Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Diagnosis...Part 1

July 2017.

I'd been feeling a lot of tingling, and some numbness, and I'd fallen a couple times (which I attributed to the shoes I'd been wearing, which I promptly threw away). Along with that, my gallbladder gave up on life so as my doctor referred me to an internal surgeon for the gallbladder and told me to go fat-free for a couple months, she also ordered some lab work and threw in a referral to a neurologist, just for fun. Okay, I'm already trying to sell my house in Washington, find a new house in Oregon, and get our family packed and ready for the move...what's a few doctor appointments thrown in?

September 2017.

After the gallbladder removal, and a result of practically negative levels of vitamin D in my body, and a few MRI's, I met again with the neurologist. Diagnosis: Hepatic Demyelinating Disease, resulting in "innumerable lesions" on the cervical and upper thoracic spinal cord. Translation: I have Multiple Sclerosis. The news came one week before we were to move out of state.

I'm 40. I have three kids aged 13, 11 and 8. My husband and I are moving to Oregon for the purpose of re-planting a church, and having spent most of my career in nonprofit administration and management, I have a pretty significant role to play in this journey. And this is the point in my life when I'm told I now have a medical condition which results in extreme fatigue, parts of the body (including the brain) not working properly, and chronic nerve pain. And it's all exacerbated by heat and stress. Well, it's a good thing I don't live in Arizona! However, a ministry life is not always peaches and sunshine. Stress kinda comes with the job sometimes.

I'll be honest: I had a little emotional breakdown before the diagnosis, when through researching my symptoms the Lord spoke to my heart that the result would be MS. Of course, the inevitable questions: Why? Why me? Why now? Why would God let this happen when we are in the midst of pouring our lives out for His glory? And one part of me wants to say "It's an attack of the enemy! It's Satan's work! He came to steal my health, kill my body and destroy my life! He's trying to stop our ministry! I won't accept it!" It could be true. Just look at Job - that was exactly his story, and he persevered through the pain and loss, and was rewarded by God for his faithfulness, to even greater blessing than he had before his trials.

Sometimes that happens. And I'm not going to close the door in my heart to that hope. But I'm also not going to spend all my waking hours assuming that I am just having a Job experience, and that someday it'll all go away. I don't have the energy to be that girl.

Besides, what if it's not an attack of the enemy? What if it's deserved judgment for sin in my life? God is merciful and loving, but He's also righteous and just. He can't abide sin. He requires holiness from his people. I may not be the same lewd, loose party animal that I was in college but since committing my life to Christ 20 years ago, I'm still certainly no angel! But I know that perfection is not required of me, just a tender and humble heart before the Lord. A willingness to accept His will over mine in any situation, and a daily living, breathing relationship with Him. I got that. I learned long ago that my doing my will and 'following my heart' only leads me astray. I love Jesus more every day, so I don't think this is a consequence of sin.

But I'll continue to pray Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! 
Try me and know my every thought! 
See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in your everlasting way!

I'll pray that every day, and just as Job did, I'll continue trying to mentally process what I'm going through and all the questions that come with it, while not blaming God. This could be an attack, or it could be a consequence. There is one other alternative, though, the thought of which wrings my heart out and drops it to the ground, but which I must consider with all humility and seriousness...

...To be Continued...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

His Path is Love

Psalm 25 is one cool piece of literature because there is much more there than meets the eye! How do I know? Because the footnote in my Bible tells me that in the original language in which this poem was written (Hebrew), the poem is an acrostic - meaning each verse begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Our eleven-year-old son recently crafted something similar for his Dad - an acrostic not based on the alphabet but on the worth "Father", and he used qualities he sees in his Dad:

  • Faithful
  • Advice-giver
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Even better than Nutella (which, if you know our son, is saying quite a lot!)
  • Reads me stories every night

How sweet is that? I just had to share because it was so cute. Back to David's acrostic though, in this poem he's mainly asking God to teach him about His ways, to show him His paths. David wants to go where God goes and walk how God walks. Look at verses 4-5:

Make me to know your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

I think David must have started learning about God's paths after waiting "all the day long" because just a few verses later, in verse 10 he says:

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Do you know what that means? It means that for those of us who are faithful to Him and following the paths He lays out for us, ALL our paths will always be saturated with God's love and faithfulness.  The image that brought to my mind is one our family sees often when we head to the Oregon Coast: hearts drawn in the sand, and maybe some initials or names: D & A Forever. I'm reminded that Jesus draws those hearts in the sand for us. He leaves little reminders along our path of his never-ending adoration of us.

I want to follow His path - His plan for my every day. Because I want to seek Him and know Him better, and the outfall of that will be that I get to experience His love and steadfastness always.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Delusions of Angelic Grandeur

Psalm 18 is a beautiful and very poetic song written by David, praising God for rescuing him from all his enemies, including Saul. What I tripped up over though, was David's apparent ideas about WHY the Lord rescued him. Take a look at verses 20-24:

The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me. 
I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt. 
So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that maybe David is being a little delusional here? Dealing with some denial maybe? I mean, how many of us get saved from certain death, say in an illness or a car accident and immediately say "Yep! It's because I'm so Righteous! Thank you, ME!" Haha - no. Does God save us because we are righteous? When the Bible tells us with all certainty that all of us are in a fallen state - there is none that is righteous, no not one.

God saves us out of our wretchedness because of His great mercy. In pondering what caused David to write such statements, I have wondered if perhaps David, at this point in his life, only saw God as a 'just' god. Which He is, but if we believe He only allows harm to come to the wicked, and always rewards the righteous, I know I for one would have No Hope. I have no delusions of angelic grandeur resting on my head! I have no halo, and I am not blameless! None of us are.

But praise God for how He describes himself in Exodus 34:6: "The Lord, the Lord, a god merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..." That's the God we serve - one who loves and saves us despite our mess-ups and inadequacies.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Leanin' On The Everlasting Arms

Psalm 16, Verses 8-9 says:
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad,
my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.

Have you ever read something so many times, that it just becomes words on a page rather than sparking any light of understanding in your brain? Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You learn it as a kid, you say it until you have it memorized, but you don't really know what it means. And then one day you become a parent and you're helping your kid memorize it and suddenly you realize what you're actually pledging allegiance to, and what exactly that phrase means.

This verse had become like that pledge in my mind. "I have set the Lord always before me..." Yep, I set him right down on that imaginary pedestal in front of me and like the monks of old, I prostrated myself (laid down flat on my face) in my mind and my will, worshipping the almighty God sitting on the pedestal in front me...Wait a minute, that's not right! He's not a little statue that I carry around in my pocket and rub when I need a miracle! I re-read this scripture recently and was struck at how I'd been reading it wrong all this time.

The first phrase says "I have set the Lord always before me" but it's immediately followed by the statement that "he is at my right hand..." - how can that be? How can he be "set before" me and yet right beside me? Because in this instance, 'to set before oneself' means 'to give higher priority to'. He is not a statue on a shelf in front of me, He's my Lord and I must choose daily to give His will priority over my own.

Now, there are times when we would say that He goes before us - He leads the way and our job is simply to follow and obey. But there are other times when we are not strong enough to simply follow unaided. In those times, in my life, I've found that God steps back to walk beside us - "at my right hand" - he takes our hand to steady us, to give us strength and courage, and walks WITH us.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Lord is my Fried Chicken

Psalm 16, Verses 5-6 says:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

As I read this, I found myself pausing over the word portion. I've worked in the food service industry. Portion is a word that gets used a lot. In my particular restaurant, we sold 'portion cups' full of hot creamy melted "cheddar" for 25 cents - perfect for dipping those seasoned curly fries in. I can taste them right now...going right to my thighs. I digress. Nowadays, the word portion makes me think more of a bucket of fried chicken - which portion do you like best? I'm a white meat kind of girl. My kids, on the other hand, love those drumsticks. They would fight to the death for the last drumstick.

Speaking of my kids, if you talk to them about a portion they might think about maple bars. You see, every once in awhile we'll get maple bar from the doughnut display case at the local grocery store. Just one. How many kids do I have? Three. Yep, they get to share that maple bar. I am firm believer that a maple bar is just too much doughnut for any one child to be entrusted with. So they share. And we have a system in our family for ensuring that the maple bar is evenly distributed. Child #1 cuts the bar into three pieces. Child #2 gets first pick, Child #3 gets second pick, and Child #1 gets the piece that is left over. I'll tell you what, you have NEVER seen such exactly identical portions of a maple bar! No one section is even a millimeter longer than any other!

At the time in which David was composing his Psalms, though, and as indicated in verse 6 above, a very significant meaning of the word portion had to do with the land. The Lord had brought his people Israel into the land He had promised them, and when He did so, the twelve tribes of Israel had to divide the land among them. Each tribe (except the priestly Levitical tribe - Levi) received a portion of the land as their inheritance from the Lord.

With that terminology in mind, look again at what David says: The LORD is my chosen portion. David says, "Land? Who cares about land. Land changes hands all the time and it can be devastated in an instant. Ya'll can HAVE your land. All I want is the LORD." I can say the same: All I want is Jesus! Look what else David says though: The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. What? The Lord is my cup? What is that supposed to mean? So, if I dig the Seahawks, should I go around saying, "Bro, the Seahawks are my CUP." Huh? Um, no.

In Biblical poetry, to say that someone or something is your cup, is to say that it's your condition in life, your lot, the hand you've been dealt. So it's like saying "Jesus is the hand I've been dealt in life." Whoa! Think about that - really, what more could you want?! You see, we're all dealt a hand of cards to play in the game of life, and if we don't see God in it, we often don't see how we can possibly win with what we've got. We think we've got a losing hand. If, however, we see God's hand in our hand, well then, we know that with Him, all things are possible. It doesn't matter how bad of a hand we've been dealt, with Jesus, we can win!

If we choose the Lord as our portion, and let his hand be our guide, we'll see the boundary lines of our lives encompass a beautiful inheritance, which isn't always found only on Earth. It's heaven. For eternity.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Don't Just Count Your Blessings, RE-Count Them!

Psalm 9, Verse 1 says:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

It's so easy, isn't it, to get caught up in the struggles of life?
The disappointments.
The dashed hopes.
The shattered dreams.
Or just the little frustrations and irritations that come day to day. I think frustrations are like the little foxes the Bible talks about - little foxes that sneak into the vineyard to steal the grapes. These little irritations are like little foxes that try to steal our joy.

You know, things like the negative work atmosphere, or the family drama, health issues, or bad customer service...But what does David say here? David says 'I will RE-COUNT all of God's wonderful deeds' - His blessings.

Demetrius and I went for a little drive up the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge this fall, in the midst of a LITERAL storm - lightning streaking across the sky, booming thunder, and a torrential downpour. We were driving in this weather, on a twisty two-lane road on the edge of a cliff towering hundreds of feet above the roaring Columbia River, it was more than a little frightening and we even pulled to the side of the road once or twice when the rain was falling so hard the windshield wipers couldn't keep up!

Truly, we were driving just fine at a sensible speed, but the people who I assume live in that area and are more familiar with all the twists and turns in the road, were riding our tail like horseflies. That, on top of the unfamiliar terrain and the rushing river and the torrential rain, was too stressful so we pulled over to let them PASS!

It can be really tempting in circumstances like that to venture into this little area called Road Rage, but we were so engrossed in a conversation in which we were talking about how God has perfectly placed every little stepping stone in our path over the last 10 years or so, we were not bothered by the rain or the other drivers in the least. We were recalling how, for a lot of years we were really focused on the ground, going "What's our next step?" like we were walking in the dark, and couldn't see what was ahead. But we had fun talking through - RECOUNTING - how in the perfect timing, God has always provided the next step for us. And each little stepping stone that He placed and illuminated in our darkened path was a blessing. It was a step forward. It was a promise that He would direct our path, and not let us stumble even though we felt like we were walking in the dark. It was one more question answered. And it's hard to focus on the negative when your mind is thinking back and re-counting the positives.

I think David's habit of not just counting, but re-counting again and again God's blessings in his life helped him to not get so bent out of shape by the little frustrations. Bringing to mind God's amazing work helps us to maintain an attitude of gratitude. And doing so with a friend or loved one who knows what you've been through, or has gone through it with you, helps to grow both of your faith, and strengthens your relationship with each other. Try it! Have coffee or a phone call with someone this week who has seen you through both ups and downs, and let the focus of the conversation be to recount the BLESSINGS. See if remembering His gifts in your life doesn't give you strength and encouragement to keep going!

So that as David does in Verse 1, we can give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart. And then we, along with David, can say as he says in Verse 2:

I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your Name, Oh Most High!

Monday, January 2, 2017

For the Grieving

Psalm 6 is a psalm of David, and as such, it, as many of David's psalms, traverses an array of emotions. I was struck especially when I reached verse 6:

I am weary with my moaning, 
Every night I flood my bed with tears, 
I drench my couch with weeping. 

Listen to the language David uses - he's not just 'sad' - he is FLOODING his bed with TEARS, his couch is DRENCHED with weeping. He's been so miserable for so long he has reached the point of emotional exhaustion. How many of us have been in David's shoes here? We've been through times that were so difficult, so painful that all we could do was lay down and cry ourselves to sleep. And in those times when we were so desperate for an answer, a solution, a way many of us have cried out to God, asking....WHY? WHEN? HOW? .... and how many times, in that moment when we cried out to God, did we not get an answer?

Have you been there? I've been there. We don't always get an answer right when we want it, do we? But I have found, in that moment, is when I have the unique gift of an opportunity to grow my faith. Because in that moment when I am not getting an answer from God, I can start to listen to the lies of the enemy. He whispers to us 'God doesn't care.' 'You're not worth His time.' 'You're not worth His love.' But these are LIES. And David knows it! He shows us how to respond to those lies from the enemy that would try to steal our joy and kill our hope. Listen to how David addresses the enemy in verse 8:

Depart from me all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 
The Lord has heard my plea, The Lord accepts my prayer.

He accepts your prayer. He hears your weeping. Have you ever experienced that type of misery that reveals to you your loneliness? When you're crying in your car or your office or your room, and suddenly a little part of your heart wishes that someone knew? Wishes that someone would walk in and see your pain and want to comfort you? Friend, you are not alone. You are not unknown. And your tears are collected, one by one, and stored by your Creator because you are that precious to Him. Why does He allow pain, then? Good question. And I think the answer is different for everyone, in every situation. But I believe one part of the answer always remains the same: because He hopes your pain will cause you to reach out to Him for hope and healing. He may not answer your prayer in that moment, but He does hear and He does accept! He loves and He cares, and that is a God worth putting our faith in. Worth trusting even when we don't have all the answers. Let's turn a deaf ear to the lies of the enemy and put our hope in Jesus.

Pray for Your Enemies...Not Like That Though!

Psalm 5 is a fairly classic Psalm of David in structure and theme. He starts out praying to the LORD, groaning and crying to God:

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God,  for to you do I pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. 
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 
You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. 

Then in verse 7 David takes this posture of humility before God and says:

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. 
I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. 
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; 
make your way straight before me. 

Then from this same humble and contrite spirit (do you hear my sarcasm?) David begins to pray for his enemies:

For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; 
their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. 
Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; 
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. 

Well then! You sorta get a picture of David standing there with his hands on his hips, frowning toward heaven as he complains to God of how his enemies are such beasts. Seriously, David? I combat this attitude in my 8-year-old daily, when his brother breaks his Lego creation *again*. Seriously, David?

Now, we do know that Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. But something tells me that David's type of prayer here is NOT a great example for us in that! Ha! But what I love about David's psalms is that he's really good at laying out his frustration before God, and then stepping back, and raising his eyes to heaven, and giving the results of his trials to God, and choosing to praise Him in all things. Listen how he ends this Psalm:

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, 
and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. 
For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield. 

Let us ever rejoice, sing for joy, and exult in the Name above all names. Even when our friend, co-worker or sibling is being a brat. Amen!