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