Thursday, June 21, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Momma?" he began.

I looked at him questioningly.

 "Momma, you need be happy."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's Going to be Alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's Going To Be Alright"

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

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

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