implementing a few new-to-me concepts for several weeks now to which I have responded quite well. Jennifer understands how food works for the body, how the sensitive body responds to food, four day food rotation cycles for allergies, low histamine diets, and how to target autoimmune and mitochondrial disease with a specific nutritional approach. She knows each patient comes to her with individual needs, and she tailors her knowledge to fit those needs. I plan to post about my experience after I make it through the second rotation cycle early next week.
  • Healthful miscellany: 
    • Rest and refusal to feel guilty about rest
    • Sunshine and fresh air as often as weather and health permit
    • Humbly and gratefully accepting help from others
    • Avoiding triggers (i.e. staying away from crowds and uncontrolled environments; avoiding foods which make me sick; letting others handle and wash new clothing; having Brandon screen all of my mail for scents and chemicals)
    • Wearing a double mask any time I leave my home. It's social suicide, of course. It earns me lots of stares--some curious, some dubious--and very few hellos. Children are afraid of me. But it keeps me alive and mostly well. 
I will not lie to you. None of these things have come easily. It's been a slow, laborious process. Each component was implemented during a different season of my illness, and some of them have required a great deal of courage and trust. The battle for my health is costly in every way something can be costly, but it is not waged out of angst, bitterness or desperation. Mysteriously, the God of Paradoxes has created a paradox within me--I gratefully accept my disease as a good gift given out of God's righteous wisdom while I fight the disease like the assault from the Enemy it is.

It's a tug of war. Gratitude and desire. Contentment and fury. Surrender to the Lord and defiance of the Enemy. The rope must remain taut or I fall. It's exhausting and impossible apart from Christ. But through Him, I can do all things. He is the strength of my resolve, the power behind my work, and the song in my heart.

"Unless the Lord had been my help
my soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, 'My foot slips,' 
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul."
-Psalm 94:17-19

Afraid to Hope: My Feelings About Mayo

From the moment I made the decision to go to Mayo Clinic, I doubted myself. Not for a moment have I truly believed I will receive help there. Not for a moment. The best outcome I can foresee is a possible diagnosis, and I am not certain I will even receive that. I have changed my mind a hundred times. The question I have asked again and again is, "Is a diagnosis worth risking my life and health, leaving my husband and children for a long period of time, placing this burden upon my entire family, lending myself to the mercy of doctors and a system I do not trust, subjecting myself to a myriad of dangerous and painful tests, and incurring an incredible medical debt?"

My mind answers with a resounding "no." I have done my research. I am aware of the recommended treatments for mast cell activation diseases, and I have tried them. They didn't help. Thus, I turned to natural medicine. I stand by my choice. I am aware of several people with mast cell disease who have improved using natural methods. Looking to Mayo feels like a betrayal of my beliefs. The idea of leaving my husband and children for an indeterminate amount of time grips my heart with steel and ice. When I imagine what it will be like up there, I cannot breathe. But when I stop mentally listing the meager pros and numerous cons and bring my struggle before the Lord, I am enveloped in an ubiquitous sense of peace I cannot argue away.


During the early pitch black hours of February 1, thought and spirit were battling once again when I recalled the story of Gideon. I had read Judges 6 the morning before. The story begins with Gideon threshing grain in secret for fear of the greedy, destructive Midianites who were oppressing Israel at the time. In his fear, the Lord declares to Gideon, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (v. 12) God tells Gideon he will save Israel from the Midianites, but he was slow to believe. Gideon was least in his father's house and of the weakest clan of his tribe (v. 15) and very like me--lily-livered. He felt the enormity of the calling, and it terrified him. He knew he would not be able to take the first step unless he was beyond certain the Lord was with him. So he asked for a sign. And another. And another--until he was forced to believe the word of Yaweh.

When I read the story, I certainly identified with Gideon, but what struck me is God's response. God could have passed him over or killed him for his lack of faith, but He patiently fulfilled all three signs--each one slightly more ridiculous than the one before. The reason for God's patience, I think, is that He saw in Gideon a heart willing to obey Him even to his death if only he could be sure it was God leading him there. I think this resolve is the reason God calls him "a man of valor." He doubted himself, not God. So the Lord did what was necessary to meet Gideon where he was in his mustard seed sized faith, proving to His man that He was with him. It was God's response to Gideon that gave me the courage to ask Him for a sign of my own.

Up until then, I was trusting the fulfilled sign my mother had been given, the wisdom of the three praying women I consider to be my spiritual mentors, and the deep seated feeling in the center of my stomach telling me to go in spite of my hesitation. For a person with a bit more faith, these things probably would have been sufficient. But I am like Thomas--disbelieving the evidence of my own eyes because my mind is so assured of the facts.

I told Him I couldn't go to Mayo unless I was absolutely certain He wanted it. I couldn't do it to myself or my family. I could only go if I knew. So I asked God to do something simultaneously difficult and easy. I asked for a good word about Mayo from an unbiased source if I was to go and a bad word about Mayo from an unbiased source if I was not to go. I told Him I wouldn't make an appointment until I had an answer. I was honestly hoping I wouldn't have to make an appointment at all.

The sign was difficult because I don't often speak with unbiased sources. I see or hear from about ten people on a weekly basis, and two of those are my kids. Everyone close to me has an agenda, and though those agendas differ, the aim of them all is my improvement. These people love me fiercely, and they all have different opinions about what is best for me. Not one of them was qualified to give the word. So that left phone calls and Facebook, and it's unusual to get an unbiased opinion on Facebook. The request was also easy because it was just a word and well--it's God. He can make a donkey speak if He wants.

On February 5, I was driving into town for an appointment and making conversation with Jesus. I told Him that I knew how He did things. I knew He was going to wait until the last possible minute to deliver the sign. He may even seem late to me, but I believed He would send the word. I was watching and waiting for it.

Later that evening, I had an impromptu Skype session with my friend, Madonna Gil. I don't remember which one of us brought up the topic--Madonna told me she had considered going to Mayo for her own disease, but she wasn't sure they could do anything for her. As she said this, I was preparing to tell her about the sign I had asked of the Lord. Before I could get it out of my mouth, she told me that her former roommate's parents had both gone to Mayo, had loved it and strongly encouraged her and anyone to go.

There it was: an entirely unbiased good word. Madonna even echoed my own feelings about the place. I told the Lord only a few hours prior that I was watching and waiting. The sign was on the tip of my tongue as she gave it. And still I tried to explain it away! I argued details like "It wasn't her experience" and "I may have been the one to bring up the subject, so it doesn't count." I didn't know how badly I didn't want to go until that moment. A corner of my mind fretted and prayed about the thing as my friend and I continued our conversation until a sharp, clear command rolled across my brain like one of those moving LED banner screens--"Stop! I have delivered the sign you asked for just as you asked for it."

I shared the entire story with my friend before we ended our conversation. "You were the mouthpiece of God for me today, and I hate you just a little bit for it," I told her with a smile. "I wanted the answer to be 'no.'"

I thought about what I was going to have to do as I laid upon my bed that night, which resulted in an acute panic attack. I thought about how I'm going to be in a nasty, toxic hotel room that will make me very sick, how I'm going to have to go into a hospital full of chemicals and people and doctors who are going to look at me like a commitable lunatic, how I'm going to have to subject myself to tests which could be extremely painful and even life threatening for me, how I'm going to be so very lonely even with my mother there, how I'm going to yearn for my husband and children, how I'm going to be the sickest I've ever been in my life, how hard it's going to be to source and prepare food I can eat while being that sick, how much it will cost, how I could get sicker or even die while there. And all for what? A diagnosis?

In my turmoil, I remembered that God is not the author of fear. I found some peace through prayer and scripture which came to mind. I acknowledged that God was within His rights to send me to my death if He wished, and if He was going to kill me, I was sure He had a perfectly good reason.

Real peace came the next morning. I was reading Judges 13 in which the Angel of the Lord came to Manoah and his wife to tell them they would have a son who would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. Manoah offered to prepare a meal for the Angel before He left them, but Manoah was instructed to offer a burnt offering instead. The Lord ascended to heaven on the flame of the offering, and the spectacle was so magnificent that Manoah and his wife fell on their faces. Manoah lamented that he would surely die because he had seen the glory of the Lord.

"But his wife said to him, 'If the Lord had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have told us such things as these at this time.'" (Judges 13:23)

Even now, tears spring to my eyes as I ponder God's goodness, faithfulness, kindness and patience.

The Fear immediately retaliated against my joy, attempting to quell the beacon of light shining into my heart. "It will be the darkest hour of your life thus far," he whispered.

A brighter light--"I AM nearest when the night is darkest."

I trembled at the thrilling thought. Oh! How near and precious He has been in the past! Do I dare to imagine greater joy and intimacy? For that I'll go! It will be worth it!

I would like to tell you doubt no longer plagues me, but I can't. I feel like I'm giving up on something I haven't given a fair chance to work. I feel like I'm betraying a part of myself. I really believe in natural, holistic medicine. Though it may not be evident to everyone, I am better because of it. My family is better because of it. When people come to me for advice, I share the gospel of natural medicine as freely as I share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wouldn't do that if I didn't have faith in it.

But natural medicine cannot be my Savior. I already have One, and He demands all of my faith and trust. I do not serve an ideology. I serve a Living God who is wild, multifaceted, unpredictable and relentless. He will do what He wants, how He wants, using who He wants. He has reminded me that just because He is now leading me to Mayo Clinic doesn't mean He is leading me away from natural medicine. Though I am venturing to a new place, I am not to abandon what I have learned. Instead, I will use it as a shield and filter for the next leg of the journey. 

And who knows? I may be wrong. I'm often wrong, and God likes to point out my wrongness at every turn. Maybe they can help me. Whether they can or not, nothing can be allowed greater respect and reverence in my life than the Spirit of the Lord. I am first and foremost His. I am not my own. I must follow where He leads even when I don't understand. Even when I disagree. As Timothy Keller says, "Obedience is hard; disobedience is impossible."

Truly, this is a leap of faith for me. I am diving head first into the unknown. The mist is thick and the darkness deep. I haven't the smallest inkling of how far I will fall or what the terrain is like at the bottom of the abyss. I am afraid to hope. If I hope, I may find myself in a sea of disappointment, and those are treacherous waters indeed. But there is one thing I can count on--no matter how far I fall, "underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27).


Please pray:
  • for peace and courage
  • for needed arrangements (private flight, hotel with kitchen, local source of safe food, appointments, child care, family care, transportation while we are there)
  • for the doctors I will see
  • for all of God's purposes to be fulfilled
  • for safety
  • for my man and kids
I will call in a couple of weeks to set up my appointments. I will update here as things unfold. I am excited to experience and share what God has in store!

Update:

My body is still struggling with daily reactions, fatigue and insomnia. Recently, my pain has been especially bad, particularly in my joints and lower back. I am very excited to report that Jennifer Nervo, a nutritional therapist and author of the blog 20 Something Allergies has taken on my case. The idea is to thoughtfully nourish myself to better health! Once I begin dietary and supplemental protocol, I will post regular reports of my improvement on Facebook and/or here. 

Also, I have an opportunity to safely attend church now! My grandparents' congregation is small, and only a handful of regular attendees go to the Sunday night service. My grandparents have offered to ask everyone to omit their fragrances for my sake. When I am feeling strong and well, I will attend services there. I am thrilled! I have really missed church!

Jubilee Farm

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I so enjoy gathering with family over a delicious, bountiful meal, looking into the faces of those I love. It causes me to ponder Heaven--an eternal feast with our Savior and the family of God. My heart flies with joy in the day and hope for the future. Christmas is great, but we have brought much "doing" into it. Thanksgiving still allows me to "just be" with beloved souls as I contemplate the goodness of God.

For as long as I can remember, my mother's family has gathered in my grandparents' living room on Thanksgiving night. Before the feast, we bless the meal and share one thing for which we are grateful. We have so many blessings from which to choose. The room which once seemed spacious is now quite snug due to the marriages and babies of my generation. There is food enough to fill us all. We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Our answers range from "toilet paper" to "Jesus Christ" with many things in between. There is always laughter. There is always at least one "amen."

Due to my extreme sensitivities, I will not be able to join them this year. The thought saddens me, but I don't see why I have to break from all tradition. If I could be with them tonight, upon my turn to give thanks, I would answer, "Jubilee Farm."

To truly appreciate my answer, a story must be told.

Early in 2012, my dad had a difficult decision to make. He could retire at the end of the school year, or continue a job he no longer enjoyed in order to secure a more comfortable retirement. Dad's health was deteriorating, but if he resigned my parents would no longer be able to afford their house. Mom encouraged him to retire anyway.

My parents brainstormed about possible jobs my dad could do. A bad back is a bigger obstacle than one might think when considering a career change at the age of 60. They asked the Lord to guide them, and waited with eyes wide open.

One day, Mom came upon Proverbs 27:27--"There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls." (ESV)

She shared the scripture with Dad. "Maybe you could farm," Mom suggested. "You can grow our food, and maybe even make a little money." Dad once wanted to farm for a living, but his grandparents discouraged him so he went to college instead. Mom has always dreamed of a Little House on the Prairie lifestyle. It was a crazy idea, but my parents are just the right kind of crazy for this brand of adventure. 

If my parents were to become farmers, they needed to sell their house and find some land. They discussed moving closer to Farmerville to be nearer to Mom's parents and my family. Mom asked her dad to look for property outside of Farmerville. In no time at all, he secured the twelve acres which would become Jubilee Farm.

But there was one small problem: to buy a farm you need money, and money was something my parents did not have. Mom's parents agreed to help. They covered the cost of the land with Mom's inheritance and a promissory note which Mom and Dad would pay within a year upon the sale of their house. It didn't quite work out that way. Eighteen months later, they still haven't sold their house. Instead, they paid the difference with Dad's inheritance, which came in only a few weeks ago. Talk about a leap of faith....

After Brandon took a walk on the new property and had a talk with my dad about the merits of reducing and eliminating debt, Brandon came home to me one May afternoon with the looney notion of selling our house, buying a trailer and forming a commune with my parents and sister on the farm-to-be. My health was tanking at the time. "It would be nice to have your parents close by," he said. I thought he had lost his mind. But eventually, I lost mine, too, and we became the first family to take up residence on Jubilee Farm. 

The land here--it isn't prime property. This place used to be a dump. Literally. There is a lifetime's worth of glass shards in our front yard. Three pipelines run through it, and there isn't a lot of marketable timber. It's rutted, weedy and wild. It isn't pretty. The soil is acidic and rock hard, which is the opposite of good farmland. However, it's lack of apparent potential made it affordable, which is what we needed. And we know that the Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord sees deeper and farther (1 Samuel 16:7). He saw potential and beauty, and helped us see it, too. Even Jenny, who visited before many improvements were made, declared the property possessed "a blessed quality."

In January, I shared the story of how Jubilee Farm earned her name. What I didn't share is the passage the Lord used to speak a blessing over our little farm. I read it in January, just before Mom's Jubilee Birthday celebration, and inscribed it in her birthday journal.

"You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water; 
You provide their grain,
for so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers, 
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your goodness,
and Your paths drip with abundance.
They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
and the little hills rejoice on every side.
The pastures are clothed with flocks;
The valleys also are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, they also sing."
-Psalm 65:9-13

Brandon tilled the ground. Dad put his Master Gardener's knowledge to use, and balanced the pH of the soil. In March, we planted the gorgeous baby plants the Yakaboskis sold to us, and watched them grow. The work suited Dad, even with his bad back. It actually made him feel better.


 

Unfortunately, some mistakes were made. Overwhelmed by the bug population trying to eat our lovely little plants, Dad used a mild pesticide early in the season. In his defense, almost no one around here has much success at organic gardening. He simply gave in to what the Master Gardener class taught him, and what other gardeners do themselves. But it didn't kill the bugs, and I couldn't eat the first of the produce as a result. Later, he tried a more potent pesticide. I didn't know he was spraying again, and walked outside with the kids about 20 minutes after everything had been doused. The poison, which is a neurotoxin, almost killed me. I do not exaggerate.

The initial exposure is the worst reaction I have had to date, and there were long term effects. It put me in the bed for weeks, and set my health on a steep decline. I made some mistakes of my own, and found myself unable to eat or drink again during the first week of June. I was watching all of that gorgeous food come into my kitchen, and couldn't eat a bite of it. I struggled to believe God's promise to me that I would live because I felt like I was dying. I will not rewrite what has already been written, but it is important to note that a prayer meeting took place on my behalf and things drastically changed afterward. 

Yes, mistakes were made, but God trumped them all. Within a few days, I was eating again. Granted, it was only raw eggs and cream of rice cereal at first, but when I began to eat "real food," I could suddenly eat from the garden. Zucchini, squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers, onions, cabbage, all of it! I could even eat watermelon to which I have been allergic for years. I could eat foods then that I cannot eat today. And best of all--the food was healing my body. As I ate, I could feel a gentle tingle throughout, almost as if I was feeling the healing taking place at a cellular level. I will never forget the sensation.






When I finally climbed out of survival mode, I realized how well our garden was doing. Others gardeners would comment that their gardens weren't doing as well, and they had years of experience. Rains came regularly and at the right times, nourishing the plants and washing away the poison. Dad, determined to never use pesticides again, began to pick off the potato bugs and tomato eating worms by hand. The Louisiana summer was not overly hot. We grew enough safe, beautiful food to feed our families, to share with our friends and to sell at nearby markets well into the month of July.

The excitement we experienced in the summer is mostly over now. We have greens to look forward to, but a recent frost killed our squashes and only a few green tomatoes remain to be fried. But when I look back at what came to pass, I tear up a little. 

God used the garden to save my life. The thought leaves me speechless. 

It overwhelms me that as early as the spring of 2012, God was actively answering the prayers offered for me in June 2013. Think about this--as you make your requests before God today, His answer is already in the works. He resides in our past, present and future, and is not bound by time or money or our limitations or our mistakes. He reigns over all. And He is building with us a rapport of faithfulness so when the next trial comes, we can say with greater assurance, "God, You are faithful, and You are good. I trust you."


I am thankful for Jubilee Farm. I am thankful for what she says about my God. He is the ultimate Gardener, enriching the soil and the soul, bringing the rain and sunshine as needed for growth. He crowns the year with goodness. He makes our paths drip with abundance.

Happy Thanksgiving.





But YES The Hippopotamus

Much has changed for the hippopotamus over the course of a month. It is my utmost pleasure to report all changes have been good, encouraging and praiseworthy! Like the heat and humidity of this long, Louisiana summer, the intensity of my crucible has receded, and a new season has come.

Light breezes sometimes carry the scent of burning leaf piles to Jubilee Farm. Fall squashes and bitter greens grace our table almost daily. Blackeyed susans line our red clay road. A lone scarlet leaf skipped and tumbled past my feet on our last walk. Autumn has come quietly, but soon she will burst into robust song. As the season goes, so--I believe--will I.

All change requires a catalyst--even natural change and especially personal change. We people are resistant to the seam ripping and pinpricks that go into being tailored to fit our individually designed purposes. Autumn rides in on the breath of God, which tilts the planet just so. The new developments in my story were heralded by a similar wind. God has spoken. Through his Living Word, through dreams, in provisions and circumstances, He has delivered the same message over and over: "Come out of that cocoon, Little Coward, and trust me."

Two days before my last post, Jenny asked me to stand in her wedding. (She and her husband never had a wedding.) The evening after the post was published, my sister called to ask me to stand in hers. In a period of three days, I was asked to be present at two major life events belonging to two of the most important people in my life. I could not bear to miss either celebration--one of God's power, the other of His grace--and yet I was at a loss as to how I would manage. I barely ventured outdoors due to danger. How could I knowingly stand before a room full of people doused in all manner of harmful chemicals without upstaging the bride with a horrible reaction? My sardonic sense of humor replied with, "You could always be her something blue."

Fortunately, the Lord rescued me from unhelpful, dark humor, and offered me real, practical solutions. While on Facebook one day, I saw a post from a lady who had recommended a particular brand of mask which was effective at filtering fragrances. I searched for the old message, found the link and ordered one rather impulsively, knowing there was a high probability I would not be able to tolerate the mask. Sure enough, I muscle tested the mask when I received it in the mail, and no dice.

For weeks, Dr. Yakaboski had been urging me to call her chiropractor friend, Dr. Lynette Frieden. I put it off  because there was no money. With well over $2,000 in unpaid medical bills, it seemed irresponsible to seek the help of another doctor who may or may not be able to help me. The idea would not leave me alone, however. When I asked Brandon if we could possibly afford it, he said we would make it work somehow.

I am thrilled I went. Dr. Frieden does more than bone manipulation, which was surprisingly helpful in itself. She also performs a particular form of energy medicine called Total Body Modification (TBM). Dr. Frieden actually came to Dr. Yakaboski's office to perform TBM on me in May after my near deadly encounter with a pesticide. I respond so well to TBM that Dr. Yakaboski created a treatment program for me which includes basic TBM and BioSet. I receive this treatment weekly in her office, and we use it at home as a rescue remedy in lieu of Benadryl and epinephrine since I no longer tolerate either drug. It totally looks like voodoo, but it works. And it's not voodoo. It's science.

Anyway, I have seen Dr. Frieden three times. I now have more energy and less pain. I can tolerate the smells of essential oils, which I have wanted to use for medicinal purposes. My neuropathy has calmed way down so I no longer feel stinging sensations all over my body several times a day. My monthly discomfort is greatly reduced. I now tolerate the new "super mask." And in what may be the most exciting development of all, I am sleeping better.

To further support better sleeping habits, I stopped napping, opting for light exercise and a bath instead. Yoga has proven especially beneficial. Certain poses grant me pain relief and an energy boost. After only two weeks, I am stronger and less depressed.

Feeling better has made me braver. I have been intentionally doing (reasonable) things that scare me. I began small. For my first attempt, I set up a picnic for the kids on the back porch. The next step was a short walk down the road. Walks turned into swinging little red heads and looking on while they play in the sandbox. The fear fueled vigilance I kept on my first few outings ebbed little by little. I can now relax, notice smiling flowers and enjoy my children. Yesterday, I only startled once when something flew buzzing into my face.



In spite of my improvements, unless God had moved hearts other than my own, I would yet be a self-imposed prisoner in my home. My Nona has been inviting me over for Saturday afternoon coffee for weeks. Finally, my mother acted as chauffeur to ensure I actually went. That was almost two weeks ago. I did not return home perfectly well nor extremely sick, and I very much enjoyed the fresh faces, stimulating conversation and my herbal tea.

To build upon my motivation to get out and get going, a college friend and a family friend who attends the church in which I grew up both shared they had dreams about me last week. In the dream of my college friend, I was in the midst of a group of people smelling a wildflower. In the dream of the family friend, I was in my home mingling with a crowd. Lots of children were running around. I learned of both of these dreams within 36 hours. I think it is interesting to note that I have not seen either of these women in years. It seems random, but if you gaze at the situation in the right slant of light, you will see design. God has spoken to me several times through my own dreams. Now He is speaking to me through the dreams of others. How cool is that?

I was given a dream this summer which foreshadowed public humiliation, danger and survival. All three aspects were highly likely if I was to do the thing I was considering after learning of the dreams of my friends.

I attempted church on Sunday.

Yes, it was humiliating. Masks draw attention--more so than protective gloves, might I add. I would have preferred being invisible over the stares I received. Yes, it was dangerous. Even through my "super mask," the smells were too many and too strong. I reacted, and spent the remainder of the day in bed. And yes. I survived.


I am happy I went. But the best moment of worship on Sunday morning was not in a sanctuary. It was in my car on the way to the service.

You see, I am never aware of the depth of my suffering while I am in the middle of it. Contrary to all reason, I have never been abidingly unhappy in my pain. God has been too good to me in the dark moments. I have hurt. I have bled. I have wept. Yet I have never despaired because I know that Jesus knows and has been there Himself and is there when life becomes unbearable. It is only when God gives something back that I truly taste the bitterness of my cup. The feeling is something akin to a desperate breath searing my lungs after being underwater for too long. In those moments, I have learned to let myself grieve over what I lost. I loose hot tears and sloppy sobs from a deep, hidden vault in my soul. And then I let it go. When I do, tears of mourning become tears of unspeakable joy. My eyes open to what God has done, to the new paragraph He has written. I am struck with wonder. I sense my smallness, my unworthiness, God's enormity and His attention to detail. I am pulled into the cosmic riptide of God's infinite love. Gall transforms into the sweetest wine, and I become intoxicated with His goodness. The suffering is transformed into something glorious, something I can never regret or mourn again!

I think it is important to understand that my little trip to church is not about me. It is about God. To me, to my family, to all of you who have prayed so faithfully, He is saying, "Behold what I have done." He has all but slayed me, but He has brought me back to life. He has taken it all away, and now He is giving it back. He has heard you. He has heard us. And we have only begun to see what He will do.





Lord willing, this hippo will be at Jenny's wedding next weekend. Please pray for my safety and Brandon's peace.