Sunday, December 16, 2012

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Addressing the Elephant

I am NOT an "ignore the elephant in the room" kind of girl. If there is an elephant in the room, I believe it should be addressed. It is unnecessarily awkward for everyone to converse over or through an elephant. If someone tries to move around the elephant, that person will either:

A) Trip
B) Look ridiculous or
C) Find herself with a large mammalian rear end in her face.

So let's address the elephant!

In my quest for healing and health, medical doctors and Western medicine have failed me. I have baffled them at every turn. One such doctor, who specializes in allergies and immunology, basically told me to go home and starve to death. (I will admit, however, his exact words were a bit more diplomatic.) Because "modern medicine" failed to help me and because my symptoms were so severe that I had to choose between doing something radical or dying, I chose to do something radical. "Something radical" usually equates with "lifestyle change," and it has certainly meant that for me.

I have radically altered my diet, choosing only to eat "gut healing" foods. My diet does not resemble the standard American diet in the least. It doesn't even resemble diets that are widely considered to be "healthy" in our culture. If changing my diet wasn't enough, I'm also making as many personal care and household products as possible. I see multiple natural doctors, take supplements instead of medicine, drink herbs and regularly have this super shady "BioSet"/acupressure treatment done. I talk of "toxins" and "energy pathways," and I've traded my nice home for a trailer and the commune life so that I can help my parents begin an organic farm.

Most of you are probably thinking one of three things:

A) "Oh my word! She's crazy! I knew it!"
B)  "Oh, bless her heart. She must be so desperate!" (I hear this one in sweet, old-lady Southern drawl, don't you?)
C) "I am really worried about her. She's just going off the deep end with all of this new age hocus pocus. She'll be worshiping stars, hugging trees and practicing voodoo before we know it."

For those thinking choice "A," you are absolutely right. I follow an invisible God who asks me to die daily to my own desires, to store up invisible treasure in invisible places instead of seeking financial gain, and tells me that I have to love people who are absolutely awful to me, and to the best of my ability with the help of the Holy Spirit, I do it because I love Him. That's crazy.

For those thinking choice "B," you are also correct. I am desperate. I was looking at death in the eye on a daily basis. If the recurring anaphylaxsis didn't get me, I was going to starve to death. Starving isn't on my list of "Top 10 Preferred Ways To Die." (What? You don't have a list?) So yes, desperation drove me to take drastic measures.

And for those of you thinking choice "C," I honestly understand your objections (voiced or unvoiced) to my choices. I am not at all threatened by those objections because I once had them myself. I've had to be utterly convinced that what I'm dealing with is actual science and not some kind of crazy juju devil worship or worse--another "power of positive thinking" or "prosperity gospel" thing. I have read lots of good research done by renowned doctors who have nothing to gain by their findings. I am now satisfied that the science is real, and was surprised to find that it has been around a long time in the forms of ancient Chinese medicine and great-great-grandmother's home remedies. Today, we are simply able to better explain these seemingly mystical practices thanks to the scientific advances made over the course of the last several years.

For those who are still truly concerned, consider this--most of us do not know how cell phones work. We don't understand the science behind these little gadgets that we all carry around in our pockets and purses. But we do carry them. We also use computers, fax machines, and credit cards with little more than a vague idea of how they work. While most of the natural therapies I'm using aren't anymore infallible than prescription drugs, they are working for me. In small yet significant ways, I am better....without communing with the universe, dancing naked on hilltops, or other such nonsense. I hope you now feel free to think of me as only crazy and not as misled.

As I have learned new information that has helped my family and me, I have had a hard time keeping it to myself. I am so excited to find simple remedies to common ailments that do not include potentially harmful substances! So I share my discoveries on Facebook, on Pinterest, in emails and in face to face conversations. My doing so makes some of you feel very uncomfortable. Your reasons are your own, but I know that there is often an unspoken tension between two people who are making drastically different personal choices. I have felt this tension myself, so I know many of you are feeling it--this ambiguous, unsettled feeling. It's hard to give this feeling a name. Is it guilt? Is it the sense that we are being judged? Usually, the feeling is far too complex to label.

I have given this subject lots of thought, so allow me to suggest that the reason we feel so uncomfortable when another person's behavior sharply contrasts with our own is that we chronically seek validation from others. We need validation, and if you've lived ten years on this earth, you know that more times than not, people just don't give it to you. Here is hope--the Christian does not need validation from people. We continue to seek it, but we don't need it.

In his book, The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis writes, "He to whom the eternal Word speaketh, is set at liberty from a multitude of opinions," which basically means that it is okay if no one understands you and everyone thinks you're crazy. If you are following the Lord and hearing His voice, you do not need the approval of man. I do not mean to say that we should go out of our way to be weird for the heck of it. I simply mean that when the way of the cross leads you to strange places, you don't need the approval of others to know it is where you should be because all that matters is that God wants you to be there.

I also don't mean to say that we can live however we want without regard to the needs and feelings of others. The Bible discusses this topic generally and specifically as it applies to my situation. For general purposes, concerning liberty and the care of others, we are given Galatians 5:13-14--"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Specifically concerning diet, we are given Romans 14:14-23. Paul writes--

"I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin."

I will confess now that when I read the words I placed in italics, I crumbled and wept. Without realizing it, I had become prideful in my heart about my new way of living. I had come to believe that the way I was eating and seeking health care was superior to that of others. I am wrong when I think like this for "all things indeed are pure." (Excepting deep fried Twinkies. I am sure deep friend Twinkies are not pure.) On the other hand, if a Christ-follower believes that natural health care is unclean, to her it is unclean. This is the case for my friend, Jenny. I have shared with her some of the natural alternatives available to her, but because she has a negative spiritual history with natural health care, it is unclean to her. God would not have her seek alternative medicine as I have.

However, because we love one another and because we trust that we both follow the Lord's leading, we are comfortable with our different approaches to healing. I even rejoice in it! Wouldn't it be a grand thing for the God to use Western medicine to heal my friend and alternative medicine to heal me? Wouldn't it be a glorious picture of how God can do whatever He wants, however He wants? Wouldn't it be a magnificent show of how it is not medicine that heals, but the hand of God?

Allow me to apologize now if anyone has felt the brunt of my superior thoughts. God has shown me the error of my ways. I now see clearly that what I am doing is not necessarily better, only different. Forgive my human weakness. As Thomas a Kempis further writes, "We are too much taken up with our own passions; and too solicitous about transitory things." I will likely continue to share some of the good information I discover, but I will understand completely if that information isn't for you. The last thing I desire to do is to "destroy with food the one for whom Christ died." I will strive to "pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." I promise you that Christ in me will not allow me to judge you for doing what you believe to be right for you and your family. I will remember that "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." It is one of my sincerest wishes to walk in love to you. I can promise these things because Christ has promised the complete the good work He began in me (Philippians 1:6). I can always bank on the promises of God, but I cannot promise to give you validation for your choices anymore than you can promise to give me validation for mine.

 The validation of others is worthless, anyway. The only validation anyone truly needs.....the only validation that will ever satisfy is the validation found in Jesus Christ. Real salvation begins by deciding to stop trying to save yourself, and looking to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save you. It has been accomplished for you, and you cannot earn it with any amount of money, talent, service, education or power. And once you invest yourself fully and completely in Him, nothing--not illness, not loss, not disapproval, not disappointment, not the cruelest persecutions, not even the largest elephant in the room--can touch you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Setback: A Brief(ish) Health Update

Well, I have good news and bad news.

For the past several days, I have believed myself to be sick with a virus. My symptoms have been a low grade fever, diarrhea, fatigue and a general feeling of "puniness." The weird thing is that I have been suffering from diarrhea for almost two weeks and a temp for almost that long. I have been doing all of my "hippy remedies" that worked for my last virus/infection, but I haven't been getting better.

 Last night, I felt led by the Lord to read further in my GAPS book. I read the chapter on supplementation in which Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride warns the reader that the GAPS patient is often too sensitive for supplements beyond probiotics and hydrochloric acid. The actual capsules can cause irritation of the gut lining. I had a major "aha" moment because my mind naturally went to all of the encapsulated supplements I've been taking.

However, I realized soon thereafter that the capsules were not likely my greatest offender. I started a powder supplement (which I mix with water and drink) called "OptiCleanse" a little over two weeks ago, beginning with a small dose and gradually increasing.

This is what I believe has happened as a result--the "cleanse" has inflamed my digestive tract, causing me to have diarrhea at least once a day (which is crazy because I have always had the opposite problem). The inflammation in my gut has triggered inflammation everywhere else, causing the fever, pains and aches I've been experiencing as well as the fatigue and bad case of the "blahs" which, in my opinion, should be reserved for January. In addition to these symptoms, I am more sensitive to allergenic substances. Last night, I had my first major food reaction in several weeks. Today, I had my first severe reaction to latex in awhile. (Praise the Lord, but!) My body (which has completely reprogrammed through diet, B.E.S.T. therapy and BioSet treatments) now HATES Benadryl, so I just waited out the symptoms, trusting a capable family member to administer Epi if needed.

The good news: I'm not sick with a virus.
The bad news: I'm not sick with a virus.

A virus would have likely compromised my immunity in the case of exposure to another illness. Granted, that is never fun, but I could have recovered fairly quickly from a measly little virus. Instead, I find myself set back almost two months in my efforts to heal my gut. That's two months I can't get back. I almost have to start over. Boooo!!!

Please pray for me. I am struggling emotionally with this because in addition to feeling the last two months have almost been all for naught, I also know that it means that I have to go back to eating mostly broths and soups for awhile. (In my best whiny, three-year-old voice)--I DON'T WANNA go back to broths and soups!!!!! Buuuuuuut, I need to.  I will likely live dangerously, and choose to splurge a bit around Christmas. I'm thinking maybe another Crockpot roasted chicken and a chocolate pudding made out of avocados and dates. (I know--I'm so wild.) But for now, I'm going to mind my "p"s and "q"s as well as I can manage so that "splurging" will be an option. I have also discontinued all of my supplements outside of probiotics, digestive enzymes and the ones I need to correct the problems caused by my genetic mutation.

 Also, I really hate feeling sick. It's hard doing everything I've come to expect of myself, and feeling like poo all the while. It's hard figuring out how I'm going to feed my family satisfying meals which will require much of my effort while having to pass on what I would like to eat, and eat something else much less satisfying. (Seriously, can I just act like a child and demand to be taken care of? Please?)

While I am not pleased at all by the turn of events or the timing of the turn, the Lord remains my strength. I no longer feel His arms quite so keenly as I did in those early days of questions and terror, but He has proven the reality of His presence every day. I am not physically stronger, but He has made me stronger in other ways. He is currently weeding out vices and problems with my heart, molding me into something more like Jesus and less like my old self. He is challenging me on new planes, and every part of my soul He has touched has breathed forth new life. He has allowed this setback for specific reasons, all of which must be good because HE is good.

So, I may be bummed, but I know where to go for JOY--the lasting kind that does not heed circumstances or feelings about those circumstances. On February 26, at I time in which I had no assurance I would live to see the next day, I wrote this little gem of a sentence in my journal-- "If I cannot take joy in anything else, I will look into the face of JOY Himself until it returns to me."

That's my plan, and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Perfect Storm

On November 13th, my parents and I met with Dr. Cave of Cypress Integrative Medicine in Baton Rouge, and received my highly-anticipated test-results. It was more information than my foggy brain could compute, but under my mom's supervision, I feel confident that I can adequately explain the information I was given.

First of all, I think it is worth stating that my allergies are neither the root of my illness nor my greatest problem. That is saying a lot considering that only a few weeks ago, I was popping Benadryl on a daily basis, pulling out my Epi Pens several times a week and wearing protective, non-latex gloves--even around the house--without reprieve. I have come to believe that like my fibromyalgia, dyspraxia, brain fog, chronic fatigue, eczema, IBS, and migraines, my allergies are symptoms of my illness and not the illness itself. While that statement may be confusing, it is also empowering. With the understanding that my allergies are symptoms comes the logic that if I can heal my illness at its root, my allergies, along with my other unpleasant symptoms, could disappear. This is BIG and wonderful news!

So, what is my illness? Well, it's complicated.

I was not offered a simple, gift-wrapped diagnosis, encompassing my list of symptoms in its entirety. And I think that is a good thing. I do not want to identify myself with a diagnosis because I have no plans to remain ill forever. Besides, I have more than one thing going on--severe allergies, IBS, fibromyalgia. Thus, I have come to think of my illness as "the perfect storm." The wrong set of conditions mixed with ignorance and poor choices plunked my little boat in the middle of a category-strength hurricane.

Extensive tests were run back in October in order to get a clearer picture of my problems. The results revealed several things including a genetic mutation, a bacterial infection, contaminants in my blood, nutrient absorption issues, several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high levels of toxicity, and poor detoxification function.

My genetic mutation is the MTHFR mutation A1298C, and it is a homozygous mutation, which means that it comes from both parents. My mutation prevents folic acid from methylating properly. In order for folic acid (which is essential in cellular metabolism) to be utilized, it must have methionine attached to it. This little mutation is not as well-researched as its more problematic sibling, C677T which is known to cause cancer and heart attacks, but it likely contributes to my fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, IBS and brain fog. The mutation was a pretty big find, and getting the right kind of supplementation should help me.

The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacteria. What is uncommon about it is that it was found in my intestinal wall. Weird. This stuff has to go away because it is keeping me from growing good bacteria in my intestines, which is admittedly kind of gross, but also vital if my health is to improve. I am a bit perturbed to discover that I've been pumping my digestive system full of expensive probiotics to no avail. The recommended treatment is to annihilate the infection with (gasp!) an antibiotic. There is a time and a place for western medicine, even for the emerging hippy.

While genetic mutations and bacterial infections are absolutely no fun, I believe my biggest problem is intestinal permeability, which is also known as "Leaky Gut Syndrome." Leaky gut is not a disease. It is more of a digestive dysfunction that can cause a lot of trouble. It can cause fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and food allergies gone wild. Sound familiar? Basically, so much damage has been done to my digestive tract (by a combination of bad choices and events completely outside of my control) that the cells of my intestinal wall have pulled apart, creating large gaps which allow undigested food molecules, toxins and bacteria to leak into my blood. I now believe that I have had leaky gut for years, and probably experienced my first set of symptoms almost a decade ago when my allergies first set in. Since then, my condition has only worsened.

You may be asking, "How did this happen?" (If you aren't asking, skip the next few paragraphs.) Well, I have no way of knowing for sure, but based upon what I've read in the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, it was the result of a (you guessed it) perfect storm. I was born to parents who both have food allergies and intestinal issues which are less severe than mine. Children inherit the intestinal health of their mothers at birth, creating a vicious cycle in which every generation becomes increasingly unhealthy. As an infant, I struggled with allergies and ear infections, and was flamblasted with antibiotics, which is still the accepted protocol for ear infections. As a child, my allergy problems continued, which brought on sinus infections. Boom! More antibiotics! I also kept a terrible diet. My mom tried to keep me on the "straight and narrow" to better health, but when not at home, I was known to eat an entire pizza just because I could. All-you-can-eat bars were this inner fat girl's favorite places to eat. I would sometimes help myself to thirds on desserts. I was feeding the bad and opportunistic microorganisms in my gut with sugars while killing the good stuff with antibiotics, creating something called gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance in the gut). My poor dietary habits lasted well into adulthood. Candida albicans, an opportunistic yeast normally found in the gut, can overgrow and create many problems. It thrives on sugar, and causes the body to crave it more and more. Months before my health collapse, I was eating something sweet for breakfast, having something sweet at midday, and eating a dessert every night. I should have known something wasn't right because I was quickly losing weight in spite of my sugar addiction. No one should be able to do that.

My diet has not been the only poor health choice I have made. As a teen, I had horrible menstrual pain which sometimes kept me from attending school. Per the recommendation of my OBGYN, I began birth control at age 16 for those problems. Birth control is bad news on about one-hundred counts. One of its many pitfalls is that it damages the intestines. As my intestinal health worsened, so did my immunity. (Eighty percent of the human immune system lies in the digestive tract.) I became ill more often for longer periods of time. Antibiotics proved less and less effective, but I kept taking them anyway. At age 17, I began having serious problems with acid reflux. I was put on an acid inhibitor (Protonix, Nexium, Aciphex, etc.), which is extremely damaging to the digestive system. Acid inhibitors pull the cells of the intestines apart, and keep the stomach from producing hydrochloric acid, preventing the proper digestion of food. It was three years after beginning Protonix that I had my first experience with food allergies.

In my early twenties, my environmental allergies (grass, pollen, pet dander, etc.) also went berserk. I decided to give allergy shots a try. This decision turned out to be a monumental mistake. Each week, I had a reaction to the shots, each reaction progressively getting worse. My life began to revolve around those appointments. I would receive two allergy shots on one day, have a strong reaction within 24 hours, receive a steroid shot to treat the reaction, feel jittery and revved for a day or two, and then feel like crap for the rest of the week....just in time to do it all over again. I twice received epinephrine in the office. The second time around, I asked the nurse, "Is this normal?" She told me that some patients had to receive Epi every week with their shots. Upon hearing that, I did not return to the doctor's office.

During the two years I received shots, my health suffered tremendously. I became allergic to more foods, and I began having anaphylactic reactions to food and environmental triggers for the first time. I could no longer be outdoors while someone was mowing for fear of an attack. Restaurants became extremely dangerous. And the steroids I had received to treat my reactions to the shots didn't do me any favors as they also have ill effects on the digestive tract.

I worsened after having Micah, but the nail in the coffin was my encounter with teff flour in January 2011. That stuff rocked. my. world. My body reacted to it as if I had swallowed poison. I still shudder when I see it on the shelves of my local health food store. I was still very sick when Sara was conceived. Although I eventually made my way out of the slump, the small improvement was short lived. A traumatic birth and recovery coupled with the stress of a sick and colicky newborn gave momentum to my rapid, downward descent until my bucket finally tipped over at the first of May.

My children's colic now makes perfect sense to me. As a breastfeeding mom, I had believed it impossible for food molecules to pass into the bloodstream, meaning that I did not believe that my diet had an impact on their health. If I had been healthy, I would have been correct. I now understand that Sara's colic was so much worse than Micah's case because I was so much worse. I understand now why her colic mysteriously vanished when we switched her to a goat milk formula. I wish I could go back and make things better by beginning with goat milk. I wish I could go back and decide against allergy shots, Protonix and birth control. I wish I had known all along about the pitfalls of all of those antibiotics.

The truth is that I can shoulda, coulda, woulda all day long, but it does little good. It is impossible to answer the question of why this happened to me. It could have happened to anyone. Lots of people have taken less care with their health than I have. Lots of people eat what they want and do what they want with seemingly few repercussions. There were contributing factors outside of my control like genetics and environmental contaminants (my BioSet practitioner discovered that contact with particular metals, plastics, vaccines, various toxins, negative emotions, and even leather of all things contributed to my health problems), but no one is immune to bad genes or poor environment these days. Even having a clearer understanding of how this happened doesn't really help me understand how or why this happened to me. Fortunately, God does not require me to understand....only trust Him.

The above tangent set me a little off point. I apologize. Back to "leaky gut!" The recommended treatment is probiotics (to improve the population of good gut flora) and digestive enzymes (to assist in the digestion of food). I am taking my treatment one step further by following the GAPS diet. Healing leaky gut takes time.....a lot of time. After two months of doing the diet, I continue to react to everything I eat. The reactions are small. Only a very sensitive person, such as myself, would notice. I'll have a sudden drop of energy, a hot flash or a migraine after I eat. Because I am an adult (children heal much faster) and am very sick, I may not see significant improvement until the Spring of next year. I am looking at a minimum of a two year recovery according to the author of the diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, and I will never again be able to eat like the average American.....unless I want to relapse. The good news is that I am already two months into the diet!

Another aspect of healing my intestines is that I must....ahem....purge. We are crossing way into TMI territory here, but I think all of you faithful readers should know that I am quite literally full of crap. I cannot remember a time in my life in which I had regular bowel movements. Every other day is about the best I've ever done. As I was getting sicker, it was not uncommon to go 4 or 5 days between bowel movements. After my health collapse, I began going only once a week. I've had people say in response to that information, "It must be because you are eating so little." First of all, during the times I've been able to eat, I have eaten plenty. Second, even if I wasn't eating plenty, I still should have been going to the bathroom every day. Weekly bowel movements are just not normal. I likely have years and years of compacted sludge stuck to the walls of my colon that really needs to be cleaned out. (I know you wanted to know that about me.) While it's gross and kind of funny to hear about someone literally being full of it, it is a serious problem. It is said that during John Wayne's autopsy, forty pounds of fecal matter was removed from his colon. I just can't leave behind that kind of legacy, especially considering that I lack the cool factor that John Wayne possessed. To treat, I am taking a cleansing supplement, a magnesium supplement and having regular colonic treatments. In the most basic sense, a colonic is pretty much a ten gallon enema. For more information and a chuckle, check out the short video commercial below which was sent to me by a friend who shares my sense of humor:

My large intestines aren't the only malfunctioning portion of my digestive tract. My small intestines are also damaged. I do not absorb nutrients properly. My now-visible rib cage isn't the only red flag. Dr. Cave has a neat, little machine that gives a score based on how well a person absorbs nutrients. Mostly-healthy individuals score over 50,000. My score was 18,000. Yeah....not good. Anyway, poor absorption leads to lots and lots of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I am deficient in some really important ones, too, like Vitamin D, B vitamins and Magnesium. The current treatment is supplementation. Hopefully, my digestive health will eventually improve enough that I can receive most of my vitamins and minerals from food.

Finally, leaking yuck into your blood leads to toxicity. So does living in the modern world. Water contaminants, food contaminants, air pollution, vaccines, drugs and the harmful waves emitted from modern technology are collectively wreaking a lot of havoc on modern people. We see the fallout all around us in the forms of cancer, auto-immune disease, allergies, autism, etc. I am exceptionally toxic, and my liver and adrenals are underactive, which prevents me from being able to detoxify as I should. To treat this issue, I am taking supplements to stimulate my organ systems in charge of detoxification. I also take detox baths daily, and am now the proud owner and wearer of a Q-Link to keep all of the bad ju-ju (harmful energy waves) away. And yes, the ju-ju necklace works. I believe it is partly responsible for the fact that I'm no longer reacting to latex every day, and I feel a difference in my level of energy when I wear it correctly.

As you may have surmised, I am taking a lot of supplements. Keeping them straight and on time is a full-time job within itself. Brain fog is not my friend when trying to remember everything I should take when I should take it. The photo below shows almost everything I am currently taking.

At the end of my consult that day, Dr. Cave said, "We have a long way to go, but at least we are getting there." She's right. I am no longer on a downward spiral. Things became very scary at the end of September when my new latex allergy reared its ugly head. For awhile there, I didn't know how far I would sink. I even planned my funeral on one dark day. I have been making teeny tiny baby steps in the right direction for a few weeks now. I am no longer having strong reactions every day. I have the energy to spend 4-5 hours a day in the kitchen. (GAPS is a commitment, y'all.) I even make it out of the house every once in awhile now. I am getting better. I just have a long, long way to go.

The Lord impressed upon my spirit a couple of months ago that He was going to heal me, but that it was going to take a long time and a lot of hard work. Healing is definitely requiring hard work, and I have been given two years as my projected timeline for healing twice from two different sources now. I continue to need your prayers. The daily tasks are still so difficult. Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and let the cards fall where they may. But I am not allowed to do that. I have been called to heal myself. And when I am finished healing myself, the Lord has impressed upon me that I will immediately be put to work serving and healing others. There is no respite in my future! So please, continue in your prayers for me that I will be delivered from this trial. Pray so that "you also helping together in prayer for [me], that thanks may be given by many persons on [my] behalf for the gift granted to [me] through many [you]" (2 Corinthians 1:11).

Grace and peace to you all. And Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, October 29, 2012

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"

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sometimes, Kismet Happens

"The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." 1 Samuel 18:1

God is a God of relationship--among the Trinity, between Himself and humankind--so it makes sense that relationships between people would be a matter of import to Him, especially considering the fact that He designed we humans with a need to be in relationship with Him and others. I have been blessed with many deep and lasting relationships comprised of both family members and friends. Each relationship carries a unique flavor, enriching my life, giving it more complexity and depth. I recognize these relationships as gifts from the Lord, each one divinely ordained and valuable. I would not be the person I am today without them. These precious people have all become a part of me, and I would like to think that I have become a part of them.

When I allow someone in my life, I give my heart away. Therefore, I am never haphazard about my relationships. I take my time in selecting my friends. I observe. I study. And when I commit, I do so with long-term intent. I can't love without loving wholly. When a person loves like that, it is dangerous for her to enter into short-term relationships because she usually ends up hurt or broken--sometimes irreparably--which is why I wasn't much of a dater in high school. I have been hurt. I have been broken. I don't like pain, so the self-preservation instinct within has taught me to only invest in "safe" relationships.

 The problem with that way of thinking, of course, is that no relationship is safe because LOVE is not safe. Love--real love--is wild. Love is free. Love does not play by the rules. Love is exquisite, and love is painful. Love requires sacrifice. Love is the reason for the cross of Jesus Christ, after all, and nothing about the cross was safe. Safety in relationships is an illusion, but it is one that I have subconsciously believed. That belief is expressed in the fact that I rarely invest in people for the moment, and when I do, I don't share anything with them that I would miss. It costs me nothing to share a smile or a simple service, but God forbid I that bare my soul to anyone that won't be my friend for the next 30 years.

While this is normal behavior in our culture, I don't think it is Christ-centered behavior. Christ "poured out His soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12). I'm fairly certain we are called to at least pour out our souls unto possible pain. The Lord began convicting my heart of its selfishness a few months ago, and put His work to the test on a Sunday morning in late August.

I was having a rough morning, but I needed to get out of the house, and wanted to attend church. I was not surprised or overly-dismayed when Sara began competing for attention with the speaker, prompting me to scoop her up and leave the auditorium. I decided that I would enjoy my daughter in the sunny foyer, and be happy to be out of the house.

And then, kismet happened.

A young mother with a baby born a few weeks after Sara stepped into the foyer, sat down across from me, and with a sweet grin, she cheerily stated, "I guess this is where the loud ones sit." I smiled, and replied with something forgettable.

Common ground could not be ignored as we sat across from one another with baby girls close to the same age. We small-talked. I noticed she offered a good bit of personal information about herself upon the first meeting. The information had a refreshingly honest quality about it. She crossed over, sitting beside me, commenting that she wanted to see me better as she was not wearing her glasses. I would never have been so forward with a stranger, but I was not threatened at all by her. I liked her and her honesty and her disregard for Ruston social protocol.

I allowed myself to notice things about her--the color of her eyes, the color of her child's eyes, the small freckles on her skin, the way her nose wrinkled when she laughed. And then kismet struck again.

My friend, Ellie, whom I hadn't seen in several weeks walked up, and engaged me in conversation. The girl returned to the couch across from me, allowing us to talk. Ellie asked about our progress in the move, and about my health. I answered honestly, not fretting over giving out personal information in the presence of a stranger. When Ellie walked away, the girl asked me straightforwardly about what I had said. I can't remember the exact wording of her question, but it was worded in such a way that I knew she was asking because she wanted to know. (Many people ask how a person is doing, but they don't really want to hear anything more complicated than a "fine." I mention that little tidbit without judgement because I have certainly been among that lot in the past.) I looked at her, gulping down my instinct to white-wash my suffering that I might prevent myself from treading on the minefield of soul-baring, and gave a synopsis of what I had been through in the previous four months.

As I talked, I measured the interest in her eyes so that I would know how much to tell. She stayed with me, so I did a pretty good job of telling enough without telling too much. When I was finished, I saw something strange in her posture which I now recognize as the weight of compassion. The observant eye will notice that when a person feels compassion for another, the shoulders sag, the head bows, the brow furrows, the lips purse, and the eyes squint as if the sufferer's pain was their own. Here's the thing about compassion--it is only bred through suffering of your own. So, when she launched into her own tale--a tale about how she found out three days after birthing the baby I saw in her arms that she had advanced cancer of the esophagus and liver and was in the hospital for a month after the birth of her baby girl rather than getting to go home and be that baby's mother--I wasn't shocked, only horrified.

After exchanging stories about our personal road trips to hell and back, we shared with one another how we managed to get through it. Our identical answers gave us more common ground upon which to stand. We agreed that only Jesus Christ and His love, mercy and grace could have provided the light needed to walk such dark, treacherous paths.

And then I did something I never do--I wept without reserve in the presence of a person whose name I did not yet know. And she wept with me. The tears shed were not only for our own pain, but for the pain of the other. We did not KNOW each other! I found an unexpected emotion in my heart as I heard the service closing inside the sanctuary. Love. I never love so easily, so freely, but I knew the events of that morning had nothing to do with my comfort zone or selfish tendencies. I had been seeking the Lord, so I was able to acknowledge that the two of us were being offered a gift, a gift that shouldn't have even been a possibility.

 I finally learned that her name was Jenny. Jenny was from Houston, and was at church with her in-laws because she and her husband were in town visiting. I learned that she almost did not go to church that morning because she was still feeling fatigued and unwell from recent chemotherapy, which had been very aggressive. We never would have met one another if our girls hadn't forced us out of the service. I never would have shared my story had Ellie not asked me about my health, leading Jenny to ask a direct question which brought forth a true and thorough response from me. As awful of a truth this is to reveal, I feel it should be said--left to myself, I never would have chosen a friend who was in the midst of a battle with cancer. I never would set myself up for that level of possible heartache. The friendly attraction I felt with her spirit was not a natural byproduct of my disposition. Clearly, something larger than either of us was at work, and had brought us together. I asked for her number, promising I would text her. I was taking a real risk because I didn't know if she would be as interested in friendship with me.

I texted her as we left the parking lot of the church that morning. Her response was quick, not giving me long to worry about whether or not I had freaked her out. And we have been blowing up each other's phones ever since. We have sent prayers, encouragement, and favorite Bible verses. We have shared several phone conversations, none of which manage to be long enough for our liking due to the nature of our lives. We have exchanged care packages containing favorite music and notes. And I have already been to her and her husband's home in Houston. I even let her cook for me, which is not something I allow anyone to do for me anymore. She didn't think me strange when I brought my own salt, and I was perfectly healthy when I left her home for our concert.

We've been friends for only 8 or 9 weeks now, but I'm fairly certain she would agree with me when I say that we love each other like sisters. As He did hundreds of years ago with Jonathan and David, the Lord has knit our souls together for a beautiful and very unique friendship. We would so like to be physically present for one another, but that is not what God had in mind when He planned our relationship. We are purposed to be spiritually present for one another. She cannot travel to my home, and care for me as she would wish. I could not attend her appointment last Tuesday as I would have liked. I would have if I could have so that I would have been there when they told her that her liver tumors had grown, that she now has Stage 4 liver cancer and that she would have to begin chemotherapy again this Monday. I couldn't be there any more than she can be here, but I can grieve with her, cry with her, pray with her, encourage her, route her on, rally her up, and help her to face this absolute monster of a thing currently blocking her passage to the life she would like to live. God gave us the gift of this friendship, so it is within His rights to shape it as He wishes. We will rest ourselves in His good design.

Jenny is precious to me. Will you please pray for her as she begins chemo on Monday? This stuff is ROUGH. She needs strength, hope, and faith to face the challenges ahead. She needs the cross to be the blazing center of her vision if she is to run this race with endurance. Will you pray for her husband, her soon-to-be five-year-old son, and her nine-month-old daughter? Will you pray that all of their needs are met according to the riches in Christ Jesus?

As I have requested prayer for Jenny from individuals, I have been asked more than once if I believe that Jenny will live. The answer is that I absolutely do. I believe that she is going to live as much as I believe that I'm going to live. I believe that it's going to be hard. The circumstances are very bleak. But I believe in the deepest recesses of my heart that the Lord is going to bring her through the cancer, and give her enough time to see her kids grow up. I am no optimist, nor am I naive. This isn't me employing the power of positive thinking, hoping that somehow I can twist God's arm into doing what I want Him to do. My belief that she is going to live is something else entirely. I have believed that she will live for several weeks now, but on Wednesday morning, the day after I heard her heartbreaking news, I was led to Psalm 118 where I found this verse--

"I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."--verse 17

I read those words like a promise. For Jenny. For me. We are going to live through our dangers, and when they are over, we are going to throw huge parties. I am certain that I will attend her party and that she will attend mine. At those parties, we are going to lift high the name of Jesus Christ who is carrying us through our thorny paths! And after those parties, I plan to whisk her and our families away to The Island with my dear friends, the Dorey's, and spend a week in the closest place to Heaven I have visited on this earth, where we will stay up late eating good food, drinking Kurt Pendergrass's homemade vanilla lattes and talking about the healing power and awesome goodness of our God!

Just so you know, Jenny's attitude about all of this is reflected in something she said on the day that I met her--"I would love to be a healing story, a story that displays the Lord's healing power, but I know that not everyone gets that story. I have already gotten a miracle in being healed of my esophageal cancer. I may not get another. Either way, I trust Him."

Let us pray that her trust remains firm, and let us pray that she gets that second miracle.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

S.O.S. Prayer Request ANSWERS

Long time, no post. After nearly a month of living at the new place, we were finally connected to the internet today. I had originally intended to write a bit over the past month in order to have several posts ready to go when we reached this point, but the past month has proven to be . . . . overwhelming, and that's a nice adjective to use. Before going into all of that, I would love to share how God has answered your prayers on our behalf.

1) My Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms passed a few days after writing the post requesting prayer, making the following week manageable, which was important because the night after posting the prayer requests, I had a severe allergic/chemical reaction to butter, which was the first blow of many that the final two weeks of September had to offer.

2) My pain went on somewhat of a reprieve the week before the move. After the move, my body went into post traumatic stress mode, but none of my pain has been impossible. With the exception of a couple of days, I have not been bound to a bed.Praise the Lord!

3) Hours after posting our prayer requests, I was contacted by three friends that I had not seen since HIGH SCHOOL, all offering their help. One friend came on Monday, another came on Tuesday, and another came on Thursday. Their presence in my home was very refreshing. My loneliness was cured, I had help packing boxes, my children had playmates and my spirits were lifted. God's ways are sooooo interesting. Who knew that help would come from people I haven't seen in nearly a decade? Ladies, if you are reading--catching up was very sweet for me. Thank you.

4) Sara has been SLEEPING!!!! Since my last post, Sara has slept through the night EVERY night. Miraculous! The night after the move, she didn't miss a beat. This is CLEARLY an act of the Lord on our . . . . especially my . . . . behalf.

5) Sara remains a demanding, fussy baby. Evenings are still rough, but the Lord has helped me to figure things out. As she becomes fussy and I become busy with dinner preparations, I simply put her in her bed, and close the door. Sometimes she wails. Oftentimes she sleeps. It's just how I have to cope at present, and it works.

6)  Brandon's stress level has not altered much. The stressors have simply changed. He continues to face pressures everywhere he turns, but he has been able to hunt a couple of times in the past week, which has helped. I am so thankful that the Lord sustains me enough to allow this. I'm even more thankful for a husband who cares enough to stay home when I need him. Please continue to pray for my man. We still have things to move from the old house. He has much work to do out here on the new property. He did not get the job promotion we believed he would get. His wife is sicker than ever. Our financial status is the most strained it has ever been. The man has A LOT on his mind.

7) God has chosen to relieve my loneliness, but not in the way I had in mind. As mentioned above, my health has taken a turn for the worse over the past month, requiring me to seek and receive much more help at home. There has been such a parade of fun helpers through here that every morning, Micah asks expectantly, "Who we gonna see today?" I have had friends, parents (in-laws included), aunts, and grandmothers show up day after day to help me with daily tasks and offer me a rest. Their presence has been a tremendous blessing. I'm incredibly thankful for them. But my Type-A personality resists receiving help. I find it a difficult thing. I realize that I have a problem, which is why the Lord had to very clearly impress upon my heart to receive help when it is offered.

8) I do believe that my photosensitivity is a thing of the past, meaning that it was a side-effect of the Cymbalta. I have not had an opportunity to sun-bathe for I have lacked the energy required to dress myself and the two children and venture outdoors with them for an extended period of time. I plan to put my theory to the test at my first opportunity and burst of energy.

9) Please pray that our house sells quickly. The medical expenses continue to compile. Selling the house would be very helpful. Until then, we will trust the Lord to be faithful to His word, supplying all of our needs in Christ Jesus. We have someone looking at the house this evening, and we would love her to love it enough to make a serious offer!

10) Get this--Micah's anxiety has DISAPPEARED. He has not had one INSTANT of anxiety in our new home. He has slept peacefully every night, including our first. He has hit a difficult stage, but he's THREE for goodness sake. And anxiety is not a part of the stage. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Feel free to shout with me!

11) I realize that I skipped this number, and only had 11 requests on the last post. Impaired mental function is a humbling part of my illness as I have always depended upon and valued my intelligence . . . . probably more than I should. Sooooo . . . . . our faith. Our faith has remained firm. It has remained firm because it HAS to. There have been moments that I've doubted my ability to handle my circumstances. There have been moments that I've doubted that I would live. But I have not for a moment doubted my God, and this is His gift to me--giving me the faith required to face the trial. Even in the instances when I've felt that He has forgotten me, I have known in the deepest recesses of my soul that He has not and cannot. I am treasured, and the cross of Christ is continually before me to remind me of how MUCH I am treasured. In the darkest moments, He has sent clear evidence that I continue on in His thoughts and work. I am looking forward to sharing some of those with you over the next few weeks as I try to catch you up on the details of our lives.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for praying. And for those of you who don't pray, thank you for helping us and wishing us well.

Sincerest love to EVERY one of you,

The Keasters

Friday, September 14, 2012

S.O.S Prayer Requests

 Dear Friends, Family Members and Readers I may never have the privilege of meeting,

A post with honesty more brutal than anything previously stated is forthcoming, but for now, our little family needs some intense prayer. Whether you would like to take a moment to bring our needs before the Father as you read, upon remembrance of someone in our family, or every day for the next two weeks is up to you. Brandon and I agree--we are both completely overwhelmed, and we need your help!

If I could paint a picture symbolizing how we feel, it would resemble Brandon and I on a beach during a hurricane, being tossed and torn by harsh and heavy winds, pelting rain, raging surge and flying debris. We are in trouble. We need a rescue of supernatural proportions. Fortunately, that is one of our God's areas of expertise. Would you pray with us?  I have listed our needs below:

1) I am having an incredibly difficult time coming off of Cymbalta. I was only on the medication for two weeks, but coming off of it has been a nightmare. I have experienced horrible, uncontrollable nausea, dizziness, headache, blood pressure problems, and depression. My depression is severe. I will offer details at a later time, but for now simply ask that Satan will not be allowed to take advantage of my weakness.

2) My pain has returned, which worsens my depression. Today was especially bad pain-wise.

3) We begin moving one week from today. We will be moving September 21-23, and I have not been well enough to pack boxes, much less do the de-cluttering, downsizing work that must be done. I'm running out of time, I'm hurting, I'm hungry, I'm sleep-deprived, and I am depressed. Do you see how this poses a problem?

4) Brandon and I are horribly sleep-deprived. Sara wakes every night, usually more than once, and sometimes stays awake for hours at a time. My children do not often nap, much less at the same time. My mom stayed last night, and Sara magically slept through the night as she usually does when we call in reinforcements. I fully expect to get up with her at least once tonight, and I will be up for at least half an hour if the current trend continues.

5) Sara has been incredibly fussy. She may be teething. She may be sick. And even at 10 months old, she may still have colic. We don't know what's up, but her sleep has been more disturbed than usual, she isn't eating as well and she is terribly fussy in the evenings. She basically cries from the time she wakes from her afternoon nap until we put her to bed. Her cry is loud and angry, and it completely stresses me out while I'm trying to prepare dinner and tend to Micah, who is always revved up by dinnertime.

6) Brandon is stretched to the max, which stretches me to the max. In addition to his incredibly long hours at work, he has spent every day he has off working at the property, getting the land and trailer ready for our move. It has been a LOT of VERY. HARD. LABOR. Imagine working a high-stress job in which you hold the lives of patients in your hands for 10 hours a day, several days a week, then spending all of your "off" time bush-hogging land, digging holes and trenches, building porches, laying flooring, painting rooms, etc. And that's just half of it. Then imagine having a sick wife, an ornery infant, financial concerns and health concerns of your own to worry about. Yeah, the man has a lot on him.

7) I am lonely and exhausted with Brandon being away so much. I have difficulty getting out of the house because if you don't have the energy to pack boxes, chances are you don't have energy to pack children and their necessary paraphernalia to go anywhere.

8) I have become photosensitive. We believe this is a side-effect of the Cymbalta, which is why I have discontinued using it. I am PRAYING that it's a side-effect of the Cymbalta because if it's an allergy, I think I may literally fall apart. Please pray that the photosensitivity disappears as the medication passes from my system. If it is unrelated to the Cymbalta, I will begin to seek a referral to John Hopkins or some other out of state facility that can help me.

9) Please pray that our house sells quickly. We are under a bit of financial strain. We aren't going to starve, but we need the house to sell before I begin my diet. My diet is going to cost more money than we currently have to spend on groceries. I need to begin the diet as soon as possible. 

10) Micah is feeling the effects of not being as high on the priority list as he once was. Pray that the Lord will provide me with creative ways to make him feel special. He also continues to struggle with anxiety. While his anxiety has improved recently, we expect him to experience some with the move.

12) Brandon and I desperately need the Lord to fortify and grow our faith. We believe. We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. We don't doubt God's love or kindness. However, this season has been unbelievably long and arduous, and it seems to be getting harder without the end anywhere in sight. We are human and frail. Our faith needs prayer.

So, here I am, attempting to rally the troops. YOU are the troops! We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to engage in battle with us. The enemy is real and powerful, and the stakes are high . . . . . higher than they've ever been. The good news is that our God is as powerful as He's ever been, and He is ready and able to do what needs doing! Thank you in advance for your love and prayers. We NEED you, and we appreciate your part in our story! I can't WAIT to tell you what God does in response to your prayers!

The Keaster Family

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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.