Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jubilee Farm

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I so enjoy gathering with family over a delicious, bountiful meal, looking into the faces of those I love. It causes me to ponder Heaven--an eternal feast with our Savior and the family of God. My heart flies with joy in the day and hope for the future. Christmas is great, but we have brought much "doing" into it. Thanksgiving still allows me to "just be" with beloved souls as I contemplate the goodness of God.

For as long as I can remember, my mother's family has gathered in my grandparents' living room on Thanksgiving night. Before the feast, we bless the meal and share one thing for which we are grateful. We have so many blessings from which to choose. The room which once seemed spacious is now quite snug due to the marriages and babies of my generation. There is food enough to fill us all. We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Our answers range from "toilet paper" to "Jesus Christ" with many things in between. There is always laughter. There is always at least one "amen."

Due to my extreme sensitivities, I will not be able to join them this year. The thought saddens me, but I don't see why I have to break from all tradition. If I could be with them tonight, upon my turn to give thanks, I would answer, "Jubilee Farm."

To truly appreciate my answer, a story must be told.

Early in 2012, my dad had a difficult decision to make. He could retire at the end of the school year, or continue a job he no longer enjoyed in order to secure a more comfortable retirement. Dad's health was deteriorating, but if he resigned my parents would no longer be able to afford their house. Mom encouraged him to retire anyway.

My parents brainstormed about possible jobs my dad could do. A bad back is a bigger obstacle than one might think when considering a career change at the age of 60. They asked the Lord to guide them, and waited with eyes wide open.

One day, Mom came upon Proverbs 27:27--"There will be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and maintenance for your girls." (ESV)

She shared the scripture with Dad. "Maybe you could farm," Mom suggested. "You can grow our food, and maybe even make a little money." Dad once wanted to farm for a living, but his grandparents discouraged him so he went to college instead. Mom has always dreamed of a Little House on the Prairie lifestyle. It was a crazy idea, but my parents are just the right kind of crazy for this brand of adventure. 

If my parents were to become farmers, they needed to sell their house and find some land. They discussed moving closer to Farmerville to be nearer to Mom's parents and my family. Mom asked her dad to look for property outside of Farmerville. In no time at all, he secured the twelve acres which would become Jubilee Farm.

But there was one small problem: to buy a farm you need money, and money was something my parents did not have. Mom's parents agreed to help. They covered the cost of the land with Mom's inheritance and a promissory note which Mom and Dad would pay within a year upon the sale of their house. It didn't quite work out that way. Eighteen months later, they still haven't sold their house. Instead, they paid the difference with Dad's inheritance, which came in only a few weeks ago. Talk about a leap of faith....

After Brandon took a walk on the new property and had a talk with my dad about the merits of reducing and eliminating debt, Brandon came home to me one May afternoon with the looney notion of selling our house, buying a trailer and forming a commune with my parents and sister on the farm-to-be. My health was tanking at the time. "It would be nice to have your parents close by," he said. I thought he had lost his mind. But eventually, I lost mine, too, and we became the first family to take up residence on Jubilee Farm. 

The land here--it isn't prime property. This place used to be a dump. Literally. There is a lifetime's worth of glass shards in our front yard. Three pipelines run through it, and there isn't a lot of marketable timber. It's rutted, weedy and wild. It isn't pretty. The soil is acidic and rock hard, which is the opposite of good farmland. However, it's lack of apparent potential made it affordable, which is what we needed. And we know that the Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord sees deeper and farther (1 Samuel 16:7). He saw potential and beauty, and helped us see it, too. Even Jenny, who visited before many improvements were made, declared the property possessed "a blessed quality."

In January, I shared the story of how Jubilee Farm earned her name. What I didn't share is the passage the Lord used to speak a blessing over our little farm. I read it in January, just before Mom's Jubilee Birthday celebration, and inscribed it in her birthday journal.

"You visit the earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water; 
You provide their grain,
for so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers, 
You bless its growth.
You crown the year with Your goodness,
and Your paths drip with abundance.
They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
and the little hills rejoice on every side.
The pastures are clothed with flocks;
The valleys also are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, they also sing."
-Psalm 65:9-13

Brandon tilled the ground. Dad put his Master Gardener's knowledge to use, and balanced the pH of the soil. In March, we planted the gorgeous baby plants the Yakaboskis sold to us, and watched them grow. The work suited Dad, even with his bad back. It actually made him feel better.


Unfortunately, some mistakes were made. Overwhelmed by the bug population trying to eat our lovely little plants, Dad used a mild pesticide early in the season. In his defense, almost no one around here has much success at organic gardening. He simply gave in to what the Master Gardener class taught him, and what other gardeners do themselves. But it didn't kill the bugs, and I couldn't eat the first of the produce as a result. Later, he tried a more potent pesticide. I didn't know he was spraying again, and walked outside with the kids about 20 minutes after everything had been doused. The poison, which is a neurotoxin, almost killed me. I do not exaggerate.

The initial exposure is the worst reaction I have had to date, and there were long term effects. It put me in the bed for weeks, and set my health on a steep decline. I made some mistakes of my own, and found myself unable to eat or drink again during the first week of June. I was watching all of that gorgeous food come into my kitchen, and couldn't eat a bite of it. I struggled to believe God's promise to me that I would live because I felt like I was dying. I will not rewrite what has already been written, but it is important to note that a prayer meeting took place on my behalf and things drastically changed afterward. 

Yes, mistakes were made, but God trumped them all. Within a few days, I was eating again. Granted, it was only raw eggs and cream of rice cereal at first, but when I began to eat "real food," I could suddenly eat from the garden. Zucchini, squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, peppers, onions, cabbage, all of it! I could even eat watermelon to which I have been allergic for years. I could eat foods then that I cannot eat today. And best of all--the food was healing my body. As I ate, I could feel a gentle tingle throughout, almost as if I was feeling the healing taking place at a cellular level. I will never forget the sensation.

When I finally climbed out of survival mode, I realized how well our garden was doing. Others gardeners would comment that their gardens weren't doing as well, and they had years of experience. Rains came regularly and at the right times, nourishing the plants and washing away the poison. Dad, determined to never use pesticides again, began to pick off the potato bugs and tomato eating worms by hand. The Louisiana summer was not overly hot. We grew enough safe, beautiful food to feed our families, to share with our friends and to sell at nearby markets well into the month of July.

The excitement we experienced in the summer is mostly over now. We have greens to look forward to, but a recent frost killed our squashes and only a few green tomatoes remain to be fried. But when I look back at what came to pass, I tear up a little. 

God used the garden to save my life. The thought leaves me speechless. 

It overwhelms me that as early as the spring of 2012, God was actively answering the prayers offered for me in June 2013. Think about this--as you make your requests before God today, His answer is already in the works. He resides in our past, present and future, and is not bound by time or money or our limitations or our mistakes. He reigns over all. And He is building with us a rapport of faithfulness so when the next trial comes, we can say with greater assurance, "God, You are faithful, and You are good. I trust you."

I am thankful for Jubilee Farm. I am thankful for what she says about my God. He is the ultimate Gardener, enriching the soil and the soul, bringing the rain and sunshine as needed for growth. He crowns the year with goodness. He makes our paths drip with abundance.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Cup

During periods of trial, time plays odd games. The days are long though they trip along like merry children. You wonder where and how they went. A season is born and buried while you are living from one breath to the next. You emerge from the rubble of the last windstorm, certain a lifetime has passed since you last saw the sun. Nope. Just a month. You check the calendar to be sure.

The previous four weeks have gone like that. Kind of. The suffering hasn't been life threatening, but it's been real and very hard. I'm not fighting for survival anymore, just the will to survive. I've got breath in my lungs and food in my stomach, but I haven't been able to pin down joy or hope or faith for longer than a single moment at a time.

Difficult circumstances have exposed deeply seated, uncomfortable emotions, which had so long been hiding under the rug I had forgotten all about them. As I tried to cope with a physical setback and the suffering of those I care for, the unwelcome feelings bubbled to the surface, demanding to be dealt with. Emotion became thought, which in turn became need. After some graceless floundering about, need became prayer.

God was acting before I uttered the first plea. He gave me several cues to seek physical support for these powerful feelings. One lovely feature of natural medicine is that it treats the whole person, not just flesh and bone. I talked to Dr. Yakaboski last week about my concerns. At our appointment this week, she performed a Zyto scan. My top five stressors were "afraid," "fear," "pain," "intensity," and "disconnected." I'm not sure I could have better described myself. Using the Zyto machine, she made a water-based homeopathic to treat the specific stressors. After the scan, she performed B.E.S.T. during which she "cleared" what I felt to be the most troubling thoughts and feelings. Relief was immediate. I have felt better physically and emotionally since the treatment, and I continue to take the homeopathic.

In His usual perfect timing, God prompted a friend, who also happens to be my primary physician, to send a lovely care package. The letter, Bible verses and mixed CD of worship music speak far deeper and more poignantly than she knows. As I listen to the music and put the Scripture to memory, I am suddenly Moses so weary from holding up my arms. I cannot let them droop because if I do the battle will be lost, and even though the battle wages only in my own soul, the stakes are higher than I can imagine. My friend is Aaron, holding up my arms when I no longer can. With her help, I have caught my second wind. I remember I am not alone. Oh, how we need one another. Oh, how blessed we are to be part of a family.

The Lord provided me with tangible assistance through my doctors and friends. In His Word, He gave answer. And none too gently. He is not a tame lion, after all.

To my fear of being forgotten, He says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7). 

To my desire for love from certain people in my life who withhold it, He says, "abide in My love" (John 15:9).

To my loneliness, He says, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you....Fear not, for I am with you" (Isaiah 43:2,5), and "Be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:15).

To my desperation to be understood He says, "The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy" (Proverbs 14:10), and "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

God has shown me this truth--no one can enter into my suffering except for Christ Himself. Likewise, I cannot enter into the suffering of another. I can only be perfectly understood by One. There is a veil which prevents anyone from treading upon the holy ground between Christ and the individual believer. Not even my husband or mother can pass through.

Do you see it? Jesus Christ has audaciously set Himself up to be the answer to all my needs, to every longing of my heart. He never once mentioned the remembrance, affection, company or empathy of another human being, which I suppose is handy since I'm rarely around people above the age of four. But it wasn't the answer I was looking for. And somehow it was more.

Jesus isn't only ready and willing to enter into my suffering. Infinitely more importantly, He is inviting me to enter into His, "to know Him....and the fellowship of His suffering" (Philippians 3:10). He is offering to me His cup--the one He so wanted to pass Him by, the one He drank dry to rescue my soul from deadly self-sufficiency. Dude, I don't want the cup, either! I, too, have asked, begged God to take it away.

And yet I wonder--is there anything more intimate than sharing a cup? I have shared with my parents, my sister, my husband, my best friend, and only sparingly even then. You have to really know and love a person to swap backwash. The thought strikes me--Jesus is the ultimate Father, Brother, Husband, Friend. To know Him and all His names, we must taste the wine of His suffering, bitter though it is.

His love gives me courage. With Him, I say, "Not my will, but Yours." I will drink with the One who snatched me from the jaws of death.

Sharing the cup is not a one time decision; it's a daily one. In the early days of my suffering, I decided that knowing Christ was more important than health, but as time passed and the burden of this all-encompassing illness only grew heavier, I began to desire healing more than the glory of God. Essentially, I became an idolator.

Once upon a time, I may have volunteered to have a little "health scare" or something mildly earth-rending to bring me closer to God. I'm weird like that. But this thing--it has dragged me farther than I ever wanted to go. I never wanted to hurt this badly, lose this much. I never desired my death. And that's what this illness has wrought. I may be breathing, but the woman I once was is no longer with us. I have been absolutely ruined, torn apart. I will never recover.

 This is what the cup does. It kills you.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." John 12:24-25

The One with whom you share the cup brings you back to life.

"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?'" John 11:25

Below is one of the songs my friend included on the CD. Listen and be blessed:

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Portrait of the Gospel

My spirits tend to sink when weighted by a chain of hard days. I wish I was past this weakling business. I'm not. Here's the lovely thing--the bad days were proceeded by several good ones.

Brandon and I attended Brian and Jenny's wedding in Houston. I will try to give an adequate description of the day, but I am afraid words will fail. The highlights are as follows:

The way was prepared for me. I had prayed long and hard concerning the event. I held it loosely so the sting wouldn't be too great if plans fell through. A thousand things could have gone badly, any of which would have prevented me from attending. Not one came to pass. We were nervous. We remembered too well our last trip to Houston, specifically the drive back home through the rain as I struggled for breath and clung to my Epi pen. We were driving west and almost at the Texas state line when the Lord gave me a word--"redemption." I spoke it aloud. I told Brandon that this trip would be the opposite of our last. God was going to redeem the trauma of the year before.

 The hotel room made me sick, but my reactions were controlled with TBM and BioSet (energy/acupressure work). Jenny had asked my groomsman escort not to wear cologne. The bridesmaids--strangers almost--elected not to wear any fragrance on my behalf without being asked by anyone. There are only a handful of people in my life who make this kind of accommodation for me. I was stunned by their thoughtfulness. My mask was still needed, and it provided sufficient protection until I passed a particularly fragrant wedding guest in the reception area. My reaction was not life threatening, but I was made unwell enough to require treatment.

God smiled on the day. The air was cool and crisp. Sun rays glowed golden, slipping through morning shadows to dry the dew and warm our shoulders. God's seal of approval was apparent in every detail. His Spirit hung quietly about us all, manifesting in joy, calm, intentional moments and physical strength for Jenny. And she looked absolutely beautiful.

I generally don't cry at weddings, but I cried at this one. It was simple and impossibly sweet. Every expression, word, musical choice and ceremonial symbol bore significance. The congregation was called to sing, "Ode to Joy"--a fitting song for the event. When the chorus began, voices like angels rang from the loft above. The church had granted Brian and Jenny an unexpected gift of a women's choir to bless them. They blessed us all.

Unfortunately, I kind of derailed after the trip. Now ask me if I regret going. (Hint: See facial expressions in photos above.)

Pain, brain fog and heightened sensitivity set in the evening we returned home, growing worse each day. These symptoms are often accompanied by depression. Depression is a nasty foe, particularly so because it consumes a person with self. Self is never a good focus. Self fails in every way. It blinds you to what is real and vital. It takes from you without ever giving anything back.

It is a shame that after freshly experiencing something so beautiful and divine, I returned home to wallow. Like a pig in filth.

I allowed unholy thoughts to pour in and puddle--This is too hard. I've been sick so long. I may never be well. I am forgotten. No one understands what my life is like.

At Jenny's wedding, I was asked, "What is your illness?" This question is always hard for me. It reminds me there is no name for what I have. People understand names like "cancer" and "diabetes," but they cannot understand the craziness I've got going on. If I say I have allergies, people think I'm being extremely dramatic about a runny nose. If I talk about immunity or methylation, their eyes glaze over with information overload. My disease is a mystery to me. How do I answer the question? I try. It always comes out in too many confused words.

When there is no name for the disease, there is no established protocol. My doctor and I really have no idea what we are doing. Muscle testing keeps us from making major, life-threatening mistakes, but really all we have to go on is trial and error. Two prospective treatments have recently come to my attention. I did not realize how desperately I was hoping to be a candidate for either or both until Dr. Yakaboski tested that I was a candidate for neither. I wasn't prepared for the disappointment.

More unholy thoughts--You are a freak. No one knows what is wrong with you. You are too sick to tolerate the treatments that can make you better.

There are people who need me--my time, my "spoons," my prayers, and all I have been thinking about is myself. Last night, I had enough. I'm sure God had enough before it began. I wielded my secret weapon--the self sermon.

I preach a mini sermon almost every day either for me or the kids. I have gotten pretty good at it. I began preaching to myself out loud over my stove as I cooked. Micah and Sara were unphased. Eight kinds of crazy are accepted here. I began by quoting scripture to myself:

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance." --Psalm 42:5

"If I say, 'My foot slips,' Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul."--Psalm 94:18-19

"'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'"--2 Corinthians 12:9

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him [US] endured the cross...." Hebrews 12:1-2

"When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I."--Psalm 61:2

I did not realize how bad I was feeling physically until this inexplicable weight on my body and haze in my brain lifted. Last night Scripture literally brought a manner of healing to my body. Not just to my soul. To my body.

Enjoying the new clarity, I began pouring my heart out to Jesus. My feelings were utterly selfish, but He listened. And He not only listened--He responded.

Me: I feel so misunderstood.

GOD: Is not my understanding enough for you?

Me: Ouch. Yes, it is. I feel forgotten.

GOD: The eyes of God of the Universe are upon you. You cannot comprehend what this means.

Me: Wow. Yeah, I guess I don't. Well, how am I going to get better if I cannot tolerate treatment?

GOD: You will continue to patiently walk in my wisdom until my purposes are accomplished and you are healed. The treatments of man are irrelevant to you.

Me: And there ya go. I feel unimportant.

GOD: When Jesus was born into the world, He was God made into flesh yet only his parents and a few animals were present. During His world changing ministry, He only had a handful of friends. Jesus made Himself unimportant. This is your model. Do not forget the cross. Your importance to Me was made clear there.

Me: I am ridiculous.

Later, Brandon ministered to me as well. He listened. He validated my feelings. And he preached to me from Scripture, the gist of which was Paul had it way worse than you and was joyful in all things so suck it up! Perfect! I was taken aback by this sweet manifestation of the Spirit in my husband. Generally, men like to play Mr. Fix It. You offer a problem; they offer a solution. Brandon knew he couldn't offer me a real solution, so he offered me something better. He gave me an ear and a godly kick in the pants.

Even the sum of these things fell a mite short of what I really needed. I needed a flag to follow--something greater than myself as a rally point. The Billy Graham special reminded me of what that is tonight.

Billy Graham is gifted. He preaches a simple message simply. The gospel of Christ is incredibly elementary. A preschooler can grasp it. It is also devastating, earth rending, life changing. Tonight I recalled my purpose. I have been bought with a price. I am owned. My purpose is to enjoy Jesus regardless of my circumstances, to make Him look beautiful to the world, and to spread His fame. I cannot do this if I am looking at myself. I am entitled to my feelings. God gave us the capacity to feel. But I must not allow my feelings to consume me. I must be consumed by the truth and permanence of the cross.

Looking at the cross requires looking away from ourselves to gaze at something glorious--something worth living, worth suffering and worth dying for. The cross demands everything we are; the resurrection supplies the power to give what is demanded. We are not victims, brothers and sisters. We are warriors, overcomers, victors!

I thought about Jenny's wedding again after the special. It was a true to life portrait of the gospel. We are a broken bride. We are sick with physical, spiritual and emotional maladies of all kinds, the names of which do not matter, for it is all disease in need of healing. We are frail and imperfect. We need to be saved, restored and healed. Though we have done nothing to deserve it, God has clothed us in a lovely, white gown. He has made us radiant with His love. This is our reality right now, and we are still only our shadow selves. We are not yet who we really are. We still carry our brokenness with us. But if we will just keep looking to the Groom and bask in the love shining from His eyes, we will make it down the aisle just fine.

 "God has been too good to me to play the victim anymore."--Jenny