Sunday, September 30, 2012

Be still and know...

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. ---Psalm 46:10

I have another Gator story that God is teaching me through this week...
We have a detached garage.  A breezeway separates the house from the garage and a waist-high fence/gate into the backyard runs along the breezeway.  Anytime I'm in the breezeway - sweeping, taking out trash, watering my ferns - Gator is standing on the other side of the fence yapping as loudly as he can.  It's so loud because of the echo that it actually hurts my ears.  And he won't stop.  I try and talk to him and console him.  He is trying desperately to convey something to me, to try and get me to pet him or feed him or just come into the backyard.  He's so persistent that he cannot hear any of my consolation, he can't hear me telling him that I'll be over to see him shortly.  He just keeps yapping...

And sometimes so do I.  I know that God doesn't see me as an annoying dog, but I wonder if he wishes sometimes that I would stop yapping so he could just speak to me. 

This week my friend, Summer, bought me a beautiful necklace with the inscription "Be still and know..." and she sent me the Psalm 46:10 verse in a text.  It was her gift to me as I prepare for my trip to the Mayo Clinic.  It was her text and gift that planted this seed in my mind.  God can use anything, anyone to bring us answers or point us in the right direction.  I am so thankful for His divine placement of situations and people in our lives.  I wonder how many times before I just glossed over opportunities and friends when in fact God was trying to speak to me.

I am having a terrible week.  I've been about as bad as I was 6 months ago.  I don't know what brought it on or how long it will last.  Jonathan was out of town a few days so I had to call 5 different friends to help me get kids to/from school and my faithful mom helped me each afternoon with the kids' homework, baths and supper.  I missed a work opportunity, Open House at school and Beau's football game. I will not be at Awana Parent Night on Sunday.  (But as my friend Jimmie often reminds me, I'm trying to "focus on what I can do, not what I can't.")  So, as usual during these times I asked God to reveal to me what's going on.  I realize God doesn't owe it to me but I always ask.  And he did share a glimpse through my friend... The times like this, the really bad days and weeks, allow me a chance to "be still and know."  If I were feeling better I'd probably be standing at the fence yapping.

He often plants seeds or whispers words when I'm down.  The down time allows me the chance to really focus in on the message He is sending.  It allows me a rare opportunity to marinate on His word.  When I'm lying in bed or curled up wanting to cry is often when I hear Him the most clearly.  It often brings moments of clarity for me.  So I feel like now I know when I'm not feeling well I need to get quiet and listen, to focus and meditate so that I hear His message and receive His comfort.

Of course I'm praying that I will feel better soon.  No one wants to be physically incapacitated.  But at the same time I am praying fervently that I will be still these next few weeks.  I don't hold out all hope for Mayo.  I only have hope in one thing: God's healing on His terms.  But I do hope that the Mayo trip will reveal some options and that God may be using the doctors there to bring healing.  I'm human and I want to be healed so I would be lying if I said that's not what I HOPE for... it is.  And Satan is tyring hard to convince me I will not be healed.  He keeps whispering, "There's no cure, Nicole.  There's nothing that can be done.  It's hopeless."  I found this perfect passage this week and I tailored it just for me:

Surely she will never be shaken; a righteous woman will be remembered forever.
She will have no fear of bad news; her heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
Her heart is secure, she will have no fear; in the end she will look in triumph on her vestibular problems.
--- adapted from Psalm 112:6-8

I also know that God is sovereign, that God knew about my Meniere's Disease long before I was born and  God knows the exact date and method through which healing will come.  I hate the unknown but I have comfort in a big God.  Until then, I will pray Psalm 46:10. 

Check out this beautiful song by Mercy Me - "Word of God Speak"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Beatiful Mess

I feel like I need to write a disclaimer.  I am so blessed to get so much feedback about what I write and I thank you for taking time to give me encouragement.  But I cannot take any of the credit.  God gives me the scripture, thoughts, stories, time, ability to type and create sentences... everything it takes to put messages here.  And I write about what God is TEACHING me - not what I have already learned or mastered.  Far from it, most of the time I write without having learned to apply the lessons.  I just don't want to get any of the glory from anything I write or say.  And I don't want anyone to think I have it all together.  I don't.

I used to want people to think I did.  I remember after the twins were born I took extra time and care to be sure I looked "presentable" before going anywhere.  I even spent more time on myself that pre-kids.  I didn't want to be in the grocery store and someone to think, "Whoa! Childbirth/Motherhood has NOT been kind to her."  I used to make sure every hair was in place and my kids looked like they were out of a Norman Rockwell painting before church.  But as with most families that I know, Sunday mornings were usually the times when our family was MOST at each other's throats and when we so did not have it together.  Prior to my illness I made sure I painted the perfect picture of my life.  I didn't want anyone to think that I had flaws or problems. 

I get stopped by a lot of people when I'm out walking my dog.  People usually say, "Is that a Weimeranian, I mean a Weimer-something?" They mean a weimaraner.  And I say, "No, he's a Catahoula Cur" and they say, "But he looks just like a weimaraner; he's beautiful." And I usually thank them, agree and keep walking.  He does look just like a weimaraner.  I actually wanted a weimaraner because they are so pretty.  I don't know if a weimaranar is calmer than a Cur but sometimes I wish my little maniac Cur was a weimaraner!  As I walked him one day this week it hit home... Gator looks just like something he's not.  See what you think:

Gator (Catahoula Cur)

Gator made me start thinking about how I am perceived.  Do I look like something I'm not?  I think I finally realize that being imperfect is completely normal - it's the truth, it's real.  One day I told a friend that I was God's Beautiful Mess.  I am a mess - every day.  I get mad at my husband and kids.  I am stubborn and opinionated.  I say things I shouldn't.  I judge people unfairly.  I am disobedient to God.  And I want to be sure when I write that I am being totally real.  Not just writing a story or lesson, but truly painting an accurate picture of who I am, imperfections and all.

This week I started a study about King David.  I love the paradox of David.  He's a poet/musician and a warrior.  He's a shepherd and a king.  He's a sinner and a saint.  I feel so erratic these days with my emotions.  It's comforting to open the book of Psalms and see that David, a man after God's own heart, was also extremely erratic with his thoughts, feelings and spiritual struggles.  I had a big day yesterday.  And I don't feel well today.  I went walking this morning to try and shake the cobwebs.  I told God, "I am mad at you.  Why can't I go to church with my family?  Why not give me every Sunday to feel good and not have to watch my family drive off to church without me?  Is one day a week too much to ask God?  But God, I know you have a purpose.  I know you are using this time.  I believe in Isaiah 55:8-9 and Jeremiah 29:11.  I'm sorry God, I do trust you.  I just want to feel better.  I'm sick of being sick!"  And after that little episode I thought, I am crazy... my thoughts don't even flow or make sense.  But then I realized, they make sense to God; I am his beautiful mess!

In 1 Samuel 16 God told Samuel to go and anoint King Saul's successor on the throne of Israel.  God had had it with Saul and He was going to replace him.  God sent Samuel to a man named Jesse; God intended to select one of Jesse's sons to replace Saul.  When Samuel arrived, he saw Jesse's oldest son Eliab, who must have looked "king-ly".  Samuel was ready to anoint Eliab and move on...

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  ---1 Samuel 16:7

God's not interested in whether I look like a Weimaranar or a Catahoula Cur.  He cares about what's in my bloodline.  And I surely cannot hide from him that I'm imperfect.  He knows I try and I want to be more Christlike, but He also sees me fail every single day.  And if I try to hide that from others I'm a hypocrite.  No matter what's going on - sickness, stress, kid problems, marriage problems, big decisions. I think the goal for anyone is to be the same person inside and out.  My friend was telling me last night that our college ministry at church has a shirt that says, "It's OK not to be OK."  When I first heard it, I thought, "that's a stupid thing for a shirt to say."  But the more I thought, I realized that's exactly what God is saying to me.  It is OK not to be OK.  Nobody is OK all of the time!  If they tell you they are or act like they are, they are lying.

It seems harder and harder these days too.  I have been looking for some new face soap.  Good grief!  There are ones to keep you young, to hydrate, to control shine, to slough dead skins cells, to rejuvenate, to prevent wrinkles, to erase dark circles. No wonder we're so concerned with appearances.  I want you to know I have cellulite, wrinkles and gray hair.  I'll be 40 next month (UGH!) so that probably goes without saying.  Granted, I am not about to let myself completely go... but I have found freedom in knowing that I am God's beautiful mess and that is really all that matters.  It's liberating to know that I can be me.  I am more comfortable now with myself - admitting my weaknesses and deficiencies than I have been in a long time.  I'm no where near finished or perfect, but I am so thankful that God stripped away some of my pride through this illness.  It's much harder to try and keep up appearances.  It takes a lot of work and effort.  A friend told me she was coming to see me this week.  I was having a good day but I needed a rest before she got there.  I did not care one tiny bit that it looked like a bomb had gone off in my home.  She sure didn't care.  My house wasn't filthy, it just wasn't tidy.  But the point is, it did not matter.  A year ago I would have gone nuts trying to pick up everything before she arrived - had to make everything SEEM perfect.

I pray that I will check my pride at the door every single time I write.  Please give God glory anytime you read anything from me.  Because if I have been able to write it, that's a blessing.  It means that I have fought through the beautiful mess yet again so that He could give me the words and ability.

Medical update:
Jonathan and I are heading to Mayo in less than THREE WEEKS!  I can't believe it's getting so close.  I am nervous and excited.  I have never been away from my kids this long - EVER.  I have great friends and family to care for them and I am blessed for that.  Our accommodations have been made.  All my paperwork is there.  Just waiting.  I'll write more about the actual appointments I have when time gets closer.  And I'll be writing from Minnesota with updates as we go. (It was 37 degrees there this morning!) God is working tremendously in my heart to prepare me for anything.  Anywhere from "keep doing what you're doing, because there's nothing more we can do" all the way to "we have to do brain surgery."  I wrote over 5 months ago that I was not going to proceed with brain surgery at that time but was going to try rehab.  I have been faithful with rehab since then.  It hasn't been the easiest road but I have mostly had peace that it was the right road.  Please pray that God will keep my heart open and give me complete peace about the options that we are given.  Much love and thanks for ALL of the support you give!

Last photos (just because you may need a smile):

Baby Gator!
Baby Weimaraner

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Giant

As some of you know, I'm reading my entire Bible, cover to cover.  I'm in Numbers and the Israelites just got denied entrance to the Promised Land because of their bad attitude.  I am learning so many life-lessons from these couple of chapters (Numbers 13 & 14).

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  ---Numbers 14:1-4

Here are these people who would rather choose a leader and go back to the land where they were slaves than move into a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Numbers 13:27).  We long for our former life of slavery.  I asked myself a monumentally difficult question this week: "If I could go back to a year ago and change what I've been through, would I opt out of Meniere's Disease?"  That has been an extremely thought-provoking process for me.  But when I think about the fruit it is bearing in my life, it's hard to say I would not want it.  But then there are days when I want to go back to the way things were - to my life of slavery.  A life where I always seemed to be scrambling for air.  I didn't have time for God back then (I didn't make time) but now I have an abundance of time to spend with Him.  I have gotten to know Him more intimately than I ever would have if I'd stayed a slave to my old life.  That is a very hard realization to come to and admit.  And part of my thought process has been "what if the Promised Land is another year away for me?  or 5 years?"  It's extremely difficult to fathom the answers to those questions. The Israelites struggled with it and so do I.

It's amazing how they (and I) forget that God's promises are real and trustworthy - period.  It doesn't matter if there will be a lack of meat, if there are giants or battles to fulfill His promises.  If he tells us He will do something, He's going to take care of the details - so long as we TRUST Him.  But each day we wake up and there's a new set of obstacles (or we don't feel well) and we forget that "He's got this."  The giants become bigger in our minds and He becomes smaller.  It should be the other way around - God should grow as our giants shrink.  Meniere's is my giant.  And every day I wake up and peek over the wall into the Promised Land.  And there in my Promised Land sits my Meniere's Disease.  Some days I slink back down the wall and worry about the giant.  My "giant" is formidable in my mind's eye.  Somewhere in the background is the milk and honey but I can't see it because the giant is there, looming largely and the longings for the life of slavery tug at me.

Our minds are wonderful and dangerous things.  Lydia is scared to death of a movie coming out next month:  Frankenweenie!  We talk about Frankenweenie A LOT around here (she obsesses over things she loves or things she's afraid of).  But you know what?  She knows nothing about the movie, nothing about the plot, nothing about the funny parts... she only knows about the visuals that she sees.  (And quite frankly they are a little creepy).

I've tried repeatedly to console her and tell her it's just a movie, that it's probably really cute and totally harmless.  I've tried to get her to watch a whole trailer with me instead of running and hiding when it comes on.  I've tried everything I can do to convince her that  Frankenweenie is safe.  I've asked her, "Would Mommy do anything to scare you?  Would I let anything bad happen to you? Doesn't Mommy always want the best for you?" And she always affirms that I am on her side.  But she has the idea in her head that it's scary and she wants no part of it.  Frankenweenie is a bit of a giant to Lydia these days.

Hmmmm... sounds like me and this Meniere's journey that I'm on.  I know God continually tries to comfort me and remind me that He will protect me, that He wants what's best for me and He won't let this harm me.  He asks me "Would I do anything to scare you?  Would I let anything bad happen to you? Don't I always want the best for you?" (sound familiar) but the ideas in my mind just tend to take control some days. 

And He puts milk and honey into my life every single day.  My husband, my kids, my mom, my friends, my ability to get myself out of bed, my schedule permitting me to spend a lot of time in prayer and study time, my comfortable bed and home, delicious food to eat, health insurance that covers my medical bills, the list goes on and on.

You may know what eventually happened to the Israelites who kept complaining.  Listen to what God says... 
“How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the landyou will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. 35 I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.  ---Numbers 14:27-35

Yikes!  The Israelites got their wish from verse 2.  God is MAD - sick of hearing them complain, sick of hearing them worry about his promises, sick of hearing them whine when He has the Promised Land in store for them.

Looks like I better quit my fussing and start enjoying the milk and honey in my life!  A great reminder can be found in Psalm 103:1-5...
1Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

This is easily said and hard to do.  But I am trying.  Every day.  Some days it's harder than others, but I do believe that God acknowledges our attempts and has compassion for our tries.  My new prayer each morning is "God, help me to face this giant of Meniere's Disease.  Help me remember that your promise of milk and honey is trustworthy.  Please may I not grumble against you today." 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  ---Psalm 25:16-17

It's been one of those weeks.  I've felt lonely, afflicted and in anguish as the Psalm says.  It seems "normal" days now are dizzy ones.  I don't like that.  I was so mad, sad, frustrated on Tuesday.  Lydia started back to gymnastics after taking the summer off.  I drove her there but it was all I could do to walk her in to the chaos of the facility and wait until class started so I could leave.  I was so freaked out and overstimulated.  As I stood (very anxiously) waiting for class to start one of the mom's motioned for me to sit in an empty chair beside her in the "spectator booth" and said, "Do you want to sit?"  I choked back a "No, I'm not staying."  I saw all those moms and grandparents and others sitting there and I thought, "God, why can't I even watch my little girl in her gymnastics class?  WHY????!!!!"  He didn't answer me.  Our sermon today was on contentment.  I listened from home.  I wrote in my notes:
I don't know how to be satisfied (content) with missing out on kids' activities :^(

Knowing that Mayo is 5 weeks away is making it a little tougher in some ways.  I'm not nervous or worried about the visit, just ready!  I'm so very guarded, probably to a fault, about my expectations of my trip.  I still want and pray for a miracle but then the whole "there is no cure" thing creeps back into my mind.

One area God is seriously working on me is regarding His methods and ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).  I've been pretty adamant for months that He is going to heal me, completely and divinely (for me that means no medicine or procedures, just His touch).  But this week I felt very convicted that He is God and he may in fact bring healing though doctors or medicine.  I have truly believed for months I would wake up one unsuspecting day and be healed from all my symptoms.  I have felt very strongly that nothing in this world would or could heal me.  But this week I've felt God telling me to let him be GOD!  I've put him into a little box and labeled it "My Divine Miracle"... but I now realize that he can choose any way he wants to bring about healing.  Just like someone would be short-sighted for not believing he could work a divine miracle and only depend on medicine, I have been totally in the wrong. 

I was reading in Acts 28 this week.  It's when Dr. Luke (the author of Acts) and Paul were shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  Here's an excerpt of one event:
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. ---Acts 28:7-9

It struck me as very odd that Paul would go in to see Publius' sick father.  Luke, the author of the story, was a doctor.  I thought why wouldn't the doctor go in to heal the man?  And I felt God say, "There you go, putting me and what I can do into a box again.  I can heal people through doctors or disciples or in any method that I choose.  Not only that, but after I used Paul to heal the man, others came to see him as well and I used Paul on that island to reach others."

Of course, I don't know what will happen at the Mayo Clinic.  I have no clue what the doctors will say.  They may tell me to keep doing what I'm doing with my vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) or they may tell me that the nerve section surgery is what they recommend.  At this point, as I wait (as patiently as I can) I am praying for God to keep me grounded and focused on His abilities in all things and in all ways.  I think I feel the emotions of Psalm 25 because I realize I need to be open to whatever he has in store and that may involve changing my current mentality.  It makes me very uneasy.

But it's time for me to take a limitless God out of the neat little box in which I've placed him and let His majesty be revealed.  No matter what, the glory for this journey I'm on will be His.

I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  ---Psalm 57:9

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Feet Washing

From John 13:
1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love... so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”...
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Feet Washing at our house
I'm a little quirky.  I don't like going to bed with dirty feet so I wash them (or at least wipe them down) before bed.  The other night Lydia was in the bath and I asked her if I could just stick my feet in right before she got out.  She thought that was hilarious.  She then so sweetly asked me, "Mama, can I wash your feet?"  With her sweet little 6-year-old hands she lathered up a wash cloth and gently rubbed my feet.  Then she rinsed them.  When she was done washing she said, "Mama, will you wash my feet?"  And of course, I did.  I thought of Jesus and how sweet this activity was; how there was so much more meaning to it than she could understand.

I told her that Jesus washed his disciples' feet before He died.  After the bath we got out her bible and found the story in John 13.  We also read the story in John 12 where Mary washed Jesus' feet.  Lydia found the part about Mary using her hair particularly noteworthy.  She also thought it was funny when Peter panicked and told Jesus to wash his hands and head too.  The next day she said, "Remember when that guy told Jesus to wash his whole body?" 

She enjoyed the feet washing so much that we did it the next night.  Her little hands were so loving and gentle as she washed and rinsed my feet.  She even giggled one time as she pretended to use her hair.

In the next couple of days I read about some of the other times that feet washing occurred in the New Testament (Matthew 26, Mark 14 and probably my favorite account of the prostitute washing Jesus' feet in Luke 7).  After reading I pondered and prayed.  I asked God to reveal to me the lesson I could learn from this experience and from His word.  I thought about it for a few days.  I finally felt Him tell me that I should take it for what it is.  There are so many things to learn from these episodes... and I was looking for some hidden meaning. 

Having my feet washed in such a sweet and gentle way would be exactly how Jesus would have done it.  It's an example of service, humility and grace.  Jesus tells us that we are blessed if we do these things (v. 17).  He never instructs us to do something that He hasn't done or wouldn't do.  That's the sign of a great leader - one who leads by example.  I also love what we get from the accounts of Mary and the prostitute. They used expensive perfume to lavish on Jesus.  They did not hold out on Him.  I guiltily thought about how often I give Jesus my leftovers (of my time, money, resources) instead of giving Him my best.

I love that the prostitute used her tears.  I can picture the scene - such emotion - love, joy, gratitude.  Although she had a lot of baggage and much to be ashamed of, she went without reservation.  She offered up what she could give.  I know there have been times when I've just felt too guilty or too ashamed to even pray.  Jesus loves us, flaws and all.  It's at the times of our sin when we need to approach him with humility and thanks, pouring out our tears and all we have.  If we wait until we're perfect we'll never approach Him.

It also dawned on me that Jesus would do this for ANYONE.  For a day or so whenever I thought about someone or saw someone I tried to remind myself that Jesus would have done it for that person.  It gave me a whole new perspective on things - forcing me to look at others the way Jesus would.  He would wash the feet of a homeless person just as he would a millionaire.  He would wash the feet of someone without any physical defects just as he would someone who was scarred and broken.  He would wash the feet of someone who drives me nuts or makes me mad.  His lens is so different from mine.  How different the world would be if we could always see people through his eyes.  For the times when I made the conscious effort to think about him washing a certain person's feet, I did have more compassion and feeling for them.  It was strange and such a great exercise.

I hope Lydia continues to want to do this for me and allows me to do it for her.  Just like Peter, she doesn't fully understand now what it all means, but I hope that she will keep reading her bible and one day soon she will know.