Monday, January 28, 2013

Growth: A Health Update

Growth is gradual.

Real, organic growth can only be measured over time. The mixed greens Dad planted in the Autumn were young, tender sprouts the first time I went out to the small patch. The next time they were a little taller, fuller, darker. The next time a little more so. If I had gone out every day, the changes may have escaped me entirely. Even when I am very observant, I cannot see my children grow. I only realize they have grown when Micah's pants are suddenly too short or when I fail to snap the buttons of Sara's onesie.

Invisible types of growth are even more difficult to spot.

A friend gave me a copy of a delightful little book entitled Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Rachel Jankovic. Rachel is the mother of five children, and experience along with her love of the Lord have granted her much wisdom concerning little ones. In the chapter, "Fruit of the Spirit Speed Quiz," she discusses the importance of observing and commenting upon the personal growth in our children. She writes--

"It is very easy for us to forget about the progress they make and to ignore the problems that they no longer wrestle with. If you have been faithfully disciplining your children, I guarantee you that there are many, many problems that they no longer struggle with....As a parent it is very easy to demean their progress by demeaning the struggle. Instead of praising them and pointing to their progress to encourage them, we ignore it.....Try to notice these little mile markers on the path of sanctification."

Commence domino effect in the brain.

The first thing I realized is, "Wow. I seriously fail at this." I'm pretty good about telling Micah that I'm proud of him, but I'm very general in my praise. For example, I may say something like, "Micah, I am proud of you because you are kind" or "Micah, you are so smart! I am proud of you!" Rachel encourages her readers to be more specific. So during bath time the other night, I told my son, "Micah, I am so proud of you! You used to cry every time I washed your hair, but you hardly ever cry about that anymore. You are such a big boy!" I wish you could have seen the smile of pleasure on his sweet little freckle-nosed face. He was delighted that I had acknowledged his progress!

Our little moment gave birth to other productive thoughts such as "Wow. Look at how far Brandon and I have come! We used to fret over the smallest things. Now we live under a ton of pressure and are granted just enough resources for daily bread, and we are doing really well. Praise God!" and "Wow. Sara may still have fussy moments, but look at how far we've come in a year. We've come from 6 hours or more a day of weeping and wailing to an occasional temper tantrum. Praise God!"

Finally, I directed my course of thinking inward and pondered my own progress. "Just a couple of months ago, I was having daily meltdowns. I can't remember the last time I lost control of myself. WOW! Praise God!" With that thought, I stumbled upon a realization that may be obvious to onlookers, but it's one I have missed almost entirely until that moment because I am constantly caught up in day to day survival mode--"Oh my gosh, I'm better! I'm much better."

And there it is--growth.

My meltdowns were a symptom I never got around to blogging much about. Mostly because it was my most embarrassing one, which is saying something as many of my symptoms have to do with poop. I have a condition called "pyroluria" which is caused by a group of chemicals called "kryptopyrroles." Pyroluria causes "irritability, anger, poor memory, impaired intellectual function, poor immunity and inability to deal with stress" (Gut and Psychology Syndrome, p. 44). I didn't exactly want to broadcast to the entire world that I was yelling at the kids every night and literally pulling my hair out when Sara would cry (girlfriend is LOUD) and occasionally daydreaming about tossing the screaming infant, the rambunctious boy, and the annoying dog out the window all at once and letting them fend for themselves while I cooked dinner. But I am unable to remember the last time I felt this way.

 It's not that I've become more patient or that I'm suddenly a better mother. No. I still feel very stressed when I'm chopping vegetables with a sharp knife that has been known to fly out of my hands due to my clumsiness and trying to check the food in the oven without burning the crying baby clinging to my pants leg so tightly that the pants actually fall off and simultaneously trying to ignore the redheaded boy literally bouncing off the walls of the living room who for all the world looks like a bizarre pinball in a machine while the dog barks loudly and annoyingly at the wind or the birds or the grass or at her own shadow. I still feel the stress that pandemonium brings and I often feel anger. I just no longer lose myself in it. I am now well enough to stop, breathe, pray and move on.

Other little mile markers on the road to restored health:

--I am reading again. I have always loved to read, but for awhile, my brain was so cloudy that I could not read. It was too much work and the words wouldn't stick anyway. The only book worth putting that much effort into was the Bible. I am now reading five books in addition to the Bible. Wow! Praise God!

--I am able to enjoy my kids! A few months ago, I was in a place where I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Taking care of children felt impossible all the time. It feels like I've suddenly woken from an 8 month long coma, and I'm getting to know two amazing little strangers. It's absolutely blissful. Wow! Praise God!

--Getting the kids ready to go outside doesn't leave me breathless or exhausted anymore. Wow! Praise God!

--My kitchen is beginning to look like a science lab with all the weird concoctions I've been making in the name of health. A few months ago, I was doing well to provide enough food for everyone. There was no time for experiments! Wow! Praise God!

--I am now able to take walks. It may not seem like much to you, but it's a pretty big deal to me. And not only am I taking walks, I am carrying Sara in the ErgoBaby, walking uphill and through the woods, lasting for 20 minutes at a time. Walking used to deplete my stores of energy, but now it often replenishes them. Oh, how I have enjoyed these walks! They are always a good time for the kids and me, and I love being outside and feeling strength in my body, a strength I didn't have a couple of months ago. Wow! Praise God!

--While I continue to suffer from dyspraxia, I am having fewer accidents.  Wow! Praise God!

--Getting out of the house no longer feels impossible. It's still hard, but not impossible. And I want to get out! Wow! Praise God!

--My smallest blue jeans are finally beginning to fit again. My smallest pair of pants are snug! I'm absorbing nutrition! Wow! Praise God!

--I have as much trouble remembering my last life-threatening allergic reaction as I do remembering my last emotional blow-up. I continue to react to all kinds of things, but I haven't felt like I was dying in months. Wow! Praise God!

--I no longer feel like I'm suffering. There are still many foods that I cannot eat, but I can eat so many more than I could last summer. I enjoy eating again! I have favorite foods! I'm not hungry all the time anymore. I continue to have pain, but I usually don't notice it. From time to time, I still run into a wall of fatigue (exhaustion you just can't push through), but it's a rare occurrence these days. I have lots of little complaints, but compared to how I was feeling in September, I just can't say that I'm suffering anymore. Wow! Praise God!

 I have a long road to hoe yet.

But God (don't you love those two words when put together side by side?) began peeling away my sick rags last week, and He began with the ones that were covering my eyes. Suddenly, I can see the growth! I can measure the progress!

It would be easy to attribute my improvement to my diet and lifestyle changes, but God removed that possibility a couple of weeks ago when I read this sentence from The Imitation of Christ--

"Neither canst thou be delivered or eased by any remedy or comfort, but as long as it shall please God thou must bear it."

When I read that, I felt the Lord speaking to me as clearly as I hear the hundreds of questions Micah asks me on any given day--"It will not be your diet that heals you. Forget your two year timeline. I AM going to heal you, and I alone will determine the time frame."

Those words were humbling, encouraging, frightening and freeing all at the same time.

Humbling because I am always humbled when the Lord of the Universe speaks to my heart, revealing His watchcare over my tiny existence.
Encouraging because I know healing is coming! It is already happening!
Frightening because God may extend my illness longer than my estimated two years. It could go on indefinitely, and I don't particularly like being ill.
And freeing because I now know that my healing doesn't depend on me following the GAPS diet to the letter. It is simply a tool in the hand of God. I cannot mess this up! That's freedom!

I think I hear the echoes of a trumpet blast of liberty!

Thank you for your prayers! They are being answered! Thank you for continuing to bear witness to my adventure. It hasn't always been fun, but it has most definitely been good. And God's just getting warmed up!

 Up, up, up the hill. One of the hills we climb on our walks.
 Micah likes to say, "Momma, I beat you!"
 Me and my girl on one of our walks.
 Playing in the creek that flows through our farm.

 Sara likes to cook. She's made me a pumpkin soup in this picture.
She also likes to feed me. Good to know she has some nurturing characteristics.
 Her disinterest in baby dolls had me thinking she was all tomboy.
 Being silly!
Beet kvass, a blood and liver detox drink
My Master Tonic to fight flu, colds, viruses and bacterial infections.
 Here it is before "brewing" for two weeks.
Here is the Master Tonic post brewing and bottling. I got over half a gallon of medicine and several baggies of prepped veggies for soups, stews, etc.

A true word about growth: "So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."--1 Corinthians 3:7

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dreams of Jubilee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa: Sick and Struggling Mother

How depressing is that?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Of Januarys and Whale Bellies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Feast Followed by a Sock Party

For the past several years, New Year's Eve has been a time in which I have sought solitude over parties, contemplation over festivity. I like to use the final hours of the year to remember major events and evaluate the year.....or rather, evaluate myself over the course of it. This December 31st called for both solitude and a party, contemplation and festivity. 2012 was quite a year, and I am thrilled to see it go.

I began my morning by reviewing the resolutions I made on December 31st of 2011, alternating smiles and grimaces as I read a list I penned only days before a nightmarish chain of events were set in motion. I had written things like "take Micah on play dates," "read more," "waste less time on social networking sites," "work on my novel," "finish memorizing Ephesians," and "learn to cook healthier meals with more creativity without sacrificing taste." I may have accomplished 4 of 10 resolutions, and believe me when I say that it was quite by accident.

For the most part, I honestly think resolutions are silly. Why do we even call them resolutions? It seems strange for such a flighty race as we to say, "I am resolved to [insert achievement, accomplishment, whatever here]." We aren't privy to the events of the next day, much less to the events a full year may bring. If 2012 has taught me anything it is that we have very little control over what happens to us and what may seem important today is as likely as not to become obsolete tomorrow.

So why do it?

Last year, I wrote on Facebook something about the importance of measuring our personal growth. While I absolutely believe that it is important to give thought to our personal--especially spiritual--progress, one year later I would amend my words with the following: It is infinitely more important to reflect upon the faithfulness of God than to rehash the accomplishments of man. Each New Year's Eve, the Christian is invited to a grand feast--"Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness" (Psalm 37:3).

Recently, I was feeling impatient about a deep, aching longing of my heart that cannot be fulfilled at the present time or in the near future. I prayed with silent, hot tears and felt these precious words form in the slivers of my soul that only God can reach--"My dear child, My faithfulness is best measured over time."

I remember, in that moment, glancing over at the Christmas cards on my refrigerator that confirmed the truth of those words--the couple who struggled so long to have children whose beautiful boys (with a baby sister on the way) were beaming out from the photo like two rays of sunshine, my best friend with her family whose long held dreams were fulfilled in so many ways in 2012, the dear, young mother who just graduated nursing school in order to generate needed income for her family, new babies born, my Jenny looking beautiful and joyous in her family photos. There are many stories of God's faithfulness Scotch-taped to my refrigerator that can only be measured over time--some over the course of a decade, many over the course of a single year. A year is but a speck of dust in the grand scope of eternity, but it has much to offer at the banquet table of God's faithfulness.

Furthermore, I have found that the easiest way to obey the admonishment to "trust in the Lord" is to sit down at the feast. So pardon me while I gorge myself for a moment. While my personal accomplishments were few, I think you will see that GOD accomplished much on my behalf--

1) On January 6, we found out that Sara and Micah had RSV. We began a rigorous regimen of steroids and antibiotics that would last a couple of days for Micah and a couple of months for Sara. In the midst of my child's serious illness and her case of "Colic From Hell," the Lord gave me  inexplicable JOY. I was even happy during months that have always haunted me with depression--a miracle of miracles.

2) Also in January, I discovered I had an allergy to sulfa. I was not sure I would survive the year after this discovery. Things have worsened dramatically since then, and to my astonishment, I find myself still here.

3) Again in January, the Lord delivered me from a lifelong sinful addiction. I had tried to overcome this addiction for years. One night, lying with my sick, writhing infant in the guest bedroom, I cried out to the Lord for deliverance, and He delivered me. It was simple--anticlimactic even--but I have not struggled with that particular addiction since that night.

4) The morning of February 2nd, I had a prophetic dream that has flavored my entire year. God has revealed its meaning to me layer by layer. What once caused me great fear has brought me great peace.

5) During Sara's illness, my relationship with the Lord burst forth with new life. Routine was ripped away from me, so I sought after the Lord in every spare moment as if my life depended upon it. And my life did depend upon it.

6) I faced the unlikelihood that I would be able to have more children with heartbreak, and found healing in giving many items away to friends, family and a Christ-centered charity.

7) The "Colic From Hell" ended when I was forced to stop breastfeeding Sara. I had a deep freezer full of breast milk, but when I went to its stores out of need, I found all of the bags spoiled. I wept bitter tears over that milk, but knowing what I now know, I can see that the Lord intervened on the behalf of my child and myself by allowing that milk to spoil, for it was the milk itself that was making her sick. Sleep and sanity were restored to our household shortly thereafter.

8) Early in 2012, I read Timothy Keller's King's Cross, which prepared me for the storm to come and changed my life forever by changing the way I view the gospel. I recommend this book to Christians, to skeptics, to atheists, to seekers, to all.

9) On May 2nd, my health collapsed. Once again, I felt that death was imminent. It was scary. It was hard. Somehow, I have not only survived the collapse, but I have actually thrived in spite of it.

10) I went hungry for 5 months as I fumbled around for medical help and treatment. In the meantime, the Lord sustained me with His presence. Truly, I have "tasted and seen that the Lord is good."

11) I was ushered into the world of alternative medicine, a world of which I had always felt wary. God has brought me here against my will, heedless to my comfort, and I am very glad He did.

12) In June, our household experienced deliverance from a spirit of oppression and fear. Micah's anxiety attacks stopped, and my lifelong affair with anxiety ended.

13) For the first time in my life, I was asked about the hope that is in me. This is a Christ-follower's dream. Little did I know that I would have to venture into hell to be asked. By the grace of the Lord Jesus and with the help of many Timothy Keller sermons, I was ready to give an answer to a friend I dearly love and respect.

14) In September, I discovered a highly dangerous latex allergy that has deeply affected the way I live. Shortly after, I planned my funeral. There have been some dark moments since the discovery of this allergy, but the Lord has guided me through each one with the light of His presence.

15) God introduced me to Jenny, a new friend who has tremendously impacted my life. It is unlikely that either of us will correctly estimate the importance of our introduction on this side of Heaven.

16) Sara had a tube surgery in August at 8 months old. Praise be to God that we were able to wait so long! Praise be to God that there have been no ear infections since!

17) In 2012, I began to experience the death of ambition, awakening to the joy and freedom to be had in finding that Jesus, Himself alone, is enough.

I look at this list, completely overwhelmed by the Lord's accomplishments and completely underwhelmed by my own. I did nothing worthy of notoriety. A full year passed with my only accomplishments being utterly invisible to the world at large. I am learning that this is not only okay, but God's calling for most of His beloved, a belief which largely explains the weirdness of my resolution list for 2013--

1) Embrace obscurity (an idea based on my current read, which I highly recommend). I have always desired to be great. At something, at anything. And I have always fallen short. This year, I will endeavor to deny my desire to be great, and exchange it for a desire to be faithful in the small, invisible things that no one appreciates.....which brings me to "number two."

2) Do all things "as unto the Lord." I will strive to cook meals, wash dishes, change diapers, bathe children, sweep floors, and wash laundry "as unto the Lord" because--let's get real--no one sees or cares about these things except for an extreme few. Even if I manage to accomplish something remarkable to society, the majority of my life will not matter unless I do it "as unto the Lord." The beautiful turn-around is that when I cook, clean and change diapers for the Lord, these mundane tasks begin to bear eternal significance. I think I can handle that exchange.

3) Allow the love Christ has for me to be my significance. To be less--to be nothing-that He may be everything.

4) Seek to be more Spirit-led. (Seriously, should this one ever be taken off of my resolution list?)

5) Learn to fearlessly speak the truth in love. Love is key.

6) Love my family better.

7) Read more, Facebook less.

8) Begin homeschooling Micah.

9) Learn more about natural health and sustainable living.

10) Get better.

 As I type, fireworks boom across the highway, heralding the entrance of 2013. While I am infinitely grateful for the experiences of 2012, I am not sad to see this year put to bed. It was not a kind year to my family. Tonight, we celebrated its demise with a party.

 We celebrated with a feast--roast with carrots, cauliflower "rice," onion "gravy" and farm-fresh kale chips....
 dark chocolate chip macaroons.....
 and pumpkin custard.
 And thanks to the genius gift-giving of my Jenny, we had a New Year's Eve sock party...
 in which we danced.....
 and danced......
 and danced....
 and laughed.....
 and danced some more.....
 and laughed some more.....
 and took goofy pictures.....
 and pranced around in a little black dress for no reason.....
all in our awesome socks. 
Thank you, Jenny.

I have no idea what 2013 holds. I'm not even going to think the words--"It can't be as bad as 2012." The truth is that it can be....and worse. But I don't have to worry about tomorrow. I won't worry about tomorrow. Things change. Shoes drop. My life is but a vapor which is here today and gone tomorrow. As I wrote on September 30th, the day I planned my funeral--

"God is not 'a tame lion.' He is as wild as He is loving. And knowing that, I have no idea how far my illness is going to go. He is GOD. His ways are unsearchable, His plans are past finding out. He could take me or all that I love in an instant, and it would be His right."

God may not be tame, but He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. He is the same today as He was He will be forever. Come what may in 2013, I will remain safe in my Lover's arms. And that is all I need to know. For now, I feast.

Join me at the table, will you? How has God proven His faithfulness to you in 2012? Let us be nourished together by His steadfast love and be better able to trust Him for all that 2013 holds in store.

Happy NEW Year!