Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Great Pumpkin

This week we undertook pumpkin carving at our house - the twins' first time.  I haven't carved a pumpkin since I was a child and forgot (or never got involved in) the hard work that it requires.  And of course, God used something as off-the-wall as pumpkin carving to teach me about what He's doing in my life.

You see, gutting the pumpkin is essential before it can be carved.  The very first step is making a hole in the top of the pumpkin; this requires cutting through the skin (if that is what the outer layer is even called) and the guts all at the same time.  Once the hole is cut, you pry the top off, ripping out pumpkin innards in the process.  Then you have to remove all the goo, strings, seeds and guts.  It takes scoop after scoop to get all of that out.  And then there is still work to do... you have to scrape the inside shell of the pumpkin to get it smooth and remove all of the actual pumpkin!  And each time you scrape some away, more strings and pumpkin guts appear.  It's layer after layer of removal until you get to the smooth inside.  (You get where I'm going with this right?) 

God's been gutting me like a pumpkin!  And He's down to those final layers trying to smooth me out.  First came the most painful part - removing the very first part of me - cutting through the tough skin and the guts all at the same time and then prying it away from me.  Then the tedious job of removing the squishy, easy-to-reach guts and finally, the scraping and refining. 

I agree with Lydia - pumpkin carving stinks!
I feel confident that the most painful, gut-wrenching parts are behind me and I'm onto the smoothing.  For example, I asked this week for Him to show me things I still need to work on.  And He convicted to put away my cell phone when my kids get home from school.  They need my undivided attention and reading texts during that time is not giving them that.  I have all day to text and respond.  They deserve a couple of hours of dedicated focus.  It's not a sin to read texts with kids around and I didn't do it excessively and that's not what God was saying; but that's just one little thing I feel like I can do to make improvements in my life and my children's lives.  Another area was resting.  I have NEVER in my life been one to rest - EVER.  If I wasn't at 110 mph then I felt like I was standing still.  But I realize now that I have to rest, we all do.  He built rest into our make-up.  It's ok to take a moment and regroup and recharge.  I'm better off for it and He is showing me that, without guilt and without anxiety.

Back to our pumpkins... once we had the inside smooth and clear, the kids got to create some great designs for all to see.  They meticulously worked on those pumpkins to make a cute kitty cat and a Saints fleur-de-lis. 

And that's where God is going next too.  He'll finish me off with a beautiful "design" for all to see.  A mark of one who has been gutted.  I know friends who show beautiful markings with their lives and I know the experiences they've gone through that left them empty, able to be a blank canvas for God's intricate handiwork.  When I meet people in the future who wear a beautiful design on their lives I will know that they have gone through the painful gut-wrenching process of being carved out!  What a great opportunity to show God's love and grace to the world.

Deuteronomy 8:2-10
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Medical News
I haven't had a great week.  I've been really dizzy, rocky and groggy.  I'm pretty sure it's my body adjusting to the medicine (or maybe it was turning 40???).  A friend who has taken Zoloft and my pharmacist friend both confirmed that it will take 2 weeks to get the chemicals in my brain "normalized" and used to taking it and then it should all even out.  So, I'm about 3/4 of the way there!  Please keep praying.  I still have weeks/months to go and I am asking to be prayed ALL the way through this.  I'm asking because I would not have gotten this far without all of your prayer and support.  I sincerely thank you!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Promised Land

I'm settling back into "post-Mayo" life and trying to take it all in stride.  Hopefully I can get back to sharing life lessons that God is teaching me.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am reading my bible cover to cover.  I don’t have a date set to finish this because I don’t want to rush and I don’t want to read a passage just so I’m on my schedule.  I have finished the first 6 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua.  At the end of Deuteronomy, sweet Moses, whom I grew to love more as I read more, died.  I struggled with why Moses died when he did and why God denied him entry into the promised land because of one act of disobedience (Numbers 20:1-13).

I prayed several times for God to help me understand why he would not allow Moses to go with his people to the promised land.  And I feel like He gave me a different lens through which to look at it.  A few of the high points:
1) Moses left this earth at the perfect time, whether he had crossed the Jordan or not.  God did take Moses to the top of Mount Nebo and from there Moses could see the whole land before his death (Deuteronomy 34:1-4).  He was far from the "valley" at death, he was at the top of the mountain, as spiritually close as he could be on this earth to God.  It seems as though he died peacefully and that it was just his time. He was 120 years old but "his eyes were not weak not his strength gone (34:7)."  And then God buried Moses and I picture it as a sweet, intimate burial where God himself took care of the details with the utmost care (34:6).  God loved and trusted Moses and cared deeply for him.  In Numbers 12:6-8 God said about Moses: “Listen to my words:  When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.  But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord."

2) Moses was spared from more heartache and disaster.  I just read the introduction to Judges today so I don’t know the details about what happens when the Israelites settle in the promised land, but I know that they will become rebellious and God will get angry with them (Deuteronomy 31:16-18).  I know that they will be in battle for 7 years with the inhabitants of the land before they divide it amongst the tribes.  So God spared Moses from years of battle and watching the disaster of the rebellious people happen.  God kept Moses from his wrath toward his people.  As so often happens in my life, God saves me from the greater disaster, of which I am usually completely oblivious.

All of this has gotten me thinking about my wandering in the wilderness this past year.  I keep referring to the promised land as the day that I am able to fully be a wife, mom, servant, churchmember, etc. again.  But I am short-sightedly thinking only of my time on earth.  God is much more concerned with getting me prepared for the ultimate Promised Land, something much better and sweeter than anything here on earth.  I’m not being dramatic thinking I’m about to die, just realizing that God’s focus is much more on what I’m doing for Him in the bigger picture. 

It brings a verse that I used to struggle with into more light:

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
            All my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O 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 desires with good things
            So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
---Psalm 103:1-5

I always wondered why this passage says he heals ALL disease.  People die every day from disease, some people live with disease until the day they die, so how is it he heals all disease?  I now realize that healing may not come in this life.  The healing may be when we get to heaven.  It’s hard to look at things through God’s perspective… he’s infinite; we’re finite.  He’s all-knowing; we’re a-teeny-tiny-bit-knowing.  He doesn’t keep time; we live by clocks and calendars.  I was journaling and praying the other day and telling God that it’s been a year since I’ve felt good or had any relief.  I felt him reply, “But a year to me is the blink of an eye – nothing.”

My friend, Melonie, recently bought me the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It’s a short daily devotional and a wonderful read!  On October 6 the author described an experience where God takes us to the mountain-top, just to be alone with Him, soaking in His presence and enjoying all He has to offer.  She concludes with, “Give yourself fully to these Glory-moments, awash in dazzling light.  I will eventually lead you down the mountain, back into community with others.  Let My Light continue to shine within you as you walk among people again.”  As I read I felt God flip the message for me.  He described the same feelings, but from the valley perspective.  “Nicole, give yourself fully to these gut-wrenching-clinging-to-Me-moments, awash in pain and suffering.  I will eventually lead you UP the mountain, back into community with others.  Let My Light continue to shine within you as you walk among people again.”  Same message but a different perspective.  He can use mountain-top experiences as much as He can valley experiences to make us into the children He wants us to be.

I am so focused on my little earthly promised land, my victory over Meniere’s Disease and my newly-diagnosed CSD and the altered life it has brought to me and my family.  I must remember that God IS in control, even in the valley.  And when I don’t understand why each day I wake up and He hasn’t healed me, that’s His plan.  I still believe He will lead me to a place of functionality before I leave this earth.  I don’t think it’s His plan to let me die this way.  But had I not had this wilderness experience, I never, ever would have taken (or been given) the opportunity to view things through this different lens.  I may never have felt convicted to read my bible cover to cover, may never had read the story of Moses from start to finish, may never have realized that wandering in the wilderness brings greater rewards than my human mind can comprehend, may never have been broken and emptied out so that God could restock me with His ways and thoughts and aspirations.  Sure, it would have been a comfortable life without Meniere’s and CSD, but unbeknownst to me, it also would have been a life of slavery.

Medical News
I started my Zoloft last week.  I’m not sure of any side-effects yet because I’ve had something viral going on (at least I think that’s it) that’s been making me feel weird.  Please, please pray that my body will take this dose and settle in to it just fine.  I don’t want to have to mess around with different meds to find the right one and the right dose.  And again, many, many sincere thanks for the continued prayers and love.  It keeps me going!!!!! 

Other News
It's great to be a FLORIDA GATOR!!!!!!!  (Especially living here in the midst of Tiger Country)

I’ll be FORTY tomorrow!!!!!!  I will be SO happy to get #39 behind me that 40 is looking pretty good right about now!  Meniere’s Disease was my 39th birthday “gift.”  My symptoms began the week before and I was diagnosed the day after my birthday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mayo Day 3

  There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.
---Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I love this reminder that God's timing is perfect.  The context of our lives in God's Kingdom plan is perfect.  Every day of our life in the proper sequence is perfect.

Well, the Mayo visit has come and gone.  A visit that was on the calendar for over two months has passed.  It's hard to believe.  I am overwhelmed with emotions, gratitude and humility.  I must admit it took me until this morning to really come to terms with a lot of the information we found out and to process it.  I am used to spending a lot of 1/1 time with the Lord each day and that was hard to do in a hotel; I didn't want to just run out on Jonathan for 2 hours at a time, even though he would have understood.  So, this morning I really got to pray and meditate on all that we learned and heard.

I am so grateful to know that my vestibular function is healthy and even more grateful to know that I did not move forward with that radical nerve section surgery that the doctor in TX recommended back in April.  That would not have solved my problem and I would have had unnecessary brain surgery.  PRAISE GOD for the spirit of peace He gave me not to pursue that surgery.

We met with Dr. Staab yesterday.  Dr. Staab is no more than 50 years old and he and a team are the ones who first identified Chronic Subjective Dizziness (CSD).  So to say that I'm in the care of an expert is an understatement.  He has been studying this condition for the past 20 years or so.  He has seen it numerous times, has written numerous papers and articles on it and has been involved with numerous studies on it (some in conjunction with a team of doctors in Japan).  He gave some great descriptions of my symptoms and what is happening in my body.  I have to admit I was very uneasy with the fact that he's actually a psychiatrist.  I was sick over the thought that this was "all in my head."  But I also know that even if it were, God is still in control and that's all that matters.  It was so comforting to describe all of my wacky symptoms (the crazy amusement park ride dreams, the swimming pool making it worse, the inability to grocery shop, etc.) and not be looked at like I was looney.  Every time I mentioned a symptom or feeling he just nodded like he'd heard it before or he expected it.  What a relief and comfort.

I will try to describe the best way I know how what is going on.  When I suffered multiple and frequent vertigo attacks last winter, my brain put the environment around me (all physical space and stimuli) at "high risk" meaning my brain wasn't sure what was causing me to be off balance and my world to go berserk.  So, it instinctively started reacting to my environment in an unnatural way.  You know the whole "fight or flight" response our body has?  It's similar to that.  Just like you can't control sweaty palms when you're in a scary or frightening situation, I can't control my brain's response to my environment.  Dr. Staab said 1 in 6 patients who have the endolymphatic sac surgery (which I had Feb. 23) will develop CSD.  I laughed to myself when he said that because throughout this journey I have been in the minority of the statistics on all counts.

CSD is treated with an anti-depressant.  When they first started their research, most people with CSD were depressed and dizzy.  They decided to first treat the depression and then figure out how they would approach the dizziness.  What they found was that patients were coming back and saying their dizziness had resolved so they began using anti-depressants to treat the dizziness.  I will start taking Zoloft tomorrow.  The first 2 weeks will be a period of allowing the medicine to get in my system and get any dosage adjustments made.  The next 2-4 weeks I should begin to see some changes (good days vs. bad days).  He said this is a frustrating time because having bad days will be a bummer after having a few good ones.  (I didn't say this, but this ain't my first rodeo with a roller coaster of good and bad days so I think I'll be OK)!  :^)  The next few months after will be good days building on each other.  I will take the medicine and do the therapy activities too.  When we left, Dr. Staab told me, "This is your fall/winter project."  He was very optimistic but realistic in the length of recovery.

In my prayer time this morning I realized that God will soon lift me out of this valley, but He obviously has more work to do before then.  I am okay with that and pray that I can stay faithful and diligent to His calling over these next few months.

My friend, Melonie, who has been to Mayo and got me to strongly consider it came over to visit today.  I can now understand what she meant when she said it was indescribable.  I would encourage anyone with a chronic condition to consider Mayo as an option.  Just as I found out, there may be a cure that you or your doctors don't know about or haven't considered.  I truly believe God established the Mayo Clinic and gave the gifts of intelligence and compassion to men and women to provide the type of health care found there.

I am going to include some pictures below.  Again, they don't do it justice but may give you a glimpse into our experience.  I cannot say enough about Rochester, MN - the people, the clean facilities, the food.  To balance my opinion, I can tell you two negative things about our trip.  I thought long and hard to come up with these, but I think they will help you understand the feelings we have about the trip.
1) Most eating establishments carry Pepsi products.  Disgusting!  If you need you're Diet Coke fix, you better put on your comfy shoes and be prepared to search.
2) I forgot my deodorant.  Luckily Jonathan brought his Sure Unscented Aerosol so I was covered.
Hopefully these two negative points clearly reflect the nature of how wonderfully awesome our trip was.  I am honestly humbled beyond description at the love and prayers I felt before, during and even today.  I don't deserve this much love and attention.  I really don't.  I can't believe this many people care so much about me - there will never be a way for me to truly thank you.  Just know that I do not take your diligent prayers lightly and realize that I am blessed to be thought of so much.

A statue on the wall in the main lobby.  If you look closely in the lower left corner of the picture, you can see the grand piano with people around it.  It was usually in use by patients or visitors.  Sometimes people would sing along.

The atrium just outside the buildings.  The landscaping is this beautiful throughout the downtown area.

A 17-bay Admissions & Business Center in the main lobby.  Like I said earlier, it's a bit like Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport in a lot of ways.

The Gonda Building is straight ahead.  The surrounding buildings are other Clinic buildings, hotels and businesses.

The top floor of the Barnes & Noble that was in the mall en route from our hotel to the Clinic via the Skyway system.

Day 1 - Rotary Chair Test.  I was strapped in, the door was closed and I was completely in the dark.  The chair spun in different directions at different speeds.  YUK!!!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mayo Day 2

OCTOBER 15, 2012 (one year anniversary of this journey's beginning) - pretty cool to celebrate an anniversary this way...

This place continues to blow our minds!  I honestly cannot describe how incredible it all is.  When I get home I will upload many of the pictures we've taken.  The pictures won't do it justice and they cannot tell the story of the people here.  We have not met one single person who was not incredibly friendly.  And ALL of the food has been delicious!  We have eaten so good - too good!

I have to admit that when I wrote on Friday I was very numb.  I was taken aback by a diagnosis that I never expected.  The condition they have labeled me with - Chronic Subjective Dizziness (CSD) - is something I have NEVER heard of.  Jonathan and my friend, Summer, in all of their research of dizziness and vestibular disorders never even ran across it.  So it really hit me out of left field.  It has taken me the weekend and the visits today to be more comfortable with it and to embrace it.  Quite honestly, at first I was skeptical, thinking "I've already tried the medicine and therapy route and now that's what you're recommending again?"  But I see that this is a totally different way we will approach things.

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins" ---Mark 2:22

I realize that I must be a new wineskin.  I cannot let the thought "this isn't going to work" cross my mind.  I must stay renewed, hopeful and encouraged.

Today the neurologist, Dr. Eggers, met with us first.  I got my Bachelor's degree in 1994; he got his in 1993, so we're basically the same age.  We spent a little over an hour talking with him and he agrees that I have CSD.  He also believes from a neurologist's perspective that my headaches and migraines will subside once my CSD is controlled.  I completely agree with that assessment and am ready to be WELL.  He was a little less conservative and said give the new meds and therapy 8-12 weeks and that he expects that I will be fully functional.  He was VERY optimistic, leaving us with "You're gonna do great!"

We then met with the therapist.  My appointment was at 3:45.  We got there at 3:25 and he immediately called us back.  We met until 4:00 or so.  He has given me some new things to do to get me re-acclimated to normal activities.  I'll go into more detail some other time, but basically, I need to be exposed to environments that make me dizzy (in very small doses initially).  Essentially, I cannot avoid nor overdo activities.  I can and will start running again (gradually of course), which I am SUPER excited about.  This will probably help the headaches and stress too!

We've got one more appointment at 8:30 tomorrow.  The Neurologist said the doctor we meet in the morning is one of the top in the country, if not the world, in CSD!  YAY!  He will determine which medication to put me on.  I'm not sure if I'll leave here with Rx in hand or if they'll send me the Rx along with all of the reports in the mail (hoping I'll leave here with it).

Jonathan and I are ready to be home, sleep in our own bed, eat home cooked food and see our babies!  Lydia has been great and has not needed breathing treatments for several days, so thank you for the prayers.

I am ELATED, ELATED and PRAISE GOD that my vestibular system is in tact and functioning fine!  This is the biggest praise of all for me.  I don't have to go through life worried that my "ship is only being steered by one rudder" (that's how I like to think of it anyway).

Can't wait to send out pictures soon.  And honestly, I cannot express my deep thanks for the love and support you all give.  I am blessed beyond measure.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mayo Day 1

This place is indescribable!  It's like nothing I could have ever imagined.  There are so many things to write about... the people in this town are extremely friendly - restaurants, hotel staff, hospital staff... everyone.  The people here are really TALL.  We're seen several men as tall if not taller than Jonathan and at least 1/2 a dozen women 6 feet or taller.  I'm average height here.  It's WEIRD!  The hospital and surrounding blocks are all interconnected by skyways and subways.  We've walked miles within the labyrinth since we got here.  I guess when it's 20 below, they didn't want patients wading through the snow.  There are malls that we walk through to get to the hospital from our hotel.  We could stay, eat, shop and not see daylight for our entire visit.  I wish I could show pictures but they wouldn't do it justice.  It's been highs in the 50s here, so I haven't wanted to venture out much!  We were eating in a cafe inside today and both likened the scene to Atlanta Hartsfield Airport... it's like a city going on inside itself with people bustling everywhere.

Our flight was fast, smooth and without incident.  And although I left baby girl throwing up and out of school yesterday, she is better.  Of course Satan was going to have me up at 2:30 AM with a sick child the day we were to leave.  But it all worked out fine.  She is on breathing treatments so please pray that her asthma will stay well-controlled while we're away.

So, the day started with my first test at 7:00 AM.  I have pictures of the lobby, one test and a few other things but I can't upload them right now.  I had tests from 7-11 this morning.  Some made me dizzy, some were just uncomfortable and some were not a big deal at all.  The dizziness wore off quickly and we were able to grab lunch afterwards.  We wandered around some shops until my afternoon appointment.  We checked into the appointment desk in the afternoon at 1:30 for a 2:15 appointment.  The ENT lobby is bigger than our house and the check-in desk is like the concession stand at the movies.  It's a big, long desk with several receptionists checking people in.  They gave me a beeper and told me to report to door "G" when it buzzed.  We sat at the bank of public computers, surfed the Internet and waited. The beeper buzzed at 2:10.  We approached door G and Dr. Shepherd himself greeted us and took us back (Yes, the doctor was 5 minutes early and personally greeted us).  After an hour and a half with him, I have lots of information.  I'll summarize it here with only the highlights.  It's all good news!

1) He confirmed I have Meniere's Disease and that it is in remission.  He said that it could stay in remission for the rest of my life or it could stay for 2 years - there's no way to know.  Controlled MD can still carry with it 2-3 vertigo attacks (the big, bad ones) a year but I can live with that.  He said I could go the rest of my life without one (prayer request).  He said there's only about a 25-28% chance that my right ear could ever have MD (praise).

2) All of my tests show that although my left vestibular (balance) nerve is slightly weaker than my right, IT IS NOT DAMAGED!  This means no brain surgery, no shots to kill the nerve, no problems with it - yay, yay, yay, yay, yay, yay, yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (He sent forth His word and healed her ---Psalm 107:20)

3) I have a secondary condition to MD... chronic subjective dizziness.  Now that I have a diagnosis I can be treated accordingly.  He knew exactly what I had, they have literature on it (so this isn't something new) and he has statistics of success/improvement rates (so this isn't their first rodeo).  I'm not sure how to describe it all and I still have 2 more doctors to meet with to understand it more, but basically, my brain responds to situations by being dizzy b/c that's what it had gotten accustomed to.  Liken it to Pavlov's dog.  The dog hears the dinner bell and salivates.  My brain gets overstimulated and goes dizzy.  I will be treated with medicine and therapy.  The therapy will put me in situations that make me worse (looking at crazy patterns, going to crowded places, etc).  I will start with small doses of therapy to "retrain my brain" then gradually increase.  It may also take several tries with medicine to find the right one.  So the prognosis for recovery is 3-6 months.

4) The headaches and migraines are likely the result of the stress this is causing.  Still praying they will cease!

I'm so thankful that we're here, so thankful we have an answer, so thankful we can treat it.  It's still going to be a long road and I am trying to sort through a lot of emotions I have, but I am praising God for getting me to this point. 

We're set for a relaxing weekend... a little FLORIDA football and some good eats (since my Meniere's is in remission I don't have to be SO strict on my low-sodium diet so I'm gonna eat something really GOOD this weekend).  I'll update again early next week.  Please, please, please don't stop praying as we still have other appointments and information to gather.  THANK YOU for all the love and prayers. I have felt so wrapped in your love that it has overwhelmed me.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. ---John 15:1-2

Same story, different week.  So sorry!  I still did not feel well most of the week, although I had some bright spots where I didn't feel just downright awful and I did make Beau's football game this Saturday (praising for that!).  And I'm being bombarded by Satan's lies... "There's no cure."  "This is your life."  "You won't be able to do those things you miss with your family EVER again." "Blah, blah, blah."  And sometimes I fall into his trap and sometimes I am strong and fend him off with all of the scripture rolling around in my head.  As I've felt complete chaos around me, physically and emotionally, I went back to the most helpful book (besides God's Word) that I've read on this journey:  The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge.  I want to share an excerpt that he wrote.  I could try and summarize it, but he says it so perfectly that I will share his thoughts verbatim.

From The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge, page 29
I used to think that God intended that we always have joy (as per Romans 14:17).  I preached and practiced that, as I was quite stable in the joy of the Lord.  And then I took a knockout punch.  Suddenly I found myself with absolutely no joy.  Somebody might say, "Bob, you still had joy.  You just didn't understand that joy goes much deeper than feelings."  No, I'm telling you, I had no joy.  All I had was depression.  I hadn't done anything to bring the depression on, and I couldn't do anything to get out of it.  I had no kingdom joy, and yet I knew I was still in the kingdom.  This forced me to wrestle with God and to adjust my "joy theology."  Now I can see that a pruned vine doesn't feel any joy.  I had a happy childhood, but when I got spanked I was not a happy child.  You may have a joyful walk with Christ, but when He prunes and disciplines, you have no joy for the moment because of the pain.  But joy follows weeping just as surely as morning follows night. (See Psalm 30:5)
Jonathan re-landscaped a part of our backyard recently.  It was just a small area but he had to get his ATV to uproot some shrubs that were well-rooted, then he had to rent a tiller to completely overhaul the dirt in the small spot, then he had to shovel and dig to plant the new stuff.  It was a major project.  Sometimes our landscapes need major work and sometimes we just have to go out with the clippers and take off a few sucker shoots or rip out a few weeds.

I don't know why but Bob Sorge's words are extremely comforting to me.  I think because it's hard to feel joy when we hurt.  And I've feels like I've been hurting for a while.  I don't think I'll look back on 2012 and remember it as joyful time; even though I know God has a plan to use this time I won't look back on it fondly (at least I can't imagine doing so).  But I want to be a beautiful reflection of God and so I know I must be pruned.  I was out walking this week, looking at the different yards and flower beds. I was laughing to myself, thinking, "I guess God was ready for a whole new landscape in my heart.  The weeding and minor cutting weren't enough.  He got out the ATV and started ripping out roots and then got the heavy tiller out to completely strip away any memory of the previous landscape."  Funny how God's opinion of how I'm doing and mine are so different!  It hit me hard this week that this overhaul is painful and not very fun.  And that's reality.

It's happening!  Jonathan and I are flying out Thursday.  My first appointment is 7:00 AM Friday morning (yikes)!  I start with a hearing test, then am schedule for several hours of vestibular tests at 7:45.  Some of the tests may CAUSE dizziness and nausea, so please pray that I will not just be a total wreck after the first morning.  I meet with my first doctor at 2:15 on Friday.  My appointments begin again on Monday at 12:30.  I will meet with a different doctor then I have a vestibular rehabilitation appointment (vestibular rehab is what I've been doing at Melanie Massey Physical Therapy these past 5 months).  We conclude the trip with an appointment at 8:30 Tuesday.  This schedule may change when I get there but that's the current line-up.  I'm excited, nervous, hopeful... you name it!  Thank you for praying me through this last year (Oct 15 will be exactly one year).  Thank you for praying for these appointments at the Mayo Clinic.  I will update while we're there as much as I can.

I printed some scripture and laminated it.  I am tying it onto the bag I'll be carrying around with me while I'm there.  A bag of books, magazines and my completely-slam-full binder of all my history, research, notes and the extensive list of questions I have too!  The scripture I will be claiming that I've tied onto my bag (personalized just for me):

The LORD himself goes before me and will be with me; he will never leave me nor forsake me.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. 
---Deuteronomy 31:8

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 with triumph on vestibular disorders.
---Psalm 112:7-8

He sent forth His word & healed her;
---Psalm 107:20