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).

Twenty-Nine Months

Not only have I not posted anything in a while, I have not updated on my health in ever so long. Hence, with not a whole lot more I can accomplish from my comfy brown couch, I thought I’d bring you all up to date. Plus, I seriously don’t think I will have to put as much effort into organizing my thoughts as I do my other posts. Well, we’ll see–you know how all writers like to ensure their words communicate concisely and colorfully (and apparently with alliterations!).

As I entered this new year I felt as though my relapse with ME/CFS had started to make a slow upward swing–which actually doesn’t say a whole lot other than I had started to realize that perhaps I wouldn’t live the rest of my life from the bottom of a barrel. I no longer required fourteen hours in bed each day, meaning only around eleven hours spent prone in my nest of all comforts. Also, my walks seemed to occur on a more “daily” schedule than previously. Although I couldn’t shop by myself nor rarely cook a simple meal for my family, I still believed that my health was heading on the uphill slope.

One little thing plagued me, however: I could not seem to do anything about my horrendous scalp psoriasis. I searched online for diet or food related causes and cures, and found that everyone seemed to have an opinion with a mish-mash of food ideas that worked for them, but almost all seemed to have sugar in common. And I thought to myself, “Well, I can at least start there!” So “start there” immediately I did. Sugar in all its sources and names promptly left my diet. (I couldn’t even find any gluten-free bread without sugar!) The date: January 16, 2014.

Side note: Upon going sugar-free, my piercing headaches completely stopped. When tested with a salad dressing containing sugar a month later, within two hours my piercing headache returned. Not trying that again!

About three weeks later, a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer and was interested in alternatives to traditional chemo. In an effort to assist her, I offered to get information on a diet that another friend had adopted for the same purpose–and with wonderful success! Before I simply passed it along, however, I felt it would be wise to at least preview it, and found myself absolutely intrigued. I spent two or three days scouring the site, reading medical articles and blogs, as well as watching videos. One video interview showed the host, Doug Kaufmann, speaking with a man who had gone on the diet and cured his psoriasis (photos included!) over a nine-month to a year period. Not an easy fix, surely, but an incredibly compelling one. Plus, with a maternal-family history of cancer, I wondered if I could preclude this awful disease from impacting me. Besides, with already being gluten-free, sugar-free, and (mostly) dairy-free, I calculated that I was pretty much just one giant step away from ticking the boxes off this yeast-free, grain-free diet. Okay. I didn’t like the idea of going corn-free, soy-free, and restricting my favorite fruits, but at this nothing ventured-nothing gained point, I figured, “Why not?” Start date: February 24, 2014.

Four months later:

I have faced rather interesting changes and challenges as I have pursued improvement with this diet. First of all, my atrocious scalp psoriasis has cleared about 70-80% Pretty doggone amazing for something that traditional medicine seems to think is incurable. In addition, the small patches on my torso and legs are finally diminishing as well.

Big bonus: I’ve lost 22 pounds (20 of which I put on during my relapse), yet I’m never hungry and have relatively few and minor cravings. (Occasionally watermelon or pineapple look tempting. What can I say? I’ve always been a fruit girl!) And this is from a gal who still spends most of her day in a reclined position!

Random medical factor: my body seems to better absorb nutrients. Based on a recent blood-test and comparing it to one from about a year and a half ago, my Vitamin D is now higher than the normal parameters as opposed to sitting near the moderately low level of “normal” although I had started taking less Vitamin D about a month before the test. I now get to take a lot less!

Current struggles: Since beginning the diet, I find that I have regressed to needing to be in bed for about twelve to thirteen hours a day. I puzzled over that and researched the role rest plays in the healing process. Ultimately, I concluded that this need for more sleep/rest actually supports the other healing factors I see taking place in my body. God designed the human body to require more energy to as it goes through the healing process; it needs to eliminate toxins and support a weakened immune system among other things. Thus, even though it may seem like a regression, I see it as complete support of a healing process.

An additional understanding I’ve gleaned: I’ve grown to realize that my sympathetic nervous system is entirely messed up. My entire body chronically feels like it’s “on the edge”. When I researched the sympathetic nervous system, I found many aspects which described my body’s overall function, including: decreased saliva, fight or flight ready to engage, and increased heart rate. When I realized that the sympathetic nervous system stems from the spinal cord and I associated that with my current back/neck problems, I began a more aggressive treatment schedule with my chiropractor. Not only that, but I understood another reason why my body wanted rest: it needed to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to recover and reassert itself.

My personal prognosis: After fifteen years with this debilitating disease, I have to stay focused on the fact that repairing my health will be more like turning a battleship around than a speed boat. I will stay the course and I will let you know.

Until then, nap anyone? 🙂

“Teach me good discernment and knowledge…” Psalm 119:66a

PS. If you’re interested in the diet that I have embraced, please check out: http://www.knowthecause.com/

And if an alternative treatment for cancer intrigues you, check out his 25-minute video on the subject.

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. 🙂

Searching with an Open Heart

As a woman with ME/CFS, I understand the pain of standing misjudged. In spite of what I know about myself and my daily battles, I have fallen victim to the cultural interpretation of this fairly invisible yet greatly misnamed disease. That gut-wrenching, cold stabbing sensation, which penetrates deep into my being, has devastated me more than once. I appreciate how it feels to have my character doubted when, stacked against the bias of a medically uninformed society, I come up on the short end of the CDC’s marketing stick.

I cannot help but wonder if perhaps, in some small way, the Lord has granted me this particularly limiting circumstance to better understand my Father’s heart.

  • Did not Jesus, who existed in a far greater capacity prior to His divine appearance on earth, also experience limitations of His own? [“…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7).]
  • Was His character not also judged, and deemed to have fallen short? [“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him (Isaiah 53:3.)]
  • Did not those who should have been the first to back Him, the religious leaders, openly call Him into question? [“The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven” Matthew 16:1).]

I do not write these words merely to draw attention to myself. My heart simply aches for God’s people to look prayerfully beyond what they think they see and understand, searching instead for their Jesus at work in those around them. He is, you know…and He’s usually found in the most surprising of places. Like a manger. Or a cross. Or a wounded and weary warrior.

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

A Delicious Bowl of Second Chances

I really like to cook. Perhaps, I haven’t always. But I generally do nowadays. Especially the cozy, comfort food that seems to encapsulate the fall and winter months. The delectable aromas simmering in a pot filling my home with rich warmness. Mmmmm. No other way to say it, just mmmmm.

I suppose it all started about four years ago when my daughter and I had to go gluten- and casein-free. The convenience-type foods, to which I had grown accustomed, were overpriced and generally unsatisfying for the GFCF diet. I quickly found, though, that with adaptations I could make relatively simple GFCF meals that could cater to the taste buds of the whole family. And the dance was on! Before you knew it, I was finding ways to change and enhance every meal I could think of! Everything became fair game!

With my ME/CFS relapse, however, my cooking has taken a back seat. Our little family has had to revert to convenience once more (read “very, very simple”), not out of preference, but merely as a coping mechanism. Every so often, however, I find myself longing yet again for the clatter of the kitchen. Like last week.

I wanted a lovely pasta dinner. I had just whipped out the ingredients and had barely started the sauce a’simmering when I realized “my work here is done.” With no gas left in the tank, I left my sauce to cook itself while I went to recline. And cook it did. A little too long actually. A bland flavor profile combined with a thickened, dehydrated sauce lead to a dinner that was simply blah. Well, we sort of ate it, but (go figure) no one wanted the leftovers.

So what to do?

A couple of days later, I googled a bit. Put some of this recipe with some of that recipe, and added what I had for what I didn’t have, and made soup. Similar to minestrone, this wonderful soup filled every corner of my home with its fulfilling aroma. (Granted, the gluten-free noodles broke down a bit, but you couldn’t beat the taste!)

My delectable Second Chance Soup.

As I was preparing my soup, I couldn’t help but think of how my pasta and sauce was being granted a second chance to shine. They had faltered miserably their first time out–poor things–but with a little refinement, and having learned from their errors, they were being allowed another opportunity to be all they were meant to be. And they passed the challenge with flying colors!

Needless to say, I couldn’t help but think about people. (With God, everything comes back to people.) How often do we allow a person one chance–just one chance–to succeed or fail with us. If he fails, we aren’t so quick to allow him to regroup, access what he learned, and give it a second go, are we? Nope. Idiot should have known better.

Or how often do we set that one person on the pinnacle of our past experiences, which may not even be a part of this current relationship? One false step and he’s a goner.

And do you know what’s the worst part? We often don’t open our hearts to allow him a place to render an honest explanation. Sure, we may “listen,” but often we have predetermined our response…and his guilt.

Not only have I been the idiot who should have know better (more times than I care to admit), but I’ve also pronounced the guilty verdict for the smallest of infractions. How dare someone fall short of perfect anyhow! The truth is, though, I’ve been wrong. When I consider that God’s word says that “love covers a multitude of sins,” I really don’t have much wiggle room.

People, who are of far more value than pasta and sauce, deserve the opportunity to shine. Perhaps they, just like my fouled-up dinner, have in them all the makings of an awesome recovery if they are only offered another chance. (Trust me, I know about learning to release them to learn from their mistakes as well, and perhaps I’ll blog about that another time.) But for the one who made a mistake and repented, forgiveness and a second chance to be all who God created him to be? Amazing! And perhaps *she says with a smile* just perhaps, this mended relationship will fill the corners of your heart with all the fragrant aromas of a richer life.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3

A final note before I go:

I couldn’t help but notice a couple of pertinent things from this scripture. First, the “day of vengeance” is set for God. We don’t have to stress ourselves over extracting vengeance along the way. God has it. Secondly, look at all those beautiful assets! Broken hearts bound. Captives set free. Comfort for mourners. Garlands for ashes. Why? So that Jesus is glorified! May He use you in all these sweet ways to bring glory to Himself.

Don’t be afraid. Serve up a heaping bowl of delicious second chances.

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!!!

God’s Magnificent Revolving Door of Peace

We live in a society that is often compared to a hamster wheel. Everybody’s running on that thing and getting nowhere. Even after expending tons of precious energy, a person is left stuck in a cage, absolutely spent.

I don’t live that way. Not because I wouldn’t if I could, but because frantic racing is a bit beyond a woman who spends eleven hours a night in bed, and nine or ten hours the following day resting in a recliner or a comfy chair. Nope. Borderline impossible.

That said, however, the hamster-wheel pace can be just as frenetically lived out by the sedentary as well as the active if their hearts are unsettled. Even a health-inhibited inactive person, who allows anxiety to exercise dominion over peace, can have a life every bit as frantic as her healthy, energetic neighbor. (And that stress? Boy, that’ll do you in every time!) Likewise, an active go-getter, who keeps her eyes fixed on Jesus, can live an extremely peaceful existence.

The true difference is not the outward activity, it’s the inward heart. And, great gravy!, I have certainly had my experiences of wrestling with the tortures of a worried heart! I shudder to think of my attitude then, but when I had my initial onset of ME/CFS, I certainly got perturbed. (When I had enough energy to accomplish this feat!) I struggled to believe that I, who obviously had so much to offer my little world, would be rendered so incapacitated!

Over the years, however, I have learned what it means to “keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I have found that if I stay my course, I am more victorious in my littleness than I would have been had God allowed me to continue in my large-lived willfulness.

And do you know what else I have found? I have found peace, not as the world filled with all sorts of medical knowledge has to offer, but a peace that causes my heart to not be troubled nor fearful. (See John 14:27.) A peace based on the understanding that God, whose very character is lovingkindess and compassion, cares tenderly about every aspect of my life. And how sweet is the peace that is based on the goodness of the Lord.

Oh, sure, the enemy likes to come along and rock my boat. At the beginning I chased doctor after doctor to no avail…especially as medical research has yet to offer hope to the ME/CFS patient. It was at that point that I determined to not be as the lady with the “issue of blood” (Matthew 9:20), who had spent all her money on doctors, yet still was unwell and unclean. I wanted to be as she was in the story when she desperately reached out to Jesus in faith. I realized that God, who knew all my struggles, would meet me and minister to me simply because I was His darling daughter. I chose to allow Him to work out His perfect plan in me regardless of the cost to my health, my pride, or my acceptance by society. This became my free-will offering.

Even a month ago, when I went to the doctors for the first time in years to check some new symptoms, that niggling fear came back. Was I doing everything I ought? Was this disease, indeed, to be taken as lightly as they presumed? Where should I go next? What should I do? Actually, now that I think about it, it wasn’t just fear but anger. And both needed to be dealt with. Anger and fear left free to roam in a Christian’s mind will be her undoing. Never, ever doubt that!

So I remembered what my training had instilled in me: put to death the fleshly attitude, stop being intimidated by the waves, and focus back on the compassionate and victorious face of my King and Savior, Jesus.

And do you know what happened next? The voice of the enemy stammered and stuttered! Where was his confident mocking and jeering? Although my circumstances hadn’t discernable changed, I wasn’t the one vanquished! As a matter of fact, because my heart and hand was wholly entrusted to Jesus, I was the one who was “more than a conqueror!” In that moment, I knew that my small action of trust had brought true delight to my eternal Beloved. Though I didn’t see it with my outward eyes, my heart knows He smiled. 🙂

This is where my revolving door analogy comes in (since you were probably wondering!). Every time I stay my course and simply push through, I am compelled from peace to victory to delighting God’s heart, which brings me back to peace again. Then, of course, I go on to victory to delighting God’s heart. And my joyful little world revolves around His anchoring of my life.

Some may think my life looks like little more than that of a hamster: a small life existing in a small world, with nothing more than a wheel to keep me occupied. If I believed that, I would perish. However, each opening in my revolving door offers an exceedingly more stunning view of God’s grace, mercy and faithfulness. Every vista that befalls my eyes is more gorgeous than the one before. A life filled with such serene beauty towers above that hamster wheel of frantic activity. Such a breathtaking panorama can only result from God’s magnificent revolving door of peace.

“By this I know that Thou art pleased with me, because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me.” Psalm 41:11