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

The confessions of a New Year’s Scrooge

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I’m about to confess something that may make me wildly unpopular, but here goes: I don’t really like New Year’s Eve/Day as a holiday.

Author’s note: Please filter this post with the understanding that as I write this, I am by turns smiling, laughing, and teary-eyed.  I am by no means sitting on my couch with a soured frown and permanent crease between my eyebrows. Thank you.

I think I gave up on making resolutions in high school.  Why make more goals (read rules) for myself when I struggle and then fail to keep them? Why, yes, I think I’ll start my new year off by setting myself up for disappointment. (Okay, I don’t really feel that strongly about it.  But, in all fairness, I think there are enough self-help articles about actually keeping the New Year’s resolutions one didn’t manage to keep last year to support my point here.)

Getting new planners is nice, but the empty pages will invariably fill with same busyness of last year.

I see friends on social media getting “excited about what 2015 will bring”. Like many people, I’m still blinking in sad disbelief at what 2014 “brought” and can’t even begin to try to guess what could happen in the next 365 days.

To be honest, I think my lack of enthusiasm over a new year is a combination of fear of the unknown, lack of thankfulness, the fact that life is hard (and often sad), and the desire for something new when every year is filled with so much old.

Now that I think about it, I may be more of a New Year’s Charlie Brown than a Scrooge.  In the movie ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, Charlie Brown is depressed and unsatisfied with the popular, commercial meaning of Christmas.  My favorite holiday is Christmas.  I celebrate it for months.  But, switch out Christmas with New Year celebrations, and I understand him perfectly.

Really, what I love the most about Christmas is also the one thing I need for the incoming New Year.  To me, Christmas means joy and hope.  It means longings fulfilled.  I look at every nativity scene and see Christ come to earth. I sing along to my favorite Christmas songs:

Father in heaven,
You gave us reason to see past the pain of today
We celebrate…

Unending hope for all time
When the King of the ages arrived — Selah, “Joy”

Christ is come.  Even though this past Christmas morning brought news of a friend’s death (as did the Christmas morning before that), I know that Christ has come.  And I know that those friends are truly and perfectly whole and home because of Christ. In every aspect of Christmas, I see Christ.

Then it hit me: because that’s what New Year’s is all about, Charlie Brown.

It may not seem like a profound revelation, but it was for me.  The reason I don’t like New Year’s is because I don’t look into the new year and see Christ.  I don’t need to be the best me by losing weight, or running, managing my time more, or getting excited about a new year of possibilities.  I need to see Christ.

If I hope in resolutions, I will fall flat.  I can accomplish them and still feel empty.  My only hope is Christ.  The only redemption for the reoccurring old in the new year is that Christ is still at work, even if it seems things don’t change.  I need to not fear the unknown because I see the One I trust the most guiding me there.  I can evaluate the old year with thankfulness because Christ was in it.  I can set goals for the new year because I’m able to ask Him, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

So, I look into the new year and see that I will go back to the same classroom, write the same (but hopefully improved) lesson plans, try to maintain focus through the same evaluation and state testing stress, laugh off the same singleness comments, enjoy one last year in my 20s, read new books, try to prioritize better, hopefully eat healthier, maybe blog more, and meet with many happy and sad unknowns.  But, above all that, by the grace of God, I look into the new year and I see Christ.

“O to enter this new year with the realization that the one who loved me and gave Himself for me, accompanies me into it! Then why should I fear what may lay ahead of me? Whatever may be my circumstances, whatever changes I may pass through, whatever I may be called upon to bear – Christ Himself will be my constant companion! But only faith – not imagination or feelings – will be able to realize and appreciate His presence.”~ Arthur Pink, “His Presence”

Oh that the whole world would know this joy.

 

 

New Year 2012: Will I begin with pride or humility?

Like many others do this time of year, I have made resolutions that I fully intended to carry out.  At least until June.  (By then it should be habit, right?)  Often, I set out to conquer, determined to be strong.  The temptation and tendency to pride is pretty strong.  I will be better.  I will be skinnier.  I will be more disciplined.  I will read more books.  I will simplify.  I will. I will.  I will.

This quickly turns in to “This is my will and I will do it on my own strength.”  Pride.

The second aspect of celebrating the New Year is looking back on the “old” year.  That is a different and more beautiful story.  Maybe my plans worked out.  Maybe they didn’t.  But, it was God’s will and God’s plan that was always fulfilled.  And never once did I carry myself — not even in the happy times.  Looking back, I see my strength leave, and God’s grace restore from an unending supply.  I see many blessings that I didn’t know could even be had.  I see how God revealed more of His love and mercy to me.  I see Him break my will;  I see Him restore my joy.  Pride can’t look at that and live.  Humility can.

My New Year’s prayer for myself is that my heart would not be so divided as to look on the past with humble amazement and the future with prideful ambition.  May I consider both with humility and “go out with joy and go forth in peace.”

Happy New Year!  May you be blessed with much joy and confidence as you see God’s plan unfold in this next year!

(P.S.  And please, please check out this post from the GirlTalk blog Sitting in the New Year.  This is an amazing post on how to approach New Year’s resolutions with a humble focus on God)