Saturday, March 31, 2012

End of March Thoughts

There is one day left in March and for once I don't find it hard to believe the month is almost over. (Okay, it'll be after midnight when I post this, so technically it'll be the final day of March!)  It's been a packed month.  Lots of good things, lots of hard things.  It's been a month filled with many memories and many decisions.  

The mixture of the joy and the sorrow is something that is hard to understand and even feel sometimes. So rather than try to fully comprehend it, I'm choosing to just be so grateful that God gives smiles, laughter, and fun amidst the pain and trials.  He's so awesome like that!

Last weekend was spent in Illinois with my bestie and her family.  It was such a blessing to get away for a weekend (without being too far from my doctors).  We talked (and talked and talked), watched movies, played with her little girl, held her little guy, ate yummy food, went to the park, got ice cream at the coolest ice cream place, and just had fun hanging out.  Definitely a highlight of an otherwise difficult year so far!  Emmy, thanks for being an amazing friend, especially the past few months!

LOVE this mother daughter photo <3

Having a whole weekend to hold this little guy was so much fun

Absolutely adore the face he's making in this pic!

I got home late Sunday night and had an appointment with the specialist in Madison on Monday after work.  Without going into detail, it was an appointment I was quite apprehensive about due to communication issues.  Thankfully, those got cleared up within the first five minutes.  The remainder of our hour was spent going over the ups and downs of the treatments, test results, long term concerns, etc.  I leave the appointments ready to cry, yet grateful to have a specialist who works so well with me.  The bottom line is that my Crohn's is so advanced and severe that my only options are these nasty, "big gun" drugs, as she calls them.  So, I started on the oral medications today and we are praying and waiting for insurance to clear the IV infusion drugs.  I've been so sick this week, which has been awful, but also reconfirmed my decision about the treatment.  

For my praying friends, I do have a few specific requests that I'd be so grateful to you if you prayed about them.  Thank you so much, guys.  You all mean the world to me!
  • That insurance will approve the IV infusions.  They are incredibly expensive.
  • Protection from the rare serious side effects from the drugs (leukemia, lymphoma, etc.) and also the less severe side effects like nausea, baldness, etc.
  • Peace and faith vs. fear and anxiety.  There's a war going on in me.

I've been doing a Beth Moore study with my cousin that's called Beloved Disciple: The Life and Ministry of John.  It's been incredible so far!!  It amazes me how God has me read the right things at the right times.  Here a few of the many excerpts I've highlighted so far.

"I love Matthew Henry's words of commentary on the scene at the door: 'How powerful the Physician was; He healed all that were brought to Him, though ever so many.  Nor was it some one particular disease, that Christ set up the cure of, but He healed those that were sick of divers [various, diverse) diseases, for His word was a panpharmacon--a salve for every sore.'  Jesus' Word was a panpharmacon--a salve for every sore.  Ah, yes.  I have yet to have an ailment that God had no salve to soothe.  But what may be even more peculiar is that I have yet to have an ailment of soul that God's Word was not the first to point out, diagnose, then heal.  His Word is far more glorious, powerful, and fully applicable than we have any idea of.

You very likely did not pick up this particular Bible study because you sought healing.  You would surely have picked other titles. But based on my own experience and many references in Scripture, you will undoubtedly receive some fresh diagnoses and, if you cooperate, a new measure of healing.  As will I. I'm counting on it.

That's the nature of His Word.  As Psalm 107:20 says, 'He sent forth his word and healed them."  How often God had to send forth His Word and begin the healing to get me healthy enough to even face the diagnosis!  I want you to revel in something wonderful.  Every time God has prepared us with His Word and gotten us to a point that we can receive a hard pill to swallow from Him, healing has already begun.  Once He confronts us, we never need to be overwhelmed by how far we have to go.  If we've heard Him through His Word, healing as already begun.  Take heart.  He is the Panpharmacon." (Week 1, day 5, page 28)

"God's will is His divine intention.  Just as Jesus was intentional toward experiences and exposures of the three, He is intentional toward us.  Christ never bosses us or appoints us to something only to presume authority.  His will always has purpose.  Sometimes we go our own ways, and God has mercy on us and shows us something there.  Other times we beg Him to allow us to go a certain place and He consents.  Still other times God takes us places we never intended to go and reveals Himself to us in ways we didn't even know He existed." (Week 2, day 2, page 36, emphasis added)

"Solitude is not so much the place we find answers as the place we decide if we're going on, possibly alone--without them.  Many of us will. Why?  Because the privilege of wrestling with such a holy and mysterious God still beats the numbness and pitiful mediocrity of life otherwise.  Sometimes we don't realize how real He is until we've experienced the awesomeness of His answerless presence.  He knows that what we crave far more than explanations is the unshakeable conviction that He is utterly, supremely God." (Week 4, day 2, page 80)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Foggy Happiness

It's a gorgeous, summer Tuesday afternoon.  In March.  In Wisconsin.  I'm loving it!!!  (Aside from the allergy thing...but we won't dwell on that.)

I'm sitting on the deck, sipping vitamin filled water, trying desperately to regain some of my health.    My dog is sitting in the grass nearby with the wind blowing through her golden fur.  And as I sit here, I'm thinking back on an amazing weekend with my beautiful cousin and her six-year-old daughter from Michigan.  The fact that God worked out ALL the details for her to be able to come to my side of the "pond" (as we affectionately refer to Lake Michigan) is something I can STILL hardly believe.  But I have a boatload of memories to remind me it did in fact happen.


We make a pretty good bunch!

Craziness with Lydia

There were hours of talking, loads of laughter, a few tears, a bonfire, a birthday party, trampoline jumping, loads of yummy food, toenail painting in the sun, late nights, a day long conference in Milwaukee, Beth Moore study discussions, watching the kids run around catching snakes and throwing water balloons at each other (and the dog!), hours of driving around together, craziness and star watching on the front deck, coffee and chocolate, time with some of my closest friends, and just a lot of "I can't believe we're actually together in person" moments.  It was SO special to have Erica meet so many of those closest to me here in Wisconsin.  It felt like the circle was being completed as she met and connected with those she's heard so much about.  And I seriously, seriously, cannot thank God enough for putting Erica in my life!!

I spent a lot of the weekend in a fog due to lack of health and lack of sleep.  This Crohn's journey continues to affect my life everyday and each day presents a new opportunity to trust God more and praise Him through the pain.  By Sunday I was so dead and fogged over but God still gave strength and happiness to finish off our few days together.  Sunday night around  nine we were all sitting around the picnic table in the night breeze (marveling at the weather, eating taco dip and chips, and swatting a few mosquitoes) and we went around the table and each mentioned something we were thankful to Jesus for that weekend.  I loved hearing the different responses; loved that God helped me stay out there long enough to hear those precious comments even as I was about to double over in pain.  I did have to go in the house and lay down right after that and there were a few moments of tears and frustration but God picked me up as always.  He also gave me a wonderful conversation with my parents there in the living room as I laid on the couch.  What a blessing they are!

Finally, as I reflect on the weekend, it stands out to me that so much of the closeness and specialness of the weekend is due to the suffering over the past few months.  It has united us all more closely than ever before.  The weekend was another (huge) blessing through the rain.  Take a moment to listen to this song by Laura Story.  You will be blessed.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Grace for the Good Girl

I just came in from sitting outside in the sunshine and breeze, finishing the book, Grace for the Good Girl.  It is a wonderful, wonderful book.  Over the past many months, I have read it off and on.  The beginning was a little slow to me so it took me forever to get to the really good stuff.

These last few chapters were the most powerful to me.  And it's incredible to see how God works everything, even the "little" things and the things I would consider as almost "failures", for good.  These chapters would not have meant as much to me a few months ago.  I literally had to stop at some places to blink away the tears swimming in my eyes, catch my breath, and swallow the lump in my throat.  Below are some of the quotes that really stood out as I sat under my fleece blanket enjoying spring's warm coolness.

     "'It isn't about the cancer, it isn't about what it has the ability to do to our bodies, it isn't about the treatments or the part of us it takes away; it's about the journey.  It's about rediscovering the parts of yourself that you never ever knew existed, and giving them room to grow and room to take flight.  It's about seeing life through cancer's eyes and being better because of it, being more whole and more alive despite it.  It's about living.'
     Even though the first thing I noticed about Heather was her bald head, that most certainly was not my final impression of her.  When I think of this brave woman, I think instead of these words she spoke that bring me great comfort when I begin to fear the unknown future: 'I do not fear what my future holds.  I can't.  I can't spend the energy anticipating the next horrible event.  I am choosing to anticipate the next great provision, whatever provision that may be.  I am choosing to believe that no matter what, even if God calls me home tonight in my sleep, He never stepped off His thrown.  He simply brought me closer to it.' 

     "Heather will be the first person to admit the anger, the fear, and the fist shaking that went on with God about her daughter's sickness, and her own brain tumor.  But she did not stay in that place.  Heather knew she was safe in the presence of her Father.  When faced with death, safe takes on an entirely new meaning.  If anyone knows what it is like when it all goes wrong, Heather knows.  But she also knows that she is safe.
     She could have chosen to believe God was ignoring her.  Instead she chose love, to believe she was loved, and to love in return.
    It is tempting to think, Well, if someone like Heather can make through a child's terminal illness, an autism diagnosis, and a brain tumor, then why can't I make it 'til lunch?  Sometimes I hear stories like Heather's and think. Wow.  Look at what she's been through.  Now you don't have it so bad, do you?  But the truth is, every heart knows its own pain.  My dear friend Holley writes about feeling guilty for struggling when it seemed other people had it so much worse, until the words of a wise college professor came to mind: 'Do not compare your pain with others.  The worst pain you will ever feel is your own.  That does not mean you are selfish--that means you are human.'  I don't tell Heather's story to make you feel guilty.  I tell it  because the faith it takes for her to make it through a brain tumor the same faith it takes me to make it 'til lunch.  It's all Jesus.  It's all dependence.  Sometimes it's just harder to see our need when we are healthy and well."  (Chapter 17, pages 200-202)

     "It doesn't always work out so beautifully.  That's why it is so important to cherish those times when it does, so that the track record of faithfulness the Lord is building into our lives will mean something during the times when things go wrong."  (Chapter 17, page 203)

     "As we practice receiving the lovely things as from God's hand, we are perhaps more quick to trust Him even when it all goes wrong.  What began as an experiment of living in the moment slowly evolved into a habit of seeing on purpose.  I'm becoming an intentional noticer and it is leading me into thankfulness for things beyond the obvious.  For the mess as well as the masterpiece.  For the unexpected as well as the best-laid plans." (Chapter 17, page 204)

     "Small gifts wait in quiet places.  They hide under piles of daily tasks, waiting to be discovered and celebrated.  That's why I think Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread--not bread to last a lifetime, but bread to last this day.  It was a call to dependence, a call away from self-sufficiency, a call to turn to the Giver, a call to humbly and thankfully receive."  (Chapter 17, page 204)

"He never promises that our families will be safe.  Not in the way we think.  He does promise His presence, though.  And if you don't know Him, you may think that is a bad trade-off.  There are times when that is how it feels. I want my children.  I want my husband.  Today have them all.  But control?  The idea that I actually have a hand in the way things will go?  The veil has been lifted on that illusion.
     I am learning more about what it means to have the presence of the Creator of the Universe with me wherever I go.  It is important t know I'm not alone, especially in those moments when my life and the lives of those I love are revealed to be vulnerable.  Feeling insecure does not always mean you are unsafe, just as feeling safe does not always mean you are safe.
    In other words, I can't count on the feelings because they aren't always right.  And I may have to redefine what it means to be safe.
     My only option is to trust in the One who holds all things together, even when they fall apart.  To trust even when it doesn't feel true.  To believe in safety even when I don't feel safe.  To set my mind on what is true even when it feels foolish and naive.  
     One of the hardest times to remember God's truth is in the midst of strong emotion.  Fear, worry, or even excitement, can cloud our perception of truth.  If it doesn't feel true, it's hard to believe it is true." (Chapter 18, pages 211-12)

     "Don't deny the feelings, but realize it takes no faith to stay in the feelings.  They are like the screen saver that comes up when the computer is inactive.  It is the automatic response, the natural response.  You cannot set your mind on two things at once.  Thoughts may come fast and furious, but they only come one at a time.  Feelings generally follow what our minds are set on.  We get to choose." (Chapter 18, page 215)

     "I can live victoriously in the midst of the dry, arid, hopeless desert in which I sometimes find myself.  In that place where water doesn't flow and there is no rest, where it seems His voice can't reach, I am challenged to trust Him before I see the river,  before I hear His songs of love.  And so I believe, and then I wait.  I first believe the truth is true, and then I wait to feel it.
     One of my favorite pictures of safety in Scripture comes from Psalm 139:5-6, where David says, 'You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it.'
     Imagine a day when you are overwhelmed beyond what you thought you could ever bear.  Perhaps you just discovered a loved one is sick.  Or you have a child who is living contrary to what you know is good for her.  Or your husband just lost his job.  Maybe you are simply having one of those days where you woke up in a funk.  The house is a wreck, the laundry is piled high, the fridge is empty, and it's raining.  And you feel fat.  Imagine that day.  Maybe you don't have to imagine.  Maybe you're living that day right now.  
     Sometimes in those days, it helps to remember that God has enclosed me behind.  That means everything in my past--every situation, circumstance, pain, fear, and longing I've ever had--He has been a barrier between those things and me.  The Hebrew words translated "behind" is also used in Scripture to mean "west."  And He has also enclosed me before, meaning forward, front, or everlasting.  It can also mean "east."  East and west are opposites forever.  They have no beginning, no ending, and they never meet one another.  He covers my yesterday and He holds my tomorrow.  Still, this present moment is where I live.  What about today?
     He has enclosed me forever in the past and forever in the future.  And then He lays His hand upon me in the great right now.  The New Living Translation says it this way: 'You go before me and follow me.  You place Your hand of blessing on my head" Imagine a hero who not only leads the way but also brings up the rear and holds your hand all at the same time.  I can't imagine a safer place than that." (Chapter 18, page 219)

     "All He asks is that I receive Him.  Not just for salvation, like when I was seven.  But to receive the inheritance of victory that is mine today.  And after I receive Him, He asks that I remain in Him, like a trusting daughter refusing to leave her daddy's lap.  Worship and service flow out in response from that safe, secure place of abiding in His presence.   And even though there will be waves of temptation to keep the glory for myself or cower away in shame, and even though worry and anxiety will continue to scream at me when I am most vulnerable, the most important, life-changing things this good girl can do is remember to remember.
     Remember you have a choice.  Remember to let peace rule.  Remember to believe God's truth even when it doesn't feel true.  Remember that your life is hidden with Christ in God, you longer have to manufacture your own safe places.  And when we forget to remember?  We don't have to travel over mountains and rough terrain to get back to God. Simply receive and believe that the truth is still true, and purpose to stay safely in Him."
     Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)

(Photos taken by family members on vacations to Colorado and Texas in 2010.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Holding On

This week has been one of barely holding on.  There has been more temptation to give up, to stop trying, to question God, to spend more time in silent swearing and frustration than in silent prayer, to leave my Bible in it's little basket by my bed rather than take it out and read it.  A week that has shown me how wearying and positively depressing it is to repeat the same difficult update over and over and over to caring friends.  A week that has reminded how very, very human I am.

There have been some good moments too, some definite "God things".  One of the hugest was receiving an incredibly generous gift in the mail towards my medical expenses. I was (and still am!) absolutely blown. a. way.  The provision of the Lord through His people is astounding.  We also found out some very good news regarding insurance and how much they will cover. Thank You, God.

This morning I woke up and read the "Streams in the Desert" for today.  It could not have been more perfect for the kind of week I've had.  Here are a couple quotes that especially stood out to me.  

"When I cannot feel the faith of assurance, I live by the fact of God's faithfulness." (Matthew Henry)  

"Trust God's Word and His power more than you trust your own feelings and experiences.  Remember, your Rock is Christ, and it is the sea that ebbs and flows with the tides, not Him. (Samuel Rutherford)

This weekend and as I enter a new week tomorrow, my prayer is that God will continue to help me hold onto Him, even as He holds me.  That my focus will shift back to Him.  And mixed in those prayers, is so much gratitude for His love that is unending, for His grace that helps me pick up and keep moving.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Surrender, Steroids, and Specialists

Monday I had my first appointment with the gastroenterology specialist in Madison.  To be honest, the day before the appointment I was a little apprehensive.  And also to be honest, what I was told at the appointment confirmed my apprehensions.  I didn't get particularly good news, folks.  This all scares me. A lot.

I don't know how many times she told me how worried she is about me (in a kind way) and that it's not everyday someone with a case of Crohn's like mine walks through her office.  Knowing I'm sick, and knowing I'm SICK are two different things.  And being told I'm even sicker than I thought I am, was incredibly hard to take.  Keeping my composure during the appointment was a challenge.  Thank God she is someone I can relate well with and treats me as a person, not just another patient walking through her doors.  So very grateful for that.

Here's a summary of where things are at.  I need several more tests (blood work, x-ray, CT scan, etc.) with the possibility of needing a very invasive test that I like to call the "colonoscopy on steroids".  It's a three-hour procedure during which they put you completely under, go in with a scope, and "balloon" up the intestines to get a better look. (shudder)  If they can see things well enough with the CT scan, we can hopefully avoid this one.  Please pray about that if you think of it.  If my blood work and x-ray come back fine, she wants to start me on a couple of strong medications and hopefully get me off the Prednisone.  In the mean time, she had to quadruple my daily Prednisone dosage.  My response, was "goodbye sleep".  Praying that the natural stuff I bought to help with the insomnia works even with such a high dosage of steroids.  Finally, she said to expect at least a year of strong, intensive treatment.  There is also the possibility of surgery, depending on what the tests show.  
It'd be lying to say I haven't really been struggling to keep my chin up this week.  The possibilities of what may be in my future scare the crap out of me.  There are times I just want to throw my hands up to the sky and say, "Darnit, God, I'm DONE".  But really, I don't think that's a bad place to be.  While my attitude  sometimes needs adjusting, being at a place of throwing up my hands, saying I can't do it, and surrendering to my magnificent God is one of the best places to be.

I read this on Emily Freeman's blog this morning: "There is more power in sharing our weakness than in sharing our strength."  And I firmly believe there is great power and strength in being completely weak and broken before our Savior.  Watching Him bring beauty from ashes, life through pain, and blessings through raindrops is something that can only come through suffering.  There is no other way.

"When we murmur, "God? In me, I can do nothing" -- this is the moment when God can now do something in us." (Ann Voskamp)

Suffering and surrender.  They go hand in hand.  Surrendering through the suffering is the only way to grow, the only way to not grow bitter, the only way to continue life in joy and peace.  And for me it's not only health issues, though that is definitely a huge part of it.

Daily I find myself needing to surrender so many things...

Struggling relationships.




Weight (thank you, steroids!).






The "try hard" life.

Really, the list could be endless.  

Our Savior is so patient and kind.  Surrender doesn't come easily for me yet He waits and loves me and holds me through each day.  I don't know how I'd walk this journey without Him!

"Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Your Spirit is good.  Lead me in the land of uprightness." (Psalm 143:10)

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  (Psalm 139:23-24)

"Then [Jesus] said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'"  (Luke 9:23)