Saturday, November 22, 2014

Not Home Yet

Ever feel like you don't belong? Feel like having faith is sometimes just too hard? I have been tempted to give up on faith, and in fact, I had drifted away from God when a study on Hebrews started at my church this fall.

I made excuses. I said I was tired of filling in the blanks on workbooks. I said I was behind in my personal Bible reading. I said I didn't want one more commitment, one more semester of homework that seemed like school. But the first lesson, the first verse of Hebrews 2 called me back. Like a boat that had pulled out into the current, I suddenly felt the tug of the rope back to my anchor.

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it."

And that's when my study began to be more than filling in spaces on a worksheet. It became personal. Jesus was at the center of this book written to the Hebrew Christians about Old Testament history, and the call to hold fast and persevere while under pressure was unmistakable.

How will you remain encouraged when all hope seems dim? How will you keep believing when God doesn't answer your prayers for years? 

Remember you are a stranger in this world. There is something better coming. We get glimpses of heaven here. When your spirit gasps in awe at beauty, love, exquisite detail, and delight, for that split second, remember the power of God which overcame death in Jesus. He swallowed up death forever and will wipe every tear when we reach our rest. We wait for him, and he is our very great reward.


These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Hebrews 11:13-16

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Healing Process (Step 1: Avoiding Triggers)

If I go back to the root of my health problems - the aching muscles, the incapacitating fatigue, the brain fog all started with toxic black mold. You couldn't see it. The water damage was hidden in the walls of my childhood home, but when the air was professionally tested, the results meant we had to leave everything. It was too dangerous for us to keep living there, breathing there, too dangerous to keep our possessions. I walked out, not realizing it was for the last time, holding only a trash bag of clothes.

My symptoms improved when I lived with a friend, but the damage to my body had been done. When I attempted to return to my summer office job, I began to appreciate that air quality would be something I'd be conscious of for a long time to come. Though I'd previously worked there without issue, I found that I now couldn't think straight during my shift, couldn't remember short-term details, couldn't concentrate or multitask in that office. With tears and embarrassment, I had to ask for a transfer, demoting myself to manual labor.

My first semester of college, I faced repeated pesticide spray applications to all the buildings and dorms. Like one of the bugs, I became so ill that I was ultimately driven away from that school for good. On medical leave, I transferred to a college that would work with my disability, but it was not easy avoiding multiple buildings with serious air-quality problems, especially when one of them housed the department of my major.

Avoiding environmental triggers has become a lifestyle for me. It's an awareness I take for granted because of 16 years of experiencing reactions and learning what "innocuous" products can set off a negative response of neurological, gastrointestinal, and/or flu-like symptoms. Something as simple as a neighbor's lawn being sprayed for weeds can have a serious effect on me.

With the discovery of intestinal permeability, I have also come to understand why these environmental triggers overload an already overly stressed body. When the liver and the kidneys and the immune system are already working hard, fighting a war within, the added insult of chemical exposure from without can be the tipping point between functioning and being incapacitated.

Before healing can begin, it is often vital that environmental triggers be identified and avoided.

Triggers I try to avoid:
This list is just a sample. Things like car exhaust, cigarette smoke, the detergent aisle at the store, gasoline at the pump, new paint, varnishes, new carpet, and new cars are all in this category.

Take a look at the ingredients in the personal products you buy. Do you want to absorb those ingredients through your skin? Please read what is burning in your candles. Do you want it in your lungs? Test your house for mold if you sense any damp or musty smells, see brown stains in the ceiling, or have a history of water damage. Check out your work environment if you are employed. Do you feel better when you are away for a few days? Is your time spent in a basement? Do your eyes burn? Do your lungs feel tight? Do your ears crackle? Does your face feel hot after leaving? Do you feel kind of "spaced out" but can't figure out why? Think of mold. Think of pesticides. Ask questions.

The bottom part of that list, medications like antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids, and NSAIDs are all common causes of worsening intestinal permeability. I've been prescribed all of these. If you have taken them and suffer chronic illness, read about how your intestines may have been affected.

The main message here is that avoidance is possible and necessary for recovery. Can I avoid all of these things perfectly? No, but I'm continually trying to educate myself and find alternatives. The process of healing chronic illness is not one dramatic change. It is a series of small choices that add up. Avoiding harmful triggers is one of the best things you can do for your body to begin the healing process.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Healing Process

I've been pretty tight-lipped about my health on here during the last couple years because I've been on a constantly evolving treatment plan with no real promises and an uncertain end.

Prior to 2011, I was disabled for about 6 years with what doctors categorized as "collections of symptoms" - POTS, IBS, multiple chemical sensitivity, and chronic fatigue syndrome. No one could tell me what was really causing all of this or how to fix it. Prescriptions were written for some of my symptoms. I tried a beta blocker, fludrocortisone, birth control pills, melatonin, midodrine, but I was so sensitive to the drugs that I often ended up with severe side effects and not much improvement. The coping methods of salt, fluids, exercise, and compression hose were detailed in my 2011 series of "Living Better with Dysautonomia."

But ultimately, I desired something more than living better with my symptoms. I wanted to heal. So several years ago, I sought out an integrative medicine doctor. She explained to me that my symptoms were caused by damage to my digestive system resulting in intestinal permeability, or in plain terms a "leaky gut."

Over 2 years ago, I committed to a long journey of trying to heal my leaky gut naturally. I'm not completely cured, but the change in my level of functioning has been nothing short of remarkable. I sometimes stop in the middle of an activity and am struck by the wonder that I am standing without needing to sit, or that I can cook a meal and then clean up the kitchen.

For the next few posts, I plan to write a series about some natural supplements, products, gentle exercises, and diet changes that have helped me the most. I am not a doctor, and I am emphatic that I am not giving anyone medical advice. However, I will share in general what has helped me personally. My intent for this series is to share hope for healing leaky gut, along with potentially helpful ideas to discuss with your doctor.

Here is a preview of what I intend to cover in future posts:

Triggers I try to avoid:
  • mold/water damage
  • pesticides
  • herbicides
  • bug spray
  • scented candles
  • perfumes
  • air fresheners
  • scented laundry soap
  • commercial hand/body soaps
  • antibiotics
  • birth control pills
  • steroids
  • NSAIDs

Products I've added:
  • all-natural: soap, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, toothpaste, makeup, dish soap, hand soap
  • non-toxic cleaning products

Foods I try to avoid:
  • SUGAR!
  • gluten
  • dairy/lactose
  • peanuts
  • soy
  • corn
  • processed foods
  • non-organic produce, especially "the dirty dozen"
  • refined white flour
  • sweet drinks like soda, fruit juice, sweet tea
  • alcohol
  • caffeine/coffee
  • chemical additives and dyes
  • artificial sugar substitutes

Foods I've added:
  • organic vegetables (especially green ones)
  • vegetable juice/lemon and lime juice
  • extra virgin cold-pressed organic coconut oil 
  • extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
  • organic coconut milk
  • unsweetened almond milk
  • avocados
  • ginger
  • garlic
  • fresh herbs
  • wild-caught fish
  • organic eggs
  • grass-fed beef
  • organic turkey and chicken with broth
  • almond, walnut, or cashew nut butters
  • milk thistle tea, ginger/licorice tea, green Rooibos tea, Moon Cycle tea
  • almond and coconut flour
  • iodized salt
  • raw honey

Supplements that have helped:
  • olive leaf (extract, ear drops, and nasal spray)
  • oil of oregano
  • l-glutamine powder
  • fish oil
  • turmeric
  • digestive enzymes
  • probiotics
  • gelatin (still testing)
  • calcium+vitamin D
  • B-vitamins
  • vitamin C
  • whole food multivitamin

Stress-reducing techniques:
  • Bentonite clay baths
  • Epsom salt baths
  • magnesium gel
  • vitamin C lotion
  • Tai chi/qigong
  • yoga

Through all of this trial and error over the last 2.5 years, I've had some miserable failures too. I've found that certain products that helped others remarkably actually made me much worse. I've learned that certain foods I thought I could tolerate (quinoa!) actually seemed to irritate my gut. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't, so I don't consider this a comprehensive or final list. If you're particularly interested in something, please post questions or personal experiences in the comments. Additionally, please comment if you have tried something not listed that has helped you. I am always reading, researching, and looking for new ideas in my own healing process.


"He realized immediately that his power to speak on behalf of God to others in the midst of their unpleasant lives depended on his speaking from the midst of his own unpleasantness."
- Larry Crabb

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Three

"He did not attain to the three."

When I read this in the Bible the other day, it made me question how a famous, mighty, loyal warrior of David's army, would not be in an elite group of fighters called "the three." When I read it again about another mighty man of King David, the head of his bodyguard, it called my attention back to the same thought. Who are the three? Why are they set apart? I had to go back and read the names again since they were so obscure:

Josheb
Eleazar (not the priest from Moses' day)
Shammah

Do you remember them? I don't.

But what they did in their time was so remarkable that they were honored far above those who had slain lions, commanded the best, and fought off enemies in the name of God.

There are only a few lines in 2 Samuel 23 telling about each one, but when I read them, it encourages me in the midst of battles of my own to strive to be like them.

Josheb: "He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time."

For Josheb, what made him stand out was the sheer number of enemies he faced and overcame by his God-given strength. Have you ever been faced with multiple trials at one time? Or been tempted to give up? Have you felt anxiety, depression, hopelessness and fear all at once?

Eleazar: "He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword."

His achievement was fighting through extreme weariness and exhaustion. He was so committed to persevere that the cost to his hand didn't matter. Have you ever been so tired of trying to do the right thing and getting bad results that you didn't think it was worth it anymore? Ever felt like you couldn't physically move or that you emotionally had nothing left to give? Did you give anyway to someone you love despite what it cost you?

Shammah is my favorite. "The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory.

When all other warriors ran away in fear, it was Shammah who took his stand. But it's not Shammah who worked the victory. It was the Lord. Have you ever lost a relationship in your life simply because the person pulled away when you were in trouble? Or have you been someone who has tried to flee from a hard situation in fear? I've been both.

I think those of us who suffer chronic illness, repeated setbacks, monumental situational and circumstantial challenges can relate to being bombarded by adversity, fighting beyond when we are weary, and having others flee from us when times turn tough. When I look at David's mighty men, I see great sacrifice and bravery, but when I look at "the three," I see an exceptional devotion to serving God that inspires me and encourages me to keep going.

In the New Testament, when talking about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, Paul encourages us to "stand" 4 times in only four verses. He also stresses the vast number of powerful enemies we face, as well as the need for perseverance. 

Our armor as Christians consists of truth (belt), receiving total right-standing with God through Christ's removal of condemnation (breastplate), believing the gospel message (shoes), possessing faith that can deflect and disable false ideas (shield), our sure hope of being destined for heaven (helmet), and the word of God (sword). 

This armor and these three mighty men give us a physical example of a spiritual reality. It's God who accomplishes the victory, but we as servants need to arm ourselves and fight against temptation. Temptation during illness is often subtle - to try to fill my own aching needs apart from God, to turn angry at repeated disappointments and reject his plan for my life, to test God by setting conditions on my obedience or a timetable on his deliverance, or expectations on his ways of love.

So, as followers of Jesus, let's fight against the many temptations that come against us in this world, regardless of how big they seem to be or how small we feel.

Let's persevere when we're weary and not give up when we feel depleted.

And above all, let's stand our ground when we know the truth, even when others flee from us because the situation is uncomfortable. When we have stood our ground, in the end we'll see it was the Lord who worked a great victory through us.


Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:10-13

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Update

I have been blogging less mainly because I've not had much to say. I'm struggling with my own doubts and fears some days. Other days I am giving thanks for physical improvements while hoping for circumstantial improvements that just don't seem to come. My family is going through an exceptionally difficult season right now, so that is also taking up my energy and time. I am a very private person, mainly because of the stalking and harassment we've been through, so I don't share much of my day-to-day life on my blog. I prefer to keep my writing to my spiritual life, which I try to be open about.

I've been thinking for a while about sharing the natural treatments that have helped me but feel conflicted because A) I am not fully healed, just markedly improved at this point and B) I don't want to come across as giving medical advice or posting something that could harm someone else if they tried it. I've done a lot of experimentation on myself with natural supplements and diet since my medical care hasn't been much help, but I wouldn't really advise someone else do that! :)  I've made a lot of mistakes and paid for them, but ultimately, the past two years of putting myself through it has helped me come out better on the other side. God has provided miraculous healing properties in the plants he has made, and I'm trying to figure out how to use those to continue to heal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Finding words to speak

When I couldn't find the words to pray this weekend, it was such a release of pressure when this psalm spoke for me. A portion of my burden was carried to God in these words. He understands when I feel so isolated and alone. When it seems as if no one can grasp the pain lashed tight around my soul, these words unbind it, and, loosened, I sigh, feeling the relief of room to breathe, words to speak, a God who gets my grief.

Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.
 
I sink in deep mire,

    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;

    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.

Psalm 69:1-3,13

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lord, I need you.


Weary. That one word soaks through my bones sometimes. In those moments, it's as if I am a spectator, watching others live the life I want to live. I want to help people, to travel, to have a career, to have a family of my own. It's especially hard to be trapped by limitations which vary so much from day to day, even from minute to minute. The unreliability, the dependence, the weakness - it can wear on a soul that desperately wants to jump up and act.

I felt encouraged in my weakness last night as I read about David's exhausted men in 1 Samuel 30. David and 600 of his men had found their homes torched and their families and possessions stolen. When they rode off to catch the people who did it, 200 of the men were too exhausted after over 60 total miles and terrible grief to go on fighting. They stayed with the baggage while the other 400 men went with David to reclaim their people and goods.

It was when David returned, victorious and spent, that some of the men with him didn't want to share their spoil with those who'd needed to rest. David, a man after God's own heart, made clear that those who aligned themselves with him were just as deserving of the rewards as those who were stronger and capable of fighting. It was their heart attitude and their willingness to go as far as they could that mattered to David.

I think it's that way with God. When we are willing to go as far as our weariness will allow, even resting on the sidelines is a noble job. Let's not look down on those who sit and rest while the strong and healthy go out to do the more visible tasks. Just think of how abundant our reward in heaven will be, given by the same generous hand that provided for all of David's men - by the one whose power is made perfect in weakness.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hope in the Darkness

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone." Isaiah 9:2

This Christmas I spent a lot of time thinking about this painting called "Twilight in the Wilderness" by Frederic Edwin Church. It reminds me of a journey taken through uncharted land - grueling, demanding, exhausting. But then, upon reaching a precipice at just the right time, there is the most breathtaking beauty that breaks through the daunting monotony. The constant struggles with underbrush and sleepless nights fade in that moment, awash with glory.

Jesus came for us who are hurting, for us caught in the far-reaching effects of sin, addiction, and sadness.

He came first to the shepherds. They were, as Pope Francis said, "among the last, the outcast...who were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks." God chose them specifically for this extraordinary moment on the precipice, to witness his glory breaking through into our painful struggles. He came first not to kings but to those humble workers who day after day kept watch in the lonely places. Jesus came to seek those who want light more than the darkness they feel they can't escape.

If you, like the shepherds, are awake in the late night alone seeking relief, if because of pain or fear or illness or trauma or caregiving or grief you feel that the light of a Savior is a far-off, flickering flame - remember there is hope in the manger. He is the Light of the World promised to save us, and our future glorious deliverance is sure when we trust him.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5