At Home in Heaven

Praying the testimony Michael and Margaret have had to many will continue long after her death. This woman has been such an inspiration to me with her joy and hope in heaven.

Always Sick, Always Loved

heaven

On July 26th, 2017, my precious wife Margaret passed away at the age of 63.  She had heroically battled the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis for almost thirty years, and despite decades of pain and disability, demonstrated a contagious joy throughout her lifetime.

How was this joy possible, even when she received the news this past April that she had a terminal heart condition?  The answer to that question is simple, yet eternally profound: she knew the love of Jesus in this life, and the promise of Jesus for eternal life. You see for her, hope wasn’t to be found in the circumstances of this earth.  Hope was found in looking beyond what she could see, to the One who died for our sins on a bloody cross, and rose three days later triumphantly demonstrating to the world that He was in fact God the Son.  She knew the Lord’s love as…

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The Choice

Sometimes God makes His path so clear, even when the path goes through rough terrains we would rather not travel. God was so kind to give me a vivid illustration of the results of the choices before me when I was in the midst of being diagnosed with chronic illnesses.

two-paths

My health began tanking in 2009 which began a course of visiting numerous doctors and undergoing various tests to discover answers while my symptoms continued to worsen. In March of 2011, I went to yet another doctor who finally diagnosed me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), high histamine and blood test results that were indicative of some type of blood cancer. On March 30, I was told that my blood test results were way off the charts for a third time and that I would need to be seen by an oncologist who was also a hematologist. Being a former RN who does online research, I was fairly certain I knew that my diagnosis was going to be between “Big C”, an acute blood cancer that may mean only months to live or “Little C”, a chronic blood cancer that likely would not shorten my life expectancy but change how I lived it. We lived in the limbo of not knowing which from March 30 to June 7, 2011.

The vivid illustration God used about the choice I needed to make in response to how I faced whichever diagnosis, came about through a timely visit of our dear friends Earl and Nancy. Earl and Nancy spent two weeks in our home late March/early April 2011 and arrived days before my March 30th appointment. In fact they were waiting in the car with my husband as we swung by for my appointment on our way out of town to visit the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona.

Nancy had her last radiation treatment days before flying down to visit us in Arizona where we lived at the time. In the months before their visit,  she had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation for her second bout of breast cancer. Earl and Nancy sat in our family room recounting all the many ways God had blessed them and met them in the midst of Nancy’s cancer battle while Nancy cried tears of joy and gratitude.

In the same time frame, somebody we knew well, received the news that their spouse had dementia. This response was exactly opposite of Nancy’s. Instead they had responses of anger, bitterness and declaring their life was over and nothing good would ever happen again.

God provided a clear and obvious illustration of the choice set before me in how I would respond to the looming diagnosis possibilities. I could choose the better way, that realizes God’s sovereign hand and respond in faith with joy and gratitude regardless of what the future bought. Or I could choose to be bitter, resentful, angry and ungrateful.

After hearing the news at my doctor’s that my blood results would require follow-up with a hematologist/oncologist, we drove up with our friends to Grand Canyon. That evening we went to the vista point that was supposed to be the best at sunset. The colors were glorious and ever-changing. Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon watching this amazing sunset I made my choice.

I poured my heart out to God silently as the skies and canyons blazed with a kaleidoscope of colors:

“Oh God, I have no idea what this diagnosis will be. Please, Lord, enable me, whether a few months or a few decades, to be fully present and soak up this gorgeous scenery. Give me the vision and heart to engage and appreciate all of life around me for all of my days. Oh God, one thing I ask, regardless whether it is BIG C or little c, please, please, let me be known as a woman of joy, gratitude and faith. Regardless of how I feel physically, Lord, let me be like Nancy who cried tears of gratitude and joy for all at You did through her cancer. Enable me to have Your joy and contentment and keep me from bitterness, anger, complaining or ingratitude. Remind me of these examples You have so clearly shown me and this choice whenever I am tempted to complain or be resentful. Let my life be a reflection of joy and my testimony be that of a woman who found joy and gratitude in whatever You have sovereignly ordained.”

My choice was confirmed when I first heard  with the song  Blessings by Laura Story and the story behind it on the radio a couple of weeks after my prayer at the Grand Canyon. The words of that song so resonated with me and that song still makes me cry. You can read the story behind the song here.

Later in April 2011, a friend told me about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts and I immediately bought it. In her book, Ann shares how she overcame tremendous fears and hurts by practicing counting gifts as she would journal things for which she was thankful. This book also confirmed my choice.  Ann Voskamp has continued to encourage me with her blog A Holy Experience and  more recent books.

My pastor asked me in early May 2011 if I would consider leading a ladies Bible Study for two months over the summer using the book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. By this point my hubby and I are almost finding it comical how many ways God was conveying and confirming my choice to ask God to make me a woman of joy and gratitude. I began leading this study in my home with about 15 women the second week of June as I began my first week of chemotherapy. It felt like a combo of early pregnancy, the flu and being hit by a truck the first three weeks on my daily oral chemotherapy until my body adapted to the chemo. Somehow God enabled me to be able to sit in my comfy chair in my family room and facilitate the group those first difficult three weeks. Other women lovingly served me by helping  with set up, snacks and clean up. God used those eight weeks of the study to further impact me as well as impact other women who attended.

I have lived out this choice much like a helpless baby bird who is unable to fend for itself. I was/am dependent on my Heavenly Father to tend me, feed me and strengthen me to walk in my choice. Oh there have been days where I pridefully challenged my Father’s wisdom by trying to convince God I would be more useful and serve Him better with full health. There have been times where self pity and complaining have been where I wanted to dwell. But my God has been so faithful to quickly remind me of the example I saw in Nancy and my choice. I repent and turn again to Him in dependence to enable me to seek Him and the joy that comes from seeing life from eternity’s perspective. When I try to live in joy in my own strength I fail miserably. When I am like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 and spend precious time in His presence I am once again empowered by His Holy Spirit to rest in His sovereignty and faithfulness and see many things to rejoice and be grateful for in my life.

one thing necessary

I am so grateful for the lesson and choice God put before me early in my chronic illness journey. I have seen many benefits of my illness and how looking for ways to be grateful has helped me to recognize many I would have otherwise missed. I pray I will continue to remain and grow in my dependence on God for my source of strength, faith and joy.

count-it-all-joy

Embracing My Consistently Inconsistent Life

Chronic illness visited me and stayed after a fall in November 2009 that required ten stitches on my knee. When I went to my doctor two days later to have it checked, she started me on a different and stronger antibiotic due to inflammation and concern of a bone infection. After a single dose I end up in ER with a severe anaphalaxis reaction to sulfa antibiotic.

After that I began having more and more issues and was suddenly having allergic reactions to numerous things. The next year and a half was filled with multiple doctors and tests, being put on high dose steroids and numerous antihistamines. My health was not improving, I felt miserable and was not finding any answers. Finally, I went to yet another new doctor in the spring of 2011 and was diagnosed with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) and a rare chronic blood cancer from a gene mutation that causes me to have high blood histamine which contributes to my MCS.

Prior to November 2009, I was up at the crack of dawn and usually to bed after midnight. I was constantly on the go, busy with projects, working out at the gym, swimming, gardening, church activities and social life. My husband and a couple close friends called me the “Energizer Bunny” because I kept going and going. Suddenly my batteries were out of juice and my body was not functioning.

One of the areas I struggled with most was making plans and then often having to cancel when the time came, due to my health issues. I felt guilt for letting others down, disappointment in not being able to do whatever it was, frustration with myself and resentment toward my illness. As I sought ways to deal with this frustration I began telling myself and others that I am consistently inconsistent due to my health.

STEPS TO EMBRACE BEING CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT:

1. View chronic illness as part of God’s sovereign plan for my life

My husband was a great help as he would frequently remind me of God’s sovereignty over my chronic illness and that it was God’s plan for both of our lives for our ultimate good and His glory.  Digging into God’s Word  and learning about God’s character and how He uses trials to refine and mature us helped immensely.

2. Recognize my limits and adjust expectations and schedules accordingly. (This step may need refined frequently with the ebb and flow of symptoms.)

This took me a good couple years of pushing until I hit a wall and then laid up for days or weeks afterwards before I learned. We began to see patterns and realized after exposures to fragrances and chemicals exposures being out and about on the weekend and going to church I was wiped out and needed Monday to be a crash day. Now I schedule Mondays as rest days where I sleep as late as my body requires and recoup. I often will need to sleep in late another morning in the week usually Thursdays or Fridays. I also learned I need buffer days between scheduled events as the exposures often will knock me down a day or so. For me, on a real busy day, where  I am cleaning house or prepping for a company dinner I need to take time every hour or so to just sit/rest a few minutes. By doing that, I find I do not wear out as quickly. Figure out the unique limitations for your chronic illness and how best to adjust your expectations and schedules.

3. Realize I have no reason to feel guilt or shame if too sick and need to cancel.

This was hard for me as I tend to be a “people pleaser” and struggle with fear of man. I now tell people as we make plans, I will be there if at all possible but due to my health issues I am consistently inconsistent. If I cancel last minute, it is not you or my finding something better to do, but that I am truly too sick.

4. Decide to choose the better over the good.

Because I am limited by exposures to fragrances, cleaners and other chemicals, I want to make my time when away from home to count for eternity. For me this means doing things to relate with people and serve others. To accomplish this, I must limit my times of exposures doing other things. I do much of my shopping online and at a couple local health food stores I can go to without reactions. My husband is always willing to pick things up for me which is a huge blessing. If I have to have a day of appointments and errands, I try to schedule it all in one day so only have one time of recovery. I am finally getting past my pride and wearing my carbon filtered mask into most stores. If an event is planned for Saturday, it will usually mean I will be down for the count and unable to attend church on Sunday. I then need to evaluate which will have the most impact on eternity and the people we love.

5. Ask God for new ministries that flex with good and bad days.

God has crossed my paths with several people with chronic illnesses in my own church, through blogs and in Facebook groups. God has given me opportunities to pray for these folks, send encouraging messages or texts or call them. And I am blessed by theirs. I also am part of our church prayer ministry and get prayer requests as they are shared via email.

We host a fragrance free life group in our home that my husband leads every week. Occasionally I am too wiped or ill to attend and stay upstairs or we have someone else host. We also enjoy to host some meals for friends as my health allows or take meals to new moms or when somebody moves into a new home. I don’t do it every time and schedule it on a day with buffers around it and have my husband deliver it to prevent exposures. Right now I am in a worse season of reactions so have not hosted or attended anything in over two weeks and that is okay.

I am currently taking a Biblical counseling course that is a home study but later on will involve observing counseling then being observed by a counseling pastor as I counsel. I have had many delays on getting this began let alone being done, so once again realize the timing is in God’s hands and it’s okay to be consistently inconsistent.

Michael and Margaret Robble are a couple in our church who have written a book on how God has met them through over 25 years of chronic illness. Their book is called “Always Sick, Always Loved.” I highly recommend this book! They are now in the process of writing a second book.

We met Texans, Michael  and Christy Hardy, through the Robbles. This sweet couple minister through a website and blog to encourage the chronically ill called Chronic Encouragement. We were blessed by them and their encouragement while staying in our home when they were visiting in the area. Michael has MCS like I do and also has difficulties staying in hotels. http://chronicencouragement.com/

6. Find mutual support.

God has blessed me with some wonderful godly friends in my church here in Colorado and in Arizona that have walked the road of chronic illness many more years than me, as well as others who are newbies on the journey. Between these local friends and others online, we are able to understand with empathy and compassion and encourage one another and point each other to godly truth. It has also been helpful in finding medical help and resources.

7. I am not my illness.

I am, above all else, a child of God. I am also a wife, mother, Nana, sister, daughter and friend that happens to have a chronic illness. While it may make challenges and life unpredictable, I am not my disease. I seek how best to fulfill each of my roles around and in spite of my illness. God has allowed my illness to transform me more fully into the image of His Son. He still has the same desires to see me grow in grace and bear spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace…

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

I would love to hear from others and how you have learned to deal with living a consistently inconsistent life with chronic illness.

Love & Prayers,

Deb

 

Capacity for God Enlarged by Suffering 

“Suffering is seen as one of God’s means of enlarging the soul’s capacity for Himself, and sufferers are enjoined to seek God’s enabling that they may lose none of the present or future fullness that God would have them experience as a result…There is only one way in which a sufferer may come to realize the eternal good which is God’s purpose for him in pain, and that is by a close study of the Word of God. Sufferers often find it difficult, even impossible, to maintain a systematic pattern of Bible study; but God in His mercy has not forgotten such needy ones. Scripture abounds with what I like to call God’s fragments—a host of all-encompassing minutiae which, though fragmentary and seemingly unimportant in themselves, are nonetheless capable of nourishing and sustaining the seeking soul.”(p.177, Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter, pp.9-10).

Our Life Stories are Written in Wisdom and Grace

A friend posted this Paul Tripp excerpt yesterday and it really made me stop and ponder.

“Your story isn’t an autobiography. Your story is a biography of wisdom and grace written by another. Every turn He writes into your story is right. Every twist of the plot is for the best. Every new character or unexpected event is a tool of His grace. Each new chapter advances His purpose. “‘Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right'” (Hosea 14:9). It is almost a gross understatement to say that God’s ways are better. How could they not be? He is infinite in wisdom and grace!”

-Paul David Tripp from July 21 meditation in book New Morning Mercies.

Every incident, circumstance and person in my life is part of God’s divine plan and purpose for my life. He does all for my ultimate good and His glory. So I need to fully trust Him, knowing He is faithful, wise, good and sovereign over every detail and every second of my life.

Are you able to trust this God who is writing your life story?

New Year Musings of Fresh Snow

Today a friend mentioned we have a whole New Year ahead of us that is a clean slate. It is like a new snow before any footprints have made any paths.

Today we have fresh snowfall in our area. While I ponder how each step I make in the snow permanently changes how it looks I contemplate how each thing I do, each word I speak and each thought I think have potential to change the vista around my life to improve or detract.

Lord help me ponder my paths and where I go with my actions and words and the thoughts and motives behind them. Enable my paths to be filled with love for You and others as well as Your perfect peace, joy and gratitude. Let me not mar my hours and days of the coming years with the mud of resentment, bitterness or selfishness. Instead let me beautify the paths by sharing, giving, loving and serving those you place along my journey through 2017. Lord, I want to fully be engaged noticing others and the beauty of Your glorious creation as I walk through each moment you ordain. Deepen my appreciation of Your gifts, even ones that come in rocky steep terrains of suffering or inconveniences of a suddenly changed course. May I fully trust that Your Sovereign path for my life is for my good and Your glory and rest in your faithfulness.

So as I look at our new snow I notice where a bird or rabbit have gently left their marks as well as the gregarious patterns left by my two dogs. I ponder again how You, Lord allow times for us to quietly walk one slow step at a time and others when we must boldly bound out obediently where You lead. Give me discernment when to proceed with caution and when You are calling me to boldly step out of my comfort zone. Though truly, Lord, anywhere I walk with You should be my comfort zone. I desire to do what You call me to this year and ask you give me the ability to walk each step in faith and confidence instead of worry or fear.

So Lord, direct my steps on Your path that You have for me in 2017.

Amen

Finding Purpose in Suffering – Part 2

“The very thing we are afraid of, our brokenness, is the door to our Father’s heart” – Paul Miller

Suffering is painful and we often feel broken in the midst of it and wonder when it will ever end. Reminding ourselves of God’s divine purposes in suffering helps us endure and find hope. This blog post will cover another six purposes of suffering. To read the first six purposes read my previous post here.

7. To Share in the Sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10)

10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death

It is easy for us to be jazzed about the power of His resurrections, but not so much with participating in His suffering. How quick we forget that the goal of the Christian life is knowing Christ and becoming like Him. Suffering is one way in which Christ transforms and refines us to be like Him.

8. To Reveal Hidden Sin or Keep Me From Sin (2 Corinthians 12:7) (Psalm 119:67,71)

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” 2 Corinthians 12:7

My suffering or thorn in the flesh may be what I need to keep me humble rather than becoming conceited or proud. Matthew Henry said it this way, ” If God loves us, he will keep us from being exalted above measure; and spiritual burdens are ordered to cure spiritual pride. This thorn in the flesh is said to be a messenger of Satan which he sent for evil; but God designed it, and overruled it for good.”

When we lived in the Midwest in the late 1980’s, we had a good friend Nancy, whose brother had become a paraplegic in a car wreck. Her brother was quick to tell anybody who would listen about his story and how God used his devastating car wreck for his good. He would share how he was ignoring what he knew was true of God and His word and was choosing a life of sin prior to his wreck. He would then share the following verses from Psalm 119.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.

71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

9. To Experience that Christ Is Enough (2 Corinthians 12:9)

8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

“The infliction was not indeed removed; but there was a promise that the favor of Christ would be shown to him constantly, and that he would find his support to be ample.” Barnes Notes on the Bible.

As Ann Voskamp says in her book The Broken Way, “our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory.”

At the conference last week, Nancy Guthrie shared how God does His best work with empty. God fills Sarah’s empty and too old womb with a son named laughter. He also filled the virgin Mary’s young, empty womb with His Incarnate Son.

Christ’s sufficient grace where we are weak and/or empty is always available.

10. To Discipline Me for Holiness (Hebrews 12:10-11)

10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Truly, discipline is not something any of us enjoy while either dishing it out as parents or taking it in. As v. 11 teaches, it is scarcely enjoyable and mostly sorrowful. Yet, the benefits are like a field producing abundant crops at harvest time: “it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” God’s discipline, though at times painful, produces His righteousness in us, His children, simply because He loves us. May we, as we go through discipline, pray for an abundant garden of His righteousness and peace in our lives.

Someone once said in reference to discipline: “And so what do I say? I say let the rains of disappointment come, if they water the plants of spiritual grace. Let the winds of adversity blow, if they serve to root more securely the trees that God has planted. I say, let the sun of prosperity be eclipsed, if that brings me closer to the true light of life. Welcome, sweet discipline, discipline designed for my joy, discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.” Wow! That kind of statement can only come from a child of God who truly wants to be molded to God’s will.

11. To Make Me Spiritually Mature (James 1:2-4)

2Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

When we think back to times where we experienced greatest spiritual growth it usually is due to trials we were walking through at the time. Those trials of various kinds are what test our faith and produce steadfastness and equip us with spiritual maturity. That maturity and proving of our faith is cause for joy.

12. To Give Me Opportunity to Live Out Genuine Faith (1 Peter 1;6-7)

6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Real faith is not just lip service to Christ. Trials remove the dross and impurities from our lives, just as fire removes the dross and impurities from gold, so that our faith is real, genuine faith. This genuine faith will be found to result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns. Let us pray that our responses to suffering will result in praise, glory and honor on His return.

There may be other purposes in sufferings, but these are the ones Nancy Guthrie shared at the conference in Colorado Springs. As we consider go through our suffering, we often question God as to why and what is His purpose in this. May we instead ask Him to reveal Himself to us in the midst of our circumstances and to work in us.  May we also be willing to accept that we may not get our questions answered in this life.

Love & Prayers,

Deb