Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Joy Thief

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy... ---John 10:10

Satan has a goal for each of our lives - to steal and kill and destroy.  He wiles his way in and does anything he can to take away our joy and keep our focus on the wrong things.  Satan doesn't just worm his way in and tell lies to those who are sick and down; he attacks everyone.  I am seeing this played out in so many lives:
  • Someone battling cancer - having to wake up every day and face the fear and the constant struggle with faith in healing.  Wondering each day if it's the day the tumors will return.
  • Someone dealing with one small setback after another - in work situations, in kid situations, in health situations.
  • Someone dealing with family members making life harder than it should be with unrealistic expectations.
It's not just sick people or people dealing with big, heavy issues.  Satan is nit-picking his way into life after life.  No one is immune.  Whether we're facing a giant or swatting at a swarm of annoying gnats, he works to distract us and take our minds and hearts to places where there is no joy.  And sometimes it's a one-off incident that sends us reeling and sometimes it's the cumulative effect of many things.

Two weeks ago I decided to have the kids ride the bus home from school.  I just couldn't keep calling people at the last minute to pick them up for me.  And often my mom had to leave work in West Monroe to drive over and help.  It's an unnecessary burden when we had another option.  HOWEVER, it broke my heart.  I thought, "God, you've taken my freedom, job, social life, driving, ministry, everything over the past year... and now I have to put my kids on the bus?  WHY?  Why can't you just restore me and quit taking things away?"

There is a scene in Monsters, Inc. where one of the monsters gets "infected" because he touched a child's sock.  They isolate this poor monster, tackle him, strip him down and the final straw - they rip off the bandaid causing him to scream in pain!  I sometimes think of this scene when I go through a day.  "2319! 2319! I have a 2319 in progress!"  Usually the socks stuck to my back are small and insignificant but they're troubling none-the-less.  It's not a long video and it's a great visual of how I feel some days (and it's cute too):

I found some scriptures that give great comfort in the face of the fact there's a joy-thief looking to bring us down:

1) God loves us and NOTHING can take that away
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord   ---Romans 8:38-39

2) We must set our minds against attack
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ  ---2 Corinthians 10:4-5

3) We must choose to make each day count
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil  ---Ephesians 5:15-16

Last week one of our pastors, Johnny, said that we have to "learn and choose contentment" as Paul did in Philippians 4.  We don't just pray for contentment and have a life-long supply poured into us.  Same with joy.  We have to learn to look for it and choose it.  Some days it's harder than others.  But I find great comfort in knowing that we're not alone.  No matter if it's a giant or a gnat we all have things that steal our joy.  Just because I have a chronic health condition doesn't mean I'm the only one who knows tough days.  Whether I am sick or well Satan is going to be in my face for the rest of my life.  So I better go ahead and learn and choose to fight.

I love the way John 10:10 ends when Jesus says...
I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full.

May we choose Jesus' offer of a full life!

Other News
I am having glimmers of my old self and it is awesome!  I'm still not "normal" (that's such a funny term to me when we talk about people), but I'm definitely making progress.  I'm getting out and about more and it feels so great and so very strange all at the same time.  I still struggle with the pace of the progress and just as I wrote above, Satan uses some days to whisper that I'll never be well since I'm not seeing as much progress as I wish I could.  My headaches are getting better too although I'm still getting migraines for a few days in a row each month.  Last Christmas I was not in the "spirit" of it and didn't look forward to much of the festivities.  I didn't put up much more than the tree last year.  This year I am almost done decorating and have pulled out everything!  We got a live tree for the first time this year and I LOVE it - it is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen (not really, but I do love it).  I'm not sure that I feel better physically than I did this time last year but I can look back at my spiritual journey and know that I have come so far and that makes me feel a whole lot better! 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Total Eclipse

I didn't write last week and I still feel guilty.  The week before last I started feeling awful and last weekend was the worst.  I felt bad physically and emotionally.  I was experiencing a total solar eclipse.  It seemed like the SON in my life was covered up and I was in darkness.  I lost what I felt was a healthy communication with God.  I hadn't done anything (that I know of) to bring on the silence.  I just felt lost and dark and cold.

I started reading 1 Samuel this week in my journey of reading the entire Bible.

In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.  ---1 Samuel 3:1

I realize that the Israelites turning their backs on God caused most, if not all, of God's silence back then.  But this was oddly comforting to me.  Periods of silence are not punishment or measures of God's love and care for us.  They're a natural part of our relationship.  Often times when we feel God is silent we talk to him more and seek him more fervently.  And that's a good thing.

God's silence was broken with Samuel:  The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.  ---1 Samuel 3:19-21

I realized through these passages that God's silence is sometimes followed with His greatness.  He was silent but when he spoke he used Samuel in a mighty way and "Samuel's word came to all Israel" (4:1).  Samuel became one of Israel's greatest prophets (and even anointed David to become King of Israel).  There were "400 years of silence" between the old and new testaments.  After which, Jesus Christ burst onto the scene.  God's silence followed with His greatness.

It's so encouraging to know that even the things we don't understand are part of a master plan.  In a study I'm currently doing Beth Moore writes, "Sometimes we stand to learn the most about God from the situations we understand the least."

I am feeling much better physically and emotionally but I'm still trying to find my way back into the full light.  Without the bad days we don't appreciate the good, without the cold days we don't appreciate the sun's warmth, without the infirmities we don't appreciate the health, without the silent days we don't appreciate the days of abundant communication.

Health & other stuff
Well, you already know I had some bad days recently BUT this week I have had some extraordinarily good days.  I believe the Zoloft has kicked in and that God is using medicine as a means to heal me.  I went to the kids' Thanksgiving lunch at school Tuesday and ran errands with my mom on Thursday.  And both times I felt almost "normal".  What an amazing feeling!  I am still having some trouble at night but it isn't as severe and if I have good days I can handle rocky nights.  Jonathan was gone for another 7 day stretch last week.  So he had been gone for 8, home for 6 and was gone for 7.  He is home now for at least 10 days and I am soooooo thankful!

On the topic of thanks...  I was thinking yesterday about everyone who reads this blog.  More importantly I was thinking about all the prayers sent up regularly and faithfully on my behalf.  I am truly overwhelmed that so many people care so much about me to take time to pray and be concerned.  I am praying for several friends and strangers who are REALLY sick - some of them with life-threatening illnesses.  Sometimes I feel guilty to ask for so much prayer and to receive so much prayer when there are so many others significantly worse off than I am.  But God reminded me that prayer is part of the family of believers.  We do it for each other for small and big things.  So I will keep asking for prayer and I will continue to be humbly grateful for each and every prayer you utter for me.  This week especially I will reflect upon how blessed beyond measure I am.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Source of Strength

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  ---Philippians 4:13

I use this verse a lot.  I quote it to others when they need encouragement to accomplish something and I quote it to myself more and more often these days.  This week, God showed me something else, a little deeper, about this verse.  He said to me:
You can do nothing apart from me.  Remember that for life - don't take it for granted.  Everything you do is because I equip you and empower you... breathing, thinking, walking, talking, working, cooking, cleaning, driving, shopping, doing laundry.  Ask for my help daily - on EVERY task and endeavor.  You can't succeed without me.
We quote Philippians 4:13 when something big is going on or we feel we're up against tough odds.  But do we realize that everything we do is because he enables us?  Yes, we can do all things through Christ, but we can do NOTHING without the strength Christ gives.

Over the last year I have learned to pray and ask for help in many of my life activities.  Every morning I pray for the strength to accomplish my daily tasks and I list them out specifically.  It makes me do two things: 1) turn it all over to God and rest in His peace when I am unable to accomplish something and 2) prioritize what really HAS to be done versus things that I would LIKE to get done.  I realize more and more that most of my to-do list contains things I'd like to get done versus things I have to get done. 

I pray for help before I go out anywhere.  What healthy, on-the-go person would ever stop and ask God to give her the ability to ride in the car and sit and watch her 6 year-old's flag football game for an hour?  What healthy, on-the-go person would ever stop and ask God to get her through a night of trick-or-treating with her 6-year-old twins because her husband was out of town (thanks to my Mom for helping)?  What healthy, on-the-go person would ever stop and ask God to get her through a 30 minute aerobic walk in the neighborhood?  A year ago, not this healthy, on-the-go person, that's for sure.

I did ask for God's help on those exact outings this week.  I know that apart from his help and his will I cannot do those things.  If you are up and healthy and going strong, THANK GOD for that ability and ask for his help to keep you healthy to do those things.  If you are not able to accomplish your goals each day start asking God for help in every area.  On Sunday our pastor, Bill, said that God knows how big our "small things" are... meaning nothing is too mundane or simple to bring before God.  I am reading Judges now.  God truly loved the Israelites, His Chosen People, just as he loves us today.  Time and time again the Israelites fell short of God's best - they rebelled, they forgot him, they lived only for selfish gain.  But every time they cried out for God to save them, He did.  He cares about every aspect of our lives.

I will never understand why some people get sick or suffer.  Over the past 2 weeks I've added several people to my prayer list because of a new diagnosis or because of a recurring chronic condition.  It makes my heart heavy to know that good people are suffering.  God is the only one who can truly provide comfort that will last and heal.  I believe that part of our life journey and a large part of suffering is to call us intimately closer to Him.  When life as we know it screeches to a halt and all that we know is turned upside down we then realize that apart from him we can do nothing.  There are so many physical conditions that afflict people that they have absolutely no control over.  Losing control over the physical well-being of your own body is a scary experience.  If it's never happened to you, you can't understand the frustration and fear that it causes.  I can't describe it to you; I've often envisioned myself in a straight jacket, held captive by the vessel that God gave me.  The only answer, the only way to make sense, the only peace is to rest and know that only God can empower us to get through every moment of every day.

I love that I'm learning the practice of asking him for help and then thanking him for that help on an ongoing basis each day.  It keeps the lines of communication open and the more I do it, the more I realize that I have to do it.

Remember that we can do all things through Christ's strength and without his strength, we can do NOTHING!

On another note, this week marks our 10th year anniversary living in Monroe.  I cannot believe it.  It's just another reminder of God's sovereignty.  When I tell you I arrived 10 years ago kicking and screaming that's probably the understatement of the century.  I was NOT HAPPY.  I was mad at God, mad at Jonathan and mad at anyone else who even looked at me.  I thought I had moved to red-neck hell on earth.  (I can say that now because I have "roots" here and it's my home).  I assumed everyone I met was uneducated and not worthy of my friendship.  It's amazing how God uses the most treacherous, low-points in life to do His greatest work.  I am thankful beyond measure to be in this tight-knit community where I have more friends and family to help in ways I could never have imagined.  I can say with certainty I could not have endured the last year of infirmity if we were still living in the rat-race of West Palm Beach.

An excerpt from my journal from 10 years ago - 12/04/02:
I struggle with the thoughts that my loving God and Savior is in control yet I still despise everything about this place.  I feel guilty that I'm not skipping and jumping with joy and resting every minute in the comfort that God is planning every minute of my life.

Boy, was He ever!

Medical Update
I've been on Zoloft for 17 or so days now.  I think that I'm going to be able to tolerate the dosage that I'm on.  PRAISE GOD!!!  I was so worried that I would "waste" weeks trying different medicines until I found the right one (although I know that none of my down time is wasted time in God's eyes).  As of now I'm not feeling any side affects from it.  I have had some really dizzy days this week but I was plagued by migraine on top of everything and it seems the migraine medicine I take compounds the dizziness now that I'm on Zoloft (so thankful I asked my pharmacist why I got so dizzy this week).  Satan is still trying to lie and tell me that it's not going to work.  I think the fact that I know there's a cure and I'm not already feeling great feeds my anxious thoughts.  Having to wait to see results allows seeds of doubt to be planted.   Jonathan was also gone for 8 days this week and that's always nerve-wracking.  He was gone this week last year so when I had my first vertigo attack at 6am on November 3rd, 2011 I was home alone with the kids (mom came right away when I called her though).  I couldn't help but remember that dreadful day on the anniversary of it this year.  I'm so thankful for my mom who came every day this week and helped with the kids; she even spent the night on Halloween so she could trick-or-treat with us!