Thursday, February 9, 2012

Weight: Part 4 of 4--Concerning Death and Dreams

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Have you ever thought about what the glory of God must be like? Paul describes it here in a physical sense. He describes it as heavy, far heavier than any pressure we can experience in this life. I imagine it to be unbearable, a pleasure so strong that it's excruciating. Even believers, being redeemed by Christ's blood, cannot look into the face of God and live. It would entirely sweep us away. So how will we be prepared to enjoy an encounter with a power beyond anything we can comprehend or stand . . . even in the next life? Hopefully, we will be given the great honor of experiencing the excruciating glory of God in life through the excruciating experience of suffering.

You may ask, "Why on earth would anyone hope to experience suffering?" That's a good question. In his book, Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper answers this way--

" . . . suffering with Jesus on the Calvary road of love is not merely the result of magnifying Christ; it is also the means. He is made supreme when we are so satisfied in him that we can 'let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also' and suffer for the sake of love. His beauty shines most brightly when treasured above health and wealth and life itself. He knew that suffering (whether small discomforts or dreadful torture) would be the path in this age for making him most visibly supreme. That is why he calls us to this. He loves us. And love does not mean making much of us or making life easy. It means making us able to enjoy making much of him forever--no matter what it costs." (p. 61-62)

As a long-distance runner begins by running short distances before running a marathon and as a body-builder must begin by lifting light weights before he becomes a champion, we are given a shadow of a taste of the exceeding weight of glory we will experience in eternity by walking with Jesus on the Calvary road of suffering in this life. We are building the muscle, if you will, that we need to bear this unbearable weight of glory,"to enjoy making much of him forever," which is what heaven is really all about. We should hope to suffer with Jesus so we can hope to enjoy the sensation of being knocked flat on our faces before an eternal, all-powerful God.

Of course, it is not natural for man to hope to suffer, but suffering comes in a fallen world whether or not we hope for it. Suffering will come, and when it does, we can either embitter ourselves against a holy, loving God, which is the natural bent of man, or we can lean into Him with all of our might, which is supernatural--the work of God in us. When we lean into Him rather than "jerking away" (if you are confused by the quotations here, read Part 1), He gives us everything we could possibly need. We, like the Apostle Paul, can live "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10).

But what do I know of this? Honestly, not much. But I do have a story to tell about the small portion of the Calvary road I have walked.

Those of you who know me personally are privy to the fact that I am basically allergic to the world in which I live. I have the normal allergies to grasses, pollens, molds and dust mites that a lot of people have, but I have several strange and obscure allergies, too--wheat, tree nuts, soy, dairy, corn, watermelon, kiwi, tapioca starch, guar gum, xanthum gum, teff flour (an encounter that negatively affected my health for the greater part of 2011), and pretty much all grains with the exception of rice. I bet you haven't even heard of some of that stuff, much less would know how to avoid it. When most people think of allergies, they think of stuffy or runny noses, coughing, watery and itchy eyes, etc. My allergies are more of the hives, full-body itching, hot flashing, inability to breathe variety, especially when it comes to wheat, nuts and certain types of grass. I've carried an Epi-Pen for 5 years now, and I know how to use it.

I wasn't born like this. I was born with allergies, sure, but not with this excessively long list of food allergies. When I was 20 years old, I began to react to one food right after the other. I had to completely change the way I ate and lived. I made several mistakes while I was learning, and these mistakes weren't very forgiving. Benadryl has been a life-saver multiple times. I've been known to drink a significant portion of Children's Benadryl to avoid using my Epi-Pen so I could thereby avoid the hospital. An account of my closest brush with death can be found here.

I had gotten pretty good at protecting myself. I had learned which foods were safe at which restaurants. I had learned not to eat at social functions. I had learned not to even have wheat flour in the house. My last severe mistake was in January 2011. I was doing pretty darn good. And then, a new allergen presented itself.

I can't know for sure, but I think the first severe manifestation of this new allergy occurred during labor. I believe the reaction I suffered after being given my epidural was my first big reaction to sulfa/sulphites. Some of you may know that sulphites can be found in wine, which is easy enough to live without, and sulfa is easily enough avoided if you have a sharp doctor and pharmacist (which I have). But as the most extraordinary thing about me is the extraordinary way I react to allergens, I have proven to be far more sensitive to the stuff than others I know who share this allergy.

One Friday in January, in the midst of Sara's bout with RSV, I had an unique opportunity to do some pampering. Brandon had taken Micah out of the house. Sara was sleeping soundly in her swing. I took a long, hot shower, and then decided to use a facial mask I had been wanting try out. I caked it on, nice and thick, not bothering to be conservative with my use. When I had my face and neck covered, my skin began to tingle. I thought it was probably normal, just an effect of the mask. Then, my skin began to burn unpleasantly. Hmmm . . . . I didn't think a mask should burn. And then, I couldn't get the thing off fast enough. I scrubbed quickly, my face and neck feeling like they had been splashed with acid. When I got all of it off, I kept dousing my face with cold water. It didn't help. I applied a facial lotion, aloe vera gel, a calming lotion . . . nothing was easing the burning sensation. I did finally read that the facial mask contained sulfur, and decided to take a couple of Benadryl tablets for good measure. A few minutes later, I noticed that my chest was tightening and my tongue was swelling. The Benadryl wasn't working! After quickly checking with my Aunt Suzonne who is a nurse, I took 50mg more Benadryl. The next step was my Epi Pen, and I had no one but a dependent infant within half an hour of me to haul my butt to the hospital. God heard my pleas, and the 100mg of Benadryl in my system eased my breathing and reduced the size of my tongue.

This incident was the first time I found that I could not make skin contact with the allergen at hand. I can make my son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with whole wheat bread, but the sulfa cream prescribed for Sara's diaper rash proved to be life threatening. I wore protective gloves, and still had a violent reaction while using it. I'm using cloth diapers with cloth liners for Sara. The other day, I saw a clean cloth liner on the floor in the laundry room. I picked it up, and threw it in the laundry basket with the other clean cloths. It had been contaminated with the sulfa cream, but it had been washed and dried. The single second that my fingertips touched the liner was enough contact to tighten my airways. That's it! A second. And then, there is the extensive list of foods and pharmaceutical drugs I must completely avoid. I had only thought that learning to live without wheat was difficult. I hate to use words like this, but avoiding everything I must in order to live safely is going to be impossible. The list is far too long with far too many possibilities for error to avoid everything completely. I must read every label of everything I put into my mouth or touch. If I eat food someone else has prepared for me, I'll be taking a major risk. A night out on the town could easily prove to be the last night of my life. That sounds dramatic and ridiculous, especially to me who prefers to avoid the dramatic and ridiculous outside of books and off the stage, but it's true. This is my new reality. And to be honest, for the first time in my allergic life, I am terrified.

I have begun to understand that my life is in danger. This one is bad. My dreams of raising my children and having a long, full life with my husband are under terrible threat. I look into the faces of my babies and begin to cry because I'm afraid I won't be allowed to look at them long enough to satisfy me. My soul tears in two when I think of the worst. My children need me. No one else can love them like I do. When Brandon talks of the future, I feel uncomfortable because I know that I might not be in it. These are the best years of my life. I don't want to die.

It was with these thoughts I went to bed the night I reacted to the sulfa cream while wearing my protective gloves. I was awash in despair. I prayed and cried myself to sleep that night, hugging Sara tighter to my chest than usual. And that night, God gave me a dream. Before I relate the dream, I want you to understand that I am not special in any way. I have never before been given a dream, much less the ability to understand it. Normally, I'm just like everyone else and I just have dreams, but this one was different.

The dream began with unimportant prologue. All I can remember early in the dream is that I was running from something, but I didn't know what it was. The important part of the dream began with me, hiding in a safe house, with white, blank walls and empty spaces. I had two protectors with me--one felt like Brandon, the other felt much less important, but the faces were hazy. I was getting dressed for some unknown reason. I wasn't going anywhere, but I was looking especially pretty. I was sitting on a bed, putting on a pair of red ballet flats when two figures passed by an open window outside the next room, into which I could clearly see. I saw one of the figures stop abruptly. I'm not sure how, but I knew that he had smelled me. He turned to face me through the window. I can't quite say that we made eye contact because he didn't have eyes, but we were trapped in each other's gaze nonetheless. He was huge, a towering giant of a man. But he wasn't a man. His head was like that of a bison or a wildebeest or something of that nature. (Think The Chronicles of Narnia here, but we aren't talking about a good animal.) He was dressed in all black, and he radiated all things terrible. He left the space of the open window, and I knew he was coming for me. My protectors knew he was coming, too. The one who did not feel like Brandon ran to the front door. He tried to stop him, but after The Beast knocked down the door, he flung my first protector aside as if he were nothing at all. His footsteps thundered slow and deliberate toward me. The Brandon-ish protector said, "Don't be afraid. I'll protect you." I believed he would try. I just didn't believe that he actually could. The Beast now stood before me. I was on the ground, scooting away from him in fear. I was covered in a cold sweat. He raised his huge fist into the air. I knew he was about to deliver a blow, and when he did, it would kill me. I was seconds from my death, and the protector in the room with me would only be able to stand there and watch. As the creature's fist swung toward me, a magical, blue force field appeared out of nowhere in front of me, deflecting The Beast's blow entirely. The Beast stared without eyes at the force field in a wild rage. Suddenly powerless to hurt me, he walked back to the broken front door. Before he walked out, he turned back and caught me once again in his cruel gaze. He did not speak, but his message was burned into my brain--"You escaped this time, but I'll be back again and again until I get you." With that, he left. I realized that I was no longer safe, even in hiding. I decided to leave my safe house. I was leaving my protectors behind, and about to walk as far I could into the wide, open horizon that stretched before me, but my protectors followed. One plead, "Let us go with you! We will find a way to protect you." I said, "No. No one can protect me." The protector replied, "What about the force field?"

I gave some response that is muddy in my brain because this is the point at which I began to wake up.

Later that morning, I couldn't get the dream off of my brain. I was consumed with morbid thoughts, taking the dream as a bad omen--an omen that meant I didn't have many days left. But in my sadness, I reached out to the Lord. I prayed. I combated fear with scripture I had memorized. I worshiped. As I did these things, God impressed upon my spirit that I needed to write out the dream in my journal.

I put Micah down for his nap, and I did so. As I wrote out the dream, God gave me its meaning!

I looked pretty in the dream because the time frame represented the best years of my life---the years I'm living now. I was in a safe house because I was trying to hide away, but the blank walls spoke of an empty life. My two protectors were Benadryl and Epi Pen. The one that felt like Brandon was the Epi Pen. These protectors are ultimately unable to protect my life. The Beast figure is, of course, death. Death is pursuing me. It is coming after me. It won't stop. It will smell me out again and again and again. But as the protector asked, "What about the blue force field?" Well, it was God. God turned death away. He turned it away because He, and no one else, gets to decide the number of my days.

After the dream interpretation, this is what I recorded in my journal:

"'He knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.' --Psalm 37:18

[God] can turn away death or send it at His will. I have not been given the knowledge of my life's length. Each breath is a gift from the Lord, and I am as likely to die in a car crash as I am of anaphylaxis. Just because I am weaker than the next person doesn't mean that my life will be shorter. I am weak because God wants me to know that His grace is sufficient for me; His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, I can boast gladly in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on me.

And there is the possibility that I could die. Soon. From a reaction. From an accident. From a murder, even. And what of it?

'Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' --Job 2:10

And what about this?: 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.' --Romans 8:28

If this verse is true, it must also be true that for the Christian, death is good.

'For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.'--Philippians 1:21-23

So why the fear? Why the heartbreak? Why the agony of feeling my chest ripped open at the thought of dying? It's because I don't want to leave my man. It's because I want to raise my kids. It's because I am convinced that no one can love them like I can. Because I want to witness their lives in all their stages. Mostly, it's that I know I can never drink in enough of their sweet, baby faces to ever be satisfied. But why do I think Jesus' face would be any less sweet? His would be 1,000 times sweeter! Why do I think no one else could care for my little loves like me? Jesus cares 1,000 times more than I ever could! A long life with my husband would be a grand gift, but nothing compared to the eternity I will have with my Ultimate Groom.

This dream is not to be a thing that haunts me, although it will. It is a reminder of who is really in control of my destiny. It is a reminder that each breath is a gift. It is a reminder that death, though scary, is gain. So, let The Beast find me, again and again and again. I won't be leaving this earth until God's preordained time, and then I will be with Him, safe and completely satisfied in Him.

Funny, I guess, that I just wrote the ending to my dream--I am going to live my life, not in fear or in hiding, but out in the open and full to the hilt until the blue force fields come to my rescue no more, and I wake from death's final blow in the arms of my Savior."


I ended my entry here.

Here's the thing--we all live in a place of uncertainty. I'm just hyper-aware of that fact right now. Sometimes, while I'm holding Sara or playing with Micah or kissing Brandon, I take a deep drag of oxygen, and silently thank God for that one, special breath. I take a little more joy in the fact that I have almost no alone time because who would want to spend their last day or moment alone? I'm enjoying one on one time with my children more because I feel the pressure of getting the housework done much less. I'm leaning on God moment by moment, because in reality, He orders their number anyway. I have nothing to fear because nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39), not allergens, not anaphylaxsis, not pain, not car crashes, not murder, not anything. And I can fulfill my purpose in life or death.

The purpose for my existence is to be glad in God and help as many others to be glad in God as possible. I hope this post encourages you in some way toward that gladness, the greatest gladness to be had in this life and the next. To know that gladness, you have to know my Jesus, and the only way to do that is to accept Him for who He says He is--He claimed to be the God of the Universe and the, meaning the only, Savior of our souls. He is not merely a good teacher. He is more! It comes down to this--believing Jesus, which is the only faith that has any value. If you can't believe this, but want to, don't worry. You don't have to contrive faith of your own, on your own. Faith is a gift! Ask God for it, and He will give it to you! If you have any questions about a life lived for Jesus, I want to talk to you. Email me at keastemom@live.com. We'll talk.

If you have a relationship with Christ, but aren't in a place where death seems to be gain, that's also okay. I have some recommended reading for you:

1) The Gospels of The Bible. Jesus is the key to death being gain. Start there, then move to the letters of Paul. The Apostle and Saint understood what it meant for death to be gain more than anyone else ever has.

2) Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper.

3) King's Cross by Timothy Keller.

These books have been great encouragements to me in the last few months through trial after trial.

Let me tell you this--it is a struggle to stay in the mindset of death being gain. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The devil loves to come around, stirring up fear and anxiety when he can, so I need your prayers. Please pray for my peace, first and foremost. I also need God's protection as I navigate this major life change. I cannot avoid every mistake, but it would be nice to avoid some.

Also, I am not suicidal. If you see me out cold on the pavement and not breathing, please find my mini purse inside my diaper bag at the top, get out my Epi Pen and stab me in the leg. Do it for me, for my husband and for my kids. Thank you.

Finally, I want you to know that as bad as this is (and everything else in the last three months has been), I am thankful that this bad thing has happened. It is being worked for my eternal good and hopefully, for the eternal good of others, as well. This horrible, scary, light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And that is a very, very good thing.

2 comments:

Natosha Griffin said...

Hey Melissa, It was really good to read your blog. Very encouraging.
--Natosha

phillips foster said...

Powerful, powerful stuff. So much to take in. I think you must have been annointed with the Holy Spirit when you wrote this. I'm not there, but I want to be.