Monday, October 25, 2010

What defines me?

I am NOT my pain.

I think that one area that is easy to get sucked into while living with chronic pain or illness is the trap of thinking that our pain defines us - that our identity lies in our pain. But, I don't think this is an issue only for those of us living in chronic pain. I have mentioned before that I used to be a farmer. For five years I spent most of my time enveloped in the farming lifestyle. I wore overalls and farm dresses and straw hats. I went to meetings about farming. I took farming classes. I worked day after day in the blazzing sun or freezing rain - planting, weeding, harvesting. I LOVED to identify with fellow farmers and the community it produced. I was so proud to call myself a farmer! A couple days ago I posted about how God took us from the farm and called us to something totally different. That was just last year, but the pain that brought to me and my husband sometimes feels like a fresh wound. We miss the farm. But through this experience I have been learning an important lesson: my identity needs to rest in God alone. Last year this was even more clear as my husband and I had to step down from youth ministry which I had been doing for about 13 years. AND we had to leave our home Church, our Island, and living minutes away from much of our family. I had taken identity in all of these things and then suddenly they were all gone. I hadn't been married long, so even my new role as wife wasn't something I relied on for my identity.

Having nothing that I used to feel defined by was a scarry place. I have walked through much of this year feeling slightly lost and very lonely. When people ask me to tell them about myself I sometimes don't know what to say. We have grown up looking to things for our identity, and our culture in many ways defines who we are by what we do and our role in society. I think this is kind of a natural thing to do, but I also think it can be damaging. What happens when jobs are lost, relationships end, children grow up and leave the home, health changes, beauty fades?

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be defined by Him. I want people to see me as one who trusts and loves the Creator of the Universe. I want people to see the various roles I have and will have in my life as part of my joy as living for the glory of God no matter what I do. I want people to see my pain as a part of the life I have been given for this time, and to see that it isn't my identity - it's just part of the circumstances I live in day by day.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I wasn't the MOST social person in college. In fact at the end of my Freshman year I had one girl on my HALL say that she had never seen me outside of my room. (which isn't true I did go out ... but wasn't exactly doing what the popular kids were doing) ... During my first year I had two super close friends who I hung out with non-stop. Most of the time we were doing things like listening to music in our rooms, taking walks around the little town, reading "Little Women" together and talking about everything. Let me back-track: in high school I really didn't have a lot of friends, in fact most of the time I just hung out with my siblings (which was a ton of fun). I remember walking down the stairs when I was about 16 and hearing my mom and dad talking about how to get me to hang out with friends. I was happy being alone for the most part. I liked to cook and garden and babysit. I wasn't the cool kid into sports or fashion or - heaven forbit : BOYS - ick! So when I went to Bible college just after turning 18 I really didn't know what it was like to have close friends. Thankfully, all that changed during the first month of college. In February that year I got sick - I had always had health issues but in February I began having severe pain in my side and when I went home for spring break my mom took one look at me and said that she wasn't going to let me go back. I left my room all set up, my classes (which thankfully my professers let me take through the mail), and worst of all my two best friends. I was devastated. But I was also so sick that I knew I couldn't go back. I know that during that first surgery and time at home visiting scarry doctors that my friends kept me going through their cards (yes REAL letters not just email!), care-packages and even visits.

It's been 14 years since that first year of college. I have lost touch with most of my friends from that time. But those 2 girls that became my best friends during those college years are still precious to me. One of them just came down for a visit. She lives three hours away but she continues to drive down and spend time with me. The two of us have been through thick and thin together. Through times when we were mad at each other - but it always ends up that nothing can make us ditch the friendship. We've both had tons of surgeries and times when we had to be strong for each other. But through it all we're still there for each other and I know that we always will be.

Sometimes I get mad at myself and at my situation because of the fact that I never graduated. I sometimes feel like a failure because of that. BUT, as I sat today with one of the dearest friends I have and watched her kids play I realized that maybe God had me go to school not to get a degree and have some kind of stamp of approval on my life ... but rather to gain one of the biggest and best blessings of my life in this abiding friendship.

I guess life is like that. Sometimes what we think we want more than anything is just a roadmap to get us to where God really wants us, and for Him to give us what is more precious than what we went looking for in the first place.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Am I the answer to my parents prayers?

So often I hear people say things like: "I don't care if I have a boy, or a girl, as long as it's healthy.", or, "We just want a healthy baby." I'm not "healthy", and I have pain every day. This makes me wonder: am I the opposite of what my parents probably prayed for me?

I was suppoed to be born in October. It was a summer day in early August when my mom started having contractions and found herself in full-flung labor. daddy called his mom and said she was in labor and my Grammie said: "Oh no honey, she's not having the baby til October". But a few hours later the doctor announced: "It's a girl!" My parents, who were in Bible school with my 23 month older sister didn't have a home or money or health insurance. In 1978 the over $6,000 hospital bills to keep me in an incubator and feed me with a tube were stagering. They had to set up payment plans to cover the bills. I am sure that as they were holding this tiny baby they were scarred. I could have had a lot of health issues as a baby - but nothing really serious showed up - but I never was the healthy kid - plagued with asthma, eczema, allergies and then pain from when I was 11 on. I still wonder if being 2 months early had anything to do with my poor immune system and issues - but I guess we will never know.

I'm glad that I lived. It hasn't been easy being sick my whole life. It hasn't been easy on my parents, or my entire family and friends. But I trust a God who uses and redeems even the hard parts of life. Nothing needs to be wasted - even the pain.

I pray for our future children. My husband and I long for the day God will put a baby in our arms. I pray for health - but in the same breath I pray that God will give us the children that we need and we will be the parents that they need - healthy or not. Every one of us on this planet is going to suffer. God give us the grace and faith to be all that He wants us to be in whatever suffering we endure and may it all be for His glory.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gratitude, Nichole Nordeman

Maybe not - not today ...

Often we think we know just what we need. We cry out to God begging Him to answer our cries for this thing we know that we need. I used to work at my husband's family farm. Out in a field weeding rows upon rows of baby crops I would cry out to God to bless this crop - bring in money that we desperately needed. Sometimes God would answer according to what I asked and we would praise God for listening to our prayers and giving us what we needed. Customers would pour into our little shop and purchase everything in sight. Covered with dust from the field, muscles aching from hours of hard work we felt that God loved us and we felt His smile on our labors.

Last year, my husband and I prayed hard that God would financially bless the farm so that we could make a living as newlyweds. We wanted to stay there. We longed to see His face in our daily work. We waited. We cried out to Him. Then, I got sicker right after our wedding. Finances dropped from the previous year, but still we prayed. It got to the point that I couldn't work really at all. I felt so guilty for leaving the rest of the crew to do my share - but there was nothing I could do about it. I sat at home on the couch praying that God would heal me and let me go back to the fields that I loved. I missed working beside my husband. But God said no. Finally, when we had prayed all winter spring and summer for God to show us what to do and provide finances for us to know we could continue, in the fall we had our answer. My husband had to work elsewhere again - and God provided enough work and free housing to get us through the winter, but barely. We had put out our fleece and God had answered for us. It wasn't the answer we were comfortable with. But we knew without a doubt that it was the answer - and we were comfortable knowing that. My husband felt God's clear call for him to get more schooling to pursue our dream of missions - a dream I thought would involve the farm. God made it clear in many ways - most of which were incredibly painful, that it was time for us to step away from the farm, and to move off the Island that we loved.

Now we're living in a basement apartment which is plagued with spiders - BIG fat spiders which make me gasp when I see them. Our flooring is crumbling under our feet and it's FREEZING down here. Did God lead us here? We feel certain of it. Is it easy or comfortable? Definitely not. We hear news of the family farm continuing on and changing. We see our fingerprints fading away and it brings tears to our eyes. We miss those sun-filled days on the farm gathering arm-fulls of flowers and summer squash. But we know that this is where God has put us for this time. Will God ever give back farming to us? We pray He will, someday, somewhere. Did He take it from us because it was an idol in our hearts? Possibly. We certainly have seen things with different eyes since stepping away. At times we miss it with every breath... and in the same breath we trust Him to answer according to what is really needed.

"We'll give thanks to You - with gratitude, for lessons learned in how to trust in You." ... Nicole Nordemen - listen to the link to her song which probably expresses what I am trying to say better than I have ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Old Fashioned Faith

Tonight I sat across from a 97 year old man who has the faith and obedience I long to have. He had been a missionary in China back in the 1930s-1950s when mission work involved leaving everything you have and going to a country with little amenities, no computers or phones for fast communication, no health insurance, no chance of getting home for YEARS. His first term was 9 years. He went as an unmarried man and while there met a single missionary woman who had gone into the country believing she would never get married - and they married in China and raised children who also gave their lives to service of God and the world in need. He was often without any communication with anyone who spoke English - had to learn Mandarin, was called upon to do things like tooth extractions and medical care (without any training) walk through snow covered mountains in Tibet without just wool socks and sandles ... He HAD to depend on God to get him through. What an example of old fashioned faith that I fear is too lacking in our modern world of conveinience and selfishness.

I want to be like that. I want to follow God with all that I am no matter what the cost. I want to believe that God can use me weak as I may be, for His glory and perpose in the world. I want to be different.

I feel like this culture that we live in (or I live in at least) is full of ways to ignore God. We have so much at our fingertips: instant gratification on every level. If we want to eat we have a million options which involve no work (and often no nutrients). If we want entertainment it's there for the asking - often in forms that we would be embaraced to have God looking over our shoulder (but isn't He always there?). If we want people to talk to we don't even have to be in the same room - or state or country, we have Skype, facebook, email, telephones ... we can turn to people faster than we would think of turning to God. Education? Get a loan - everybody does! Need a new car? Get one. Don't have money for groceries? Don't bother asking God! (I know I am stepping on toes here - and I'm just trying to figure all this out myself) I feel that we as a nation - a modern world in fact, have done so much that makes it easy to push God out of our everyday lives. Talking to God doesn't take on the importance in many of our lives that it should - that it did for men like this 96 year old I met tonight.

Then he prayed: he prayed for me. He prayed for my husband. He prayed for my health. He prayed for my husband dealing with my health. He prayed for our marriage - for our ministry - for God to bless and use us in this world for God's glory. His prayer wasn't fancy or pretentious, it was real and by the way he talked to God you could tell that talking to God is something he's done a lot of in the past 96 years.

I want to have that kind of relationship with God when I'm 96. I want the kind of faith that surpasses generations and is untouched and unwavering in a culture that temps so many of faith to depend on anything other than God. I want to look back on my life and see without a doubt God's smile.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Overachievers Beware!

I realized that I was a classic overachiever when I went to college and tried to add 3 extra classes on top of full time credits, while being a college RA and working as the "deli girl" in the cafeteria. Seems odd that it took that long for me to realize it when I was known for reading entire EXTRA textbooks in economics, science, history and doing EXTRA assignments just for the fun of it in high school. I also clearly remember making about 100 muffins one day around the same time just because I wanted to freeze them and was experimenting with new flavors (almond chocolate bran anyone?) ... oh and the fact that I had 6 siblings who devoured everything the minute I baked it may have also encouraged this massive muffing making memory!

Anyway, all this to say that I am an overachiever. Yesterday I got mad at my husband for leaving a string cheese sitting half-eaten on the coffee table - and went into my classic dialogue which sounded like this: "I feel like a maid and all I do is cook and clean (content subtracted to protect my self-image here - but basically I am not proud of how upset I got over this piece of cheese!) To which my husband said something to the effect that I am OCD. Which may be true. Mostly I just hate mess and part of that is that I never know when I will be incapacitated by my health and I hate looking at a mess while I am laying around in pain. This meltdown was also on the day when I was throwing a double baby shower for two of my sister-in-laws, which I decided I needed to make two cakes, bring all the decorations, games, tea, while making "Labor Survival Kits" for both sisters which included hand sewn baby booties! Thankfully my sister and mom were helping and I didn't have to being extra food. Oh and did I mention that it has been an epic week in the world of my odd jobs which I do from home?

ALL this to say that God has been trying to get my attention for years and make me slow down. Odviously, I haven't quite mastered the art of slowing down. During my college experience with the extra credits (I was trying desperately to graduate which never happened), I became extreamly sick and had to drop the 3 extra classes. I should have learned the lesson then. I have an unfinished degree to remind me. But somehow I always find myself in this same possition of trying to do so much around the house and trying to throw great parties for people that I love etc ... when will I learn to pace myself? I don't know if I am alone in this feeling of needing to do everything NOW - I feel like my time is often taken from me by sickness and so I want to have everything done which always falls short.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Assuming we know better than God

Someone said something to me today which has created quite an internal dialogue ever since. I know that this person didn't mean it the way it came out- but this is what was said: "God just needs to heal your body!"


I realize that this person cares about me and is just concerned with my never-ending physical suffering and just wants to see it relieved. I want to see it relieved too - very much in fact! But, this comment - and a million like it, remind me that we as humans can often assume we know what is best. We know what God should do! Since I have a firm belief in God I honestly find this confusing. How can we know what is best - how can we pretend to see the future and know what God should or should not do? We are humans - the creation - God is GOD the Creator.

In the book of Job a lot of these questions come up and the final argument that God gives to Job involves an in-depth look at creation and how the earth and all that is in it works - "where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth"(Job 38:4) ... for over 100 verses God explains to Job that He is GOD and that Job cannot even conprehend let alone judge the ways and wisdom of God. Finally in chapter 42 Job responds in humility and submission: "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted, who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declaired that which I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, now I will speak: I will ask You ,and You will instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:106)

There are times when I am angry and fed up with physical pain. There are times when I argue with God. But every single time it comes back to this truth: God is GOD. I am NOT. And I fall in submission and worship of a God who is powerful enough to heal - but also powerful enough to work good out of pain. He knows best.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pushing through

The past few days I have been far beyond tired - yesterday my rhumatologist said that it is likely a folic acid deficiency caused by one of my meds which I am on the maximum dose. It's hard enough to function when in pain all the time, but adding this extreme fatigue (which I already have continual fatigue) is just over the top.

Last night my husband wanted to go to Mission Fest Seattle - and I had been laying low as much as possible all day feeling horrible. But I decided that it was important to go and be a support since we both dream of missions working with orphans someday. I could hardly sit through the session I was so tired and in so much pain. But I realized that it was important for me to be there and so I pushed through it. There were moments in the 1.5 hour session that I thought I just couldn't stand another moment of this pain. But I just go through it somehow. I rubbed my arm and hand to distract my brain from going crazy with the pain .. and I made it through. After the session we walked around and looked at the displays featuring various ministries and mission organizations. We ran into a few friends who we had to catch up with and talked with a lot of people. And I left happy that I had gone. I could have missed it and there are times when it is just impossible to get out - but I am happy that I made it through and my heart was happy to have gone.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The unknown

"It's HUGE" .... not exactly the words that you want to hear coming out of your husband's mouth in regards to your hip! ... But it's true.
My left hip is 2-4 inches bigger than the right one. This happened 2 months ago and I was down for over a week with severe hip pain - I had had hip pain for over 2 years now but I just went about my life because I figured it wasn't too bad - at least it wasn't as painful as other things ...

So, 2 months ago I had a cortisone injection into the hip joint - and it seemed to really help - not totally but I could get off my face and my makeshift bed on the living room floor. Now for the last 5 days it has been acting up again and is; "HUGE" again. Tomorrow I go yet .. AGAIN to my rhumatologist to ask what else we can do - at this point I am ready to have my hip removed if it came to that - it is so painful and nothing takes it away. I also have realized lately that my body is going haywire again, and I dread going to the doctor tomorrow because it just feels it never ends and I am sure he is tired of it by now - I know I sure am ....

I don't know what the doc will say tomorrow - he may have nothing to say. He may have a new doc for me to try out - he may have new meds he may have more tests. Some of you may know your diagnosis - you may have an answer but for me I have some clear diagnosis but no answer for why all of these things have been attacking my body and then there are the total mystery things like my huge hip. I think that the unknown is the worst part. Not knowing what all this means, if I have to endure this pain forever - if it will get worse - if it will spread (which kinda makes me laugh thinking of my entire body being big and fat like this silly hip!)? I sometimes don't know how to handle it - but then I remember that I have a God who loves me and that HE KNOWS. I may feel covered with clouds and questions (and people who judge me and my health and spread rumors about me which is ever so helpful) -- but God sees it all and He knows what is going on at the root of all my physical pain. And what is even more comforting is that He also knows what is best for me. He loves me. I can rest trusting in Him.

What a relief!