The Secret of the Cosmic Scales

I have been on quite the journey since Thanksgiving. My latest little crisis forced me to face some harsh realities--physically, emotionally and spiritually--and though I am a bit bruised with all the jolting around, I am in a better place for it. The Lord's leading isn't always gentle, but hallelujah!--He never lets go of the hand that reaches for Him.

As our burdens press us, weighing us down, He is present in equal measure, holding us up with His mercies (Psalm 94:18). In Morning by Morning, Charles Spurgeon writes about what I call "The Secret of the Cosmic Scales," based on 2 Corinthians 1:5--"Here is a blessed proportion. The Ruler of providence bears a pair of scales--in this side He puts His people's trials, and in that He puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition. When the scale of trial is full, you will find the scale of consolation just as heavy. When the black clouds gather most, the light is more brightly revealed to us...." (from February 12).

Sometimes the light brings warmth and clarity. Sometimes it exposes the darkest corners of the heart. I have experienced both as you will see in my journal entries. (These entries have been edited for the sake of space, grammar, flow and a small measure of privacy.)



"I think it's time to look into a major research hospital like John Hopkins or Mayo," Mom said. Her thoughts were echoed by my prayerful grandmother later in the day.

Miserable and confused though I am in the wake of my latest reaction and resulting flare, I am not so sure. The words resonate in the deep places, but I am afraid. I fear the danger, the expense, the difficulty, the time away from my kids, the hardship on my family, but most of all I fear the possibility of being disappointed--again. I'm not sure I could take it. If I go, I must know beyond all question God wills it.

Brandon and I are against this, God. So if it is Your will, change our minds.


I talked to Mom on the phone this morning. She has been researching. She believes I have a type of "mast cell activation disease." If so, Mayo is the place to go.

After reading several medical articles about the disease, I am almost certain she is correct. While there is no way to be sure without proper testing, it is the only disease we know of which covers all of my symptoms, and indeed, I have almost all of them. It explains not only everything I am experiencing in this moment, but also what I have experienced throughout my life. I am both thrilled to have answers and saddened to discover there is no cure. Mast cell disease is usually managed by a mountain of medication (which I am unwilling to take) and avoidance of triggers (which I am already doing to the best of my ability).

So, what can they do for me at Mayo? I have already proven that I do not tolerate antihistamines or steroids. I see little point in the exercise. Why go if I cannot tolerate treatment? I can change my diet and continue my routine here.

From Jesus Calling: "Talk with Me about whatever is on your mind, seeking my perspective on the situation. Rather than trying to fix everything that comes to your attention, ask Me to show you what is truly important. Remember that you are en route to heaven, and let your problems fade in the Light of eternity."

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye." --Psalm 32:8

Lord, I give you my problems. Please show me what is important to You.


I suppose there is no harm in running a couple of preliminary tests locally. As clear as a whisper in my ear, God spoke the name, "Dr.__________," which is interesting because of all the doctors I have seen, he may be my least favorite. Sigh. I will call his office.


"Be humble and pretend to be unintelligent," I was advised prior to today's appointment with Dr. ________, but I had already ruined the appointment before I arrived at the office. I was unaware I was speaking with the nurse when I scheduled the appointment the day before. My words were pretty snarky and sarcastic, which alerted me to something rotten within myself. I said stupid things stupidly. From the moment the nurse attached my face to my name and voice, she was cold. As was Dr.___________. He was obviously warned of me. He probably remembered me, too, which couldn't help.

I took the advice I was given. I was soft spoken. I put my inner Hermione Granger aside, and pretended to be clueless. But he called me out when he grew tired of listening to my long list of symptoms for the second time. "So what would you like me to do? Why are you here?" he asked. Because I had told the nurse which tests I wanted run when I scheduled the appointment, he already knew the answer to the question and was waiting for me to ask. The entire exercise was awkward and unpleasant, and it's all my fault. He softened just a bit at the end of the appointment when I said, "I appreciate all your help," but irrevocable damage has been done by my lack of discretion. The fact that he thinks I'm a hypochondriac doesn't help matters.

However, I have learned something about myself from the experience: I have been deeply hurt, and I blame medical doctors for my pain. But that isn't fair. First of all, no doctor goes about trying to hurt his patients. They may not always know how to help, but they never intentionally do harm. Also, Dr. ____________ tried to run these tests 18 months ago. I apparently refused them though I have no recollection of the term "tryptase" prior to last week, and if I did, I certainly wouldn't have understood the significance then. Doctors are only human. They have all been blinded until now. The doctors did not cause my suffering; God did. God blinded them.

For years, I have blamed doctors for their poor and inadequate treatment when the truth is that God could have turned on a light bulb for any one of them had He wanted to. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that He didn't want to. He has me on a journey, and the destination is not all about physical healing. It may not be about that at all. He has a purpose in mind, and His purposes are all good whether or not they include diagnosis, treatment and healing. I have to let go of my pain which comes from the anger, defensiveness, and blame I feel toward the medical community, which I now need. Doctors are not my enemy. 

Here I am, Lord. I blame You. I blame You, and I thank you for my pain; not because pain is good, but because You are good and you mean this pain for my good. My pain, my deep hurt, is a mercy because it sends me to You. I acknowledge that you have darkened minds and will shine a light when and where and upon whom You will.


As I was crying moments ago over the life and death of David Brainerd as told in Piper's The Hidden Smile of God, the thought came to me--"How carelessly Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards regarded health." In answer, God replied, "And you hold it altogether too precious." Out of the exchange flowed a liquid revelation. I could only float along--

I must be careful to view my health, whether good or poor, as a tool for God to wield as He desires for His glory. It is better to hold it in mean esteem than to hold it too dear. Souls are at stake. My soul, Brandon's soul, the souls of my children and whoever else God places in the wake of this illness. Eternal souls are far more precious than mortal lives, than my mortal life. I must be careful of idolatry.


I don't know the correct course. Every time I think I know the next several steps to take, I encounter something which holds me back. I am still "The Planner." I want to know what's next and prepare myself, but God is asking me to trust, to wait, to obey. I remind myself my burden is light in comparison to the weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).


Struck with insomnia once again, I spent some dark, quiet moments in prayer tonight before rising out of bed to write. At least insomnia can be useful. I was praying for ____________ and ______________, telling the Lord how hopeless their situations seemed to me. He spoke the word "seemed" back to me with emphasis. Because of Jesus, no situation is truly hopeless. Their is hope in life and in death "because we do not look at the things which are seen but the things which are unseen because the things which are seen are temporary [not real] and the things which are unseen are eternal [true, real] (2 Corinthians 4:18)." So I prayed for them and others and myself that we would all have eternal eyes, that we would know "the hope of [our] calling, the glorious riches of [our] inheritance in the saints and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19)."


My test results all came back negative. All this means is that I am unlikely to have systemic mastocytosis, and I will receive no further help from Dr. _________ unless it's a psychiatric referral. I don't know what to do. A big part of me just wants to drop it, and continue as I am. I feel no inclination to pursue diagnosis or avoid it. I feel totally at peace. I will put this aside until after Hannah's wedding. I must concentrate on being well enough to attend.


I was able to attend the wedding with very few complications. Praise the Lord! On Sunday, I wrestled as I rested and recovered. It was not a struggle of fear. I was simply asking as Abraham did in Genesis 15, "Oh Lord God, how shall I know?" I was back and forth on whether to pursue things further, feeling like I should but questioning my motives and weighing the cost.

I found a couple of mast cell disease groups on Facebook, and read several posts. As I read the stories and questions of others, I began to understand the value of a diagnosis. We must understand things in our minds at some level before our hearts can believe them. I needed to know the practical points of having a diagnosis before being convicted of its worth.

1) Without a diagnosis, I can get very little accomplished in the medical community. Running tests and getting at-home care have proven to be a bit of a nightmare. With a diagnosis, the specialists I encounter are less likely to think of me as a nutter and actually work with me.

2) If I ever have an accident or need surgery, I need a diagnosis in my records so the doctors/surgeons will know to be careful with me and be prepared for life threatening situations during and after surgery.

3) If something happens to Brandon and I am unable to work, I need to be able to apply for disability. I must have a diagnosis to do that.

4) Many conditions are genetic. It is important I know what is wrong with me so I can better care for my children. They already share several of my symptoms though theirs are not as severe at this time.

And there are other reasons. Shallow and stupid though it is, I want a name to give people when they ask me what is wrong with me. I don't care they won't understand the name or what it means; I just want to be able to give an explanation in five words or less. Knowing what is wrong will give me better insight in caring for myself. I will likely continue with natural medicine exclusively because antihistamines and steroids have turned on me in the past and because I have found mast cell disease patients who are doing quite well only using natural protocol, but it is never a bad thing to know the treatment options. Also, I have a rabid curiosity that needs to be put down. And I can trust that whatever it is that is wrong with me, whether it's mast cell disease or something else, Mayo will dig until they find it.

It was Monday morning before I officially decided I would pursue diagnosis with Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I also decided I will wait until May. I will have to be away for a minimum of two weeks, so we will need all hands on deck. My mom finishes school in early May. She may actually be my travel companion due to the length of the stay and her background in medical laboratory science. Six months also gives me time to arrange my affairs. If we fly, I will have to arrange a private flight. Driving will require lots of planning. I need to find a suitable place to stay. Hotel rooms do atrocious things to my health. The kids will need looking after. And six months gives God time to redirect us if He wishes.

I have been consistently asking God for clarity, and He gave it to me Monday night. My sweet friend, Caroline, who is much like me in health and beliefs about healing, is also in the middle of a health crisis. In rare form, she visited the ER the other night and was referred to none other than Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She spent the day there today (Tuesday). We often find ourselves on similar wavelengths concerning our health. I was astounded that the day I made my decision, she was referred to the very hospital we have chosen. How very kind of God to confirm my decision in such a clear, personal way!

So you see, on one side of my "cosmic scales" sat a health crisis and all the grief that accompanies it, a big decision, revelation and repentance of hidden sin, and a major family event. On the other was God's exquisite nearness, loving rebuke, clear direction and extravagant goodness. I am still amazed that I am happiest when life gets hard, but that is the reality of life lived with Jesus Christ.

You may be struggling as I am to "get into the Christmas spirit" this year. I haven't been in the mood for festivities. I haven't had much patience for Christmas pop tunes. Give me Christmas worship! Worship is what the heavy-laden spirit needs. I invite you to experience with me the greatest gift of Christmas--Emmanuel, God with us. No matter the brand or weight of your suffering, God sees. He knows. He cares. Little or big. Sickness or grief. Draw near to Him this Christmas season. Rest your head upon His breast. Allow Him to fill your loneliness, provide balm to your wounds and bring joy to your sorrow. Blessed are you if you mourn. You will be comforted. Blessed are you if you hunger. You will be satisfied. (Matthew 5)

"Troubled believer, do not fret over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies."
--Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, February 12.

"Frankly, My Dear, You Have Been Floxed"

When I heard the words, "you have been floxed," spoken by Dr. Jess Armine during Friday afternoon's consult, I did not understand what they meant or even know if they were true. After some detective work, which required a long string of phone calls, I was left with the feeling that the breath had been knocked out of my lungs. Crushed. Bruised. Betrayed by the God I love. I took the kids outside to distract myself so I could gather some control. Only a few steps out my door, I fell to my knees in my sister's gravel driveway sobbing so forcefully I thought I might vomit. My kids saw, but took it in stride. The children of sick mothers are like lion cubs, unaware they are too small and dependent to be so brave.

The last couple of weeks have conditioned my babies into a c'est la vie mindset. On Sunday, May 5, I was exposed to a pesticide that sent me into toxic shock and put me in bed for a week. On Mother's Day, I finally emerged from my sickbed only to quickly return when my children arrived home from church smelling strongly of perfume. I was unable to hold my children at all that day. Eight baths and four days later, I could still smell the perfume at the nap of Sara's neck. For the first time ever, I was forced to wear my mask in my own home. Sara hates my mask.

Mealtime has also been strange and sketchy. Although I have been following gut-healing protocol religiously for over 7 months, my digestive health has been declining rapidly. Old allergies have reemerged. New ones have developed, seemingly for no reason. Since Wednesday, most of my diet has consisted of eggs, rice cereal and boiled squash and broccoli, and no two meals are exactly the same. I may be able to tolerate eggs at breakfast, but that doesn't make them safe for lunch. I now have to muscle test everything before I put it into or onto my body, or risk an anaphylactic reaction that will put me back in bed. Regardless of how gentle the meal, I experience digestive pain after eating. I also grow very lethargic, as if all the resources of my body are expended upon digesting my food. For the last several days, someone (sometimes me) has made a meal for Brandon and the kids. While they are eating, I proceed to muscle test several foods to see what my body will accept. I make my meal, and sit down to eat as the family finishes. Mealtimes have been our main family time until recently, which makes this small upset feel bigger than it is.

With the exception of Tuesday night of last week, I have not been well enough to bathe my children for over two weeks. Everyone misses me bathing the kids, especially me! I love bath time! When bathed by someone other than Brandon or me, they often cry and throw angry tantrums. The night I bathed them, they smiled, played and laughed heartily.

 I asked Micah, "Did you miss Mommy giving you a bath?"

He nodded his sweet, red head.

"What did you miss?" I asked, fishing for a compliment. I was rewarded.

"I miss the way you wash my hair," he said quietly.

My little guy is particular, and he likes that I anticipate his wishes. I warm a towel for him in the dryer. I give him a large washcloth with which he covers his eyes while I pour water over his head, carefully avoiding his eyes and ears. He expects cuddles once he is out of the tub and wrapped in his warm towel, and likes to be dressed in the bathroom with the door closed. Sara likes routine, too, and feels her life is ruined when I am not around to meet her every desire. But they accept their lots and manage, as must everyone who lives under this small roof.

I have been struggling to understand my lot. I was doing everything I knew to do, and I knew a lot. I was eating perfectly. I was making my own hygiene and household products. I was getting sunshine, fresh air and light exercise. I was often upbeat and positive despite my circumstances. I was praying for healing, fully believing it would come. Yet I was getting sicker, which is a terrifying thing. After consults with Sterling Hill (an expert in epigenetics) and Dr. Jess Armine (a methylation specialist), I now understand. Understanding has been soul-rending.

As soon as my DNA results from 23andme arrived, Dr. Yakaboski contacted Sterling, who quickly began translating my results using her fabulous genetic charting system. On Tuesday, she explained the chart and gave me an overview of my results. While Dr. Yakaboski was on vacation, she arranged a consult with Dr. Jess even before the blood work he had requested had been sent off. He was kind enough to agree.

At the beginning of the consult, Dr. Jess was careful to explain that I am not the sum of my genetic abnormalities, which is a relief because I have a ton of them. My DNA may predispose me to certain conditions, but the presence of an abnormal gene does automatically indicate the abnormality is expressing. However, many of my less savory genes are expressing. To make matters worse, I possess combinations of genetic abnormalities that are particularly unhelpful when they are present together. My problems extend beyond what I will discuss in this post, but I will cover the issues we are addressing at the moment.

Dr. Jess is unsure of the order in which my problems began. I am genetically predisposed to have leaky gut syndrome, IgE elevation (allergic response), DAO enzyme deficiency (DAO breaks down histamine), IgA deficiency (contributes to inflammation and slow healing), etc. From what I understand, as my gut continues to leak food molecules and toxins into my blood, my body recognizes these "bad guys" as antigens. Antibodies form to attack the antigens, and memory cells are created. When the same antigen presents again my antibodies remember it, and my reaction worsens, raising histamine levels (which I am unable to break down) and causing anaphylaxsis. My leaky gut has exacerbated my inflammation problem to the point that I am now in an autoimmune state. My body is attacking itself, causing Hashimoto's hypothyroidism and adrenal exhaustion among other problems.

Furthermore, I do not methylate properly. The A1298c mutation Dr. Cave discovered was just the tip of the iceberg. My methylation processes are in sad, sad shape. Methylation is an essential biological process. If the body is not methylating well, the body is not operating well. My body is not metabolizing folate or detoxing properly, contributing to my steady descent. I also have a gene (VDR--Vitamin D Receptor) which will make it difficult to donate methyl groups to my cells, so I'm going to be tricky to if my insane allergies and leaky gut make it easy in the first place.

Now for the part that is so very difficult for me to comprehend--My mitochondria (power houses of the cells) are genetically predisposed to dysfunction. They probably have not been working properly for quite some time. In November, I put something in my body that--as Dr. Jess explained--was "equivalent to dropping an A-bomb on my mitochondria." If you have have been following my blog for awhile, you may remember from this post that my doctor in Baton Rouge found the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa imbedded in the lining of my gut. To effectively kill this bacteria, I was prescribed Cipro, an antibiotic from the fluoroquinolone drug family. Due to a genetic predisposition and very bad luck, I am now a victim of fluoroquinolone antibiotic toxicity, meaning my already fragile mitochondria have been devastated. Thus, my body is currently unable to heal. So no matter how perfectly I follow GAPS or a natural lifestyle, without intervention, I cannot get better. 

The severe effects of this toxicity (burning pain, shooting pain, numbness, tingling, dizziness, dyspraxia, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, memory loss, extreme chemical sensitivity, impaired concentration, joint pain, tendon ruptures, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, hallucinations, dementia, schizophrenia, muscle deterioration, and weight loss to name a few) are not the most crushing aspect of this diagnosis. Last summer, my family prayed so intensely for healing. We are sure God led us to Dr. Cave in answer to those prayers, which means one of two things--either we do not know our Shepherd's voice or.......this is His doing. I reject the first option. It's unbiblical. I know my Shepherd's voice, and I follow. Within seconds I landed here--God led me to this crucible.

The feeling of cosmic betrayal is very real. I cannot approach the question of "why" without heartbroken tears. With the psalmist, I cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1). Never before have I experienced a pain so severe.

Because He is my lifelong Lover and Friend, I went to Him, asking Him why He would let this happen to me. He gave answer thus:

"Be glad and rejoice in My mercy. I have considered your trouble. I have known your soul in adversities. I have not shut you up into the hand of the enemy. I have set your feet in a wide place." (Psalm 31:7-8)

"I have not hidden my face from you, My afflicted one. I have heard your cries." (Psalm 22:24)

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

"Do not worry, my child. No weapon formed against you shall prosper." (Isaiah 54:17)

"I AM for you. Who can be against you? I did not spare My own Son. No good thing will I withhold from you. In all these things, you will be more than a conqueror through My Son's love. You will overcome by the blood of the Lamb." (Romans 8:31, 32, 37, and Revelation 12:11)

"Do not fear. You are Mine. I have brought you to this crucible, but I will not abandon you to it. As you walk through this fire, I will be with you. You will not be burned. I am with you." (Isaiah 43:1-2)

"You are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. I was crushed, forsaken and destroyed for you." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

He will not give me a reason, you see, though I have searched and listened intently. I am only given a promise--I do not walk alone. I would love a little insight, a straight answer, but I know from experience His promise is enough. He always makes good on His Word.

Neither God nor Dr. Jess left me without hope of healing. I have been given three assignments:

1) Attempt to rebuild a digestive mucous layer by eating up to 2 tablespoons of mucilaginous fiber per day, rotating the fibers. These fibers include ground flax seeds, ground chia seeds, ground slippery elm, ground marshmallow root, and okra pepsin. The hope is that rotation will prevent me from forming an allergy to any of them.

2) Find a form of dibencozide (B-12) that can bypass the gut. I found some drops that I will try to take through my nasal cavity. If that doesn't work, there are other (less savory) ways.

3) Research NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) therapy, and consider joining a clinical trial offered to floxy patients in which NAD is given intravaneously for 4-6 days. The trial will take place in Springfield, LA. As a trial patient, I would only be responsible for the cost of the drug.

Brandon and I have been researching NAD. I will likely participate in the trial. The NAD should be able to "reboot" my mitochondria with little to no side effects, assuming I will tolerate the IV tubing and treatment environment. I am not looking forward to the challenges the trial will present to my family and me, and the treatment will have to be affordable. However, I do believe that God will make a way if it is right for me.

Fluoroquinolone toxicity is a very serious condition. Some people never recover. Some people lose their minds. Some people die. But I do not believe that will be my story. I definitely need a miracle, and I believe I'm going to get one. I believe I can be healthier than I have ever been, but I'm not putting my hope in clinical trials or doctors (as wonderful and generous as they are) or even healing. I'm putting my hope in Christ. It may seem a crazy move to place my trust in the One who put me in this awful place. But I owe Him everything. There is nothing He could ask that He doesn't deserve. He experienced far worse than the hell I'm in when He was hanging on the cross to make good on my sin. He stayed there though it was within His power to call the whole thing off so that one day I would be safe and whole with Him eternally, when none of this, however long and hard it proves to be, will matter. He has been in my place and worse to save something more important than my body--my soul--so that even if I depart this life under the worst of circumstances, who I really am will not come to an end.

I am not my diagnosis. I am not the sum of my DNA. I am not this sickness. I am something more, something of infinite value, something Jesus Christ gave everything He had to salvage. That is what truly matters. That is what will last. Not this nightmare. And maybe, through these trials, my brave, little cubs may catch a glimpse of their own infinite value, and get a foretaste of the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ. It will all be worth it. And it will all work for good.


I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, in love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

'Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way 
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once He'd answer my request;
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried;
"Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?"
"Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in Me."

--John Newton

Disclaimer: I do not hold Dr. Cave responsible for the damaging effects of fluoroquinolone antibiotic toxicity. She simply did what she knew to do. Fluoroquinolone drugs are prescribed widely throughout the world, and there is no way to predict when or to whom this toxicity may occur.

The Rough Landing and a Journey

On this day a year ago, I crash landed into the world of chronic illness. I had been sick for a long time prior, but the anaphylactic reaction that took place on May 2, 2012 flipped my world upside down entirely, and I haven’t been able to right it since. I easily recall the emotional trauma of those early days. I remember thinking my life was over, that if I didn’t die I might want to. Today, I smile wisely and compassionately at the scared, broken young woman I was a year ago because the woman I am today knows the girl’s life was far from over. Rather, she was standing at the threshold of something new entirely, something the girl had secretly longed for her entire life--adventure. 

I have always been a girl with a plan. Those plans usually involve safety and comfort, so I was an unlikely, ill-prepared candidate for an adventure as adventures are never safe or comfortable. My first steps were as awkward and faltering as those of a newborn fawn. Every time I finally found my stride, the terrain would inevitably change, forcing me to adjust. Again. At times, I have forgotten my destination. When I manage to remember my heading, I forget to enjoy the journey. I am fairly certain even the pre-There and Back Again Bilbo Baggins would have been a more promising candidate for this sort of thing than me, but alas--this is my road to haul......minus the cool factor of elves, dwarves, hobbits and Gandalf.

Slowly, I am learning that "promising" isn't on the list of prerequisites for the reluctant adventurer. As a matter of fact, the only thing necessary on an unexpected journey is the decision to take a step. And then another. After that, it is all about a metamorphosis over which the adventurer has little to no control.

Truly, everything has changed. From my appearance to my diet to my habits to my home (we bought a farm!), I am not who I once was.

 June 2012
 August 2012
 January 2013
April 2013
(A mask is now a necessary accessory for all public outings.)

Much of my outward beauty has faded over the past year, but that just happens on adventures. For awhile, you care and then you realize that other things are more important--like putting your energy into taking care of sick babies, cooking dinner for hungry co-adventurers, or foraging for healing herbs down by the creek.

As I am an Hermione at heart, I have done a ton of reading and research to plot my best course. Along the way, I have picked up a lot of tools to add to my arsenal. Many of you probably consider my ways very quacky. That's okay. Thank God we are all different! But don't knock it because it's weird. Remember that all adventurers possess a certain amount insanity! Also remember that life has a way of making you eat your words.....and thoughts. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience.

I have acquired new skills, and continue to acquire them all the time. I can cook! I can ferment! I can make my own hygiene products! My co-adventurer husband (aka Superman) is learning to farm! This summer, I will have to learn to harvest, can, preserve, blanch and freeze. Bring it!

A year ago, I was afraid all of the time.....of everything. Those days are over. I still feel fear, but usually only when wasps are involved. And even I have recently stood my ground with a wasp, armed with nothing but a flimsy fly-swat and poor coordination. Months ago, the pain and fatigue (which I have fondly named Mildred and Gertrude) I live with every day kept me from doing things I wanted to do. No more. Hunger continues to be a formidable foe. I still become quite grumpy when hungry, but I have learned to live without monster cookies and gluten-free donuts, which is something. I don't even miss them anymore. Give me carrot "fries," chicken soup and chocolate pudding made with avocados and dates any day of the week! Herbal teas are also becoming a favorite of this former coffee drinker.

Several years ago, I would have scorned the life I live today. If someone had told me that I would become a raging hippy (minus the LSD and free love) who did little else besides stay home, cook, watch plants grow and take care of children, I would have laughed. Or cried. I used to think people like me were very "woo-woo" and boring. And maybe we are. But the point is that I had dreams of being accepted, loved and known for something, and I am none of these things. I fit in with very few people. While I am loved deeply, it is only by a few and many of these are scattered here, there and yonder, hours away from my little life on Jubilee Farm. Because I have disappeared from all of my old social circles, I am largely forgotten outside of social media. At first, my new place in society made me sad, but then I thought of Bilbo. In the Shire, he fit in. He was known and even loved, but the moment he left with the dwarves he fit in nowhere, was known by few and was loved by even fewer. Yet what he did mattered. On this journey, I am learning to embrace the call of being vital to a few rather than optional to many.

The journey has not been easy. I have often despaired. The thrill of adventure has waned, and I feel myself lost in the dark, soaking wet by a never-ending downpour without necessary equipment or adequate rations. The words, "this is too much," have often come to mind recently.

I am not without good company. Many adventurers have despaired along the way. Actually, Good Company is what separates me from all of my favorite storybook travelers. A friend shared these words on Facebook the other day--

"When you say, 'I just can't handle______,' you're preaching to yourself an anti-gospel that forgets the presence and power of Jesus."--Paul David Tripp

Can I get an "ouch!?" Things have been hard. While I am better in some ways, I am sicker in others. I emotionally suffer as those I love dearly physically suffer. There have been disappointments and setbacks and sicknesses and near death experiences, but the last time I checked, Jesus Christ carries the heavy end of my cross. If a situation seems too hard,  I am likely trying to manage it rather than handing it over as I ought. I have forgotten the ultimate Co-Adventurer and the power He possesses. You see, when I'm walking with Him, nothing seems hard. Not really. 

"Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him [you and me] endured the cross." --Hebrews 12:1-2

I am a year into fairly extreme illness. Endurance is vital. The only way I am going to make it is if I look past the temporal mile marker of healing, straight into the eyes of Jesus which are blazing with unfathomable passion for me. He will go to all lengths necessary to get me into His arms, and He will receive me regardless of my lack of qualifications.

"[God] gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."--Isaiah 40:29-31
Sometimes, I am tempted to look back at the blissful ignorance and ease I once enjoyed, but looking back is worse than useless. It's crippling and sinful. 

"But I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of me....forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."--Philippians 3:12-14

 Lot's wife looked back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Israel, while wandering in the desert, languished at the monotony of manna, and cried out for the comforts of her former slavery in Egypt. Looking back says, "God, I don't like where You are taking me. I don't trust You. I don't believe You." Looking forward says, "I believe in the Promised Land, and I trust You to take me there. I will gladly walk in this desert. It's hot and tiresome, but I will rest in the shadow of Your wings. I will joyfully eat this manna. It is enough because You are enough."

My journey is not haphazard. Every encounter, every bend in the road achieves some purpose unknown to me. It's all a part of my story, predestined by a Perfect Author. Knowing this gives me permission to enjoy meeting ogres along the way. The ogres shape my character, too.

"Rejoice in the process. Growth in grace is gradual over time."--Tim Lane

You know, it's okay if the heroine sheds a few tears along the way. It's okay if she pauses occasionally to ask, "Why?" That's just real life. We aren't called to stuff our emotions any more than we are called to wallow in self-pity. I believe we are instead called to invest our emotions, entrusting them to our Faithful Creator who sees the big picture while expectantly awaiting the return we will receive for doing so. 

While the plot twists before me are unknown and treacherous, my destination is sure.

"Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty."--1 Corinthians 9:16

My ultimate enemy--spiritual death--is already defeated. Nothing else truly threatens me. No matter what, I end up in the Everlasting Arms. 

While I am not where I had hoped I would be one full year into my adventure, I soldier on. The Lord has recently blessed me with a second wind, just as I desperately needed it. He does that whole "supplying all my needs" thing pretty well. With an Adventure Buddy like that, I think I'll be just fine. Ogres and all.

I Could Only Think of Eggs

I was unwell when I woke this morning. I had obviously caught my kids' cold, but I wasn't surprised. I catch every illness that enters our home these days. I moved slowly. I read Jesus Calling and pondered Psalm 90. At almost 11:00, I was ready for a light breakfast. I ate runny, scrambled eggs--organic, pastured eggs the Lord had so sweetly provided for me last week--and drank a cup of hot, rich chicken broth so my body could spend its energy on healing the cold rather than digesting the food. I took the supplements I continue to tolerate--cod liver oil, Vitamin D3 and my digestive enzyme. I scaled down my plans for the day, and decided to spend some time out in the sun. I was making good choices.....until I took a bite of the coconut-based brownie I made yesterday. 

I dressed Sara and the two of us joined the boys, both of whom were outside. Brandon was finishing his work on the porch he mostly built last weekend and Micah was "helping." I plopped down in the canvas chair almost doubling over from the stabbing pain directly below my sternum. I could tell that I would not get away with the slightest indiscretion on this day, a realization that should have directed me back indoors.

I tried to enjoy the breeze and the red glow the sun cast about my children's heads, but my intense stomach pain and discomfort from the cold prevented me. As the kids played and Brandon worked--measuring, sawing and drilling--an eerie feeling crept upon me. My head grew thick and my stomach tossed with nausea. My chest tightened and my limbs filled with lead. Drunk though I was, I saw the flecks of wood thrown by the saw and carried off by the wind, I remembered that the wood was treated (meaning the wood was toxic), and the Holy Spirit spoke within--Get inside.

Somehow, I managed to get myself and the kids in the house. I immediately turned on Mickey Mouse for the kiddos, and fell onto the couch. I felt so strange. I tried to monitor my own breathing, my only requirement was that it must continue. My body was just so heavy and wrong, and it almost seemed that my soul lifted out of it and hovered above the scene, waiting to see what would happen. I lost all sense of time. At one point, I thought, "Is this what dying feels like?" I never once thought I would actually die, but the question prompted me to croak to Micah--"Tell Daddy that I need his help."

Brandon made his way inside not knowing how poorly I was doing. I told him that I needed BioSet. He helped me up from the couch, and suddenly I was sputtering, choking and wheezing. I hobbled into the kitchen, leaning on him for support. Once there, he realized to make the BioSet treatment most effective, he needed to take a saliva sample with a cotton swab.....which we keep in the bathroom. He propped me upon the kitchen counter and walked away. My chest burned and ached. I struggled for breath, and was as drunk as a skunk from toxic exposure. My legs gave way. I hit the kitchen floor with a thud. I was only vaguely aware of the pain in my hip, shoulder and head from the fall. Brandon was suddenly by my side again with my inhaler. I cried involuntarily as I struggled to get a puff.

I never lost consciousness, but my awareness faded in and out. I heard words like "hospital," "Mama is sick, Baby," and "can you come over." I surrendered myself to whatever fate Brandon deemed necessary. I heard Sara crying, and knew she cried because she knew something was wrong with me. She always knows. I knew when he gave me the Acute Rescue (a.k.a. magic potion) drops. I was able to cooperate when he swabbed my mouth and rolled me over onto my stomach to perform BioSet. Otherwise, I could only lie there, sprawled out in the middle of my small kitchen floor, thinking of eggs--

Recently, my Papaw began bringing me some pastured eggs from a farmer friend of his. I have been eating eggs all along (except for those first few weeks when I couldn't eat anything), but these eggs are different. They taste better, are richer in color. I crave them at all meals and always feel better after eating them. So, I am eating a lot of them. I ran out while Papaw was in the hospital last week. His friend and supplier is a little odd and often drunk, so I couldn't just go get the eggs myself. Before leaving for Baton Rouge on Thursday, I packed a couple of empty egg cartons to take along. Dad asked me why I was bringing them. I told him that I was out of pastured eggs and if we saw some along the way, I would like to stop.

I have made the trip to Baton Rouge several times, and have never seen anyone selling eggs along the way, something I would have noticed because I look for such things. However, I knew that my body needed those eggs. I knew that God knew my body needed the eggs. Therefore, I believed it was quite possible, even likely, that I would find some.

I looked for a road sign the entire trip, and did not find one. After that, I honestly forgot about it. I went to my appointments, both of which were very beneficial. When I finished my massage, Dad was paying for something and a couple walked in carrying large grocery bags. Babette, my masseuse, swept back into the lobby. She greeted the couple and taking the bags from them, asked me if I would like to buy some eggs.

"They are fresh, organic and pastured and they come from happy chickens!" she smiled. My dad's face was priceless. He laughed out loud. I smiled and told her I had two empty cartons in the car and would love to buy some.

In childlike faith, I had packed those cartons, fully believing that God could provide the eggs my body so desired. And He did. It was as simple as that. And that was all I could think of as I drifted in and out of conscious thought.

But you must see that I wasn't really thinking of eggs. I was thinking of God's faithfulness. 

He has promised to supply all my needs in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). On Thursday, He saw that I needed pastured eggs. He provided them. And He did it in a clever way so that His signature could clearly be seen. Many months ago, He gave me a much-needed promise that I would live through this hell so that I would continue to fight my way through it without giving up. Before I was born, he chose Brandon to be my husband because He knew I needed a Superman to save my sickly butt time and again, a man who had the strength to live this life without losing his mind or his love for me.

As Sara Groves sings in one of my favorite songs, "God has been faithful. He will be again."

After Acute Rescue drops, a couple of puffs on the inhaler and two rounds of BioSet, I dramatically improved. After a sinus rinse, a detox bath and fresh clothes, I stopped re-poisoning myself which is always a plus. I have improved a little more throughout the day. I am still occasionally wheezing and suffering from swelling and sinus pressure. I am hurt from my fall to the kitchen floor, and I feel toxic. But I am alive. Thanks to God and Superman.

This verse from Psalm 90 kept coming to me today--"Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us; the years in which we have seen evil." (v. 15)

This life I currently live is a life of affliction, but God is going to do me one better than make me glad for as many days as I have suffered. One day, the breath I take will be my last. Even if I suffer every day until then, my suffering will all be swallowed up by never-ending gladness, by the joy of His abiding presence, never to be remembered again. Until then, I will feed on His faithfulness every moment, something I did quite literally this evening as I ate three of my delicious, nutritious, pastured eggs for dinner.

The Top Five Reasons I Love Being Sick

No, I have not become a masochist.

In most ways, I loathe being sick. I despise pain, discomforts, social alienation, fatigue, and dietary restrictions, but my sickness is so much more than the sum of my symptoms. I have been thrust into an alien world. Now that I am no longer suffocating in an atmosphere my fragile lungs are not accustomed to, I find that I don't mind this strange, sometimes desolate planet so much. In fact, I can find things that I truly like about it. While I will never stop looking for a way to get back home, I have found a way to be happy here. Much of my happiness comes from this little list of blessings I could have only received in a place of long-term suffering:

1) The People

The book, Embracing Obscurity, mentions a "secret society" of sufferers. Initiation is hell, but there is a hidden sweetness to be found in all the bitterness of membership. In my earliest days of suffering, this community enveloped me as if I had been there forever. These people know. They understand. They have held me up. They always know exactly what to say and not say. It is comforting to look into an eye and find the same altered light I feel in my own, to hear another voice with inflections of pain and peace trying to find the right balance. The people here have taught me how to give comfort and receive it, the latter actually being the harder of the two. There is much more to learn. In most of the cases I have encountered, the people of the Suffering Planet grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who overcome, a rare, precious commodity these days. Sufferers, who are usually social outcasts, have become some of my favorite people. I am proud to be counted among them.

Without being sick, this kind of sick, I never would have met my fabulous team of natural/integrative doctors--Dr. Stephanie Cave, Dr. Melisa Kuehn, and Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski--because I would still think alternative medicine is all very "woo-woo!"I adore each one, but my favorite (and I can write this because none of them read my blog) is my local Natural Doctor, Dr. Yakaboski. Each doctor has her own pool of knowledge, making each one valuable and necessary to me. What is special about Dr. Yakaboski is that she sees me regularly, listens carefully to me and is taking time to learn about my peculiarities. I'm not saying that I'm the reason she is taking a class on genetic mutations, but I know my case at least offered her a nudge. And I'm beginning to think the information she is currently learning is the key to my healing.

While my illness has created distance in most of my longer-established friendships (not because of any person's fault--that is just what chronic illness does), I have made new friendships, none of which would exist without this illness. Some of them like Jenny, Caroline and Jennifer are or have been sick themselves. Oddly, not one of these ladies lives close by. Others like Emily Wheat and Emilea Talton, God just ushered in to help me along.

2) Personal Growth

When I married 8 1/2 years ago, I was a terrible cook who had never shown much interest in the kitchen. I could scramble eggs, make awesome cinnamon toast and kill perfectly decent food on the George Foreman grill. (If you own this appliance, please do your part to stop the murder of innocent food. Divorce George. Fat is your friend.) While mistakes occasionally still happen, I consistently deliver a good meal made from scratch night after night, and most of the recipes are Melissa Keaster originals. When you can't eat out and people can't cook for you, your only choice is to cook or starve. Thereby, I get lots of practice, and practice has made me quite competent. I'm even tweaking an original "real food" cookie bar recipe.

 I get a huge kick out of making a pretty wide range of yummy food for my family. I am proud of the accomplishment that was born out of very real struggle. It is hard work--both the planning and the preparing! Cooking a different meal every night without a repeat over the course of the week using only 30ish foods while battling pain and fatigue is a real challenge! I suppose it's a good thing that I've always liked challenges.

In addition to learning to cook, I have learned to nourish. Many of my preconceived ideas about health food have been shattered, and I am watching my family benefit from what I have learned. I have discovered that I love feeding people good food. Right now, I have a very real ministry of feeding three eaters in addition to myself, but I dream of a quiet, thriving ministry of feeding and visiting sick people and shut-ins once I am well.

3) Helping Others

I have learned so much information since losing my health. I have an infinite amount more to learn, but I am helping family, friends and strangers alike with the little I already know. I have shown several people how to muscle test for allergies to foods before trying them. If my friends want a natural remedy for some kind of ailment, I either know the remedy or know how to find it. Brandon, the kids and other friends and family who haven't minded being my guinea pigs have benefited from BioSet treatments.

Mostly, I am thankful that I am able to help my immediate people. Brandon has Crohn's disease. While he complains of his weight loss from time to time, he looks great and feels even better. My children both struggle with my genetic mutation and Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I will even go as far as to say that I think I am going to save Sara from becoming autistic. Some of you may think I'm talking crazy, but I have been doing lots of reading and have personally witnessed or experienced the truth of the information. I love that I am in the unique position to see that my kids are sick and need my help while they are still young. Soon, I will be healthy enough to put the necessary energy into getting them better. What an undeniable gift!

4) Spiritual Growth

I have learned to view this new life as a grand adventure. I may rarely leave my home, but no two days are the same. Each one begins brimming with promise. I never know who will walk through my door, who will call, who I will meet, what my children and husband will need, or what God will speak to me on any given day.

I am finally learning a little about the ministry of intercessory prayer. It is truly a labor of the soul. As Christians, we are nourished by the Word of God and we sweat by the work of prayer. Sometimes, this ministry is painful for me because my suffering has made me more compassionate. Friend, if you share a burden of your soul with me, know that I feel a little of its weight. If something has wounded you, I bleed a little, too. I feel your injustice almost as if it were my own. Tears for your sorrow stain the side of my bed. I have been asking the Lord to teach me how to pray for years. It is harder than I had anticipated, but it is work worth doing.

I see people. I am finally looking others in the eye, observing either light or shadow. I want to know hearts. I have time for souls. I want to know how I can meet the needs of body, soul and spirit. This is especially true for my immediate people--Brandon, Micah and Sara. They are my focus now, as it should be.

The most important lesson I'm learning is contentment. Contentment is a difficult and victorious classroom. I can be happy when I'm hungry, when I'm tired, when I hurt, when I'm lonely, when I'm sick, when I'm scared and when my feelings have been hurt if I look to God for joy. I don't do this perfectly or anywhere close, but I am learning. If I live to old age, I hope to say with the Apostle Paul, "I have learned to be content in all things."

5) GOD

Spurgeon's Morning by Morning reads thus on February 12--

"Here is a blessed proportion. The Ruler of providence bears a pair of scales--in this side He puts His people's trials, and in that He puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition. When the scale of trial is full, you will find the scale of consolation just as heavy. When the black clouds gather most, the light is more brightly revealed to us....Another reason why we are often most happy in our troubles is this--then we have the closest dealings with God. When the purse is bursting with gold, we try to do without so much prayer. But take our food away, and we want our God.....Troubled believer, do not fret over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies." [2 Corinthians 1:5]

Upon the stillness of my sickbed, I have often heard the voice of God. I feel His embrace when I ache. I know what the shadow of His wings is like. The sweetness there is so intense that sometimes I feel that I don't want to get well because I want to stay there forever. I have to shake myself, pry myself away, reminding myself that He is not calling me to enter into His rest just yet. I have to toil a little longer, and there is much joy to be found in my toil.

 More than anything, I love the nearness of Christ in my suffering. If you do not know Him today, Fellow or Future Sufferer, I hope you will. As John Piper writes at the end of His poem, "Job"--"Unkindly has He kindly shown me God." The price has been high, but seeing God is everything to me. It is the treasure for which I would sell everything I possess. Take my health, and give me Jesus!

I am certain that healing is in God's plan for me. He has told me over and over that I will get well. Currently, some of my symptoms are getting worse. Some days I feel that I am making a downward turn. But I trust His word to me. I believe Him. I will continue to believe Him if I temporarily take a turn for the worse. And I will never resent this place I'm in. I hate it, but I love it. Because God is with me, it is a fine place to be.

Turning a Profit

A few evenings ago, I was foraging through the refrigerator and pantry trying to figure out what I was going to cook for dinner. My monthly food order stock was running low, and we were due a grocery run. Nevertheless, I emerged with a package of ground meat and a few carrots and set to work making them into a meal. As I sliced carrots, I was struck with how my physical and spiritual journeys are so apparently parallel at the moment.

Some days, my pantry is full. The circumstances are good. No one is sick. We have nowhere to be. The laundry is under control. And I'm having a "good day" health-wise. It's easy to turn out a fabulous meal when the fridge is filled to bursting with fresh fruits, veggies and meats butchered three different ways, but what about the days when the storehouses are depleted? How do I serve God when I've suffered a terrible allergic reaction that puts me in bed for half of the day? How can I love on my family the day after being up all night with a sick baby? What does God expect of me when all I have to offer is a couple of carrots and a package of ground meat?

As the Lord has increased my health, He has required more of me at home. He has moved me into a blessed season of "doing" for my immediate people. The Lord has restored my ability to work with my hands and "rejoice in my toil" (Eccl. 5:19), and I have truly relished His gift. It's funny that I never thought I much liked work until I was unable to do it. Lately, I have been baking with Micah, chasing the kids (which they love in this long trailer), reading to Sara, doing a bit of cleaning and looking for ways to serve my husband in addition to the basics of running a household and caring for two young children. This is all only just manageable on my good days. These tasks stretch me even when everything is perfect, but I know it is what I should be doing. The Lord confirms their necessity by giving me the grace to fulfill them. This "spending and being spent" for the souls of my family is satisfying, purposeful work (2 Cor. 12:15), but some days, for various reasons, I find myself with little to spend. On those days, my body and my will fight an inevitable battle that always ends in frustration. I want my body to cooperate with my will to "do," but my body is different than a healthy body. My body does not "push through." It simply quits and shuts down, leaving my will with nothing but good intentions and malfunctioning equipment.

I experienced this very thing only a few days ago. I was lying in bed the morning after a chemical reaction to fragrances. I remember praying a prayer that my mentor, Mrs. Dixie, first encouraged me to pray habitually a couple of years ago--"Lord, what would you have me do today?" Sometimes when I pray this prayer, I get an image in my head or a strong compulsion in my soul. Sometimes, I don't get anything at all at first, but simply know what to do next, one task at a time, including details like what to cook. It's weird and awesome and always an adventure. But that day, I got words--

"Let Me carry you."

I eventually peeled myself off of my bed, and spent the day writing long overdue thank you notes at the kitchen table and tending to the basic needs of the kids. I believe I managed to cook a simple dinner that night, too. My productivity wasn't very impressive. Micah and Sara were disappointed with my lethargy. I didn't have much to offer that day, but God gave me what I needed to complete the tasks He had in mind for me. He also allowed my bad day to take place on Brandon's day off which prevented me from having to call for emergency help.

What I've had to remember many times recently is that God doesn't expect the same thing from me every day. Oftentimes, I expect more of myself than He expects of me, which means that the battle isn't really between my body and my will but between my will and God's will. And when I'm working outside of His will--even if what I'm doing is a good thing--I exhaust myself prematurely and that work is going to burn up in the end. (Thank you for the reminder last week, Mrs. Dixie!) It's only when I'm submitting each step of my day to Him, offering Him each task before I begin it with my heart ready to let it go and allow Him to change my plans, that my energy lasts and my mundane, repetitious little life bears eternal significance.

That being said, no matter what I'm given, God expects me to turn a profit on it. Matthew 25 contains Jesus' parable of the talents. A master was preparing for a long journey. Before he left, he gave money to his servants. He entrusted different amounts to each servant "according to his own ability" (Matt. 25:15). One servant was given one talent, another was given two and another was given five. When the master returned home some time later, the servant given five talents had made a profit of five more. The servant given two talents made a profit of two more. But the servant given one talent was faithless. He buried his talent in a field and left it there. Basically, he hoarded the gift he was given, and had nothing to show for himself.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to be the servant who buried his talent in a field. It's true that I could save my energy on a good day, sit on my laurels and just enjoy feeling good, but I don't want to hear the Lord call me a "wicked and lazy servant" on judgement day (v. 26). I want to earn the commendation of "Well done, good and faithful servant," whether my profit for the day is two talents or five, even if it means risking my energy and health in the process.

God is not a hard task-master. He entrusts and requires only "according to my ability" (v. 15). If I'm given two talents, He doesn't expect a return of five. On the other hand, on days that I receive only one, I am expected to give Him an equivalent return. When Sara is up all night running fever, I am not expected to clean house the next day, but I am expected to hold my sick girl and help her get better. I am not expected to create a five course meal when I'm only given carrots and ground meat, but He does expect something. On days I am given more, I should joyfully give more in return. This is my spiritual act of worship, my reasonable service to a God who has given me everything (Rom. 12:1-2). While God loves the hymn on my lips, He treasures my cheerful service far more.

Allow me to clarify something--I don't work because I'm trying to ensure my spot in Heaven. My seat is already reserved by no merit of my own. My only security is the blood of Jesus, and I'm banking everything I have on His sacrifice. Rather, I work because I am saved. A heart overflowing with gratitude can't help but spill itself out. When our work comes out of being thankful for our salvation and not fear that we may not have it, the work is restful. It nourishes the soul. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because I never have to worry about whether or not the profit I was able to turn was enough. I never have to wonder--

"Did I say enough?"
"Did I do enough?"
"Did I do it perfectly?"

As long as I am walking in step with the Spirit of God, aligning my will and to-do list with His, I said enough, did enough and although I didn't do anything perfectly, I did it well enough. God redeems even my feeblest offerings made in His name.

Mrs. Dixie shared Jeremiah 31:16 with me last week--

"Refrain your voice from weeping
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded,
says the Lord."

God honors any service we render "as unto the Lord." When I have life in my bones, He honors the walk I take with my children as we point to the things God has made. When the stars align, allowing me to clean, He honors that clean bathtub even if that is all I accomplished. When I am unable to stand on my feet, He honors the thank you notes I write to His people. When I am bedridden, He honors my half-alert prayers and muddled whispers of love and adoration. When I only have ground meat and carrots in the fridge, He honors the meal of hamburger patties and carrot "fries" that I provide for my family. Don't forget--He is the same God who fed 5,000 people with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. He does much with our little.

So let us lay aside our frustrations that we are given two talents today instead of ten. Let us embrace our two. Let us prepare ourselves to turn a profit on what we are given with happy hearts. Let us rejoice in our toil! Let us live today for the smile of God! Let us each do according to our ability that we may one day hear the sweet, precious words which will warm us eternally to the core, "Well done, My good and faithful servant!"

Dreams of Jubilee

On October 1st, 2012, my parents drove me to Baton Rouge for my first appointment with Dr. Stephanie Cave. My appointment fell on a Monday following a very frightening Sunday--the Sunday Brandon frantically drove the two of us home from Houston in the pouring rain while I struggled for breath and gripped my EpiPen tightly. It was the Sunday I forgot or maybe momentarily disbelieved God's word to me that I would be healed. It was the Sunday I planned my funeral. My dietary health had bottomed out, and I was living in a constant state of emergency thanks to the severity of my newly discovered latex allergy. So, I was in a strange place emotionally and spiritually for that road trip, to say the least.

Many memorable things took place on the first October Monday of 2012, most of which were answers to prayers that had been prayed by many people for a long time, but looking back I believe the most important event which transpired that day was almost entirely overshadowed by my new, fabulous doctor and the much-needed confirmation that we were finally on the right path. The weightiest, most significant moment of the day was as quiet as a whisper and as soft as an afterthought.

It happened in the car. Mom asked me if I had given much thought to naming the farm. I told her I had not. She offered her suggestion--Jubilee Farm. She said the name came from two sources--Sara Groves' song, "Eyes on the Prize" and Leviticus 25. The Year of Jubilee was a Sabbath of Sabbaths for the ancient Jews. The Hebrew word translated into the English "Jubilee" means something closer to "a trumpet blast of liberty." Every 50 years, the celebration began with a blast of a ram's horn. During this year, the people rested from working the land, Israelite slaves were freed by their owners and lost property was restored to those who had fallen on hard times.

"And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap....You shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God."--Leviticus 25:10,17

Mom explained that she believed the upcoming year was going to be special. It was literally to be her "Year of Jubilee." She would turn 50 on January 21st, 2013. It was also likely to be the year she and Dad would join Brandon, my sister and me on the farm. She further explained how she saw Jubilee Farm as being a place of healing--for body and soul--for our family and others God would send our way. I readily agreed to the name for the farm, and carefully tucked away the tidbit about her birthday. I had no idea that my mother had spoken a specific prophecy over me.

In December, I began planning Mom's surprise Jubilee birthday party. I studied Leviticus 25 so I would have a firm grasp on the appropriate spirit for the celebration. I prayed for guidance about everything--the kind of party it should be, the decorations, the food, who to ask for help, the timing, the guest list. I prayed God would send the exact people He wanted to be in attendance. I invited Him to be present among us. I asked Him to prepare special blessings for my mother. He answered all of those requests, to be sure, but I had no idea He had something special for me in mind as well. To my surprise and inexplicable delight, God included Jenny on the guest list!

God didn't send Jenny just for me, but He did send her especially for me. She made the entire celebration sweeter and brighter with her presence, for the girl unabashedly spreads sunshine wherever she goes. She helped me prepare for the party, which turned out to be an absolute success--


After the festivities died down a bit, I stole Jenny away to my mother's sofa so we could talk privately. It was so good to talk with her face to face. I love watching her listen, think and process. I like watching her face when she laughs. I adore the radiance of Christ she carries. Just being with her was bliss.

And then she spoke into my life. She was actually talking about herself when she did it. I observed that she had lost weight. She confirmed my observation, and told me that she had bought new clothes recently. She explained that most of her old shirts were V-necks which exposed her chemo port. Upon her last shopping trip, she searched carefully for blouses that would hide it.

With a glowing smile and her quirky, lovely laugh, she began, "I used to want people to pity feel sorry for me, but God has been too good to me for me to play the victim anymore. With buying new clothes, I am throwing off the sick rags!"

She had no clue, of course, but as she spoke, I felt the rod of the Lord give my soul a giant jab; or maybe what I felt were reverberations from the "trumpet blast of liberty." God's voice formed words in my soul which pierced my mind--"That's for you."

Jenny and I talked about all sorts of things after that, but it was those words that continued to resonate in my mind when she was gone. After she left, I shared them with the remaining party guests, Mrs. Dixie (my mentor) being one of them. Dixie threw her head back, sending a smile to the Lord, and said, "Isn't it beautiful how the Lord uses things like illness to humble us so that we disappear and He is glorified?"

With what was almost an electrical energy, the Holy Spirit made an important connection in my soul between what Jenny had said and what Dixie had said. As I have pondered and prayed over these words for the last two days, the Lord has fleshed out His message to me. I pray you are able to follow my thoughts.

God reminded me of the section in Embracing Obscurity in which the author reveals that we all possess subtitles by which we identify ourselves. For instance--Tom: The Adventurer or Stacy: The Creative Work-at-Home Mom or Charles: Youngest CEO in Corporation's History or Andrea: Pretty Girl. The subtitles aren't bad in and of themselves. They are only dangerous if we allow them to take precedence over our identity in Christ. When I read that chapter weeks ago, I didn't know my subtitle, but the Lord revealed it to me this weekend as I sought Him:

Melissa: Sick and Struggling Mother

How depressing is that?

Without realizing it, I have allowed my illness to become my identity. Facebook friends, think about it--how often do I air my woes for all of you to see? Pretty often, I'd say. Faithful readers, how many long lists of my various trials have you read on this blog? Too many. I have been "rehearsing [my] troubles [which] results in experiencing them many times....[This] multiplies [my] suffering!" (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling) While I'm being brutally and embarrassingly honest, I'll add that sometimes I'm more conservative about sharing God's goodness than I am my hardships because I can't let go of my new (though admittedly sad) identity. And I can't let go because....well, I have believed the lie that it's the only identity I have left. "Sick and Struggling Mother" is the only capacity in which I remain known in the world at all. I have been afraid to let this last thing go because if I do, I know I might disappear completely.

But the commandment is clear--I am to join my sweet friend, and throw off these sick rags! If my girl with Stage 4 cancer can do it, by golly--SO CAN I! Tossing these nasty things into the garbage is simultaneously an act of "embracing obscurity" and an act of jubilee! My sick rags have been wrapped around me like ancient grave cloths, holding me captive. Spiritually speaking, I probably resemble a bizarre mummy who isn't dead but dresses like she is. Jubilee is about freedom from oppression. Ironically, I have been oppressing myself! I have allowed my illness to take the spotlight. On Monday (the day Mom turned 50, beginning her Year of Jubilee), I vowed to the Lord that I was heading to the back of the stage, dragging my illness along with me. This whole thing isn't about my suffering or how well I carry it. It is about what the Lord wants to do with it and what He wants to reveal about Himself through it! My story is about displaying the spirit of this passage from Luke 4 in which Jesus reveals that He is the fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee--

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has annointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
Luke 4:18-19

Jesus Christ is Jubilee! Since offering my declarations to Him, I have felt so free, so light, but my work is not done here. Throwing off sick rags is a process. Thanks to Jenny, I have a good start by realizing that truly "God has been too good to me for me to play the victim anymore." At this time, I don't know fully what not playing the victim looks like all fleshed out. I do know that it doesn't mean being dishonest or arbitrary about my trials. I know that I will not wallow in them either. I am not a victim. I am not a victim. For now, only one thing is for certain--no more lists. (Your loud "amen" does not offend, my friend.)

Jenny Arlene--my precious, covenant friend--thank you. God bless you, Beloved! In my mind's eye, I see two girls peeling away the ugly, rotting rags they have been carrying about them for too long. They are smiling and laughing as they pull away each piece from themselves and occasionally from one another, tossing them away forever. When the rags are gone, there is only a glow of Heavenly Light about them. The Light is so bright that it becomes difficult to see the girls plainly and impossible to see them apart from the Light. The girls join hands and grin conspiratorially at one another before taking an unbridled, running leap and plunging into the vast, deep waters of endless Jubilee. 

Of Januarys and Whale Bellies

I hate January. My mother does, too, which would not be of note except for the fact that she was born in January. Upon our last meeting, mom and I decided that January, August and September are the stepsisters of the twelve month family, and January is unquestioningly the ugliest of the three. Poor January.

We have good reason to hate her though. Every year she heralds some kind of grief or hardship. To recap the last couple of years:

In 2011, I encountered teff flour, which was a major catalyst for the downward spiral of my health. I repeated the mistake of allowing this toxic (for me) substance in my body, and quickly thereafter was sick with a horrible stomach virus which was immediately followed by the flu.....all in January.

Last year, Sara was diagnosed with RSV on January 6. Days later, I became alarmingly allergic to sulfa/sulfur products, and almost died several times over the course of a few days.

January 2013 hasn't been particularly kind either. So far, I have suffered the worst burn of my life (the pain of which could easily be compared to the pain of natural childbirth), the death of my great aunt of whom I was very fond (also on January 6....what is up with this day?), a constantly sick infant, a troublesome little virus of my own and hard news concerning Jenny. And January is only halfway over. Sigh.

Also in January, there is always the depression. I would call it a battle, but it's more like a siren song.  Every year, the fanged wind sings its melancholy ballad, I am lulled into a sleepy stupor, and the grey drear swallows me whole before I know what is happening. Fortunately for me, I have learned something from experience which makes being eaten a great deal less frightening this January as opposed to last--God goes with me even to the belly of the whale.

Have you given much thought to the belly of the whale? Most people equate the whale with judgement. I have heard many times that having depression means that there is something wrong with me....that I have sinned somehow and my depression is my just deserts. This explanation is incongruent with what I know of scripture.....not to mention harsh.

David, a man after God's own heart, struggled with depression. The proof is in the psalms. I can't imagine Paul escaping its nasty clutches while under house arrest any more than I can imagine sweet Mary living completely untouched by the contempt and rejection of her friends and family when they discovered her pregnancy. And then there's Jesus--the perfect Man--who perspired blood in the garden and utterly despaired on the cross. I don't understand the why and how of depression, but the examples of the Bible and the Spirit inside of me agree on this--depression is not judgement. And truly, it reminds me a great deal of the fish which swallowed Jonah.

When Jonah was tossed from the boat into the waters of the deep, he was set to drown. As in the days of Noah, the water was the judgement. The fish was something else....something akin to mercy. The fish saved Jonah's life. I'm sure it was a dark, cold, miserable place to make camp for three days. I'm certain Jonah hated his accommodations, but the Lord had not given Jonah over to death (Psalm 118:18), which could only mean that He had plans other than judgement. In his slimy, smelly abode, Jonah waited--waiting was all he could possibly do--and in the waiting, God worked a miracle in Jonah's heart. When he was vomited onto dry land, he was no longer running from God in terror. He was walking determinedly toward Him.

January....depression....the fish--these all represent places you would never chose to sleep overnight. We human beings rush and run and do and sweat and are never still. We are ever anxious for the next event, achievement or pleasure. We crave light and merriment and frivolity and vanity upon vanity. I don't mean this as criticism. It is simply who we are. But Januarys and fish bellies are good for the soul in the same way that brussel sprouts and fermented cod liver oil are good for the body.

January lasts 31 days for most people. My January has stretched over seven months now. Much like Jonah, I despaired when I was first eaten, feeling like God had delivered me to a fate worse than death. (Hunger and physical misery are formidable foes.) But as it happened for Jonah during his three day January, something has changed inside of me while I have sat in the dark of a fish's insides.

One thing that has changed is that I have become more teachable. The Fish Belly Hotel doesn't offer room service, and eventually one becomes ravenous. I am hungry for even the hardest lessons of God. The most recent hard lesson has been that of "embracing obscurity." God has been working humility into my heart for awhile now. (You may remember my post about the death of Supermom.) In the first few days of this January, I released the dream of writing my novel to the Lord. It wasn't easy. I feel very real grief in my heart because dreams die violent deaths, you know. It hurts to say goodbye to something I have wanted to do so badly for so long.

On the other hand, I'm not saying I'll never write at all. Giving up the dream to write my novel had more to do with me giving up the desire to be known for something than giving up the act of writing a book. For the moment, God is calling me to find all of my significance in Him. He wants to show me how cooking meals, washing plates, changing diapers and raising children are dignified endeavors when I offer everything I do "as unto the Lord." He wants me to do small things that no one else sees, appreciates or respects because He is posturing my heart to live for an Audience of One. Furthermore, He wants me to give up "The Joseph Principle," which is the popular belief that God leads us into suffering to prepare us for bigger and better things. While that certainly happens for some people, "sometimes suffering only leads to our greater obscurity but God's greater glory.....God more often allows us to suffer to refine our own hearts....than to prepare us for 'greatness'.....Embracing obscurity allows us to relinquish our dreams for and to Him--to His timing and His ways. We prefer Him to the dream." (Embracing Obscurity, pp. 117-119)

He is also working love for people into my heart. Last June, the Lord showed me that I did not really love people which is essentially the same as not really loving Him (1 John 4:7-11). Because He knows I am unable to venture out much, He has brought opportunities to love others to my doorstep. I have been allowed to feel the sting of rejection, judgement, rudeness, purposeful misunderstanding, disrespect, and thoughtlessness, and have been expected to forgive and love the ones who have inflicted the pain. Forgiveness--real forgiveness (as opposed to fake forgiveness which is simply sweeping the wrong under the rug hoping and trying to forget about it)--is impossible. It is absolutely impossible to confront the wrong and the pain of the wrong and love that person anyway without the Lord's help. Forgiveness requires dependence, a class which always has an available seat at the University of January.

And then there is the lesson of waiting. I have known for awhile now that I have no idea how to "wait upon the Lord." I have asked saints wizened by age and long life lived with the Lord what it means to wait spiritually. Not one was able to give me a satisfying answer. There is no "Waiting for Dummies" offered at Barnes & Noble, and there is no "How To Wait Upon The Lord in Three Easy Steps" tutorial on Youtube. The only way one can learn to wait upon the Lord is to....well, wait upon the Lord.

I can't describe what I'm doing or how I'm doing it. It isn't simplistic at all. It is mysterious. It is something that God is working in me, not something I am working for God. But I can tell you that waiting is mostly quiet and still. It is working through the same mundane tasks every day, going nowhere, being nothing but in every way exposing yourself to the Lord as fully as a virgin bride to her new groom. It isn't safe. It isn't comfortable. But somehow it's so very right. Sometimes, it is simply enjoying the Lord for Himself and for no other reason. Sometimes, it is crying into His bosom because it's all too much and it hurts too badly. Sometimes, it is lying expectant and breathless, knowing you are on the cusp of something truly magnificent but realizing you aren't there yet. And it is knowing and accepting that the magnificence may be for your eyes only.

 "In waiting, we enter into the cosmic patience of God. At least in part. We begin picking up the deep rhythms of the Spirit, the heartbeat of God. We begin thinking in terms of years and decades rather than minutes and hours.....God's ways are like the rain and the snow that come down disappearing into the earth. No rush. No fanfare. No manipulation. Then when the time is right, up comes the life, 'giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater' (Isaiah 55:10). That is God's way." ("Waiting," Richard J. Foster, Heart to Heart, November 2007).

January is about as fun for me as a three night stay in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish was for Jonah. While I may always hate January, I know that good things happen in January.

Some of my favorite people were born in January, my mom being one of them.
I began a relationship with Brandon in January.
I was delivered from a lifelong sin last January.
I have learned to love Jesus more deeply every January I have been alive.

And I would not give up all the dismal January days I have suffered even if I could because it has given me the following gift--

"Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the Helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well."--Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

I don't write this post only to give assurance that I am happy under hard circumstances. I offer this post to you in the hope that if you are living in January (or a whale belly), that the discomfort is well worth the reward. And if you have yet to find yourself in a whale belly (or in mid-January), I hope you will not be too dismayed when you find yourself there. Jesus resides with and within us whether we find ourselves at the gates of Heaven or make our beds in Hell. And truly, He is all we need (Psalm 139:8).

Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Awhile back, a dear friend asked me why I would choose to faithfully serve a God who has allowed bad things to happen to me. One could rephrase the question this way--"Why do you choose to serve a God who claims to be all-powerful, loving and good when He has allowed you to suffer so much?" My friend is an atheist. She is intelligent and kind, and she would not have asked this question flippantly or with ill intent. She truly wanted to know. Instinctively, she knew that I had wrestled with the hard questions which suffering brings into the life of a person of faith, and she wanted to know what I had discovered. I felt she deserved a thorough and heartfelt response, a response I would give to anyone whom I love and respect. I doubt very much that my answer satisfied her because the answers we are given to these questions are never satisfying.

Recent events have me revisiting these questions. Why must Jenny suffer the horrors of Stage 4 cancer in the prime of her life, just as she was given everything she had dreamed of and hoped for? Why have things been so hard for my immediate and extended family lately? Why can't a single compartment of my life or the life of my husband go untouched by hardship? Why were 20 children and 6 adults mercilessly slaughtered right before Christmas? It all seems so preventable, so unnecessary.....

Timothy Keller places these questions and those like them under the umbrella of the "Questions of Suffering." I have extensively read and listened to his thoughts concerning these difficult questions. His insight has profoundly shaped my own, which will be obvious if you are familiar with his teaching. I am going to share with you what I wrote in response to my friend's question. I'm going to share this with you now because if you are like me, grieving and suffering in a myriad of different ways this holiday season, you need to be reminded that our existence yet contains the hope of joy because of Christmas and that the birth of Christ is something worth celebrating even if our hearts are not merry.

I wrote most of the following on August 15, 2012. I have edited a bit in order to clarify my thoughts and speak to recent events:

"[Friend], your question is not unique. I recently read somewhere that according to a nationwide survey, the issue of suffering is the number ONE reason many people reject Christianity. I am going to be very honest with you—you won’t be completely satisfied with my answer because I have not found the answer to why there is suffering ANYWHERE in the Bible. And I’ve looked! All we know is that the Bible tells us that once the world was perfect, but man chose to disobey God. Since that choice, evil, sin and suffering has been a part of the world in which we live, and these things are the result of our brokenness, sinful natures and the destructive schemes of Satan, the anti-God.

The best answer I have found to the “why” of suffering is located in Isaiah 55—“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” That’s not very satisfying, is it? 

For a moment, let’s pretend that the issue is a philosophical one. The problem so many people have generally boils down to this—“The presence of evil and suffering in the world must mean that God cannot be simultaneously all powerful and all good because if He can’t stop the evil, He isn’t all powerful, and if He can stop the evil and doesn’t, He can’t be all good.” This problem turns countless people away, people who have never believed and people who at one time said they did. But turning away from God doesn’t help anyone with the issue of evil and suffering because if one turns away from God how does one define suffering?

 Evil and suffering must be defined by some absolute moral code or who is to say "_____ is evil" or "____ is suffering"? If there is no God, there is no divine law. Nature rules, and we all know that nature rules by violence. So if there is no God, who is to say that violence is wrong? And if there is no God, who is to say that suffering is not natural? If there is no God, we are slaves to evolution, which means that the weak have to die so the strong can live and carry on. Suffering should and would still happen if there was no God. If there is no God, there are no moral absolutes, so “right” and “wrong” are just feelings, and who is to say that one person’s feelings about morality are more valid than those of another? So, while I have no real answer for why I am suffering, I realize that disbelief and anger get me nowhere.

I know you didn’t ask, but I want you to know how I get through my suffering with happiness and hope. We are friends, and I love you. It would be wrong to cut short my response at a philosophical level because the real issue you have isn’t one of philosophy, but one of faith. I don’t mean that in a condemning or condescending way at all. I hope you read this feeling the compassion and empathy I’m trying to communicate. 

I’ve been studying 1 Peter in the Bible, which could be otherwise titled, “Suffering for Dummies.” This dummy (me) has learned a lot from this letter to the suffering, Roman church. I’m going to quote a passage from Chapter 1 not because I’m trying to preach or whop you over the head with a Bible, but because God’s words have power that mine do not. Also, they have been my lifeline, so you can’t understand my attitude about my illness unless you know the source of my hope--

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the goal of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”--1 Peter 1:3-9

In this passage, Peter likens suffering (trials) to a fire. I will give evidence of God’s goodness in a moment, but for now, I will tell you that God’s wrath (God is wrathful because He is just and righteous, and justice and righteousness can’t allow evil and suffering to go unpunished) is also likened to a fire, and it is the ultimate fire. No fire I will ever face [even the soul-burning fire of losing a child to a mass murderer] will be as great as the fire of God’s wrath. I include that tidbit because there is One who faced that fire. Christianity is the only religion in the world that boasts of a deity becoming a man in order to die for His subjects. Jesus willingly left Heaven, giving up His God-ness and all of the privileges thereof, knowing better than any human that ever lived what the fire of God’s wrath is like, and He PLUNGED Himself into that fire so that He could end evil and salvage us. The fact that He did that does not give me the answer to why there is suffering in the world, but it DOES tell me what the answer ISN’T. It isn’t that He does not care! 

 I firmly believe that my suffering is personal to Jesus because He felt everything on the cross that I am feeling now . . . . only much more profoundly. He was cast into utter darkness so that I could live in light. My mind is so blown by that! Though it is old knowledge, it rips my heart to shreds every time I think of it. I cannot think about the cross without tears. Jesus went to the greatest lengths imaginable to keep His promise He made in Isaiah 43—“Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you . . . . . Fear not, for I am with you.”

In addition to the blazing emblem of God's love--the cross--1 Peter 1 tells me that I have this “living hope” thing to which I can look when all seems lost. I believe that because the living hope is “through the resurrection” of Jesus that I can bank on that hope being more than just some spiritual, ethereal Band-aid that will somehow make me feel better about my suffering. No. I believe it is going to be a restoration of everything I’ve lost—my health, my dreams, my happiness, and every cent I’ve given away believing that I am indeed laying up my treasure in Heaven. It’s going to be this life, this world made right! 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself RESTORE, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (If everybody in the house wasn’t asleep right now, I would shout!)

I believe that everyone has to have a “living hope” to get through suffering without being ruined. So, I wonder, what was Jesus’ living hope? What did He NOT have in Heaven?  What could possibly make the ultimate suffering worth it for Him?

 It’s us. WE are His living hope. And knowing that I am His living hope, makes Him mine!

But none of that is philosophical. That’s faith. It boils down to Jesus, “whom having not seen [I] love. Though now [I] do not see Him, yet believing, [I] rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of [my] faith—the salvation of [my soul.]”   

God has given me the gift of faith, and I have accepted His lordship over my life. The Guy who jumped into the hottest fire in existence to save me is worthy of my submission. Once that decision is firmly made, the “problem” of suffering isn’t really a problem anymore. You asked specifically about Job. I will quote from a poem written about Job by John Piper. It is a sentiment to which I deeply relate—“Unkindly has He kindly shown me God.” 

The reason suffering isn’t a problem for me anymore is that I want to see God more than I want to live a life of ease, happiness or comfort. And the truly amazing thing about God is that He ALWAYS shows up in suffering." 

End entry.

This Christmas season, more than any other, I am thankful to serve a God who is "a Man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief." We need the suffering Savior this year. I need the suffering Savior this year. May we all find our solace in Him during this difficult Christmas season.

And if anyone from Newton, Connecticut happens upon my humble blog, I want you to know that I am crying real tears with you, my soul hurts with yours and I am lifting you before my great and awesome God, who will hold you in His very arms if only you will let Him. Grace and peace be with you.

Like a Lake

About a month ago, I was at Toledo Bend, staying in a beautiful lake house with Jenny and her family. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen that weekend--cooking, eating and cleaning (as much as Brian and Jenny would allow). The open floor plan gave way to a spacious living area, which featured large bay windows displaying a wide expanse of water sprawled outward below an endless sky. I did most of the meal prep from the kitchen island so I could easily talk with my friend and keep an eye on the water.

 The lake called to me as if the white caps contained hidden messages. The tongues of its miniature waves sang secret songs as they tasted the earth of the shore. All weekend long, I kept looking to the water as if it would help me to gather my thoughts and steady my spirits.

It was a hard and beautiful weekend. Soon after writing about our God-ordained encounter, Jenny's doctor unexpectedly "timelined" her, giving her only a few months to live with or without treatment. Before that weekend, she had taken one round of chemo, which was awful for her. All I wanted in the world was to be there for my friend. Originally, I had intended to travel to Houston, to Jenny's home, and help her with household tasks, but she suggested we meet halfway at her father-in-law's lake house instead. Rather than cleaning, doing laundry and cooking meals, Brandon and I were on vacation with good friends. It would have been perfect had it not been for the huge, ugly elephant in the room. (If I did not passionately hate cancer before, I definitely do now.)

To our credit, we managed to talk of things unrelated to Jenny's health struggle. We learned a lot about one another, enjoyed the kids, shared old photos and ate really well. But when there is an elephant in the room, you occasionally bump into it whether you want to or not. There were sighs. There were tears. Then there were moments so perfectly bittersweet and glorious that they took my breath away. And the lake witnessed them all.

Against the magnificent backdrop of the water, I watched Brandon bond with Brian and Benjamin. What I witnessed bloom between them whispered tales of long friendship regardless of what the future holds. I have never been so thankful that God blessed me with a pretty singing voice as I was when I pulled out my hymnal given to me by my Grandmommy (who was taken by breast cancer in 2003), and sang my favorite hymn--"Be Still My Soul"--to Jenny out on the back porch against the uneven, rocking chair rhythm of Toledo Bend finding its end on the shore. On Saturday night, Jenny, the kids and I headed to the boat dock to get a front row seat to the spectacular sunset. The wind tossed and pulled at us as layers of clouds, each with distinct personality, danced among the rays. It lasted and lasted, taking on different shapes and hues--one moment the sun wore a brilliant halo, the next it wore a scarlet crown, angles of light vaulting off his brow like starbursts which the lake caught in her giant bosom. The colors glowed richer and warmer until the great ember rested his head on a bed of tall pines in the distance, and with a violet sigh, bid us goodnight. And I believe my favorite moment of the weekend took place on Sunday morning. Jenny and I prayed and took communion together. That day marks my most memorable communion experience to date.

 I led so awkwardly, but our hearts were so sincere. I had brought along rice crackers I had special ordered. For the first time in almost a decade, I took "the bread," and was momentarily taken off-guard by the sensation of crushing it with my teeth. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 came to mind--"We are pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." In the next thought, I recalled Isaiah 53:5--"He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities."Jesus was crushed, so we would never be more than pressed. He despaired so we would have hope. He was forsaken so we would always have God in our midst. He was destroyed so we could be salvaged.

In the shadow of cancer and timelines that are impossibly brief, it is easy to forget the victory Christ has won for us. It is easy to forget that we are not crushed, not forsaken, not destroyed. This is why Communion is such a gift--it reminds us of what was won for us and of the One who won it. If we could always keep the cross blazing at the center of our vision, we would never--for even a moment--despair.

In the spirit of honesty, I will confess that my weak little heart wanted to despair all weekend. It wanted to shield itself, fold inward like a cowardly rosebud afraid to face the open air, imagining itself to be safe in the hideaway of paper thin petals. My heart is frail, and it is also smart. While it still believes that Jenny will outlive her timeline and could very well beat this thing, it also knows it could be in for a mortal wound. (Our souls have been knit together, after all.) But taking that moment with my friend to remember the cross--to feast upon the sacrifice of Jesus--gave my yellow-bellied heart courage.....the courage Sara Groves musters in her song, "Like a Lake," which played on repeat in my mind all weekend as I took in the watery expanse of Toledo Bend--

"So much hurt and preservation
like a tendril round my soul;
So much painful information
no clear way on how to hold it.
When everything in me is tightening
curling in around this ache,
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake,
wide open like a lake.

Standing at this water's edge
looking in at God's own heart,
I've no idea where to begin,
to swallow up the way things are.
Everything in me is drawing in
closing in around this pain.
I will lay my heart wide open
like the surface of a lake,
wide open like a lake.

Bring the wind and bring the thunder;
bring the rain till I am tried.
When it's over bring me stillness.
Let my face reflect the sky,
and all the grace and all the wonder
of a peace that I can't fake--
wide open like a lake.

Everything in me is tightening,
curling in around this ache.
I am fighting to stay open.
I am fighting to stay open.
Open, open, oh wide open,
open like a lake."

In the last month, Jenny has undergone another chemo treatment, which was also terrible, and has chosen a new doctor at MD Anderson who specializes in her type of cancer. She begins a rigorous treatment schedule this week--she will receive chemo every two weeks until her body can't take anymore. As you can imagine, this will be extremely difficult for her and her family. Join me in prayer that the chemo will attack everything bad in her body, and leave all that is good. Pray that she will be given strength and courage and peace and all the things a person needs to face a trial this big. Pray for her sweet family--Brian, Benjamin and Juliet. Pray that she is able to have a joyous Christmas with her family. Ask the Lord to continue to give her hope. Hope is so very important.

I'm still holding out for a miracle--the big kind that ends with, "You're cured. Go home and enjoy life," but I do not know God's mind. He is far too knowledgeable, far too wild and unpredictable to guess at what He will do. However, I do know that He is good and that He has very specific purposes in mind which will ripple outward, extending far beyond our lifetimes. Trusting in His goodness, believing in His kindness and remembering His sacrifice which fulfilled every promise He ever made gives me the courage to fight--to pray from the vantage point of victory, to laugh with her about everyday life, to go to her with my comparatively miniscule trials without feeling petty, to encourage her in any way I can, and to hold my heart wide open.....

 Open like a lake.

Lord of the Sauerkraut

Lately, my thoughts have been consumed by food--making grocery lists, figuring out how to get the items needed for my special diet, researching said special diet, meal planning, and then actually preparing the food. I cook an average of two meals a day. When I say cook, I don't mean that I throw chicken breasts, a can of cream of whatever soup and a cup of rice in the crock pot (although boy, do I wish I could). I mean that I gather fresh onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, squashes, greens, etc., wash them, peel them, chop them, configure them in a way that I can get my family to eat them and sweat over a hot stove and busy oven while they sizzle. From prep to table, I usually budget 90 minutes to 2 hours for dinner. Granted, I'm slow-moving, but still. And that doesn't include clean-up! In addition to those two meals, I have to make little extras like bone broths, ghee (to which I am apparently allergic), and probiotic food. (Can you believe that the woman writing this post is the same woman who complained about cooking every day in a week just a couple of months ago? These days, all I do is cook! My, how we can change . . . .) Sauerkraut is currently the only probiotic food I've attempted because it's relatively fast, easy, allergen-friendly and cheap. And surprisingly, I find it to be absolutely delicious! As you can see, I mean it when I say that I am CONSUMED.

Awhile ago before I began the GAPS diet or knew what it would entail, the Lord impressed upon me that I would indeed be healed of my sickness but that my healing was going to take a long time and it would require a lot of hard work. Not long after receiving that encouraging and slightly scary word, I began my research into GAPS. As I read, I remember thinking, "Lord, how on earth am I going to manage this task feeling so fatigued all of the time? I don't have the energy for this!"

"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' " (2 Corinthians 12:9)

He has certainly proven Himself in this word to me. I have no idea how I have managed to do it, but I have managed to produce the required amount of wholesome, gut-healing food without fail every. single. day. Feel free to view this fact as a miracle. I certainly do.

Another concern I had about beginning this diet was related to my time with the Lord. I knew that I would be busy. In the past, busyness often meant that I would miss a day or more of reading my Bible and spending time in prayer. I have come to view God's Word as my lifeline and prayer as my strength, and I cannot imagine surviving the day without those things.

I remember studying John 6 several weeks ago. Jesus warned his listeners, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you because God the Father has set His seal on Him." While studying the GAPS diet, the danger of laboring only for the food that perishes (daily bread . . . . or in my case, broth and vegetables) became a very literal concern for me. I feared that all of the work I was to put into healing and nourishing my body would rob me of the time I needed to spend nourishing my soul. However, God has answered my concerns by building two new activities into my daily schedule that have rendered this danger impossible--Sara takes a nap two hours after waking and two hours after Sara wakes, I collapse from exhaustion. Sara naps, Micah plays, I sip my tea and read my Bible for I simply cannot do one more thing without taking a rest.

If rearranging my schedule wasn't enough, God has also been doing this cool little thing in which He opens my eyes to His presence during the most mundane, everyday tasks--while pulling a shirt over Micah's red head, while observing and deciding how to respond to Sara's temper tantrums, while chopping vegetables, etc. These revelations come out of thin air, simultaneously knocking me over the head like a frying pan and sweetly warming my soul like a ray of sunshine.

My favorite head-knocking, soul-warming experience is my most recent. On Saturday, I made sauerkraut, the very important probiotic food mentioned above. (I will delve into the reasons that probiotics are so important for me in a future post.) In an effort to invite you into the metaphor, I need to share a bit about the process--

To make sauerkraut, one must take a head of cabbage, wash it, peel away the bruised and wilted outer leaves, cut it into quarters, pull out the core, and shred the leaves with a knife or food-processor. The shreds must then be tightly packed into glass containers along with filtered water and a tablespoon of all-natural, unprocessed sea salt. The containers should sit upon the counter for an hour or so until the shreds begin to soften and wilt. At the end of the hour, the containers are emptied into a bowl, one by one, and the shreds are smashed so they will release juices important to the fermenting process. The smashed, shredded cabbage and juices are placed back into the container, which must sit upon the counter for 3-7 days.

My frying pan/sunshine moment occurred as I stood smashing my cabbage. My eyes suddenly opened and instead of cabbage, I saw myself. I saw myself pruned and washed, cored and chopped, salted and smashed--all to serve a higher purpose far beyond my raw, unregenerate state. Raw cabbage would reek havoc upon my seriously impaired digestive system. It has to be transformed if it is to be helpful to me. Likewise, I cannot reach my full potential without my own season of "smash and wait." Oh, how my eyes opened! Oh, how I saw! I have been asking, "Why me? Why me?" with wist instead of wonder! I should be asking with wonder! Isn't it wonderful that the Lord would think upon me, poor and needy and raw and cabbage-like as I am? Isn't it wonderful that He would take the time to pick up the shreds in which my circumstances have left me, place me into a bowl and carefully, lovingly press me until I become something else, something more? 

This is what God's power does--it makes my weakness my strength! Truly, this illness is a "messenger of Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7). Satan had his purposes in this trial, but those purposes are nothing so noble as transformation. He is out to destroy me, but God is over-ruling him in every domain of my life in which he threatens to enter. My body has been attacked, yet it serves as a portrait of grace because it is doing things it should not be doing. I'm SICK, y'all! I should NOT be able to spend 4-5 hours in the kitchen every day! My mind has been attacked. It is a miracle that I haven't given up by now, yet when the dark, depressing thoughts come, the Lord brings through the "brain fog" His words I have hidden not in my mind, but in my heart. His words defeat Satan every time. My spirit has been attacked. There are times I want to run away, but the presence of the Lord is my anchor, my strength, my stay. His presence is also my joy, which is the reason I can smile when I have run out of reasons to do so . . . . because He is always near. Not that I smile all of the time or even half of the time. Let's get real, here. Life totally sucks for me right now. But joy does remain, and a single smile in a day is pretty miraculous.

A few weeks ago, my friend Jenny mailed me a copy of this beautiful poem of which I was reminded as I stood at my counter smashing sauerkraut on Saturday--

Broken Lilies
 by Alice Hansche Mortenson

"While working in my garden,
I one day leaned too low
And rudely broke two lily buds
That I had cherished so;
Regret and consternation
Across my spirit stole,
But tenderly I gathered them
And placed them in a bowl.
And to my joy they did not die,
Their fragrance filled our home;
They seemed to open lovelier,
Thus set apart alone.
Oh, I shall never doubt again
The Gardener Divine,
Who breaks His buds, not carelessly,
But with the wise design
That He may draw them close to Him
Through sorrow set apart,
Their fragrance breathing sweeter in 
The garden of His heart."

To some, God speaks in the garden; to others, in the kitchen or the schoolroom or the office. He is God of both big and small. He is Lord of the whole earth and Lord of the sauerkraut. He is the King of my heart. And I am so glad that my illness has opened my eyes to His worth!

"It is in life's common experiences, that Christ usually reveals Himself to us. One of His disciples asked Him to show them the Father--he wanted some remarkable revealing, a great glory, like the Sinai splendor. Jesus said, 'Have I been with you these three years--and have you never known Me? I have been showing you the Father all the while!' He had been doing this in sweet, gentle living, in patience, in kindness, in thoughtfulness, in purity and simplicity of life. The disciples had seen all these beautiful things in their Master, day after day--but they had not dreamed that these were divine revealings; that in them, He was revealing God!"---J. R. Miller, "The Life of Jesus"

Before the Dawn

A few weeks ago, I was at a friend's house listening to the story of her illness, recovery and the Lord's presence and work in both. As she finished telling her tale, she said, "It's a cheesy saying, but it was true for me--'It's always darkest before the dawn.'"

The character of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight and singer Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine both have shared this old adage (which has been around since the 17th century) with the world in new ways it won't soon forget ("Shake It Out," anyone?), but I required my friend's account of her illness before I could embrace the truth of it. Scientifically, the phrase doesn't play out. But it's not about science. It's about perspective.

Imagine being cast into the suffocating dark of the longest night you have known. Imagine the dawn to be one of the deepest longings of your heart. Imagine believing with all your soul that the dawn approaches. Imagine what it feels like when the dawn seems late. Imagine what it feels like when the moon sinks into bed, resting its luminous head behind the horizon as the stars blink out sleepily as if their work is done. Their work is not done! The light is gone and the dawn is late! Your hopes sink with the moon. Your faith fades with the stars. Truly, the hour is the darkest you have known.

Anybody feel that?

Thus was the state of my soul yesterday and this morning when I woke.

I had been doing well. My still-new medication was masking my pain so effectively that I was feeling able, competent. When new allergies to chicken, fish and shellfish developed last week, I took the news and the evidence thereof in stride. "At least I don't hurt," I thought. "I can cope with hunger and the discomfort of an over-stimulated immune system as long as I don't feel pain." I didn't cry. I didn't mourn. I accepted, and moved on. And then there was Sunday.

Over the weekend, humid, oppressively hot Louisiana received the gift of a "cold" front, which I could enjoy freely thanks to Cymbalta, my little miracle drug. The soaring temperatures dipped down into the 60s and 70s. The sun beamed in celebration and the trees applauded Autumn's breezy approach. A lovely prelude to my favorite season beckoned me outdoors. I could not help but comply.

I carried baby and bottle along with me, and reclined in my lounge chair. I pulled up the legs of my yoga pants, rolled up the sleeves of my t-shirt and arranged my limbs just so to receive the full effect of the sun. I basked in its healing rays for only a few moments before my mother-in-law drove up our drive. She had come to grant me a short reprieve from the-girl-who-does-not-sleep so that I might get some rest. We chatted while I shamelessly bathed in sunbeams. She took Sara to her swing. I looked on as my baby grinned happily. For a moment, I was euphoric, watching my girl, drinking in the day, anticipating my much-needed nap. And then the sun, my long-time friend, betrayed me unexpectedly.

Rather than causing my skin to tingle with warmth and happiness, the sun's rays began to sear me as if they were white-hot branding irons. I half-expected to burst into flame. I voiced my alarm to my mother-in-law. "If I'm burning, we need to get Sara out of the sun." You see, I didn't yet understand. But it did not take me long. I came inside to find that my feet were scarlet red and swollen twice their size. I inspected my legs and arms. I had a suspiciously allergic-looking rash spreading. I began to feel a tightness in my chest and an itching in my ears.

"No!" my inner voice cried in distress. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no!"

I had been outside for less than 15 minutes, and what I was experiencing was clearly an allergic reaction to the sun. I took 100 mg of Benadryl, rubbed on some aloe vera gel, which did nothing to alleviate the burn, and sobbed. I was crushed, and I simply could not understand. I had believed that everything that was not a breathing, living being had been taken away from me already. I had believed myself to have been completely stripped down to the core of my soul. And to my surprise, here was something else I had to lose, and the implications of such a loss were severe.

The sun had always been there to help me feel better. It had relieved me from pain, from depression, from grief. I had always romanticized my time in the sun, as if the act of sunbathing itself was poetry. It had always felt like poetry. It didn't take me long to realize that with a sun allergy, I could no longer take my children outdoors without being fully clothed and wearing a hat. Sunscreen was an unlikely option. With my track record, I can only assume that I'm allergic to that as well. My aspirations of taking Micah to the zoo fizzled. My hopes to enjoy a ride on Brandon's new boat sunk. And I had thought I was going to learn to farm . . . . I was spiraling.

I called my mom, crying. Before I hung up, she suggested I do a little research to see if the reaction could have been caused by my drug. This is what I found: 39,138 people reported to have side effects when taking Cymbalta. Among them, 37 people (0.09%) have Photosensitivity Reaction. Of those 37 people, only 5.5% are my age. Most people affected by this reaction are 50 years and older. I also read that while the recommended treatment is to discontinue use of the drug, photosensitivity can remain as a life-long problem.

So here it is--less than 1 in 1,000 people who experience side effects when taking Cymbalta have a photosensitivity reaction. I'm the 1. Not only am I the one, but of that 1 in 1,000, only 1 in 20 are my age. In addition to these fun facts, I read that I can continue to be sensitive to the sun for the rest of my life. Well, crap. Brandon recommended that I purchase a lottery ticket, but that isn't the way my "luck" works. If fortune is my master, then I could have a share in a lottery of 1,000 people with 999 winners, and I would be the one loser.

Fortunately, fortune is not my master.

I did not take my medicine yesterday. With that decision, I made another--I will not seek the assistance of another pharmaceutical drug designed to mask my pain for the duration of my illness. My body seems to reject anything that messes with my brain chemistry. Yesterday, pain from randomly firing nerves, which gives the sensation of being bitten in various places, returned along with some of my carpal tunnel pains. Today, I woke with aching, shooting, burning pains in all four quadrants of my body and the knowledge that I can't seek any relief from the sun, which glows gloriously from my view. One thing is for certain--I will know when I am better.

Broken and bleeding in soul, I went to the one place I can find a spark of hope, no matter how dark the night. I was led to Lamentations 3. Lamentations felt appropriate.

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul,
'Therefore I hope in Him.'
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him
to the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear 
the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and keep silent,
Because God has laid it on him;
Let him put his mouth in the dust--
There may yet be hope."

From His word in Lamentations, His word in various other places in the Bible I have recently studied, and the conversations I have recently shared with various people, the Lord spoke to me thus--

"My beloved, do not fear the darkness of your night (Psalm 27:1). I AM the Light by which you see light (Psalm 36:9). In your darkness, I AM your Morning, and every morning when you wake, you will receive fresh mercies to meet the challenges of the day. No matter how bad things seem, your circumstances will not consume you. I AM faithful. I have proven myself faithful. Feed on my faithfulness (Psalm 37:3). I AM your Portion, the real food you need. Wait on me. Commit your way to me. I will act. (Psalm 37:5). Wait when all seems lost. Wait for my timing. I AM never late. Healing is not your hope. Remember, I AM your Hope, your Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3). Your were saved for a hope greater than physical healing. You were saved in the hope of full redemption for your body (Romans 8:23). Everything you have lost, I will restore to you one-thousand fold, so do not worry about the apparent misfortune of being one "loser" in the midst of 1,000 "winners." Remember, hope that is seen is not hope. Why would you still hope for what you can see (Romans 8:24-25)? Persevere, my love. Wait for me. Wait. Be still before me. Cry, but do not clamor. Weep, but do not fret (Psalm 37:7-8). Remember, I AM near to the broken heart, the dependent soul (Psalm 34:18). Your pain makes you dependent. It draws you near to me. I AM faithful. I will draw near to you (James 4:8). Your pain brings my nearness. Your pain is your good (Lamentations 3:25). It is good to take upon my yoke in your youth (Lamentations 3:27). Learn from me. Submit to me. Trust me. My yoke is easy. Slip it on. My burden is light. I will lead, only follow. There is rest in submission to me (Matthew 11:28-20). Even in the darkest night, there is hope. The dawn is coming, my dear. You will be well. Heed your mother's words--'Brace yourself for a two year recovery.' I am willing to heal you, Darling, but not as I healed the deaf man (Mark 1:40-44), for I intend that your testimony will be different in character from that of the deaf man, but no less powerful. Your healing will be difficult and drawn out. He received the sweeping brush of the Painter. You are destined for the shaping pressure and fiery oven of the Potter. Your dawn is not as nigh as you would have it. You will want to give up. Wait. I will strengthen your heart (Psalm 27:14). I will feed you from the abundance of my house. As you sit in the midst of sorrow, you will sip the coming joy (Psalm 36:8). Why is your soul cast down, My Sweet? Why are you disquieted? (Psalm 42:5) Let me quiet you with my love, for it is vaster than you can fathom (Zephaniah 3:17). Press on. Press on because I have made you My Own (Philippians 3:12). Press on, and hope in me. I will help you with my Presence (Psalm 42:5). Value Me more than health. Treasure Me above wealth. Make Me your God, and not your belly (Philippians 3:19). Desire the comfort of your soul above the comfort of your body. Lay down your career, and I will give you great and glorious work which I have prepared for you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). Lay down your imagined rights, and you shall gain true rights to the Kingdom. Lay down your preferences, and I will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). Give up fun, and I will give you pleasure. Give up leisure, and I will give you rest. Surrender your dreams, and I will give you purpose. Die to everything you are, and I will transform your lowly, sickly little body, and conform it to My glorious body (Philippians 3:21). In whatever circumstances I allot to you, find your contentment in Me. You can do all things in my strength (Philippians 4:11-12). Above all, remember that your hope is not in the dawn, but in the Bright and Morning Star, whom outshines the sun and gives light to the whole world (Revelation 22:16). I AM your Hope! And I will bring you into a light more brilliant and glorious than any dawn you can imagine!"

The darkness yet gathers, heaping black against black. Life is not getting easier as I would wish. There is no faint glimmer of hope on the horizon, yet Hope is in my heart. For my hope is not in the dawn, and being assured of that brings a beauty to even the darkest hour of my night. But the dawn is coming, and I will give such a shout that the clouds themselves will flee when it finally arrives.

Finite--The Tale of the Death of Supermom

The house is quiet. I hear only the hum of the dishwasher and the occasional pant from our overweight rat-terrier. These rare, peaceful moments afford me a few moments to take stock of my surroundings, the week behind me, the week before me and the state of my life in general.

I see dirty floors and an embarrassing layer of dust resting lazily on the darker furniture. Pockets of clutter sit proud and ugly, daring me to expend energy pulling them apart and tucking them away, rather than taking a needed beat to sit, think and write. Empty boxes cry out to be filled with non-essentials in preparation for the impending move. Dirty towels coil like snakes, ready and willing to take over the bathroom if ignored for too long. But hey, the dishwasher is running.

My precious reds slumber peacefully after a short night and an early morning at my parents' house. Pain and exhaustion drove me to send out an S.O.S. The thin wire upon which I balance so precariously snapped Friday evening, sending me to that dark and scary place of pain, fatigue and the inability to even take care of myself. In that place, I face a moment by moment fight to put one foot in front of the other and not allow the discouragement of it all to swallow me whole. Brandon desperately needed a break from being Atlas. The world is heavy thing to carry on your shoulders. Reinforcements were summoned. Praise God for a broad network of love that catches the crazy tightrope walker and man of steel when they topple and collapse.

Depending upon whether you like me or not, you will either laugh or cry when I tell you what sent me off of the edge. It wasn't all that much, really. Appointments on Monday and Friday and a couple of social calls Friday afternoon were the only departures from home. At home, I struggled to keep the dishes and laundry under control, feed the family, and spend a little quality time with the Lord, my husband and children. That is all. Micah and Sara spent more time in front of the television than I care to admit. I failed to pack even one box. And I attempted three times to vacuum, yet the floors remain filthy. Granted, we are dealing with a defiant three year old who enjoys tatooing my sofa with ink pen and who is also having regular late night anxiety attacks along with an infant spoiled to the ends of her strawberry-blonde ringlets, something which is bound to happen to a child born with colic, reflux, allergies, insomnia and a poor immune system. Granted, my Superman has been out and about, saving the world, requiring a bit more of me on the home front. Granted, I am still navigating the current of a life-altering illness, but when I consider the fact that basic mothering and housekeeping sent me to my wit's end, I feel a little . . . . irked.

Once upon a time, I envisioned my life as a homemaker looking like some awe-inspiring combination of Martha Stewart, Michelle Duggar, Renee Fleming, J.K. Rowling and Mother Theresa. I wanted to do it all--have more children than fingers, all perfectly behaved and home-educated, have a beautiful, clean, organized home, primed for entertaining, serve a new and delicious home-cooked meal every night, have a blossoming musical career, encompassing both teaching and performing, write a best-selling young adult fiction series, all the while being involved in ministry and community outreach. (Naturally, I envisioned all of this before the sobering reality of  real children.)

Obviously, my life as it is sits in sharp contrast to the fairy tale I planned to write. I had written myself as the hero, but I was a poor, insufficient choice for such a role. One by one, I have had to unfurl my fingers from the edges of each dream, and watch quietly as they floated away and out of my reach. My musical career has been non-existent for almost a full year. I have accepted that two children fill my quiver. My novel may never be written. (A novel requires time, energy and mental clarity, and carpal tunnel syndrome does not help matters.) My house may never be perfectly clean, organized or tidy again, and Martha Stewart certainly wouldn't approve of my toilet rings or of my decision to move into a trailer. Instead of being Mother Theresa, I must settle for taking her advice--"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family." I have been a hard case. I didn't let go of those dreams easily, and when I did, it was with an aching sobriety that usually accompanies news of death. And truly, things I held as sacred and precious did die.

I'm about to make a big statement with which many of you will disagree, but here goes--I believe that God appoints hardships and trials, and I believe that He appoints them for our good. Let that sink in for just a moment. I'm saying that God sent sickness into my life. I'm saying that He has killed my dreams. I'm saying that He has sent me to the brink of death and pulled me back again, back into pain, hunger and heartbreak. And I'm also saying that it has been good.

What is "good?" The American Dream defines good as "health, wealth and prosperity." The Bible defines "good" this way--"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who have been called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, these He also predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:28-29)

Thus, "good" means "being conformed into the image of Jesus." My dreams? They didn't look like Jesus. They looked like a Pharisee, stinking with pretty perfume to cover the reeking stench of pride and death. I had to be freed from the bondage of performance and the Supermom image I was so desperate to create. I am NOT called to be Supermom. I am called to be like Jesus. And you can't be like Jesus until you die. It may not sound like God is qualified to write fairy tales if He kills off His damsel (notice I am no longer the hero, but the damsel), but I can assure you that He writes better fairy tales than you, me or the Brothers Grimm.

In the story God is writing, I, the damsel, am thrown into a fire. I don't believe that God did the tossing, but I think He gave the "okay," and I am certain that Satan was pleased when he received permission to throw me to the flames. In my mind's eye, I see him rubbing his hands together, scheming the demise of the faith which threatens to save me from ultimate destruction. But you know what? What Satan meant for evil, GOD meant for good. The flames indeed rise around me, but instead of being consumed by the fire, I am being purified. I am melted, and it hurts and it burns, but the dross--my dreams, sin and failures--separate from my faith, rising in empty bubbles to the top. And because Christ has already faced the only fire that could ever really destroy me, the essence of who I am remains, and I am better and more beautiful than I once was. Supermom could not defeat the lifelong sin that had a choke-hold on my relationship with Christ, but the fire that turned Supermom to ash ate that sin for breakfast. I no longer struggle with it. Submission to my husband and my role as a help-meet are no longer thorns in my side, but joys to my soul. The anxiety that once threatened to drown me has evaporated in the heat. The sense of entitlement I once felt toward things like food, sleep, and fun is long gone. In its place is a deep knowing that my needs for sustenance, rest and enjoyment can only be met in Christ. (Is this story epic or what?)

So, with Paul, I indeed "count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ,  and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [or seemingly nice and innocent dreams], but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:8-11)

(That passage is my new memory project, by the way. )

The fire has cleared my vision. I am beginning to understand that God is bigger, wilder, more fearsome, more uncontrollable and more infinite than I can possibly imagine. I can see my smallness. I embrace my smallness. The fact that I come to the end of myself so easily still makes me want to cry, but I take those tears to Jesus, even the ones shed over stupid things like dirty floors and unpacked boxes and frazzled hair that tells true tales about my frailty.

In the words of my favorite singer/songwriter, Sara Groves, from her song "Finite"--"I'm not every woman. It's not all in me." And you know what? It doesn't have to be. The tyranny of Supermom has ended. Now I can be exactly who God wants me to be. I can be finite. I can be limited. I can be the damsel. And I can let Him be God, the Hero, the One who slays my dragons, the One who saves me from the Wicked Witch, the One who kisses me awake from the sinister slumber of false dreams, the One who lays down His life for me and somehow rises again to live for me, the One who says, "I AM WHO I AM," which means He has the authority to send whatever fire He wants into my life, the right to expect my devotion and obedience in the midst of that fire, and the loving-kindness to work that fire for my good and save my life in the end. The most awesome thing about this fairy tale is that He does this all not only for me, but for everyone who trusts in Jesus . . . . and we all get to live happily ever after.

Taste and See

In the beginning, when my illness was so severe, new and scary, it was difficult to decide which part of it was the most problematic. My allergies were frightening, and they could have ended my life at any time. My digestive system was traumatized to the point that I had difficulty drinking water. My fatigue was discouraging. The pain was depressing. Now that my symptoms have plateaued and I've had some time to process and deal with the fallout, I have decided what the worst part of my illness is not. The worst part is not my food limitations, which is weird because I have always REALLY loved food, and I am now super limited and am becoming more limited all the time.

These days, my entire menu is chicken, beef, venison, turkey, tilapia, tuna, grapeseed, canola or sunflower oil, eggs, greens, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, asparagus, carrots, squashes, pears, rice, tea, honey, potatoes, and sweet potatoes . . . . all on careful rotation.That's it, and I still have phantom reactions. Salt is the only seasoning I can use without unpleasant consequences. (Thank you, GOD, for salt!)

I did not arrive at the conclusion that my life was not finished overnight. I have grieved with real shock, real guilt, real anger, real depression, and real tears over the loss of many, many foods I once enjoyed. It took awhile for me to become accustomed to cooking a meal every night, something I never imagined I would do, but I have gotten the hang of it. Brandon helps by cooking breakfast most mornings, and I occasionally assign him grilling duty. For lunch, I eat rice cereal or leftovers when I'm feeling frisky. I have eaten at a restaurant only once since May. I trust very few people with my life, so I rarely eat from other people's kitchens. Our social events aren't often centered around food anymore, but I have found that it isn't that bad. As would anyone, I sometimes sigh with longing for a favorite food--chocolate, peanut butter, bananas, goat milk, popcorn, pizza--but not long enough to make me unhappy . . . . not even when food is being passed around and praised and the pleasant scent of whatever is being served wafts in my direction. It has taken several months, but I have worked through my losses. I won't say that I "have arrived," but I have learned to accept and even embrace my food limitations.

This is not my work, but the work of GOD in me. Nothing in me wants to lay down my imagined right to eat what I want to eat. Nothing in me is able to look on contentedly with goodwill as people exclaim over foods I would very much like to eat. [Aside: No one is allowed to feel guilty. You hear me? NO ONE (Dad)! I do not begrudge anyone the enjoyment good food.] Nothing in me is able to be hungry and happy. And yet, by some miracle, it is happening. I'm cheerfully laying down my rights one by one, most of which truly are imagined. The pleasure others find in food brings me pleasure. I can feel hungry and smile anyway. I won't claim to be able to be hungry for long and still be able to smile. Ha! I'm no super saint! However, left to myself, I would be a bitter, jealous mess of a woman with whom no one would care to associate.

What's my secret? I'm so glad you asked because I've been dying to share! I'm feeding, just not on food . . . . in the traditional sense, that is. I'm satisfied and sustained, but my satisfaction and sustenance reach beyond physical implications. I'm experiencing pleasure, and it is a pleasure that surpasses the likes of chocolate molten lava cake, creamy pasta dishes, ice cold Coca-Cola, and even PIZZA.

You may recall the Timothy Keller quote I cited in my first post about my illness--"This is the real food I need--Christ's unconditional commitment to me." This quote has been on the chalkboard hanging in our kitchen since May 3rd. I see it every day, multiple times a day. It is a part of me now, and was the diving board that catapulted me into a deep pool, brimming with instruction and encouragement. The "deep pool" of which I speak is actually only one verse in the Bible--

"Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who trusts in Him."--Psalm 34:8

I have meditated on this verse for several weeks. As I have done so, the Lord has brought me to many scriptures, familiar and new, that have given me greater insight into what tasting and seeing means. These verses have also been instrumental in my healing and emancipation from my idolatry of food. Below, I have typed out my hand-written journal entry, which gives shape to my thoughts about food. I tremble a little to share something so personal so publicly, but it is my deepest wish to be able to encourage others with the same encouragement with which I have been encouraged. If you followed that last sentence, you will probably be able to follow my entry--

"Immediately after Jesus taught a crowd of disciples that He is the Bread of Life and that believers must eat His flesh, many disciples turned away because the lesson was difficult to understand and even harder to accept. Jesus then looked to the Twelve, and asked, "Do you also want to go away?" John 6:68-69 records Peter's passionate, heartfelt response, which seems to parallel the exhortation to "taste and see" in Psalm 34--"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe [taste] and know [see] that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

I hypothesize that Peter knew and loved Psalm 34 all of his life. He extensively references and quotes Psalm 34 in 1 Peter. The most obvious reference is one to verse 8--"as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:2-3) Sara is now nine months old, but as a newborn, she would screech until she was given food. She demanded food every hour on the hour. Girlfriend was hungry. That is the hunger I should cultivate for the word of God, which points to the Word of God.

I believe when Jesus was teaching us to pray that we would be given "our daily bread," He was not speaking of actual bread. (Matthew 6:11) I believe Jesus was instructing us to request and seek out the daily strength and sustenance of the soul. In the same sermon, Jesus teaches, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25) He goes on to say that the Father knows what we need. If He takes care of the sparrows, He will take care of His prized creation--mankind. I know that there is poverty in the world so severe that people starve to death and die in the elements. What about those people? That question causes me to believe that the bread spoken of in each passage isn't bread at all. I believe that Jesus is referring to Himself--the Real Bread, the Living Bread. I believe when He told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," He was instructing us to seek our daily Sustenance in the Word--Jesus Christ.

My Bible cross-references Matthew 6:11 with a favorite passage from Job--

"He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 28:8-12)

In Deuteronomy, Moses reminds Israel that God humbled them, allowed them to hunger, and fed them with manna "that He might make [them] know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:3) This lesson tastes familiar to me.

If we feed on the True Bread, we "are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of [His] house, and [He] gives [us] drink from the river of [His] pleasures." (Psalm 36:8) We are promised that "there is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." (Psalm. 34:9-10) Jesus is the True Bread, the Bread of Life. He tells us, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you . . . ." (John 6:27) The Son of Man has given me Himself, and I need Him more than food. He is the True Manna. God the Father fed the Israelites with manna from Heaven, but Jesus is the fulfillment and embodiment of the symbol. By giving us Jesus, God the Father has fed the entire world (John 6:31-33) I am awed by the perfect beauty, clarity and symmetry in the Bible. All things point to Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all things!

And Jesus says it Himself--"I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst," meaning that I can starve to death, but if I have Jesus, I have all I need. I have everything. (John 6:35) If I come to Him for sustenance, He will not cast me out. He will satisfy me. (John 6:37)

 Life and the enjoyment thereof does not lie in earthly pleasures, even pleasures so keen as coffee and dessert. The ultimate pleasure is the fullness of life that Jesus gives--the Bread of Life, Himself. When I am in doubt, I will "feed on His faithfulness." (Psalm 37:3) When I sigh with longing for chips and salsa, I will delight in the Living Bread, and He will grant the real desires of my heart. (Psalm 37:4) When my heart is set upon monster cookies, I will reset it upon the Word of God, which is no empty word for me, but my very life. (Deuteronomy 32:46-47) When I am ravenous and my stomach cannot tolerate food, I will remember that my Shepherd stands ready to feed me, keeping me from being "consumed with hunger." (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 29) He feeds the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. (Matthew 6:26; Psalm 136:25) He will certainly feed me--body and soul."

(End entry.)

The journey has been messy and difficult, and continues to be. The hunger and cravings don't go away. I don't always maintain the proper attitude, but Jesus, the True Bread, is my home base and resting place. In Him, I find my center. The True Bread does not kill me, but gives me life. The True Bread does not deprive me of oxygen, but gives me clean, fresh air to breathe. He does not upset my stomach, but gives me nourishment. He does not make me itch, but provides balm for my wounds.

You may not have the food restrictions I have. Nonetheless, I invite you to join me in the most satisfying feast in this life! Let us feast on Jesus! He is everything we need and more than we could ever dream! Once you get a real taste of this Bread, you will see that everything else in this life becomes bland and pales in comparison.

Water, Water Everywhere

A miracle: It's been raining now for a full seven months, and we haven't drowned yet.

Friends and family sometimes look at Sara, and remark upon how much she has grown since they last saw her. They cannot believe that she is almost 9 months old. They say, "It flies by so quickly!" I smile and nod, but I always feel a little disoriented when I consider the recent passage of time. So much life has been lived that it seems impossible to fit it all into nine brief months, yet it has gone by in such a blur that when I access the memories, it is as if I'm viewing them underwater with muffled sound and obscured clarity. Fitting in this flood, don't you think?

Sara's birth and the following complications come back to me in flashes--pain, blood, gasps, sweat, tears, and euphoria. I slept so little during Sara's first few weeks of life that I am grasping to remember them at all. I am not sure Christmas happened in 2011. Photos are the only evidence. On January 6, 2012, we were told that our children had RSV. Micah was well within a couple of days. Sara was very sick for two months. She has had ear infections almost continually since, and finally had a successful tube surgery last Thursday. In January, I dreamed a prophetic dream in which Death promised to come for me over and over again; also in which God promised to protect me every time it came. Since then, I have survived six cases of anaphylaxsis, too many new food allergies to count, two complete shut downs of my digestive system, dehydration, and pain explained and unexplained all over my body. Over the course of the last three months, I have seen my general practitioner, a naturopathic doctor, an immunologist, a rheumatologist, a gastrointerologist, and a physical therapist. Brandon has suffered as well. It turns out that every superman has his own version of kryptonite. Brandon's is gluten, and he is now on a gluten-free diet. (I am exceedingly proud of his good attitude.) And then there is my Micah Man, who has gotten a little lost in the chaos, a fact that brings wistful tears to my eyes. Tears don't help our water problem.

Medical bills sit in neat, little piles waiting to be paid. I have never known another time in my life when there were so many medical bills. On the table they sit, opened and read, from the emergency room, urgent care, Sara's ENT, a medical laboratory, and our pediatrician's office. Bills from Sara's recent surgery and my upcoming endoscopy will find a resting place in our bed of intimidating mail. Maybe the waves will carry them away.

In addition to our concerns about health, family dynamics and finances, change has come in with the tide. I can only mention one major change at the moment--we're moving! To answer the first question we are always asked upon that announcement--we aren't moving far. Our new residence will be about 10 miles southeast of our current homestead in a small community called Crossroads, located just north of Rocky Branch."Why?" you may ask, "would anyone who needs to reduce stress choose to move?"

I will tell you--at first, I was against it. We had attempted a move back in the Spring, and it fell through. I felt like God had prevented us from moving because He knew that I would become ill and that we wouldn't be able to physically or financially sustain a larger, two-story home requiring renovations. Little did I know that He had something better for us up His sleeve. It is difficult to imagine anything being better than the charming country house, updated to our taste and specifications on eight acres of timber property, but the word"better" doesn't always mean what we think it means. For us, "better" means selling our nice, newly renovated home of two years, downsizing to a used, single-wide trailer, selling several newly acquired possessions, and settling on the property my parents recently purchased to which they will be moving, along with my sister, this fall. Sometime over the course of the next several months, we will begin a farm at this new location, complete with chickens, goats, a large vegetable garden, and the Lord only knows what else.

Our decision to move went something like this: A couple of months ago, Brandon went with my dad to explore my parents' new property. When he came home that afternoon, he asked me, "Babe, how would you feel about getting a trailer, and moving out to your parents' place?"

Stunned for a moment, I said, "I would need a really good reason to move anywhere right now."

Brandon replied, "Okay. How about being debt free in two years?"

I gulped. "That would be a very good reason." And I promised to consider the idea.

I wondered what it would be like to live beside my parents. I didn't know for sure, but I was already very sick and realized that I may need to live close to them. Once upon a time, I was upset to be moving out of their home. It could really be fun to live close to them again! I wondered how my relationship with my sister might change if we were neighbors. Since I moved out of my parents' home, our relationship has been pretty good. Some people need a little distance to have healthy relationships, and I have always thought of us as some of those people. But Hannah is becoming a different person these days. Our relationships with the Lord have changed us both, and given us much more in common. It could be a wonderful, beautiful thing to have my sister close by and watch our children grow up together. The idea touches my heart so profoundly that I can't think about it without tears gathering in my eyes.

 I could clearly see the practicality of the move. Brandon and I have desired to live in financial freedom for years. We want to be able to buy what we want to buy, do what we want to do, and give what we want to give without having to worry whether or not our finances will allow it. Debt free living would have come in handy this year considering all of the medical bills flowing in. We also had discussed starting a farm in a few years. It would be extremely beneficial to learn first hand how to care for the animals and tend the vegetables before starting a place for ourselves. Micah would soon be able to be a real help to my dad, and would receive a valuable, practical education in return. I am currently planning to homeschool my kids. Living on the farm, they would have access to real life learning situations, and benefit from three highly knowledgeable and skilled teachers of various subjects while living there. The only con to the situation I could see is that it would take us 10 miles further away from Ruston and away from our church. My conclusion was that our church is worth 10 extra miles. In less than 24 hours of thought and prayer, I told Brandon that I was fully supportive of this move.

Within a few days of the decision, we found a gently-used, single-wide trailer with a great layout for $20,000. Brandon decided to mortgage the mobile home, and thought to take out a home equity loan to pay for our expenses--preparing the property for housing, moving and medical bills. It seems that we are creating more debt, but a plan is in place to eliminate it. It appears as if we creating more stress, but the idea is to simplify. This decision reminds me of organizing a closet--in order to create order, there must first be chaos.

Every part of our lives, massive and miniscule, has been torn out of their respective places and thrown into a messy pile. A neurotic, OCD personality like myself could easily become overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed, but I came to the end of myself a long time ago. There is no way I could handle all of this craziness on my own. I would drown in it! I am actually handling it all like a child--with blind trust. I blindly trust that the Lord is working this out. It seems to be the sort of thing He does. It feels right--not in a sense it feels right because I want it to be right, but in a sense that I know it is right to my very core. God has initiated all of these changes. They have quite literally happened to us. The only decision we have made is to say "yes" to the move. What God initiates, He executes. I believe that I will have enough good days to do what I must. I believe that every hiccup in the process is according to plan. I believe that every dollar saved in preparations is a gift. I believe that we will have all of the help we will need to see it through.

So bring on the rain, and let the waves come. I will not worry. My Lifeguard walks on water.


Sara's surgery went very well. I was a typical nervous mommy, but I held it together without embarrassing myself or my husband. The first half hour after surgery was bad, but months of colic prepared us for the inconsolable crying. By the time we arrived at the house, she was happy and ready to play.

I had my first physical therapy session on Monday. My therapist believes my PGD can be corrected if I will be faithful to my exercises and stretches. I will be faithful, but my word, they hurt! I will go back on Monday, August 20 to be re-evaluated and learn some core strengthening exercises that should help my PGD to remain corrected.

I continue to have good days and bad days. The last few have been bad days. Today, I am suffering from widespread pain throughout my body, a migraine, fatigue and nausea. Our Honey came today. She took care of the kiddos while I took a nap. The Lord always provides what is needed. My bad days came after an entire week of good days. I was even able to clean my own house last week. It took several days, but it was the first time I was physically able to clean since I became ill!

I have an endoscopy scheduled for Thursday, August 16. My stomach continues to be very angry, and my new gastroenterologist intends to find out why. I have to have an IV for the procedure. I'm a baby when it comes to needles, so say a prayer for me if I come to mind.

I plan to put off the GAPS diet until after we are settled in our new home. I can't imagine another change right now any more than I can imagine drinking hot bone broths in this heat. I will begin my allergy cure therapy when I begin the diet.

Thank you again for your prayers and encouragement! May God bless you all ten-fold!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer Requests:

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Square One

In an unfortunate turn of events, I am back to square one. Well, not really. I know much more information than I did two months ago. I have dealt with my demons--figuratively and literally. I have experienced emotional healing in the hidden corners of my heart into which I had swept hurts of long ago. I have learned to accept current limitations while maintaining hope that I will not always be in this state. I have embraced the good that has accompanied the bad with a strength that is not my own. So, I'm really not back at square one . . . . It's just hard not to feel like I'm back at square one feeling like I'm feeling and knowing what I will have to endure for the next three days.

It is necessary to confess that I have been naughty. As I was explaining to Micah this afternoon, naughtiness, though not as serious as an offense as disobedience, can still earn us some hard knocks and stern corrections. I corrected Micah's naughtiness. My body is correcting mine. Here's my naughtiness--I really enjoy eating pigs. I like pork roast, pork chops, ham and my favorite cut of pork is a tie between ribs and bacon. It all depends on which one I'm eating at the time. (Yes, I eat like a man . . . let's move on.) Well, on Wednesday morning, I ate bacon with my breakfast. On Wednesday night, Brandon made ribs. Let me tell you about this man's ribs. They are the BEST ribs IN. THE. WORLD. They are tender, fall-off-the-bone, juicy morsels, and he makes this gluten-free, corn-free sauce that is 100% tangy amazingness. Is your mouth watering yet? It should be. I am embarrassed to admit that even though I felt less than great after celebrating my independence by eating what I wanted, I ate the leftovers the next day. (I know . . . shame!) And of course, my body was not very forgiving.

As a result of my naughtiness, I became very ill yesterday afternoon. I had burning in my stomach, asthma symptoms, itching, hotflashes, a migraine and my arthritis pain worsened quickly and significantly. Yesterday, it was easy to speculate that the unexpected rain was the cause, but I am quite sure that was not the case based on today's events. Today, I began reacting to everything I ate as I did two months ago. I had an immediate systemic reaction with each meal and snack--rice cereal and egg yolks, chicken and rice with broccoli, a handful of blueberries. All in all, these are very unoffensive foods. Yet, here I sit in a Benadryl stupor, scratching the insides of my ears like a dog, hotflashing like a menopausal woman and burning throughout my digestive tract like a 50 year old man who has eaten too many chili dogs. I was able to catch a rare nap while holding a sleeping Sara in the recliner this afternoon. I woke to pretty severe arthritis pain . . . . the debilitating kind. It hasn't rained today that I know of.

The facts: I ate pork at three meals within less than 36 hours. Pork is not really good for anyone, and is one of the most allergenic meats out there. The theory: The pork has re-ulcerated my entire digestive tract, allowing everything I'm eating into my bloodstream in too-large particles. My body is attacking these particles as if they were a flu virus, causing me to feel like poo. The best solution would be a water fast. I won't go there again unless I must. As a compromise, I will be eating five very safe foods only for the next three days: rice cereal, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash and sweet potatoes. The effects will be hunger, toddler-like grouchiness and (hopefully) full, life-giving dependence upon my Savior and Sustainer.

As I begin this Daniel-esque fast, I plan to begin the BioSet program outlined in Ellen Cutler's book, The Food Allergy Cure. This is the program promoted by my naturopathic doctor. At first, I won't be able to do the program as it should be done because my food list will be too short to space desensitization cycles 25 hours apart. However, I think I can reap some benefit from the program even if I cannot follow it perfectly.

I ask you to put in a little extra prayer for me for the next three days. Please pray that I will be given grace, energy, rest, patience with my family, gratitude in my circumstances, joy in the trial, and perseverance in seeking the Lord for every need. Please pray that the Lord would guard me from the attacks of the wicked one as he is always seeking an opportunity to destroy me in my weakness. Instead, may my weaknesses usher me into God's sweet presence!

I am so thankful for the prayer support that the internet allows. I have people praying for me in several Louisiana churches and towns, in many states and even overseas! This is a marvel to me! A humbling, tear-inducing marvel! I cannot say it enough--thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! May the Lord bless you for your ministry.

A Good Week

Because I've so frankly written about my difficult days over the past couple of months, I feel that I would be remiss if I failed to share a few details of last week, which was, as the post title suggests, a good week. Today marks two months since that fateful afternoon snack of a coconut macaroon, which was the final crescendo of the prelude to the demise of life as I once knew it. On May 3rd, I woke to pain, and have felt pain in degrees every day since. The week before last was especially bad, and last week was especially good.

The weekend before last, the debilitating pain of the previous week was beginning to recede. By Monday morning, I felt almost normal. I wasn't hyper-aware of every major joint in my body. The pain in my hip was gone, allowing me to walk like a healthy 28-year-old. My hands and feet were functional. The only reminders of my illness were a dull ache in my right shoulder, a slight headache, a mild allergic reaction to something I had eaten the day before and fatigue, with which I have been living for a year and a half at this point.  For me, I felt great! And I continued to feel great throughout the week.

I have provided an overview of the week's accomplishments below:

I made it to the health food store in Ruston with Sara in tow . . . in 104 degree heat. Make no mistake, the Lord is responsible for getting me through the task, but it was an unusual feat nonetheless. And I was able to cook dinner, and give both children a bath that evening!

I cooked 7 meals in 6 days. I am still astonished at this record. I also have begun to realize that I was never thankful enough for convenience foods. Even when cooking simply, cooking from scratch several times a week is a task!

I am usually unable to keep up with the laundry. Last week, the laundry couldn't keep up with me!

My spunk and fire returned for the first time in several weeks. Mom said she could tell I felt better by my Facebook posts alone. Ha!

I was able to go shopping with Brandon for a couple of hours in the heat. I did not buy anything as we were shopping for mobile homes, but I survived looking at several of these non-air-conditioned heat traps. For those of you who are confused, a further explanation will be given in a future post. Or you can just call.

I baked a cake! A simple, apple bundt cake made with rice flour. At least, that was the intent. It actually ended up looking like this:
I used the wrong baking dish, and tried to shorten the two hour time commitment by baking it in the microwave. Lesson learned: Not all cakes should be baked in the microwave. Half of the batter boiled over while baking, leaving a sunken, crumbly mess that stuck to the pan. I was ready to count it as a loss, but Brandon suggested alternative marketing.

I placed the "cake" in a different dish, topped it with a clumpy glaze and voila!--
"Apple Crumb Cake"
 And it was delicious.

The most astounding accomplishment for the week was a photo session for me and the kids on Tuesday morning. My talented cousin/family photographer, Morgan Tucker, and I decided upon a 7am shoot in order to avoid the heat. The morning could have very well been a disaster. We had no extra set of hands to help with the children, which is nice to have even if you aren't at odds with your body. We did not have the chair we planned to bring for me to be able to sit comfortably. I woke late. The kids slept until I woke them up for the first time in their lives. (They are usually awake around 6:30.) We were running almost a half hour late when we left the house, and Sara had not had her daily poopsplosion which promised disaster if it occurred during the shoot as it usually means a huge mess, a bath and a twenty minute cleanup. Morgan later told me that she was very concerned about that morning, as well, but did not burden me with her concerns. However, what could have been a catastrophe, ended up being an amazing morning.

Once upon a time, I used to think (and sometimes say aloud) that God does not care about the mundane, inconsequential details of our lives. That morning, I found out I had been wrong. As it turns out, God enjoys proving Himself faithful to His children. I prayed that God would bless this trivial event, and He delivered. He so delivered! We arrived at the field that would serve as our location before 8am. The field was completely encircled and shaded by tall trees which blew soft, cool kisses our way all morning long. Sara saved her poopslosion for later in the day after we were home. Micah's protests were appeased by promises of ice cream before lunch. 

And maybe the biggest evidence of answered prayers--A few weeks ago, I would have been very uneasy about blindly traipsing through tall grass. Allow me to rephrase that--"I would have been scared outta my mind!" My imagination would have taken me to images of snakes, yellow jacket nests, fire ant beds, red bug bites from head to toe, and ticks in sensitive areas to name a few. I would have been afraid for myself, but more so for my children. Yet all I felt was a huge, gaping absence of fear. I was a bit taken off guard because I had been in this sad state of almost constant fear since my dream in January. I expected to be afraid that morning. I expected to have to wage war on my fear with my newly memorized Psalm 27. Instead, I had to go looking for the fear, and when I did, I couldn't find it! Can I tell you that I almost wept for joy? I didn't because I didn't want Morgan to think I was crazy and I didn't want to mess up my makeup, but I did weep from the well of joy and gratitude in my heart when I was at home later that afternoon. 

I have lived the words of the psalmist--"I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4)! I had been asking almost daily for the Lord to take away, deliver me from, and heal me of my fears. I do not know when it happened or how, but the fear that had grown into a monster I could not control . . . . a monster who threatened to eat me alive . . . . has suddenly vanished. And God brought his absence to my notice right before this photo shoot I had asked Him to bless.

I will tell you that shoot was not perfect. The children fussed and whined. They were not perfectly happy. But they were able to be distracted and made happy in intervals. Morgan was astoundingly patient, helpful and encouraging. Let me say here that a photographer like this girl is a rare find. She will work with you, your kids and everyone's needs without giving any hint of impatience or frustration. Morgan is also chronically ill, but you would never know it from her joy, kindness and consideration for the needs of others. She is a trooper and a saint . . . . and an absolute artist.

 (Click here to book your session with Morgan or to find out more about Jolly Tucker Photography.)

I don't know why I've never understood that God cares about the small things. It's plainly explained in scripture--

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows." 
Matthew 10:29-31

I can't say that I fully understand it, but I am thankful that He thinks of me enough and loves me enough to care about grocery trips and mobile home shopping in the heat. I'm glad that He is good enough to give me a good laugh over a baking failure. I am encouraged that He cares about details like shade and breezes and happy children during photo shoots. I could dance in exultation that He, without my immediate notice, took away my fear and decided to show me right before happy photos were taken! And today, as pain riddles my hands as I type out this tribute to the glorious faithfulness and lovingkindness of God with every joint screaming for my attention, I cannot let go of the gratitude I feel for a good week. 

Oh, Lord, "what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor."
Psalm 8:4-5

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Life is undoubtedly a gift. But lately, it has felt more like a task--a climbing uphill, an every step is a victory, an "I'm not sure I want to do this" kind of task. I've been in this state of constant pain for less than two months. I may have decades to go, and I already want out. I only have to think for a moment of all the people I know who have suffered patiently for years to realize what a pansy I am. Maybe over time, I will learn some of their strength, but for now I am thankful for any encouragement or inspiration I can get, especially when it comes to me in the sage wisdom of three-year-old speak.

I have been in a flare for over a week while caring for a sick infant, and it's been getting to me mentally and emotionally. Yesterday, I wanted to lock myself in my bedroom, and have a pity party for one. That, of course, was not possible. The Lord knew I needed some extra "umph" to make it through the day, so Micah became His very effective mouthpiece and my personal cheerleader.

Micah quietly walked along beside me as I pushed Sara in the stroller up and down the driveway. When he is quiet, he is thoughtful. I can almost hear the little guy think. He finally said, "You know what, Momma? God made the trees. And God made the sky. And God made the grass and the spiders and the wasps and the ants and the flowers, and God made you, too, Momma."

To most, this little outburst may sound like the cute ramblings of a toddler. As his Momma, I'm here to tell you that it's quite profound. You see, Micah likes trees, grass, flowers, the sky and me, but the little dude could completely do without the spiders, wasps and ants. He has very little love for bugs of any kind. They freak him out. Yet, he acknowledges that God made it all--the things he likes as well as the things he doesn't like. What Micah knows that he didn't say here is that God is in control, and has a purpose for everything. I have taught him that wasps, ants and spiders have jobs--important jobs--to accomplish even if we don't always like how they accomplish them . . . even if they hurt us. In a precious way, God reminded me that nothing concerning me was outside the reach of His control even though I am hurting. He created me just as I am, and has a plan for all that concerns me . . . even my pain.

Lest I forget that His plan is for my good, Micah also reminded me of not only how much God loves me, but also how much He likes me. At the lunch table, he looked at me, smiling with those big, brown eyes. "Momma, I like you. I like your hair and your eyes and your mouf and your face." God loves me far too much to allow any harm come my way that is not for my benefit. He loves me. He likes me. He is rooting for me. When you have the most powerful Being in the universe rooting for you, you don't have to worry about how things will turn out or about how you will make it in the meantime.

I apparently needed one more little kick in the pants because Micah had one more nugget for me as I folded laundry that afternoon.

 "Momma?" he began.

I looked at him questioningly.

 "Momma, you need be happy."

"I am happy, Micah," I assured him.

"No, Momma. You need be happy on your face."

Without realizing it, I had been frowning. I think I've probably been frowning a lot. It's unintentional, but when I'm in pain, my brow furrows as I unsuccessfully attempt to focus on something besides my discomfort. And Micah was taking it personally. I shifted my countenance for the sake of my son. I smiled at him, feeling an inexplicable rush of love and pride.

His final message of the day was this--while it is good to accept my pain and press on, I am called to take a more active position. I am called to joy. The call to joy is complicated because it isn't something I can contrive by my own effort, and it isn't something that magically happens. Rather, it is a byproduct of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The key to joy is moment by moment friendship with God. Micah's simplistic call to joy was actually a call to God Himself. (I named him after a prophet for a reason.) I can be happy when I have no reason to be if I will only center on Jesus.

"Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have perfected praise"
(Matthew 21:16)

That little boy . . . Oh, how I love him! He is himself a precious reminder that life is indeed a gift.

It's Going to be Alright

Several people have recently asked how I am doing, so I thought I would take a moment to answer that question for all of you who have prayed, encouraged and ministered on my behalf.  (May the Lord be extravagant in His blessings to each of you.)

The short answer is, "I believe that I am going to be alright." Thanks to some shared wisdom of a family friend, this is what I will tell people who ask in passing conversation until I am better. Most people want a short answer, and they want that answer to be positive. I can't honestly say that I'm "better" yet in the way the word is meant, and honesty is important to me. A comfortable compromise, the above answer meets my need for honesty and the need of the one asking for brevity and hope. From time to time, I may add, "Continue to pray for me as you think of me," for I certainly still need prayer.

I can say that in regard to my nutritional health, I am better. When my body grew sensitive to goat milk, I scrapped my elimination diet plan because my caloric needs simply could not be met by eating rice cereal and vegetables alone. I was growing weaker by the day eating that way, so I feel that by becoming sensitive to the milk, God was just looking out. I miss the milk, but I am deeply grateful to be able to eat meat. I could never be a vegetarian. My metabolism requires meat, and my body was becoming increasingly cranky in its absence.

In addition to meat, I am eating most vegetables, some fruits (apples, pears, avocados, grapes, and blueberries), select oils (canola, grapeseed and sunflower only), egg yolks, potatoes and rice. Nothing I eat is processed.  My mom (God bless her) has been baking zucchini cakes for me made with rice flour, zucchini, eggs, oil and sugar, so that has been my major indulgence. I will be sad when zucchinis go out of season. If I want to try something new, Brandon performs a simple physical test that has without fail tipped me off to new allergies. My naturopathic doctor showed us this neat little trick. At first, with nothing in my hands, I hold my thumb and middle finger together as tightly as I am able. Brandon tries (without excessive force) to pull my fingers apart to establish my finger strength. I then take the food in question in my opposite hand as he performs the test again. If I am able to hold my fingers together, I am not allergic to the food. If he easily pulls my fingers apart, I avoid the food. The test does not detect all of my sensitivities, so I sometimes still "react" to foods, but it does keep me alive.

Even with the increase in calories, I am still underweight. I have lost around 15 pounds since my health crisis began, and that's 15 pounds after I had lost my baby weight. I am the thinnest I have been since I was 17, and I was borderline anorexic at the time. I don't look terrible, but I don't look healthy either. I am hoping that I will have a breakthrough with my nutritional health soon. I plan to begin reading The Food Allergy Cure by Ellen Cutler this weekend. The book, recommended by my naturopathic doctor, is supposed to offer me the information I need to desensitize my body to various foods. I doubt that I will ever be able to eat wheat, nuts, corn or soy again (which is no huge loss, really . . . . except for corn chips and popcorn . . . I'm really going to miss corn chips and popcorn), but I do hope to be able to eat chocolate, peanut butter, bananas, goat milk products and maybe even dairy products again. I would love to put on some weight, and have fun doing it!

Meeting my dietary needs has been important in helping me better manage my pain. I have found that my pain has not gone away or lessened, but my pain tolerance increased when I was no longer starving. Hunger is a formidable foe, making all other battles far more difficult. Since I've started eating again, I have been able to ignore and push through my pain with the exception of this week. (The change in weather threw my body into a flare, which means that I cannot function normally.) I have slowly gained independence over the past few weeks, and am now able to keep the kids by myself during the day, give Sara a bath, take the kids outside for a few minutes daily so I can do my physical therapy (pushing Sara in the stroller up and down the driveway for about 10 minutes) and get some sunshine, (mostly) keep the kitchen clean and usable, keep the laundry from eating us alive and cook simple dinners. It may not sound like much, but it's a far cry from the state I was in a few weeks ago. As an added bonus, I was able to take Micah out on a mother-son date last Saturday, which is something I've wanted to do for awhile now.

The pain is my constant companion, but I've learned to be thankful for it. The pain in my limbs means that I still have use of them. The discomfort I feel means than I'm still alive with my husband and children. (It's not that I would be very opposed to being brought fully alive through death by my Eternal Love and Savior. Rather, I believe that I am where I am most useful and where I am meant to be for the present time.) I have much for which to be grateful.

In addition to pain, I suffer from depression. I have bad days and better days. I am feeding on God's Word as if it were actual food. I am praying as if my life depended upon it. I am fighting for joy, clinging to song. I am practicing gratitude. (See my blooming "Gratitude Wall" below.)

I am actively seeking emotional health, but like the pain, the depression is my constant companion. Also like the pain, while the depression is there, it does not ruin me. It has not taken me over, although I would let it if I didn't have the children to tend to. Thank God for Micah and Sara! My kids are supposed to need me as their parent. Instead, I find myself needing them. Their needs call me out of bed every morning when I honestly would prefer to stay there, hiding from the world under thin covers that have no power to protect me or take away my problems. When I have a particularly hard day, I spend a little time doing laundry in the utility room, reading over my gratitude wall. Each post-it warms and energizes the cold emptiness inside. It's like coffee for the soul . . . which reminds me--I really miss coffee.

The improvement I am most happy to share with you is that regarding my spiritual health. I have never experienced the Lord like I am experiencing Him these days. I have set before Him my full heart, and in return He has faithfully exposed some of its dark and nasty places, giving me an opportunity to heal in ways that I did not expect when I first began asking for healing. With His presence, He is bringing to light long-lived sinful patterns that have been holding me captive--patterns of which I was not aware. The bondage of bitterness I didn't know was there is falling away, freeing me up to love. Deep-seated fears I've harbored all my life are melting in the Light of His glorious presence. Pain and depression are not my only companions. These last few weeks, I have also walked with peace unlike anything I've ever known. I have danced with joy, which is able to extend far beyond the feebleness and frailty of momentary happiness. My heart is slowly beginning to unfurl into the blossom of genuine love for others that the Apostle John so passionately calls us to in his first short letter. The Creator Himself is my friend! God is making all things new, and I am so glad that His first order of business is my spirit! What good would this sickness be if I were only to be made physically well?

There is much more to say that cannot be said on a public blog, but know that God is working observable miracles in my life, my family and my household. And because of this, I know that no matter if I live with allergies, pain and depression for the rest of my life, however long that may be, it's going to be alright.

In closing, allow me to share the lyrics of a favorite song by a favorite songwriter who happens to be my daughter's namesake--

"It's Going To Be Alright"

It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright
I can tell by your eyes that you're not getting any sleep
And you try to rise above it, but feel you're sinking in too deep
Oh, oh I believe, I believe that
It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright
I believe you'll outlive this pain in your heart
And you'll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart
Oh, oh I believe I believe that
It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright
When some time has past us, and the story if retold
It will mirror the strength and the courage in your soul
Oh, oh, I believe I believe,
I believe
I believe
I did not come here to offer you clichés
 I will not pretend to know of all your pain
Just when you cannot, then I will hold out faith, for you
It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright

--Sara Groves, from her album Add to the Beauty

I don't know what pain or hardships you are experiencing, Dear Reader, but in Christ Jesus, I can promise you that it will indeed be alright.