Saturday Song: He Giveth More Grace

“How was your week?”

“It was very good. Long. I’m quite tired.”

There is always a hidden story behind polite conversation. And Instagram. I’m guilty of that this week. How was my Friday? Let me show you!

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#teacherlife #ihavethebeststudents #ajoyfulclassroomisasafeclassroom

And it’s true. I love my student kiddos. And they love their teacher. And I’m so thankful for them.

But the truth is, this year is hard in ways that years in the past haven’t been. The truth is, I’m exhausted and discouraged.

But the truth is, God is gracious, as he always has been.

So, how was the other side of my Friday?

Thursday I came home from school around 6. After cooking dinner, I had no energy left to translate more documents, finish Friday’s PowerPoints, grade the growing mound of student work, or do anything else for that matter. So I went to sleep. At 7:30. Even I knew that was a mistake, but I couldn’t help it. I simply couldn’t work any more.

So I was awake from 11:30 p.m.-2 a.m. I tried to go back to sleep, but the bad dreams kept interrupting me. The emotional stress of our grade level meetings manifested in the gripping fear that at 1 am one of my teacher friends was overdosing. One of the little first graders from hall duty was being harmed. Many other false, oppressive fears of the early morning hours met with real-life difficulties and their anxieties. And I simply couldn’t sleep any more.

So, I did the only thing I could: practice the presence of God in the face of my exhaustion, stress, and fears.

Last Saturday, I heard this song (Psalm 91 Eagles’ Wings) by Shane and Shane for the first time. It was a gift of God that began to quiet my spirit early Friday morning.

So I read the words of that song in the other songs that sound melodious, unfailing truth:

Psalm 91 —

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”…

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night…

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 37 —

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him…

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
  he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
     The Lord helps them and delivers them;
             he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
             because they take refuge in him.

Isaiah 40 —

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

 

It’s a miracle from the Holy Spirit that calms fears and worries in my heart — even at 2 a.m. — and let’s me sleep again. Not to dreams of despair, but to dreams of hope and waking to laughter. What a grace.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. — Annie J. Flint

What I Need to Know

This month, I’ve been participating in July’s Scripture writing plan from Sweet Blessings: God is Our Refuge. Focusing for over a week now on the promise of refuge and salvation has led to many thoughts and prayers, and I’m looking forward to the remaining 23 days.

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he know those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1:7 (part of day 7)

When do I need refuge? When I am afraid. When someone, or some situation, or some sin, or some other worry is pressing on me. In that moment, what I want most to know how everything will be resolved. I want to know, “what will happen?”

As with many others, however, what I want most to know is not what I need most to know. The way of quieting my heart and mind is not in knowing the end from the beginning. No, Nahum says in 4 words (in English, two in Hebrew) what I most need to know: The LORD is good.

The LORD — יְהֹוָה Yĕhovah

Not “one”, not “a”. There are no others in His rank. No other lesser gods to somehow grab power. No equal forces of good and evil to balance out, no equal dichotomy of right and wrong. He alone is unrivaled in the universe.

The eternal, self-existing One. He does not need our help.  All things happen according to His will — even the things that most trouble us. He is the authority, because He existed before all things and He is the Creator and Master of all creation.

is good — טוֹבtowb

He is right. Excellent. Rich and Valuable in estimation. Because He is good, He does what is good. Since He is good in His very being, He is trustworthy.

That’s what a child knows when they run to a parent for help when they are afraid: My parents are bigger, and they are good to me.

Because the LORD is unrivaled in His power and good in His very nature, He is “a stronghold in the day of trouble.”

And as an added balm to a worried heart, “he knows those who take refuge in him.” He knows every hair on their head. He hems them in behind and before. He sees their goings out and staying in. He has written down everyday of their lives. He calls them by name.

So take courage.

He is God.

He is good.

He knows you.

 

The LORD is good,

a stronghold in the day of trouble,

he know those who take refuge in him.

Nahum 1:7

 

 

Suddenly Gluten-Free: understanding the feelings

I recently had a conversation with a friend who was looking at going gluten-free for her husband’s health. Our conversation took me back to when I first realized that gluten — and some of my favorite foods — were off limits. At 27-years-old, I didn’t expect that I had eaten my favorite dessert for the last time.

Enter disappointment. 

After doing some research, I discovered that gluten is not so obvious. It can go by many names. It’s in soups, seasoning mixes, tortilla chips, chocolate, ice cream, spices, supplements, french fries (!)… even makeup.  And don’t get me started about restaurant food.

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I accidentally ate gluten — even small amounts — with painful and scary consequences. As a result, I became even more careful. And people did not always understand. Even community meals felt ostracizing. I had become that person. Ms. High-Maintenance at restaurants.

Enter frustration.

For people with gluten-sensitivity and Celiac Disease (an incureable auto immune disorder), gluten-free is the only option.  Popular opinion can see gluten-free people as high-maintenance, immature hipsters who could use the health benefits of wheat/barely/rye/spelt. People can question how gluten-free a person really needs to be.

Enter misunderstanding.

All of a sudden, two things I thought I understood — wheat and my body — were becoming more mysterious. Why did that rice mix (seasoning packet!) cause such searing pain in my abdomen?  Why do cookies and communion wafers make my mouth bleed? What was it doing to me? What would happen if I accidentally ate it again? If I stay away from it, could my gut start to heal again or had I caused irrevocable damage?

Enter fear.

Then I learned aboutcross-contamination.

Emotion level: overwhelmed.

I may have started crying one day at Kroger.

Still, looking back I also remembered what helped me get through that feeling of being overwhelmed. Here are 5 tips I learned about the feelings of going gluten-free.

1.) Accept the Feelings

This one has little to do with the actual gluten, but a lot to do with the mentality of changing your lifestyle so drastically.

Go ahead, feel frustrated. Feel sad, disappointed, and misunderstood. Feel uncertain. Feel scared. This is a change and it’s hard. You are probably saying farewell to a lot of things you like. It makes something difficult that used to be easy. It means that you will become that person at restaurants.

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Accept all those feelings, and then say, “I will not lose hope.”

As a Christian, I gained hope by remembering I was “fearfully and wonderfully made”. That God is sovereign, even thought it feels like my body is mutinying.

2.) Get support

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Explain your circumstances to a close friend. Chances are, you have a friend who has also had to go gluten-free. When I first went gluten-free, I didn’t understand how to do it. I suddenly didn’t understand my own body or how to take care of it. I needed help understanding this new lifestyle and the circumstances around it.

If you are the first of your friends to have to make this change, find a support group. Ask your doctor for recommendations. Read thesepersonal stories from the Celiac Foundation.

Know you are not alone.

3.) Change your mindset

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In the U.S. — as many other cultures in world — eating is an important part of being social. So, what happens when it’s suddenly more difficult (and hazardous) to eat out?

  • Invite your friends to explore possibilities that don’t involve eating — bowling, make art, museums, escape rooms, game nights, movies, nature walks, plays, music performances, have a photo shoot. Think about how much you would usually spend for a restaurant meal and spend it on making other types of memories.
  • Bring your own food. I’ve only ever been kicked out of one restaurant for bringing in outside food (I’m looking at you, London Pizza Hut) and that was in 2006. I bring my own food to church potlucks, out to eat, friends’ houses (or offer to cook with them), and conferences.

Think outside the box. Stay involved. You’ll find your experience getting bigger instead of smaller.

4.) Be patient

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As I mentioned before, becoming gluten-free is as sudden as the doctor’s pronouncement of a diagnosis. Becoming an expert in living gluten-free is not. So be patient with yourself. Ask for help. Keep learning.

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Be patient with others. Don’t roll your eyes when others don’t seem to understand that whole grain bread, graham crackers, and wheat germ all have gluten in them. You will need to educate those around you even as you learn about all the places gluten can hide.  One fun way is to invite people over for a gluten-free dessert night. Some of my friends have found they really enjoy some of my gluten-free goodies.

5.) Keep Going 

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Even when feelings of frustration and discouragement — even jealousy and anger resurface, keep going.

Remember it is not the end. Just like other changes, the gluten-free switch will allow for new experiences, new foods, new friends, and new opportunities that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.  So, accept the feelings. But don’t let them rule you. Remind them that you’re not saying just good-bye. You are also saying “hello”. This is not the end, it is a start of a new chapter.

It will get better.

And it will get easier.

My biggest encouragement and hope is remembering that life is not all about food. That I don’t have to worry because God still cares for me.  Yes, food is a blessing from God. Yes, He gives food for us to thrive and enjoy. Yes, some days I feel excluded from part of God’s blessing, but then I remember that I have an even bigger blessing — God himself. Maybe, for me at least, part of this new chapter is learning to say with the Psalmist, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their new grain and wine abounds.”

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Desperate

Lord,

We are a desperate people. We are desperate for safety and security.  We are desperate for health and material things. We are desperate for comfort. We are desperate for the wrong things.

We snub and we rob. We demean. We grasp after our wants greedily and selfishly.

Then we look outward and hear news. Black men are shot. Police officers are shot. Men, who lived, laughed, loved and were loved, are gone. Men, who knew joy and sadness, anger and fear, died at the hands of other men.

And we grow more desperate.

We hear more news. Children are missing and abandoned; women are raped; terrorists take slaves and blow up families.

And we grow more desperate.

We are desperate for peace.  We are desperate for love and unity.  We are desperate for healing. This time, we are desperate for higher things.

But we fight among ourselves. We take sides.  We look sideways at our neighbors in fear and distrust.  We blame; we pass judgement. We contribute to the noise by shouting and typing out our opinions and flawless arguments.

Yes, in our brokenness, we become desperate for the right things, but we do not pursue them rightly because we are not just desperate, we are a lost people.

We are desperate and lost… and without hope.

Yes, we are without hope… apart from you.

So, please, look on our brokenness and show us mercy.  Show us that we are alienated from each other because we do not abide in you.  Remind us that while we were your enemies, you died to save us.

In our brokenness, may we beg your forgiveness. Setting aside our entitlements, may we submit to your authority.  May we be desperate for your grace and mercy. In you may we find eternal life.

Remind us that love is patient and kind.  Just as you were patient and kind with us, may we be patient and show kindness to others.  Remind us to seek the good of others and show honor. Remind us to discard our records of wrongs against us.  Help us to forgive as we have been forgiven.

May we delight in truth and justice, and not evil.  May we hold on to our hope in you, as you faithfully hold on to us. May we persevere to the end.

And, please, keep us desperate. Keep us desperate for you, so that we may continue to seek you.  For you alone are the way, the truth, and the life. For you alone have shown us what it means to live justly and show mercy.

And, please, Lord Jesus, come soon.

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Buying a House (part 7 of 8)

It was seven years ago and February had quickly rolled around again. Year one of graduate school was barely half over, but it was time to think of next year’s housing.  This was a university town, and rentals went quickly. One roommate was moving out and the leasing office was raising the rental prices. My remaining roommate and I had to sift through decisions: stay and find another roommate? Stay and downsize? Move somewhere cheaper? But where?

I’ve had nine roommates and nine different living spaces in the eight years since graduating from college. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, our housing situations changed rather more frequently those first few years than I had anticipated.  Every year my roommate(s) and I had to decide if we wanted to keep living together, if we should renew our lease, or if we should seek another rental.  There was always the desire to lessen the financial burden.  The apartments in the “safe” parts of town were quite expensive.  Another lack of permanency is the changefulness of roommates.  They may back out of commitments. They can sign a lease, and then decide to leave early.  They may get married, as four of mine did.  They may take jobs out of the area.  I believe many other single women (and men) also sense this lack of permanency inn housing situations.  When my living conditions are in a state of flux, I often feel that the rest of my life is, too.  At those times, marriage seems like the ideal solution.  If nothing else, at least the roommate would be permanent.

While housing can be an annual issue for singles, a single woman does have a lot of freedom when deciding where to live.  For example, there are no husbands or children to take into consideration.  Be that as it may, a single woman can feel the pressure of those around her when picking a place: “Why do you need a house, you’re just one person?” “So-and-so would be great roommate, you should ask her.” “Why do you want to live alone?” “Why don’t you live with your parents and save money?”

One of the scariest decisions I have made was the decision to buy a house.  I had always thought that I would buy a house, but I never meant to do it alone.  While I knew of a handful of single women who were homeowners, I didn’t think I had the courage to do it.  I was still encumbered with the philosophy that if a woman wanted to marry, she had to present herself as marriageable.  I was afraid that buying a house as a single woman in her late-20s would send one of two messages.  The first message I was afraid to send was that I was too strong to need a man or that I’d at least be difficult to lead.  The second message was that I had resigned to my singleness by giving up and buying a house. Buying a house seemed dauntingly permanent.  I was afraid that I would be cementing my singleness as well.  I was afraid of the stigma I might attract.  I was also afraid of this new change in plans that didn’t seem to lead to marriage.  Just like grad school was a change in my original plans for my life, buying a house while unmarried was another great change.

As deeply as I felt these fears, I also knew that apartment living, even in “nice” apartments can still be rough and downright expensive.  I was tired of my upstairs neighbor who banged mercilessly on the wall when I practiced piano (with headphones) at an hour he deemed too early.  I was tired of throwing money into the rent vacuum.  I was tired of the apartment pool drama outside my window and my neighbors’ intoxicated/high shenanigans. I had also just “lost” my roommate to marriage (She is still a sweet friend and I don’t regret this ‘loss’ at all).  I was looking at a single rental, which, in a safe apartment complex would cost as much as a monthly mortgage payment on a small house. I planned to buy a few years later when I was in my 30s, but I had also been keeping my eye on the market to see what was available and the prices.  I found a home I liked on Zillow (it was the kitchen) and e-mailed a realtor who also “happened” to be our music deacon.   I’m not really in the market for house hunting, but I have just one I want to see and since I don’t know what I’m doing, would you show it to me, please?  I spent two hours looking through the house and several conversations with my realtor and my dad regarding the finances and logistics.  Logistically, the process was smooth and simple. I had a real estate agent I knew and trusted.  All the inspections and negotiations went quickly.  Emotionally, however, the process was more difficult.  I remember praying through the process.  Several times, I would panic and think, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.  What makes me think I can buy a house?” I would often remind God (as if he needed it) that I was going to buy a house since that seemed like a wise decision and an opportunity he was giving me.  If it wasn’t from him, I begged that he would take that opportunity away from me. Long story short, I wrote a really big check and bought the house.  Three years later, I still really like the kitchen.

There are many lost hopes that I could regret.  I could regret that I didn’t save, dream, and buy with a husband.  I could regret that when I walked through the house, I didn’t have a family of my own to envision living in these spaces.  I could regret that I didn’t have a husband to lean on for making the decisions.

As much as I could focus on regret and resent that my fairy-tale plans weren’t actualized, I have much more cause for thanksgiving. I had a wise real estate agent who was a trusted friend. His wife was a constant source of enthusiasm and encouragement through the buying process.  She even gathered several of my close friends to host a shower with other ladies from the church.  She lovingly planned and wrote prayers and scriptures to be prayed through my house by ladies in our church.  God gave me a wise father to walk through the house and be a sounding board for ideas.   God gave me a supportive and encouraging mother who never reproached my singleness or suggested that I was ruining my chances for marriage.  A close single girl-friend went through the house-buying process at the same time, which provided a listening ear that understood perfectly the emotions I felt through this process.  I also had a dear single friend who had owned her own home for a while who graciously shared her thoughts and prayers she had recorded from that experience.  God gave me everything I needed in the way that he knew was best.

I’m not saying that single girls have to buy their own houses, but that is what God planned for me.  He gave me the experience of making a major life decision that was “all on me”.  I could get advice, but in the end, it was my call.  God provided: the finances, the timing, the support I needed to get through the process and stay sane, and faith in the truth that He is sovereign.  And in that experience, he showed me that the decision was technically mine, but it was really on His authority that the door was opened or closed.

As a note to married friends of singles: One encouragement during the home-buying process – and I want to say a repeated thank you to the ladies at my church – was a first-house shower.  I still use the gifts I received with happiness, but the prayers of the ladies all as we walked through my home and their encouraging confirmation of my work in the home were the biggest blessings I could have asked for that evening. So, please encourage the single women (and men) in your acquaintance that their work in the home is important and glorifying to God.  Give encouragement and confirmation of their homemaking, and don’t dissuade them from taking the steps of obedience God has called them to.

To single women, don’t be afraid to live the life God has called you to, whether in an apartment or your own house.  You have the Creator of the Universe who delights in you and fulfills your request for wisdom (James 1:5).  You may not be planning with a husband, but you can seek the will of and plan with the the one true, sovereign God.  During our walk though, my realtor asked if I was afraid buying a house would mean I’d always be single. “Because it doesn’t,” he added, without waiting for my answer.  Don’t make decisions based on whether or not it hurts your chance for marriage later.  Keep your focus on God himself.  He, not marriage, is your only hope and the only ultimate goal.  The Proverbs 31 woman considered a field (discernment) and bought it (strength).  Don’t shy away from practicing discernment and making business choices because you might appear too strong.  Do not be afraid to exercise strength and discernment that is completely dependent on God.  However, do be afraid of worldly, self-empowered wisdom and arrogant, independent strength. Walk in faith remembering that the days of your life are written in his book, even before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).

In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6

The Heart of the Single Woman’s Home: Fear and Safety (blog series part 6/8)

Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Proverbs 29:35 The fear of man lays a snare,
                         but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

A godly woman is called to be fearless.  A quiet heart, which in God’s sight is very precious, is not in a tither of worry (1 Peter 3:4). Married women are called to fearless submission to their husbands.  Should not a single woman submit fearlessly to her Creator? The call to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6) is a call to every woman, because her hope is in her God (1 Peter 3:5).

Physical Safety and Fear

As a single woman living and working on my own, safety can feel like a constant burden.  I am often tempted to worry about safety… and I often give in.  If I want to justify my worry, I can draw up a long list from headlines around the world and from personal experiences of my friends, family, and myself.  For example, one night, my roommate and I came home at 11 p.m. to find someone had broken into our apartment.  While nothing came of it, the invasion of privacy, of knowing someone was in my home and I didn’t know what they had done, gave me a sense of violation that I hadn’t felt before.  There was the fear that it was actually a neighbor. Or maybe it was a former resident who had kept a copy of the key. Would they come back? Had they left hidden cameras?  Had they done terrible things to my toothbrush? We threw away all our open bottles and asked the apartment office to transfer apartments. This was the year we started using a home security system.

Maybe that’s what comes of single girls being too independent and moving away.  Maybe I’m supposed to wait until I get married. Was I being too independent? My thoughts started sounding like some circles of thought that depend more on the teaching of tradition, and not Scripture. Living with parents or away from them is only a sin if discontentment, rebellion, fear, or hate fuels those decisions. While my roommate and I prayerfully took the next steps, and lived with my parents for another month before a new apartment was available, the mercies and graces of the situation became more apparent to us. We had not been hurt.  Our loved ones were not hurt.  An unknown someone(s) had sinned against us.  We didn’t know how or why this had happened or even all that had happened.  But God knew. And He provided our safety.  We only had to keep trusting and He kept providing.

For me, I can fuel my discontent in singleness by dwelling on the perceived protection a husband could provide.  While I do take more precautions now, I realize that precautions will not keep me safe.  A locked door is not omnipotent, neither is a husband.  My safety doesn’t depend on the quality of my security system.  God wants me to trust Him to give protection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

When I am strong in this dependence, I can find myself feeling rather haughty against my married friends who confess that they are afraid when their husband isn’t home for the evening because they aren’t used to being alone.  I think I appear to listen patiently, however my thoughts are in a darker place. ‘Welcome to my world,’ I think smugly, ‘how would you like this to be your whole life?’ This pride is every bit as dangerous to my soul as my fear – perhaps even more so. My perceived strength in my perceived dependence on God is no refuge at all. Far from it, a haughty spirit comes before a fall. My ability to trust is a result of faith, which is a gift of God.  If my hope is in anything, it is not that I know I will be fine, but that God is good to me and that everything that comes to me can only come because He allows – even sends – it. My hope is in God Himself.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

For my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;

My might rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

Pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.   Psalm 62: 5-8

Like all other sins, however, fear is persistent and keeps creeping back in. It comes whispering during the lonely nights my roommate is out of town.  When a possum rattles my window in the early hours of the morning, I am afraid. When I turn on the alarm and turn off the lights, I feel fear creep in behind me. Perhaps it is our cultural association with evil and darkness, but when the night hours roll in, evil seems more real to me than it does during the day.  Perhaps this very fear is a grace to help me remember that as real as fears may be, God is more real. As strong as they are, He is stronger.  Plans made for evil, God uses for good.  In the dark hours, I realize that my hope is not in a fairy tale ending, but in the Creator of the Universe Himself. His promises and plan endure whatever evil there is in the world.  He cannot be thwarted.  And He uses the whispers of fear to make me cling to his promises in his word.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 56, which was written by David when the Philistines had captured him in Gath:

When I am afraid,

            I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

            What can flesh do to me? 56:3-4

David was in a dangerous place.  The man after God’s own heart was afraid. Notice the grace revealed through David’s admission: when I am afraid. God graciously works in his child to remove fear.  He commands us to fear not. And yet, He does not listen because I am fearless, but listens to my pleas when I am afraid.

Spiritual Fear

I often forget that the spirit world is every bit as real as the physical world.  In other countries Christians witness first hand demonic possession in people and even in places. In the USA, that is usually brushed aside and only entertained in horror films.  As real as spiritual terrors are, however, God is greater still. The Jesus who commanded the legion in Mark 5 still delivers from the legions oppressing his people.

In my first couple years of teaching, I had times of experiencing demonic nightmares. One particularly bad month, I cried almost every night before bed. I was exhausted, but I dreaded going to sleep. The images in my dreams were vivid and filled with a terribly dark and oppressive evil. The nightmares were keeping me from getting rested because I would wake every hour or two in a panic.  The only difference between the dreams and being awake was that I could no longer see the evil that terrified me when I awoke.  I could, however, still feel it near me in the dark, quiet room. This troubled me more than the dreams. After about an hour of crying and praying, I would fall back asleep.  Many nights, this process repeated itself as many as three times during the night.

When I was little, I remember calling out to my dad and mom after a bad dream.  The comfort of their loving arms and their prayers helped me go back to sleep.  As a grown single woman, I often wished that when I woke up from one of these nightmares that I could roll over, wake up a stronger person (i.e. my husband), and ask them to hold me until the fear went away. I may not have my parents or a husband in my house to calm me, but I have something even more beautiful and comforting. The God of all comfort did not need to be awakened, because he had never stopped his watch over me. I could pray scripture – His very words to me, put there be his spirit – until I fell asleep again.  I learned to trust deeply in the truths of Psalm 56:

You have kept count of my tossings;

            Put my tears in your bottle.

            Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

            In the day when I call.

            This I know, that God is for me.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In the LORD, whose word I praise,

In God I trust; I shall not be afraid…

For you have delivered my soul from death,

            Yes, my feet from falling,

That I may walk before God

In the light of life.  Psalm 56: 8-11a, 13

 About a year after these occurrences, I didn’t have dreams, but the sound of footsteps and the presence of someone who wasn’t there consistently woke me up every morning about 2 am.  One of my roommates at the time wisely led us in prayer for God to protect the house so that no evil spirit could enter and that I would stop having nightmares and hearing noises.  The 2 am occurrence and nightmares never happened again.

Since then, it became a tradition on the first night in a new home, either alone or with my roommate, to walk through the home and pray over every room, specifically that the presence of God would fill the home, so that all human and spiritual powers could know that it belonged to Him alone.  I also started doing this with my classroom.  Through these experiences, God showed that my trust should not rest in a security system or a husband – although there is nothing wrong with those – but that the heart of my home should rest in His protecting presence.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

It Was Good For Me (or the day my stomach quit)

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Some History

I remember the first time I missed out on a family outing because of digestive problems. I was eleven. And I was so embarrassed.

Two years later I was in a doctor’s office in Oklahoma City because of stomach pains and indigestion. The cause was not pinpointed.

Three years after that, the culprit seemed to be greasy food. Almost every time I smelled it or ate it, another episode was triggered. Maybe it was my gallbladder.

At age 18, after losing 15 pounds my first semester in college, I eliminated dairy. My stomach episodes were halved with this elimination. I went to the doctor to get tested for lactose-intolerance. The test came back negative. I kept dairy out of my diet anyway.

Throughout college and grad school, the stomach episodes continued off and on. Sometimes I could eat whatever I wanted. Sometimes I could only have vegetables and water. Sometimes I could have white flour. Most times I couldn’t. My test for celiac disease came back negative. My doctor told me I had irritable bowel syndrome.

I often cried myself to sleep because of the stomach pain. Sometimes the pain was so intense, I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes the pain was worse than that.

This past September, one month into my fifth year of teaching, almost all food suddenly gave me heartburn and made me quite sick. Even a glass of water necessitated a prompt Zantac75. Every time I ate, it felt like I’d been punched in the abdomen.  The only foods that were safe were strawberries, blueberries, fish, almonds, and avocados. So that’s what I ate. After about a month, I added sweet potatoes and kale. I had no idea what was going on. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what my stomach could handle. I lost 25 pounds.

I’ve been able to add a couple more foods – and water – but I’m still in the middle of this whatever-it-is. It’s not as serious as what other people suffer through, but I have learned through it. So here is my attempt to think through this new stage in life, and perhaps provide encouragement to someone who happens to read this…

Loss of control and the blame game

When something goes wrong, it is natural to look for the reason. If there is a strange smell in the refrigerator, we go looking for the culprit and throw it out. Sometimes pointing the blame helps relieve pent up feelings. When this last bout with my system started, I tried find the source of my problem. I went to my doctor. Numerous tests and one endoscopy came back with nothing. No food intolerances. No allergies. No inflammation in my stomach. No ulcers. No autoimmune disease. According to my lab work, I was fine.

I was angry and frustrated. I pointed the blame-finding questions towards myself. Is there something I could have done differently? Is this my fault? Why can’t I handle stress better? What am I supposed to learn? Why can’t I fix this? What am I doing wrong?

I had lost some control of my body. I felt that if I could find the source, then I could fix it.

There were a lot of ‘I’s in my plan for healing. Through the muddled worrying and thinking about what to do next, I felt a gentle prompting to let go of the ‘I’. Who is the Creator and Lord of every cell in your body? Who is your Health and Salvation? Can you walk through this without grasping for answers? Can you be content with my plan for sickness and healing that you cannot control?

Going to the doctor, reading articles, and undergoing tests were not wrong, but putting myself in control of my hurting and healing was prideful. Instead, how much better would it be to see my doctor and undergo tests while laying the burning, fault-finding questions at the feet of my Savior? How much better to seek answers with a gentle and quiet spirit instead of a feverish worry?

Fear

Fear is a quiet, subtle enemy that always seems just within arm’s reach, waiting for a chance to slip back in my heart. It’s had plenty of opportunities – through being unable to drink water for a week, through feeling weak and tired, through feeling constantly hungry, through discouraging results, through the sudden death of a childhood friend from unknown digestive problems.

At the same time, I learned that the Holy Spirit is even closer than fear and is ever-present to remind me…

Do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:6

My flesh and my heart may fail, but the LORD is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Ps. 73:26

And He remains to remind me every time fear starts to creep in. The unknown inside my body is not unknown to Him.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
In your book were written, every one of them,
The days that were formed for me,
When as yet there was none of them.
Ps. 139:16

Tested patience and thoughts of hope

I must admit, I really thought this new phase would last a couple months at the most. I get aggravated and complain. I’m impatient to stop bringing my own food to restaurants, bored with sweet potatoes and kale, and tired of fighting resentment. What is the point?

So I say, “my endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
The wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
Lamentations 3:18-20

But who remembers my sorrows better than the Man of Sorrows who has numbered even the hairs on my head? Can I persevere in His Name and through His Strength?

But this I call to mind,
And therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
To the soul who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:21-25

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope;

My soul waits for the Lord
More than watchmen for the morning,
More than watch men for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
And with him is plentiful redemption.
Psalm 130:5-7

It was (and is) good for me

At a purely physical level, yes, this about a digestive system gone awry and I want healing. I would like to be able to eat more foods again, or at least know why I can’t. But at the same time, this is not about my stomach as much as it is about the God who created it, and the love, hope, peace, and joy that He gives. And through it all He is patient to re-teach my heart these truths when the pain in my stomach makes me forget. He is all in all, and my relationship with Him is paramount to the health of my body.

You have put more joy in my heart
Than they have when their grain and wine abound.
Psalm 4:7

Your hands have made and fashioned me;
Give me understanding that I may learn your commandments…
I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
And that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.
Psalm 119:73, 75-76

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119:71