Intercession

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”~Ephesians 2:10

The Lord uses even the most stubborn saints for His glory. His mercy comes like the leading edge of a storm at times, and at others, as imperceptibly as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings. But when He’s asked by one frail believer for help and wisdom, an answer is never far behind. Of this truth, I no longer have any doubt.

When I was faced, several years ago, with the frightening reality that auto-immune disease had come to stay, I began exploring the idea that this cluster of diagnoses, at least for me, might have a spiritual malady at its root. As I’ve struggled through the release of this burden to the Lord, His Spirit has been tenderly guiding me to some answers, and some relief.

I’m finding healing in this place, and I desperately want others to find it too. It’s too hard to try to go it alone. I won’t lie. I don’t understand this. I’m afraid to share these things. I’m afraid of appearing ridiculous. But I’m also afraid that if I’m not transparent here, someone else may find themselves limping along the trail, lost, alone, possibly injured and too afraid to ask for directions.

There is a growing body of research that suggests that certain MBTI combinations (If you are not familiar with this acronym, it stands for Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator) are more susceptible to disease of the auto-immune variety. I have always tested out with the same result, whether on the long form (once as a requirement for a job and once for grad. school), or when completing the fun online personality test. However, please don’t get too attached to the results if you decide to take it on your own. While they’ve been a help, they’ve also been a hindrance to me. I believe my slowness to hear God’s voice in the matters below has at least a little bit to do with the significance I’ve attached to my “type”.  Nothing should replace the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So at the risk of ridicule, here are some questions that I hope will help diagnose some sources of unnecessary anxiety for someone out there, and help you turn your temperament into something God can use for His glory.

1. Do you feel overwhelmed in large groups because you tend to “soak up” all the feelings and attitudes of others in the room?

2. As far back as you can remember, have you had some inkling of this character trait? For example, did you find yourself, as a child, fleeing oppressive environments where adults were overly critical of others or spent a lot of time arguing?

3. Do you have an uncanny realization that you are in the presence of someone that is very sad, very conflicted or very angry in a large room full of people?

4. Do you feel the loneliness of the new kid or the mama that doesn’t quite fit with a clique? Do you position yourself near those people?

5. Can you intuit very quickly when you’ve unintentionally made a judgment error by the slight turn of countenance, no matter how guarded, of a co-worker or friend?

6. Do large-group scenarios exhaust you and, do you, quite often, spend at least a week emotionally and physically recovering from extensive seasons spent in those scenarios?

7. Are you unable to watch or read the news and still sleep peacefully at night?

8. Good or bad, do people seem to be able to tell you whatever is on their hearts?

9. Do you apologize for incidents that are not your fault simply to bring resolution and ease the tension you feel in the relationship?

I’ll never forget the poor elderly man I’d never met in a WalMart auto service department who laid out his entire sad life story to me over the course of an exhausting two hours. I was a single twenty-something with walking pneumonia, barely able to keep my eyes open as I listened. I just wanted to lean my head against the wall and close my eyes. I’d spent the day teaching anyway because it felt harder to prep for a sub than to just show up at work. The car had to be fixed so that I could get myself to a pharmacy and then get in bed so I could attempt to go to work the next day. I was the only teacher for the subject I taught at that time, so there was no one to help the sub along, no workbooks or worksheets to utilize and no textbooks. When I did employ a sub, I had to leave lots of detailed notes and unusual activities. There’s no way that I could possibly have been exuding a warmth that said, “Please tell me every gory detail of your life so that I can lie awake all night worrying about whether or not you were able to (insert your own creative ending here)______________”. This is just one example of a very common occurrence in the life of an empath. But that man was lifted up in prayer on the rainy drive home. And that is the material point.

One day recently, when I was clinging to the end of my emotional rope and rapidly stiffening joints were beginning to throb, I cried out in silent desperation to the Lord, “Please God! Raise a hedge around me!” I’d heartily agreed to serve Him in some capacity, and I really didn’t want to be sick before the end of it and forced to lay in bed (again), all the while, unable to rest because of the guilt surrounding the fact that someone else was now completing their tasks and mine. I asked Him, in Jesus’ name, to remove the spirits of oppression (a literal onslaught of them) that I was feeling in the room. Then I asked Him to separate for me the feelings that were mine from those I’d absorbed from others.

I know now that those frantic requests were exactly what brought His *”deep magic” into play in that room that day. I immediately felt His leading to pray for the owners of the feelings that were not my own, and by the end of the day, at least one person was shedding tears of great relief (me). The oppression was gone. I was limber as a twig in spring. My head was clear. Healing happened at the Throne of Grace. A figurative light bulb finally popped on for this developmentally-delayed Christian.

If you can relate to most of this, you have the gift of intercession, my friend! This has absolutely nothing to do with you or me. We are redeemed to use our minds and bodies for His kingdom and glory. What an enormous blessing to offer that gift back to an indomitable, precious, merciful God with an unfathomable imagination that covers every contingency we can think up or worry our little heads over. The fact that He gave you a heart that hurts for, feels for and notices the pain of others is not a curse but a privilege. In Galatians 6 we are told to

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” 

All that is required is this. See the pain. Love the people. Then offer them right back to Him. He is the only One equipped to carry it.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   ~Matthew 11:29-30

I won’t pretend that I won’t find myself drowning in the Bay of Emotions again over there in the Sea of Too-Easily-Offended because I’ve forgotten to swim back up to the safety of the buoy of prayer. I might still, in my own strength, attempt to don the superhero cape in an effort to rescue those I sense hurting. In those moments I’ll have every reason to praise God for the aching joints, the rising bile, the skin lesions and the debilitating headaches, all very poignant reminders that I can’t. But I can call upon the One who can.

“The Eternal God is your Refuge, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms.” ~Deuteronomy 33:27

*C.S. Lewis The Chronicles of Narnia

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Writer’s Block

When asked recently to write a little blurb about a summer program at our church, I willingly agreed. But then something happened. Somewhere between the accepting of the task and the production of that little article, it occurred to me to start listening more deeply in my prayer life.

Really sincerely hearing somebody has the tendency to force some serious perspective change. Have you noticed that? You know, when you finally stop staring blankly at the person opposite you, hearing absolutely nothing they say while formulating all your own thoughts, and you really let what you’re hearing drown out every other consideration for a moment or two?

And so it was that writing about God and eternity and everything remotely related to Him (which really is EVERYTHING) got really, really, really hard. For several days, I felt completely unable to produce the few little lines needed to fulfill the requirement. When we become deeply aware that human language can gain us very little proximity to the reality of God… that it will, without fail, fall short every time, it makes for some serious writer’s block.

The big thoughts come at inconvenient times. Formulating a phrase can be so difficult when there’s so little silence. The devastation of infertility, poverty and disease, the scandal of politics and global tragedies in the news, mundane to-do lists and a calendar crammed full overwhelm the mind. Friends and family receive terrible news and scary prognoses and my lips perpetually repeat to Him, “Lord have mercy, please God have mercy.” So many questions come.  “Is God really there? And if He’s there, does He really care?” And they can only be answered in the gentlest whisper of a sweet, searching Spirit into an invisible chamber of the human heart.

I want to listen. I want to really hear. I want to feel to the tips of my toenails the joy and the anguish and I want to understand God’s heart toward all of it. How exactly does He “lead (fill in the blank)_________ by streams of living water.” By what magic can He “restore ______ soul”? All the Sunday school answers in the world just don’t seem to cut it, certainly not for the friend or family member standing on the threshold of radical transformation with their shirt hung on a protruding nail of doubt.

I tip-toe a tiny bit closer every day. The invisible thread that connects my understanding to His Glory is as gossamer-thin as silk, and it’s sure to be thousands of miles long. But there are little hints scattered here and there… tucked inside the tiny petals of summer, floating in among the giggles of children, and shining in red and amber sunsets. Glory is inescapable.

The desire to describe and replicate His beauty will never be extinguished this side of eternity. Little notebooks still litter the house. Shopping lists and napkins covered with scribbles float around in an extremely cluttered purse. Maybe someday, God willing, they will all come together to say something that edifies another and glorifies Him.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. ~Romans 8:26

 

“Do the Next Thing”

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” ~Ephesians 4:1

We had errands the other day, so the kids and I drove to the Wal Mart in Charles Town, WV for a change of scene. In fact, the shopping in that area is a tad closer to us than Winchester, VA, so lately, we find ourselves there more often than not on errand days. The drive is so delightfully loopy and primeval in places, especially when taking the scenic route for a little extra peace and quiet. It’s never crowded out there. The big display out on the front patio is almost always a selection of kayaks and potted flowers… my kind of place. Jonathan can run across to the arcade games — Melanie can hunt down a small bag of chips for the ride home — all while I pay and have a conversation with a friendly checker. And I leave refreshed. I can’t find everything I need there, but I can feel like I’m in my element.

Driving home, I watch pristine spring beauty whiz by, and I wonder how Heaven can possibly be more beautiful than this?  I peek in the rear view mirror and see Melanie… eyelashes fanned across her flushed cheeks… peacefully asleep in a warm pool of sunlight. Jonathan is chattering in an attitude of awe and wonder about the wildlife and plants he spots along the way. The light through the sun roof creates a bright aura around his hair and, for the shortest little while, my wild boy seems to have sprouted a halo.

Then Jonathan laughs and points out the purplish-blue clunker sitting in the middle of a stand of trees and the old tire lying on a bank of the Shenandoah River. He lets out a loud, fake, belch, and then a snort, followed by a high-pitched hyena laugh that wakes his sister, who starts to whimper and then cry. And all I can think is, “Yep, we still live in a fallen, imperfect world.” The trees have little diseases and infestations of insects. The water that feeds them is impure. That halo at the crown of my darling son’s five-year-old head has fallen into some filthy crevice in our family van, to be retrieved and polished for another perfect, stolen vision of Eden on some other day.

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My question? How can I “live a life worthy” while I live a life here…while my soul resides in this fallen shell made of dust on this dazzlingly beautiful, yet fallen mass of water and earth…while I fail my people and myself over and over and over again.

I have a tendency to think too much. And there’s some mechanism in my brain that can actually visualize the “to do” list stretching all the way to next summer.

Paralyzing.

I spend a lot of time in prayer every single day over this particular fault line in my character. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I become very impatient and anxious. A heart overwhelmed cannot glorify God.

Elisabeth Elliot says, “Do the next thing.” Don’t think too hard about any of it. Just do something.

What?

Even if the last step I took was actually two steps farther down than I realized through the poor depth perception my glasses afford and now I’m laying splayed on a sidewalk covered in mud? Unfortunately, I seem to find myself there a lot. And sometimes it feels more comfortable to just stay put. At least I’m acquainted with the mud.

On the fateful day I received the diagnoses that would force a complete lifestyle change, I started seeking out every piece of homeopathic wisdom I could find, and went about fiercely implementing those ideas in our home and diet. What I discovered the hard way is that even natural remedies can destroy health and create roadblocks to healing if we’re not consistently seeking our Source for wisdom. I definitely did the next thing. I did a whole host of things in a frantic effort to heal myself. I spent a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of frustration only to found myself at a dead end.

I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that our Creator has provided the food and the people we need to help us live well. I believe that natural remedies can work. I’ve experienced the benefits of a changed diet, certain essential oil blends and supplementation. I also believe that we will only find complete healing on the other side of this gig, and sometimes we have to find grace and purpose through, in spite of, and because of pain.

In order to function some days, it’s imperative that I bust into my little emergency bottle of prescription ibuprofen. If I hadn’t recently, we’d have missed something big (to us) that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. In order to function through a flare, I’ve learned to allow myself to pull from the emergency stash of little white prednisone pills in the top of the linen closet. As obstinate as I was at the beginning, I’ve learned to be thankful that they’re there and available to me.

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I cannot presume to tell anyone what they should or should not do to help themselves. Changing diet and finding alternatives to pharmaceuticals is definitely a worthy pursuit. However, in this post I want to provide a list of natural remedies that can actually harm a broken immune system. While these things can be very beneficial for a healthy person dealing with a rogue virus or bacterial infection, they should be used with caution if you have, or suspect you have, an AI diagnosis.

Vitamin D: People with broken immune systems tend to have difficulty absorbing vitamins and minerals and are often extremely deficient in vitamin D. I was. And when I received that bit of important information, I was advised to supplement. A LOT. Did you know that vitamin D can accumulate in your body at toxic levels? The symptoms of this toxicity can actually mimic the same symptoms you’re taking it to combat. It creates joint pain, lethargy, brain fog and fatigue.

Oils: While I have found some essential oils very helpful at alleviating everything from joint pain to skin lesions, I have also found that others will create AI flares. Oils that are characterized as stimulants to the immune system should be avoided or used with caution by anyone with an auto-immune diagnosis. Some commonly used immune stimulants are melaleuca, frankincense, myrrh, cedarwood, and cinnamon. I have found that several essential oil companies use these in blends and in beauty and household products.  Until I was able to come to a more firm understanding of where my immune system was out of whack, I had to stay away from many oils. The risk of actually causing my own AI flares was too great.

I typically do not order blends. I prefer to make them myself because, as with single oils, some carrier oils can cause your immune system to turn on you. Grapeseed oil is one of the biggest offenders in the carrier oils department when it comes to AI. Thankfully, there’s a wide variety of carrier oils on the market. I’ve had the best luck with avocado oil and the higher quality brands of extra virgin olive oil that I also use in my kitchen.

Not everyone will have the same reactions to the oils listed above. You might find that you can use them easily, even with diagnosed AI. The point here is to proceed with extreme caution, test the oil in a small area on your skin for a lengthy period of time and avoid any ingestion until you are perfectly sure you can tolerate an oil. In my opinion, that should be a rule whether or not you have a chronic illness.

I find that I can tolerate a version of melaleuca called rosalina ericifolia. It is a very mild but effective oil that can even be used in your children’s diffusers and baths any time cold or infection invades your home. If you’ve not tried tamanu oil for acne outbreaks, dry skin, fine lines or as a sunscreen for your face, it’s a wonder! It has a smell that’s hard to get used to, but the bugs don’t like it either. I mix it with carrot seed or bergamot in the summer.

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Teas: I consume a lot of tea, even in the middle of summer. While I’m working hard to stay away from sugar and the temptation to graze, hot tea with a smidgen of raw honey is my guilty pleasure. But certain types of tea can throw off an already delicate balance within your immune system, especially if that system has the tendency to turn on you.

Green tea can be problematic. But, in my case, the biggest offender is echinacea. Supplements containing this herb will have the same effect. Echinacea is a very effective immunity booster. If you have any form of AI disease, it is important that you stay away from echinacea. Green tea can have a similar effect, although not as pronounced. But apparently, green tea helps support the side of my immune system that needs a boost. So I can tolerate it sparingly.

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Picture a playground see-saw. Some immune system stimulants can bring the see-saw back into balance while others will knock one side up so hard that it sends the occupant of the seat on that end flying. This is why immunosuppressants like the chemotherapy drug, methotrexate, are commonly prescribed for Lupus patients. To contain a flare, the immune system must be suppressed, not stimulated.

Black teas can contain varying amounts of fluoride. Fluoride is a controversial subject in the AI world. However, I have found the following to be true for my chemistry. An overabundance of flouride can create more problems for people with Grave’s Disease or Hashimoto’s. These are AI diseases that attack the thyroid. Fluoride will have a post all its own, but while we’re on tea, it’s a good thing to mention. It is also interesting to note that Himalayan sea salt can be high in fluoride. Although it is a good source of micro-nutrients for those of us who have difficulty absorbing those, the excess fluoride may be a subject for further investigation if you find your thyroid acting up.

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Syrups: Elderberry syrup has become a very popular remedy to help combat illness during cold and flu seasons. Some concoctions include echinacea. These could help or harm depending on where the imbalance lies within your particular system. After my extreme reaction to echinacea, I have not had the courage to try elderberry syrup as elderberry tends to disrupt the immune system too. If I do decide to try it, I will try a home made version so that I can control the ingredients, and I’ll let you know what happens!

Some AI suffers can tolerate it very well. However, I have noticed a trend in the research. I have something known as AI cluster disease. This means I’ve actually received four AI diagnoses. People who have only one disease to manage do better with helps like elderberry syrup. I’m waiting for a really long flare-free and illness-free period before I try this and start re-introducing foods I’ve avoided over the last few years.

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Salves and Beauty Products: One of the more frustrating aspects of this whole journey has been an inability to distance myself from commercial beauty and maintenance products. I spent a good deal of time, money and effort making my own, only to find that the oils and ingredients I used were causing more skin issues and flares. However, there are lots of brands on the market now that are gluten and additive free. Costco’s Kirkland shampoo is a good and economical option. I’ve tried lots of “natural” facial cleansers, but I keep going back to good old Cetaphil. These seem to be less problematic than products I’ve made at home. Cetaphil has some ingredients that should probably be avoided, but it’s one of the few cleansers that keep my face, jawline and neck lesion-free.

If you suspect you have an AI issue, it is important to make sure you’re not ill or experiencing a flare before you try any type of immune stimulant. Even if you feel a little “off” it’s probably not a good idea to try anything until you feel good again.

***

There’s a fallacy in complete reliance on anything this earth can offer for help and healing. Initially, I was so shaken by a diagnosis, that I lost sight of the True Source of health, joy and lasting peace. And I still remove my gaze from Him more often than I’d like to admit. Sometimes doing the next thing means sitting and basking in His love. Sometimes the next thing is not a measurable action, but a quiet act of submission… a resolve to wait. Because often in our frantic rush to get a solution, our souls remain static and we do more harm than good to ourselves and others.

The things of earth that we turn to for miracle cures, the measures we take on our own, will not bring complete healing or peace. They were all cultivated in a fallen earth. We have only to step forward and touch the hem of the garment of the One who bled our cure at the place of the skull. Like the woman in the busy square that spent everything she had for a cure this world could never afford her… don’t hesitate. Do the next thing. Step out. Stretch your hand toward Him. It is the only way to live life worthy.

~Veronese “Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood”

“Like Mary and Martha, we can call on Jesus to heal those who are sick. But if Jesus doesn’t show up like we think He should, we can’t conclude that He doesn’t hear us, doesn’t care, or doesn’t love us.

Nothing Lazarus’s sisters said or did changed Jesus’ timing. And the only thing Jesus asked of Mary and Martha is the only thing He asks of us. Their role and our role is the same.

Believe, and be witnesses to the glory of God. ”

~Laura Story

 

 

 

 

 

The Cure for the Common Condition

I can’t seem to see the trees for the forest. We all have a chronic illness and we all, at least in our free, first-world society, have easy access to the cure for that illness. I have so many subjects for posts swirling around in my head. Little phrases concerning environmental toxicity, supplementation, rest, essential oils, exercise, books and recipes adorn notebooks, receipts and napkins all over the house. But the Big Truth won’t leave me alone. It’s the only Thing I can get passionate enough to write anything about these days. So here’s another maybe not so helpful post on health for the chronically ill.

***

There’s a whole lot to do when it comes to healing. At least that seems to be the general idea on the treadmill that is American culture. Buy these supplements. Use only these essential oils in only this particular ratio. Cook only this way with only these ingredients. Drop $300-$500 per hour at this functional physician and spend another $1,000-$1,500 on tests.  Get “x” amount of only this type of exercise every day. Only associate with a certain non-toxic type of person. Oh. And make sure you get exactly “this” much sleep!

We pray for healing. But then we forget to believe we’ll be healed. So then we labor for our own healing and our “to do” lists get so lengthy we can’t make our way to their ends. We add to the demands on our lives and create our own little hospital wards with sterile, white rooms labeled Despair, Doubt, Anger, Hopelessness and Frustration. We go to all the wrong places for answers to all the wrong questions.

FL000001

“The most beautiful creed is the one we pronounce in our hour of darkness.”     ~St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina

The fact is, I use essential oils. I try to adhere to a particular diet. I’ve been to the expensive doctors, and they helped me reach some ends that I could not come to on my own. I take supplements every day, because if I don’t, you don’t want to be around me! No. Really. You don’t. I’ve tried to get more sleep, but trying to get more sleep only seems to produce more stress at this stage of the game. A wise friend said recently, “It’s about stewardship.” And she’s exactly right. I’m so completely in agreement with that statement that I intend to write, in detail, towards a better understanding of those things for myself and others. But we are destined for something else… something more. My friend already gets that. And, most likely, you do too. So why am I here writing all this down? I really need the reminder now and again.

All those neural pathways that have slowly developed over the years – they feed the faultiness in ideas that scream “It all depends on me! If I don’t show up, that event will be a disaster! If I don’t pull another all-nighter, I might not get an A! I have to do everything! If I don’t offer this piece of advice or this suggestion, that person may never hear it from anyone else! If I stop to eat right now, this task won’t be finished in time. If I don’t share the Gospel with this person RIGHT NOW, all is lost.” Those little lies need to be arrested in their development.

All of the above has been and is sometimes still true of me. For many years, I’d get so involved in so many projects, I’d forget to eat. Talk about a priority problem!  The extreme amount of pride encapsulated within every one of the above phrases – well, this is right where some of us are being dealt with in the midst of chronic pain and illness. We’ve staged our own personal divine interruptions.

Don’t mistake me here. We need to show up. People are definitely depending on us. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we are called to serve. We have gifts to share. We were created to share them! It’s who we are. But when did we get so pharisaical about it?

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” ~1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Here’s the thing (I’m harkening back to some wise words I’ve heard my husband speak and adding some of my own not so wise words here.). The world managed for millennia without everyone currently living on this planet. When we’re gone, there will be some heartache, and that heartache may last a little while. There may even be a short gap in some important work. But our family, our friends, our co-workers, they’ll all move on. The important work will continue, or it may come to a halt and be replaced by another more-important work. They’ll think of us a lot right at first. Then they’ll think of us only occasionally. I hope they’ll laugh out loud with their memories. But they will move on, and live, and, most likely, be just fine. That’s true for every one of us. Not one of us is indispensable. It doesn’t matter if we’ve had seminary training, psychological training, medical training or if we’re certified personal trainers.

And maybe that’s a hard thought to think. But it’s also a freeing one.

I’ve managed to open my mouth in ignorance so many times that I’m beyond doubt when I say, I’ve hurt WAY more than I’ve helped. And, of course, with most of us, the intention is to help our people. What comes out in our conversation may have been absolutely true for us, our families and our circumstances, but absolutely NOT true for the person who just needed us to listen in sympathy with our whole heart. That same person secretly wanted us to hear without silently formulating the next phrase we plan to utter that we know “will change their lives!” Because even if we’ve had the exact same experience as the person across the table, even if we’ve suffered under the exact same type of abuse or dealt with the same type of mean-spirited person, we’ve all been created to deal with life uniquely, both psychologically and physiologically. And it’s very likely that what we experienced was not the same at all. We want to make it the same because we want to pat ourselves on the back for becoming the savior in someone’s difficult scenario. We pretend to point people to the Savior, but, like it or not, we’re pretty much all guilty of trying to make saviors of ourselves. We think that if our story of suffering can help one person, then that will provide a reason for our own pain. In truth, that’s the whole reason this little blog came into existence. But what if the material point is that He is getting us to a point intended only for us?!?!

So here’s the word to turn it all around.

GRACE.

Grace for others. Grace for ourselves. Recognizing that we’ve received grace from the Creator of the Universe who actually came up with the concept of grace in the first place! Grace encompasses EVERYTHING! Grace brings peace. Grace brings healing. Grace IS healing. Grace is the why of the cross. Grace means that sometimes we get to be completely healed in this life, but, no matter what, we have the hope of healing and wholeness when we enter eternity. Grace is there even for those of us who only manage to get things figured out in the process of writing lengthy blog posts. To quote my pastor…

“Peace is a work of God’s grace. The grace of God is always active toward us and it directs our activity toward Him.” ~Jack Gill

When I was younger I’d often wake from a recurring dream. In the dream, my awkward, introverted eighth-grade self is standing against a wall, watching a dance. If you’re trying to come up with a mental image, just picture any dance you’ve ever seen on a Brit-lit chick flick. Then imagine a female character in out-of-date clothing and hairstyle, large-rimmed glasses and lots of acne. If you’re familiar with Pride and Prejudice, think Mary. In the dream, a compassionate young man asks me to dance. Even though the shock hits me all the way to my toenails, according to my modus operandi, I decline.

But he insists!

And on the long walk to the dance floor, I imagine everything that could possibly go wrong.

I’ll trip. I know I will. People are looking at me. People are looking at this mousy, awkward wallflower and wondering why a tall, handsome young man would ever ask her to dance.

We line up for the dance, and the prelude is unfamiliar. I do not recall the steps to this dance. I don’t recognize a single note in the melody!

Please, please, please. Can I go back to the wall?

Panic. PaNiC! PANIC!!!

But as soon as He steps to my side, as soon as He takes my hands, I am all ease. I am led through each and every difficult syncopation by the skill of the One partnering me in the dance. Nothing is expected but that I simply follow His lead. He doesn’t speak much. And He doesn’t need to. I see all I need to know in His eyes. But He does whisper, when the music takes a quieter refrain, “I made you for a quieter work. It seems unfamiliar to you because you keep trying to do something else… be someone else. You keep trying to do more. But I can’t use you if you insist on despising My work in you. I can’t use you while you refuse to be the you I made you to be.”  And I have this magical feeling that, when I falter, when I feel overwhelming shame that I can’t be so completely together and dynamic and strong like other women in my life seem to be, His skill in the dance covers every fault that could be found in me. He knows the melody and the difficult rhythms in each and every bar within this particular song before each combination of notes is struck at the instruments. He wrote them all. He’s conducting them from the platform of His infinite mind even as each layer of orchestration flows from His heart.

We’re somewhere in the middle of that dance now. The dishwater blond is becoming white and silver. The acne is not as obvious as it once was, though the scars are still evident. Even now, this awkward girl would sometimes really rather just hold the wall up. But I’m slowly discerning something about my Partner. He finds miraculous ways to weave my mistakes into the dance so intricately, that the missteps simply become a beautiful addition to the pattern of the dance. At some point, long ago, I realized that no one’s really looking at me anyway – certainly not when I’m with Him. Why would they?

…And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, the whole drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in the dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

 Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water.  If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the things that have them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if he chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God how   could he not live forever?” ~C.S. Lewis –  Mere Christianity

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Enter the dance my friends. Lay aside the lists for a little while. He’s already checked them all off anyway. Forget your diagnosis while the music plays. If you think about it, our diagnoses are all the same. See yourself in His eyes, and I’ll try to do the same.

Take leave of the wall. Take leave of pride.

Just dance.

Just live forever.

“I came for your story, I came for your wounds. To show you what love sees, when I see you.”

 

Good News

There was no plan to update the blog quite so soon. In fact, just to keep myself in as much balance as possible these days, I’d told myself I’d commit to one post per month. However, the goal here is to share what I know in the hopes it will help others who are just starting out on a journey toward answers and healing. We are reinstating our spring/summer quiet hour (At this latitude the daylight hours are almost an hour longer, so my kiddos need some down time in the middle of the day, and so do I!), so I have a few minutes to get this out there.

Rewind to a year ago. We were just getting ready to make a really big road trip following a truck carrying all our worldly possessions. The usual stress of a move and the inability to stick with a diet threw me into a flare almost as violent as the one that initially sent me hunting hard for help. I am allergic to the usual meds for Lupus, so my rheumatologist in Texas gave me a prescription for prednisone. She knew that I’d made it my goal to remain as un-medicated as possible, so she made me promise I would get it filled and actually put those little pills in my mouth faithfully for as long as it took us to get settled here. It was obvious she was concerned about the most recent round of blood work.

I’d been seeing a functional physician, but since we were doing everything possible to add some last-minute padding to the down payment we’d been saving for a house for 9-10 years, I chose not to return for another follow up. Functional physicians and naturopaths are notoriously expensive and many of the tests and services they offer can be ordered up a la carte right from your personal computer. She did help me work some things out however, and I’m glad I saw her and hired a naturopath when we could afford it.  If you have the money, by all means, do it! We don’t… especially now that we live in one of the most expensive economies in the nation. But, if you can afford it, a functional physician and/or naturopath will get you on the fast track to getting where you need to be. Most do not file with your insurance but give you a receipt with all the medical codes that you can file yourself. A couple of my blood tests were covered. If you are willing to do a lot of your own research, there’s an immense amount of information in some really helpful books out there. I’ve found a few in our local library! I’ll share the titles that have contained the best information for me in another post.

I just returned from a follow up with my new rheumatologist in Virginia. She is fantastic. Yes. She is a traditionally-trained rheumatologist. But, she is infinitely more informed in the whys and wherefores regarding AI cluster diseases than my rheumy in Texas, and she is all for her patients staying as far away from meds as possible. I described my diet and these were her words today. “Oh! You’re doing the auto-immune protocol. Good for you! Keep at it. It’s helping!” They’re coming around folks. And they accept your insurance! {wink}

Just so you’ll know, I still deal with symptoms off and on. I was on the protocol and VERY strict with it for close to two years. I won’t lie. It’s hard. It’s a lot of work. This diet is more strenuous than strict paleo. It means sitting and watching (and worse… smelling great food) as everyone else eats stuff you used to eat while you gnaw at a salad with no dressing. It also means learning how to cook in a whole-new way and discovering some pretty amazing flavors that you never knew existed while feeling better than you ever thought you would again. Your kids and spouse will be eating and feeling better too! That’s fodder for another post as well.

Double-strand DNA still popped up on my labs, but the disease was largely inactive. I was running like a beast and mostly enjoying a mobility and strength I had not realized before starting on this adventure. Based on my own research and symptoms, I have probably been dealing with Lupus on some level without a diagnosis since I was a teenager. I ran a half marathon on this thing (the protocol) in 20 minutes under my goal time. Turns out, that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do under the circumstances. More on exercise later.

I have not been back on the protocol for very long and I haven’t stayed nearly as strict as I was prior to our move. I indulge in an occasional Dr. Pepper. I have cheese here and there and I sneak Chick fil A fries. Praise be to God, as of this morning, my lab work looks just like it did pre-move when I was headlong into sticking to this diet at all costs. I am a living example that this works.

A word of warning. If you are or suspect that you are dealing with poor health as a result of auto-immune disease, adding stress (self-inflicted or external) will absolutely put you under no matter what you put in your mouth. Our pastor put it so well this Sunday. We can’t live our lives in performance mode hoping for accolades and happy endings. That’s so far off the mark, it’s not even funny. We exist to bring accolades to our Heavenly Father. We’re going to mess up. We’ve already received grace for that.

I’m sharing a couple of easy charts from Mickey Trescott’s blog that line out the protocol. Mickey Trescott is my favorite blogger and author on this subject. She is straightforward and to the point while covering a very broad range of topics related to this issue. These lists are rather daunting. Frankly, if you choose to do this and you decide to be strict with it, you won’t even be able to grab an Epic bar or a Mama Chia pouch for a snack at the very beginning.

Here are a couple of simple go-to recipes that are AIP compliant and my very own. I eat them frequently, especially when I’m low on time.

Mango – Pineapple – Banana – Strawberry – Avocado Smoothie

  • 10 oz water
  • two ripe bananas broken into fourths
  • 1/2 an avocado (If  you don’t really like avocado, you can’t taste it in the smoothie. It gives a creamy texture to your smoothie and provides beneficial oleic acid [a good fat].)
  • 8-16 oz of frozen fruit (I like the mango, pineapple, strawberry blend at Giant and it’s on sale this week 2 for $5.)
  • 2 T  Great Lakes Collagen for protein and beneficial amino acids

I have this smoothie almost every single morning with breakfast. It makes enough to share with two hungry kiddos and a hubby. If you’re just making it for yourself, half the recipe but leave in all the avocado to get as much of that good stuff as possible! Often I’ll pair it with a ground beef patty or cod bites that I’ve pre-cooked and stowed in the freezer. We own a Blendtec blender that I love and use 1-3 times daily on this diet. I know Vitamix will work on this smoothie as well as the Ninja brand blender.

Turmeric Chicken

  • 2-3 chicken breasts cubed
  • Himalayan sea salt (rich in micronutrients) to taste
  • lots of turmeric
  • coat the chicken in turmeric and salt
  • I use a hefty amount of olive oil or ghee for cooking on the stove top
  • cook in a sturdy cast-iron or stainless pan until you get some crispiness in the pan and on the chicken (less if you’re not into crispiness)
  • serve on a big bed of salad greens

Another idea… make burger patties simply seasoned with salt and pepper with a good pastured meat (lamb, beef, bison), throw them in the freezer and re-heat for your breakfasts. Or, eat your leftover meat from dinner the night before (This is what I try to do as much as possible.) I can’t always have that amount of protein first thing in the morning, but it makes a huge difference when I do.

More than anything, this journey has been an intensely spiritual one for me. We’ve been reading Prince Caspian to our kids every night before bed this spring. My husband reminded me of a stunning phrase from our reading a couple nights prior as I sat making notes during the sermon on Sunday… “Aslan gets bigger as you get older.” Isn’t that the truth? Doesn’t God get bigger as we get older? He’s become huge and near and so, so loving and graceful toward me through all of this.  And as crazy as it sounds, that makes me thankful for Lupus. And he’s not any more huge or near or loving or graceful than he ever was. It’s all about perspective… a perspective that hardship affords.

I’ll leave you with this thought…

“A renewed mind has an utterly changed conception, not only of of reality, but of possibility. A turn away from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God provides a whole set of values based not on the human world, but on Christ’s. Impossibilities become possibilities.”  from Discipline: The Glad Surrender  ~Elisabeth Elliot

 

 

The Project

I am a home-schooling mama to one vibrant and curious five-year-old boy and one sassy, silly and very sweet four-year-old girl. I am irresistibly drawn to the Classical methodology and the Charlotte Mason approach. I am convinced that the two are not mutually exclusive, so I am attempting, although a few have tried to dissuade me, to combine the two methods in our home school.  We’re not even one year in, and although my wise mother would tell you that the detractors only make my fervor stronger, I am really convinced that this could work!

I am also a mama who suffers with what my kids’ pediatrician calls the “trifecta of auto-immune disease.” I was diagnosed with Lupus, Hashimoto’s Disease and Sjogren’s Syndrome almost three years ago. Grave’s disease and hypoglycemia were added to that list a few months later at follow-up visits. This once high-energy/ type-A personality is now doing everything she can to conserve energy, avoid inevitable flares and feel better while simultaneously trying to keep our medically-fragile (and very spunky) four-year old healthy and growing.

Forgetting to count your blessings and focusing only on your problems (…which are a lot smaller than about six billion other problems that about six billion other folks could relate to me if I spoke their languages) can be fatal, and I’ve been down that road too many times to count the last few years. I’ve been prickly in the face of kindness and I’ve refused help because I didn’t feel ready to receive it. I’ve whined and complained and thrown tantrums and been completely put out with God. I’ve turned into a big, fat, spoiled brat, and I’m refusing to put up with myself any more. Except that I will probably whine and complain and throw a few more tantrums before it’s all said and done.

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” ~Elisabeth Elliot

So for anyone else trying to do home school, job, public school, crazy diet… for anyone caring for a child with developmental delays and/or health issues, I hope we can get an open dialog going about how we do faith, food, exercise, curriculum planning and homework after a day in a stressful work environment.

Aside from the intro., this is the only offering I have for today. Above the menu, above fitness, above curriculum, above study groups, above books, above homeopathic remedies and protocols, this, without a doubt, is the most important bit…

Pray.

That’s it.

And while praying constantly, imagine Jesus standing at your shoulder. As a friend back in Texas often did for me, imagine Him laying a strong, sinewy hand on your arm. Imagine that hand, the hand that holds the universe, holding you back from the brink. Imagine all this because, even though you can’t see Him, He is, in reality, present. He is interceding with the Father for you at this very moment. Hear His voice whispering “It’s OK. Wait. Be still. I’ve got this. Keep your heart quiet.” No matter what you are facing, the best thing you can do for yourself is relax, get more sleep than you think you need, say no to a good thing to conserve energy for a better thing, try not to worry what the person you said no to thinks about you {wink} and plant your vision squarely on Him.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. ~2 Corinthians 4:7-11

I hope to be back soon sharing recipes, links, auto-immune protocols, a low-impact, sustainable fitness plan (the goal for this coming week), curriculum integration or routines that work for a low-energy mama in a high-energy home school or job. And I hope to receive help and ideas from you too! Buenas noches.

P.S.   Here is a link to another blog for moms. I’m not sure where she’ll be taking it as this is her intro as well, but it certainly struck a chord with me. Here’s hoping it brings help and hope to you.

Memory of a Soul

There’s a faded photograph in black, gray and white atop my piano. Two young men sit together, staring in two different directions. One of them is the image of my father at three-years-old. The other, ten years his elder, is my Uncle Johnie. Daddy has a look of oblivious joy, focused completely on the photographer and whatever silliness is going on behind the camera to invoke the smile of a child. Johnie is looking off as if, in a mystic’s trance, he can see something that is not present in the room.

In younger days, I remember when, in the garage, the ladder was left up against the attic access. Not far from that access sat a box of faded letters from Johnie. My mind’s eye recalls the slant of his handwriting illuminated by the flashlight. I could determine exultant joy and deep despair in the words there – the polarities of a tortured soul. I remember pressing my fingertips into the lettering on trophies and cast medals that my father inherited – and the photographs – always with those enigmatic eyes transfixed on something beyond the walls.

I’ve had to piece together this person – beloved by those who knew him. And those same people are forever too pained by their memories to speak of him. A runner, a basketball player, a warrior, a student of theology, a patient. He was the visitor of Korean orphans and the protector, spectator and surrogate father of a cherished youngest brother. He was a feeler and a thinker. And he was ill.

West Texas. Feet pounding dusty roads – running out a torrent and torment of manic energy – running away from poverty, abuse, insanity. Mind racing faster than his feet could carry him and heart grieving the weight and depravity of the world around him. Soul aching with sickness that he could neither control nor escape this side of eternity.

These are the images my mind has created so often that they feel like memories – memories of a someone I’ve never met.

There are others who have gone beyond. Their faces flash before me, most often in vivid dreams or in those unlikely moments when I have an opportunity to gaze out, uninterrupted, at a window for several moments. The faces appear about me when, at the piano I sit with an impromptu song in my fingers, allowing the music to undulate into the darkness for hours on end. I see azure eyes revealing an uncommon depth of kindness – smile lines about them, even in youth. I see another set of deep brown eyes – completely mischievous and full of laughter. I imagine people who have touched me deeply, still living and close, yet not close enough to be near often enough. And at times, I have imagined Johnie’s gaze catching mine. In those mythical moments, those soulful eyes seemed to invoke a real memory. I don’t know what color his eyes were.

I wonder if anyone remembers.

Every time I run, I think of him and I feel a need to understand why.  Because, where I see a waste, I know God has a purpose. Where I see a man who might have touched our family and the world in a big, big way, God holds a secret. This man might have gone back to bring light to developing countries, yet, in his time, there was no good medicine for his ailment and too few to encourage him on his way.

His 27 years were not for nothing. This persistent whisper in my heart is not for nothing either. And I will find the reason.