Pretending to be Normal

My life in recent years has changed greatly due to multiple chronic illnesses taking up residence in my body. My brain and emotions still feel normal even though my body doesn’t always respond.

I was recently asked in early December if I would like to host a dinner party in our home in appreciation of our church Life Group Leaders on January 5th . We were not planning on going out of town over the holidays and figured with hubby’s help could pick at it and be fine with it knowing would have a day or two of recovery afterwards.

The week before Christmas I looked at flight schedules to where our daughter and her family live and found a killer deal leaving Christmas Eve night. Only $82 for both of our round trips with taxes and everything. My hubby was the one preaching the sermon Sunday morning on Christmas Eve day, so leaving earlier not an option. We talked to our daughter and son-in-love and decided to go for it. Hubby could only stay until the 28the with work and church commitments but I booked my return flight for the morning of January 3.

The week before our trip I was doing a mad scramble trying to pack and get the a table runner and other decor made for the Dinner party. I made lists, meal plans and instructions for hubby to take Christmas tree down etc before I arrived home.

I had a wonderful ten days with my daughter’s family and so enjoyed the time with our four grandchildren between the ages of 6 months and 7 years old. Not sure if it was the lower elevation or joy of being with everybody but physically felt much better while I was there.

I arrived home mid morning on January 3 and life was a blur of trying to stuff reaction symptoms with meds, pushing through pain, cleaning, decorating and cooking. The other pastors and wives took care of prepping the prime rib and dessert which helped immensely. All was done with time to spare so we were able to relax for a few minutes before guests arrived. I popped some extra B-12 sublingual to give me energy and thoroughly enjoyed our evening. God blessed our goal of making the Life Group Leaders feeling blessed, refreshed and appreciated.

I slept or rested all day Saturday and went to church service Sunday morning and a reception that evening. Sunday night, as we returned home, I slammed into the proverbial wall and have been pretty much down for the count all this week. I am having pain, Mast cell reactions, and fighting a bug.

Several years ago I could have and did host many events in my home frequently without any impact. We were part of a church plant that met in a community center and later a school on Sundays so since we had a larger home and no kids at home, we hosted all church events as well as ladies bible studies, life group as well as frequent swim parties and BBQs. I thrived on it and loved every second of it.

When chronic illness struck I began having to count the cost on activities. I still love folks in our home and for the most part have smaller groups over and keep things very low key and simple. I think the masking of my pain by being on a pain medication since early November enabled me to feel better and I easily deceived myself into thinking I could once again do it all, like I was normal. And it was fun to pretend until it all came crashing down.

As I rest up this week, I am reminding myself, what I have shared on here before, to count the cost and decide on things based on eternal benefits and impacting others for Christ. I am also remembering my precious friend JoAnn, who passed away three months ago, always reminding me about not running out of spoons. I need another friend like her who understood limitations from her personal experience and was so fun, caring and full of faith to remind me. If you do not understand what that means read the Spoon Theory.

https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

Would I do it again? Yes. But ask me again next week. 😉

I will include a few shots of the table runner I sewed and from my pretense of being normal. <><

hope all of you are all doing well and counting the cost of all you do in view of what matters in eternity.

Blessings,

Deb

The Choice

Sometimes God makes His path so clear, even when the path goes through rough terrains we would rather not travel. God was so kind to give me a vivid illustration of the results of the choices before me when I was in the midst of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses.

two-paths

My health began tanking in 2009 which began a course of visiting numerous doctors and undergoing various tests to discover answers while my symptoms continued to worsen. In March of 2011, I went to yet another doctor who finally diagnosed me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), high histamine and blood test results that were indicative of some type of blood cancer. On March 30, I was told that my blood test results were way off the charts for a third time and that I would need to be seen by an oncologist who was also a hematologist. Being a former RN who does online research, I was fairly certain I knew that my diagnosis was going to be between “Big C”, an acute blood cancer that may mean only months to live or “Little C”, a chronic blood cancer that likely would not shorten my life expectancy but change how I lived it. We lived in the limbo of not knowing which from March 30 to June 7, 2011.

The vivid illustration God used about the choice I needed to make in response to how I faced whichever diagnosis, came about through a timely visit of our dear friends Earl and Nancy. Earl and Nancy spent two weeks in our home late March/early April 2011 and arrived days before my March 30th appointment. In fact they were waiting in the car with my husband as we swung by for my appointment on our way out of town to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona.

Nancy had her last radiation treatment days before flying down to visit us in Arizona where we lived at the time. In the months before their visit,  she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation for her second bout of breast cancer. Earl and Nancy sat in our family room recounting all the many ways God had blessed them and met them in the midst of Nancy’s cancer battle while Nancy cried tears of joy and gratitude.

In the same time frame, somebody we knew well, received the news that their spouse had dementia. This response was exactly opposite of Nancy’s. Instead they had responses of anger, bitterness and declaring their life was over and nothing good would ever happen again.

God provided a clear and obvious illustration of the choice set before me in how I would respond to the looming diagnosis possibilities. I could choose the better way, that realizes God’s sovereign hand and respond in faith with joy and gratitude regardless of what the future bought. Or I could choose to be bitter, resentful, angry and ungrateful.

After hearing the news at my doctor’s that my blood results would require follow-up with a hematologist/oncologist, we drove up with our friends to Grand Canyon. That evening we went to the vista point that was supposed to be the best at sunset. The colors were glorious and ever-changing. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon watching this amazing sunset I made my choice.

I poured my heart out to God silently as the skies and canyons blazed with a kaleidoscope of colors:

“Oh God, I have no idea what this diagnosis will be. Please, Lord, enable me, whether a few months or a few decades, to be fully present and soak up this gorgeous scenery. Give me the vision and heart to engage and appreciate all of life around me for all of my days. Oh God, one thing I ask, regardless whether it is BIG C or little c, please, please, let me be known as a woman of joy, gratitude and faith. Regardless of how I feel physically, Lord, let me be like Nancy who cried tears of gratitude and joy for all at You did through her cancer. Enable me to have Your joy and contentment and keep me from bitterness, anger, complaining or ingratitude. Remind me of these examples You have so clearly shown me and this choice whenever I am tempted to complain or be resentful. Let my life be a reflection of joy and my testimony be that of a woman who found joy and gratitude in whatever You have sovereignly ordained.”

My choice was confirmed when I first heard  with the song  Blessings by Laura Story and the story behind it on the radio a couple of weeks after my prayer at the Grand Canyon. The words of that song so resonated with me and that song still makes me cry. You can read the story behind the song here.

Later in April 2011, a friend told me about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and I immediately bought it. In her book, Ann shares how she overcame tremendous fears and hurts by practicing counting gifts as she would journal things for which she was thankful. This book also confirmed my choice.  Ann Voskamp has continued to encourage me with her blog A Holy Experience and  more recent books.

My pastor asked me in early May 2011 if I would consider leading a ladies Bible Study for two months over the summer using the book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. By this point my hubby and I are almost finding it comical how many ways God was conveying and confirming my choice to ask God to make me a woman of joy and gratitude. I began leading this study in my home with about 15 women the second week of June as I began my first week of chemotherapy. It felt like a combo of early pregnancy, the flu and being hit by a truck the first three weeks on my daily oral chemotherapy until my body adapted to the chemo. Somehow God enabled me to be able to sit in my comfy chair in my family room and facilitate the group those first difficult three weeks. Other women lovingly served me by helping  with set up, snacks and clean up. God used those eight weeks of the study to further impact me as well as impact other women who attended.

I have lived out this choice much like a helpless baby bird who is unable to fend for itself. I was/am dependent on my Heavenly Father to tend me, feed me and strengthen me to walk in my choice. Oh there have been days where I pridefully challenged my Father’s wisdom by trying to convince God I would be more useful and serve Him better with full health. There have been times where self pity and complaining have been where I wanted to dwell. But my God has been so faithful to quickly remind me of the example I saw in Nancy and my choice. I repent and turn again to Him in dependence to enable me to seek Him and the joy that comes from seeing life from eternity’s perspective. When I try to live in joy in my own strength I fail miserably. When I am like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and spend precious time in His presence I am once again empowered by His Holy Spirit to rest in His sovereignty and faithfulness and see many things to rejoice and be grateful for in my life.

one thing necessary

I am so grateful for the lesson and choice God put before me early in my chronic illness journey. I have seen many benefits of my illness and how looking for ways to be grateful has helped me to recognize many I would have otherwise missed. I pray I will continue to remain and grow in my dependence on God for my source of strength, faith and joy.

count-it-all-joy

Finding Purpose in Suffering – Part 1

This blog post is my biggest take away from the women’s conference I attended in Colorado Springs last weekend where Nancy Guthrie was the speaker. I only was able to attend Saturday and each of those sessions were grounded in the Word of God and both convicted and encouraged. The last session “Trusting God with Our Hardest Question” was the one that most impacted me.

Nancy shared how our hardest question while in the midst of suffering is why? Why me? Why did this happen? What caused it? What purpose is there in it? She went on to talk about causes of suffering but what really gripped my attention was when she began talking about what is the purpose of my suffering. I am compiling from my notes from the conference, experiences and thoughts since the conference a list of twelve purposes in suffering. Today I will share the first six and the rest will be covered in my next post.

TWELVE PURPOSES IN SUFFERING

1. To Put God’s Glory on Display (John 9:3)

John 9 Jesus heals the blind beggar

1As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

People immediately were assuming this man’s blindness was because of his or his parents sins but Jesus corrects that and says it is so that the works of God might be displayed. So often, we too, want to find somebody to blame or a cause and effect when that is not the case but instead is a way for God’s glory to be on display in our lives.

This makes me want to pray and ask God to display His works in my life whether that is healing from my chronic illness or His spirit enabling me to be filled with joy and peace in the midst of it.

2.To Make Me More Fruitful (John 15:2)

John 15:1-2

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

When you prune plants in your garden you do not do it to hurt the plants but to make them be more fruitful. We saw a firsthand illustration of this a few years ago while living in Arizona. We had decided to grow grapes after seeing them in our next door neighbors yard.. After the first year, the vines had spread a huge amount. We got our booklet from the county extension on how to prune our grapes and we followed the instructions. When we had finished, over three fourths of the vines were pruned away. Our grapes looked hacked up and terrible until spring came. That year they grew and put on so many grapes we were overwhelmed with a huge abundance of grapes at harvest and had many to share with others.It  made me want to stop praying for God to stop the painful pruning, but to instead, ask that it result in eternal fruit for the Lord.

3. To Shape Me into Christ’s Likeness (Romans 8:29)

We often hear the verse Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It will all work out for good without thinking that the good it is referring to is in the following verse. “29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God is using all things to work together to make us look more like Jesus, often in the crucible of difficulty.

4. To Equip Me to Comfort Others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthinas 1:3-4.

If we want our suffering to be wasted just keep it to ourselves. Instead, we should allow the broken places of our life to be used to minister to others. Another brother or sister who has walked through what you are now walking through whether it is death of a loved one, infertility, loss of a job, chronic illness etc. can offer comfort better than anyone else. They know from experience what you are going through and can share how God met them in the midst of it.

5. To Cause Me to Depend on God More Fully (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

8For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Suffering makes us less self-reliant and more reliant and dependent on God. Suffering makes us unable to rescue ourselves or change the circumstances which cause us to call out in dependence upon Him.

6. To Make the Life of Jesus More Evident (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)

7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So our weaknesses and sufferings are a canvas on which Jesus stands out and is made more evident.

Purposes 7 through 12 will be shared in my next blog post. Praying that allows time for you to consider these purposes and ponder how God is working them in your lives.

Blessings,

Deb

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Overcoming Fear through God’s Word.

A couple years ago, my husband was on yet another business trip while I was home alone on a very windy night. The howling wind that knocks a stray plastic flowerpot against the house or causes the welcome sign to clatter against the siding turning it into intruders with sinister intent. The single chirp of a smoke alarm with a weakening battery at 3:00 am becomes the alarm system going off is a window is being opened. My thudding heart pounds in my ears causing me to question every noise. This was me the Christian battling my fear once again. 

I am not sure when fear first tip-toed into my life, but can’t remember a time when it wasn’t lurking in the shadows. I can’t remember when fear first visited and setup its residence inside my fragile heart.  My earliest memories of fear were tied to the family I was born into where a parent would suddenly rage and punish for infractions I committed. The standards were constantly evolving as to what was good and acceptable behavior.  Any violation of those ever changing standards brought about severe and sudden punishment.  The walking on eggshells fear of causing any waves was firmly rooted in me early.

My fears multiplied as I grew. I remember jumping as far as I could to get into or out of my bed, otherwise the monsters that lived under my bed at night would grab me. My fear of fires wasn’t helped by my Dad, who for entertainment would pile the family in the car when he saw smoke, and chased it until we could see the burning building. I can vividly remember both a tire warehouse and a house fire we witnessed on these drives and had numerous nightmares of fires as a child. Having a third grade teacher who told horror story after horror story of people being struck by lightning greatly increased my fear of thunderstorms

As I matured, my fears did too. Fear of not being accepted or ever loved, (In my home I was frequently reminded how bad and unlovable I was.), fear of failure, fear of not getting good enough grades, fear of not ever being attractive enough to be loved, fear of being alone, fear of being in new social circles where I didn’t know anyone…fear of, fear of, fear of!!!  

At seventeen, after a thwarted attack by a drunken man, I began a whole new set of fears. Thank God, a neighbor that lived on my 3 block route from my house to my job intervened. I couldn’t tell anybody for fear that my parents would find out and make me quit my job, which would mean I would never afford college or a car. I now added the fear of rape or other attacks to my list of fears. This began the long era of nights alone becoming a battlefield of terror and horrific “what ifs”.

Yet God’s Word tells me in 2 Timothy 1:7 fear is not from God, so where did this fear come from?

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

God has been so faithful to help me face up, literally head on, many of my fears. He has bit by bit drawn me out of the shadows and into the light.  God orchestrated that the girl who was terrified of mild spring thunderstorms in Eastern Washington to live in Tornado Alley for five years. He brought a loving, godly man into my life who, after nearly 33 years of marriage, still finds me beautiful in spite of gravity’s pull of time. We lived under evacuation notice for 3 weeks in Alaska while forest fires raged nearby. The girl afraid of meeting new people, of being accepted or being in new situations, married a man who was raised as a missionary kid overseas and was accustomed to visiting a different church each Sunday when back in the States on furloughs. This same man joined the United States Air Force a few weeks after we were married. We spent the next ten years moving to bases in Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Alaska, and Iowa.

When hubby got out of the military, we returned to my home town of Spokane, Washington and spent the next sixteen years there. God allowed a job transfer to Phoenix in 2008 and we lived there for six years.  A year ago, we once again had to say hard good-byes and moved here to Colorado due to my health. I am learning to come out of my shell and make friends and actually enjoy new social situations.

Motherhood brought on many new fears and “what if” scenarios.  Both of our children were born a bit early and had infant apnea where they would at times “forget” to breathe while they were sleeping. They had these episodes and needed apnea monitors for several months.  Logan, our son, who was our first child, had a strangulated hernia and had to have emergency surgery when he was eight weeks old. This happened during a freak Mother’s Day blizzard that knocked power out of the whole town of Great Falls, Montana. While generators kept the essentials running in the hospital, we sat in a dark waiting room where I played the championship game of “what if”. I had fully convinced myself our son would die because I needed to be punished for getting pregnant before our wedding.

As a mom, I could easily think of numerous “what if” scenarios for my kids as they grew from infancy until adulthood. My fears, I am sure many times, stifled my kids especially in their teen years.

whatifs

The area that has been the most difficult to overcome is my fears of evil attackers when I am alone at night. Joel has traveled throughout our marriage. As a result, I have memorized many verses on safety, peace and sleep.

My family always attended church while I was growing up. I first understood the gospel, my sinful condition and need for Jesus as my personal savior at Vacation Bible School the summer I was nine and a half years old. My home life was difficult but my relationship with Jesus Christ and a few Christian friends really sustained and protected me in many ways especially through my teen years. As I grew in my Christian walk, I realized my fears and my dysfunctional family had twisted my view of God. Though I was saved, I still felt I had to be “good enough” to earn approval of God or He would make me pay the harsh consequences. I began to learn through the Word about the character of God, about His amazing, unfailing love and faithfulness, His unchangeableness, His mercy, grace and goodness. Bit by bit I was able to replace my false views of God. Over the years I also began to realize I am not who an angry parent says I am. I am who Christ says that I am in His Word. I am a sinner deserving of hell but I am so loved that He went to the cross for me. God brought others alongside me to shepherd me and train me that fear is the opposite of faith and that God gives us grace for each day but not grace for the “what-ifs”. I learned the importance of taking my thoughts captive and bring them under submission to Christ rather than to let them run rampant on the well-worn ruts of fear.

3For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,  2 Corinthians 10:3-5

take-every-thought-captive

On my family room wall I have a large metal sign that says “whatever”. That sign is a constant reminder of thinking right thoughts as listed in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.              Philippians 4:8

Often just asking myself if what I am thinking is true, about either God’s character or what the Word says, is all I need to rein my thoughts in and take them captive. If I am still struggling to take my thoughts captive, I go down the list and ask if my thoughts are honorable, just, pure, lovely etc. Lining up my thoughts to the truth of God’s Word and character have been my greatest help in taking thoughts captive and dealing with fear.

Colossians 3:12-17 is a passage that I have camped in the last few years. It not only helps me realize who I am, but also how I need to respond to others, even others who the enemy of my soul uses to condemn me (Romans 8:1).

12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:12-17

At the beginning of that passage I read I am chosen, holy and beloved. Because I am chosen, holy and beloved I am enabled to have compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love and forgiveness towards others.   I also notice that thankfulness is mentioned three times in this passage. When I practice thankfulness and am grateful for all the many blessings great and small I am much less likely to fear.

colossians3.12 floral image

Ephesians 1 is another great chapter about who I am in Christ; who you are in Christ. It tells me I am blessed with every spiritual blessing, He chose me before the foundation of the world, He predestined me for adoption, I have redemption, He has lavished His grace on me and I have an inheritance.

When I take my eyes off of Christ and His word I can easily fall back under the grip of fear.  I now know it is a spiritual battle my loving Abba God wants me to be victorious in through the power of His Holy Spirit and His Word.

In 1 John it tells us that God is love and then in 1 John 4:18 we see fear has nothing to do with God and love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18

When I am struggling with fear, Isaiah 26:3 is often a moment by moment prayer of mine. I ask God to enable me to keep my mind focused on Him rather than my fears.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3

isaiah-26-3

Psalm 4:8 is my prayer every time my husband travels. In the last few years most nights are full of peaceful sleep.

 In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

psalm-4-8 photo

I would like to end with a couple quotes by Paul David Tripp that have greatly impacted me.

“I am not afraid for one glorious reason: I have been lit by the Lord of light”

 Paul David Tripp

This second quote well summarizes my testimony and is also by Paul Tripp.

“Deep and lasting security, resilient hope, and sturdy rest of heart and mind can only be found vertically. You will only know the rest for which you seek when you begin to embrace the astounding reality of who you are as a child of God. If you are God’s child, you are the object of the love of the Person who rules everything that there is to rule.”  Paul David Tripp  page 31 A Shelter in a Time of Storm