Lessons from the Weak Side

Recently, Brad told me that every time he speaks with a friend, within moments the question comes up: “How is Brenda?” My short answer: God has been working remarkably in me. Thus, for those of you who need to get about other business today, feel free to carry on. 🙂
For those of you who want the longer answer, please feel free to linger a bit for God has, indeed, been working remarkably in me–both physically and spiritually. Physically, I sleep better, think clearer, and function at a higher lever than I have in four years! I have learned so much about the role of diet and herbal supplements than I could have ever imagined. I have also learned that healing takes time. Time to rest. Time to laugh. And time to wait on God.
True, God does heal instantly. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Yet at other times, God chooses to heal in a longer, more circuitous route. And upon this journey, I have learned so very many precious lessons.
As a matter of fact, while I spent time reading and meditating on Matthew 8 this morning, I couldn’t get over how many people Jesus instantly healed. My puzzled heart couldn’t help but inquire, “Why, Lord? Why did you heal all of these people immediately–from those who exhibited great faith to those who simply wanted health to get health? Why them, Lord, and not me? Did I do something wrong? Am I doing something wrong?”
And then I wrote this in my Bible: “Speak your truths across my heart, Lord, that I may hold them with conviction.”
In verse 17, Matthew quoted Isaiah the prophet as explanation into Christ’s workings, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” The word here for “illnesses” is the Greek word, astheneia, which means infirmity or weakness.
Weak and infirm. Yep. Sounds a lot like my life.
“So tell me again, Lord…why did you instantly take their infirmities–their weaknesses–and not mine?”
Well, guess who else besides Matthew liked to use this word?
The difference is, however, that while Matthew used this word to describe the suffering of those whom Christ healed, Paul used this word to describe himself.
“I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).
“If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30).
Weak and infirm. But only physically.
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Christ’s power in man’s weakness.
God’s sufficient grace.
I can’t fully list each and every precious lesson today. I can only give you God’s perfect response to the questions of my slightly stinging heart: “Immediate health or deep and abiding lessons–would you trade?”
My answer: no.
“Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”            (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Fifteen Months

Fifteen months today. That is how long I have been in relapse this time around. Fifteen months. Studies show that each time I go into relapse–especially long ones like this–my odds of recovery greatly diminish. But I haven’t given up hope. Life awaits.

Today, however, seems like a good time to reflect on how my past fifteen months have gone–not so that you pity me, but to help you gain understanding into my (and my family’s) reality. In the past fifteen months I have felt up to attending church three–maybe four–times. I have been able to entertain a guest maybe seven or eight times. I have talked on the phone around half a dozen times. I’ve received two cards and one meal. (Though a friend–who never expects anything in return–leaves a potted plant on my porch about once a month just to let me know she still cares. I’m getting teary-eyed about that dear, old friend even now. And a couple of sweet gals send me little “I’m thinking of you” texts. God uses these three in particular to remind me I’m not forgotten.)

I still need to rest in bed around fourteen hours a day–about nine asleep, the other five just lying there. (My remaining ten hours are spent mostly on one of two couches.) I often go days without even leaving my home–not even to step into the back yard. When I do take a mosey out, I frequently need the assistance of a cane. Because Brad now upholds the responsibilities of shopping and schlepping, we rarely have a home-cooked meal–just what we call “scavenging”–so I eat the most basic of meals that I can prepare for myself. Maybe a can of peas or a piece of peanut butter toast. Perhaps some brown rice. (Though recently we’ve discovered that if Brad can get a crockpot meal going on Saturday evening, we enjoy a lovely family dinner on Sundays! And I can usually manage whipping up one meal a week–generally pasta.) Or maybe Brad just grabs something on the way home.

Since my sweet little housekeeper, Amanda, has been away at college, dust abounds. And don’t even mention soap scum! But I’ve managed to stay up pretty well on laundry and emptying the dishwasher.*

And such is my…our…life.

I suppose you may wonder why our lives are like this. I mean, you probably understand that I have ME/CFS, which keeps me off my game, but you may be trying to figure out what happened to the people. I guess I’m not wholly sure myself. I know Brad feels, as a pastor, awkward about asking for help from our body; biblically speaking, he’s been called to serve our body, not the other way around. And, frankly, I understand helping me could be difficult. Meals? Not everyone knows how to handle a gluten/casein-free menu. Housework? Not everyone knows how to clean with baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. (And I’m honestly too exhausted to explain either issue. And don’t forget how difficult it is for me to have someone in my home.) At the beginning, two people wrote me notes on facebook telling me to let them know if I needed help; honestly, I was too tired to figure that out, so I told them to talk to Brad. I don’t even know if they talked to him, or if he knew what to answer them. And, hey!, I can’t forget all those people–one mama in particular–who totes our son around. (She pretty much thinks Josh is partly hers now! *giggle*)

So the bottom line is that we just leave it to God, and don’t worry about it. Dust is dust. Scum is scum. Peas are peas.

This reality, however, must continue: my hope rests in Christ alone! As with all other situations in life, if I (or you!) look to others, we will become disappointed and disillusioned. We will lose heart and hope. God never designed other people to fulfill us. AND I trust that God will make something beautiful out of this season. I simply refuse to live a wasted life.

When I was a little girl, I had a grandmother who sewed and quilted. She absolutely loved beautiful fabric. LOVED it! And with all those pretty floral prints, she would sew up for herself some charming, sweet dresses. In her retirement years, she took all her leftovers and hand-stitched gorgeous quilts for each of her five grandchildren. She had tucked away each and every salvageable piece of her dearly loved fabric, and turned them into inheritance pieces for her descendants.

If a simple, homespun grandmother would do such a sweet, kind thing for her grandchildren, how much more would a loving, heavenly Father do for His children? He wastes not one thing. He saves and savors each precious piece, and through His own hand-stitched process, turns scrap material into lovely works of divine inheritance.

“For I am confident of this one thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

He’s making something beautiful in me! How could I not feel His excitement?!

*I would find myself remiss if I failed to mention that I can take myself to my weekly chiropractor appointments (now), as well as stop off occasionally at Sprouts unattended. In addition, Brad takes me out to eat every once in a while. 🙂

To Do or Not To Do…That is the Question

As I begin to add strength to my days, I find myself in a recurrent dilemma: How much can I do today?

What I actually did today. 🙂

Recovering from an ME/CFS relapse is rather like playing on a see-saw with an erratic playmate: I never know when she’s going to decide to get off and leave me to come crashing to the pavement. (By the way, nobody actually liked that kid!) I can merrily be about some little chore for my family, when all of a sudden–BAM!–I’m on a collision course with my couch as quickly as a child plummets to the asphalt.

On the other hand, I obviously don’t want to spend each and every hour simply not exerting myself out of fear of an unexpected impact. I do want to fill my days with as much life as possible. But since my body gives me no fair warning, how in the world is a girl to know?

The truth is that there is One who knows me better than I know myself. He knows my daily–no, hourly–capacity. He understands my heart and my desire. He longs to enable me to minister to my family to the best of my ability, but He also longs to help each member of my family to grow deeper into His image. He knows all this because He created me.

Therefore, the onus is not on me “to do or not do,” the onus on me is to listen and obey. I find my days are far smoother when I pray and listen. His heart is toward me, and He longs for me to be all that I can be that day–that moment. And then, when I have lived my day to its fullest capacity (whatever that may be), I, too, will have earned the blessed sleep of the honest laborer. 🙂

“O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Thy holy hill,” (Psalm 43:3)

PS. Since today is the first day of The World Series 2012, I only have one thing left to add: Go Giants!!!

Anticipating the first pitch!!!

Breakin’ It Down

One of the things I absolutely love about homeschooling is the opportunity to learn new things…or relearn long-forgotten things. As a matter of fact, I’ve been positively stunned at how much I enjoy science–considering I didn’t consider myself good at it in high school. With well structured text books, on-line support, and life experience to assist me, I’ve become relatively comfortable in my role. Not only that, but I’m thrilled at how many aspects of science are so down-right applicable to real life. Why, it’s just like God designed the natural world around me to teach me truth about the spiritual world as well as things about myself!

From Biology, I learned that the root system of a tree is generally 2-3 times more expansive than the canopy of a healthy, mature tree. Now, shouldn’t that be the same for a healthy, mature Christian walk? The beauty of her public walk should pale in comparison to the depth of her private walk with her Lord.

Chemistry taught me some pretty awesome and helpful laws like, “An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside source.” I see that played out everyday in my home, but it sure is nice to know that Newton can explain why Junior doesn’t just pop out of bed in the morning all by himself.

One thing that has spurred my thinking lately, though, has come through Physics. I recently learned that when a physicist needs to solve a two-dimensional problem, he breaks it down into two one-dimensional problems, thus simplifying a convoluted amount of information into manageable pieces. And since life’s problems are rarely simple, it’s kind of a nice key to remember when facing the more complicated issues–especially since most issues involve people, and people are never cut-and-dried.

But this particular line of thinking has helped me sort through my ME/CFS relapse. ME/CFS is a convoluted medical issue with a broad spectrum of symptoms which vary from patient to patient. Since medical science has yet to crack the code, I have to play my own research doctor, running experiment after experiment. However, if I focus on one element only–one symptom–it helps me sort through all the complexities.

Like when we returned home from a two-week vacation–a vacation during which I experienced a growing upward trend in my health. My first day of being home, our cat decided to express to me how much she missed my presence in her world by joining me on the couch for a snuggle. Immediately, my head became extremely foggy. Hmmm. Could it be???

This caused me to pull out a sheet of paper a couple of days later and make a list contrasting my life-style while on vacation versus at home. Since I was entirely cat-free for two weeks, and since I had such a resounding reaction toward our cat, we made the heart-rending decision to rid our home of our little Trixie–our kitty of ten years. But, this incident led me to recall an allergy scratch-test I had had done several years ago. (Yes, I knew about the cat allergy, but I had succumbed to the pleadings of two adorable children.) I remembered that I had an allergy to dust mites and almost all flora in our area. Okay. A deeper commitment to washing all the bedding regularly and the purchase of air purifiers–though I’ve been unable to stay up on the dusting and vacuuming as I really ought. Result: only occasional brain fog (a common symptom of ME/CFS, which makes filling out a grocery list as complicated as solving a quadratic equation).

This small victory has caused me to currently tackle the insomnia issue. (Can you believe this disease, which is known to cause over a million US citizens to live flat-out exhausted lives, also keeps them wide awake in the wee hours?) After spending hours rifling through various online sources, I’ve decided how I want to set-up my experiment. I had the right supplements (melatonin,  calcium/magnesium/zinc and Vitamin D), I just needed to better structure when I took them. While, I’m not prepared to leap for joy or anything, I did sleep better last night than I have in I-don’t-know-how-long. After all, I have had the occasional good night’s sleep in the past nine months. But still…nine straight, beautiful hours. Wowza! I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, here’s to breaking down complicated problems into their individual components! I won’t be solving the whole of the ME/CFS disease, but perhaps I can piece together a more functional life for myself.

“When I remember Thee on my bed, I mediate on Thee in the night watches, for Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Thee: Thy right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:6-8).

Weary Bones–Merry Hearts

Yesterday evening I had a deep desire to remember who I am. I longed for a moment to feel like me. To think like me. To be out of the house as me. Therefore, when my husband came home and asked if I would like to go on a walk, I said that I would prefer a date. A big, lovely grin appeared on his face as he delightedly asked, “Where would you like to go?”

Based on my already bumpy day, I really wanted something simple. Someplace where he and I could sit, talk, and celebrate the beauty of our relationship…and then get my weary bod back home as soon as possible. I chose Rubio’s, because Mexican food is pretty much awesome anytime. And besides–Whimsical (frozen yogurt…or sorbet, in my case) is next door. 🙂

My husband, as always, was a wonderful date. His strong, comforting arm stabilized each step. He waited on me hand and foot, gallantly leaping up to meet my slightest need. And, what won’t surprise those of you who know him, he chatted animatedly away, carrying the lion’s share of the conversation. He was positively dreamy.

This morning, however, arrived with the “bill” for last night’s diversions–marked “Payable on Demand.” It’s been a rough one; I can’t deny it. My body is so tired that my muscles quite literally ache. My mind searches vaguely for words that don’t seem to exist. What’s a girl to do? Well, I’ll tell you what I won’t do. I refuse to regret my evening with my beloved; each marriage needs to be tended, especially a marriage that is bearing the weight of a debilitating illness. We smiled into each other’s eyes and hearts last night, and it was worth the price.

Needless to say, this afternoon offers the delectable comfort of my daughter’s bed. However, as I start to nestle in, the notes from Barbra Streisand’s “I am a Woman in Love” come to my mind. Why? I don’t know. I haven’t thought of that song in years–possibly decades. Anyway, the lyrics that pop randomly into my head to accompany those notes are clearly my own. So, here for your enjoyment…or not:

I am a woman in bed

And I’d do anything

To get back into my world

And be active again

On this hope I’ll depend

Over and over again

That’s right. It’s important to keep the humor alive, even if the only one you amuse is yourself! 🙂

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.” Proverbs 15:13a

Weary Warrior? It’s Alright. God Is Still Mighty to Save.

In my chiropractor’s office hangs a simplistic poster depicting the jagged trek up the mountain to health. Rather than a nice, straight line aimed directly up to the peak, the path wends its way through abrupt rises and falls, ultimately leading to the lovely vista of wellness. This uncomplicated visual serves as a refreshing reminder to me at each visit that just because I’m having a tough day, it does not mean that the battle is lost.

Last week I shared with you that I was making progress and was feeling quite the warrior. Within a day or two of posting that, my health took a sudden dip to the point that today is something of a struggle. As some of you may know, our master bedroom is currently in renovation. Therefore, we have bedroom furniture cluttering up our family/dining/kitchen area. Add that to the wealth of undone housework, and it feels as though I’m sitting in chaos. Well, this morning in an attempt to derail the progress of mayhem, I decided to empty the dishwasher. By the time I was done, however, I was barely strong enough to get myself to the couch. Needless to say, my thinking skills have all but been obliterated. (Not entirely, as you can see, because I can use words like obliterated. But it’s been a few hours now. I think “obliterated” was probably beyond me at the time.) Anyway…downward steps can be so discouraging that it’s important to remember how far I’ve come and one-other-thing-to-be-mentioned-later.

When this ME/CFS relapse started in January, I was in bed around sixteen hours a day. Some of those I spent laying quietly, just looking out the window. Too tired to even read, yet unwilling to sleep more, I would simply lay watching the leaves on our neighbor’s gorgeous oak tree rustle in the wind or perhaps an errant squirrel scamper along the fence. To merely get out of bed required baby steps. Sit up. Rest. End of the bed. Rest. Chair on the other side of room. Rest. Toilet. Rest. You get the picture. I remember one time when I was home alone and oh-so hungry. I made it off the couch, and had just eked out the energy necessary to go to the refrigerator. I opened the door and stood there staring vacantly. It dawned on me that I lacked the mental ability to prepare even an easy lunch for myself. So I sat down again.  Tears filled my eyes when I noticed that my glass was empty, for I knew that getting up again was beyond me.

But now look at how far I’ve come! I can walk (almost) each day–sometimes quite well, actually! I can drive myself to chiropractor appointments and, occasionally, for a quick errand. I am able to make my own meals and get my own drinks. I am capable of carrying on conversations–sometimes with more than one person! I’ve even done some housework! See! I have moved from being an barely functioning blob, to a fairly interactive individual!

I still have so far to go. The top of the mountain is quite far off, and ME/CFS is an officious enemy. I brush against its boundaries and it shoves back in heartless fashion. I try to sneak in a few negligible activities and it seizes those I had already been granted. But–and this is the other thing that I promised to mention later–if I rest calmly in God’s hand and settle into His purpose, I quietly gain ground. Maybe not by leaps and bounds, but slowly and with great precision that territory becomes mine. I don’t have to fight anything–God is my Warrior.

“The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength…Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield” Psalm 33:16, 20