Friday, August 24, 2012

The Whole Picture

It has been a long time since I have written anything at this blog, partly because I feel like my last post and the song it contains are things God has just been working, reworking, and working into my heart again and again.  Just when I think I am getting ahold of it, I realize that I have still been banging my head against the wall about it instead of letting go.  I really resonate with the lyrics Rich Mullins penned, "Surrender don't come natural to me. I'd rather fight you for something I don't really want, than take what you give that I need.  Surrender don't come natural to me.  And I beat my head against so many walls, now I'm falling down, falling on my knees..."

Anyway, the situation we have been dealing with has been my son's (and my husband's) diagnosis of Celiac Disease; and our walk to his healing via the GAPS-diet.  I want to make it very clear that I do believe God could heal this whole thing supernaturally in one fell swoop; but we have received many words to the effect of, "You are going to need to walk this out, I have something for you in this that you would not be able to receive otherwise."

Well, recently we reached a turn for the better; the chronic digestive distress seemed to be easing for my son and that was giving me hope.  We had spoken with a practitioner who deals exclusively with GAPS, and she added a few new tools to our toolbox.  Then, we went on vacation.  Even though I was pristine with his diet, we saw symptoms every day (read: I was very glad we had made the decision months ahead of time that on this vacation we were going to take a break from our normal cloth diapers and use disposable).  He was happy, he was enjoying the time with friends and family, but being out of his routine had his system stressed and so he had symptoms every day.  This fact had me at my witt's end.  I felt like a paddle-ball, going back and forth between enjoying my time with friends and family, and being utterly stressed and heartbroken over my son's condition.  This might seem melodramatic to those who have not gone through it, but anyone who has endured the chronic illness of a loved one -- I am sure -- can understand completely. 

I did not realize it at the time, but I was so frustrated because I was not actually allowing my loved ones to share the burden with me.  I thought I was inviting those who so desired to be a support to us, but I was not really receiving it fully.  The result of this was that about halfway through my "vacation," I was beyond depressed, despite the best efforts of those who love me dearly.  We arrived at my parents' house for the second half of my trip, and I went to bed and woke to yet another horrendous diaper in the morning, and I said to God, "Please tell me there is something for us at my parents' church today; because I need to know I did not drag him on this trip just to make him sicker!"

We walked through the doors and every encounter I had till we left served to show me just how much I was insisting on carrying this on my own.  We received words from praying people who did not even know us, which gave purpose and shape to everything that we are going through.  Again, it was just impressed upon my heart that this healing journey with GAPS and through the prayers of all of those sowing into this is going to be a process.  We will see healing in our son and in the spiritual life of our family, and we will see it through walking this out.

All of that brings me to where we were today.  Another diagnosis the GAPS practitioner made was that Joshua's symptoms point to low stomach acid.  On the list of things we can do to improve that naturally, there is only two we are not currently doing, and only one of those can we do anything about.  We are adding some apple cider vinegar to some of his foods and to his water (as well as some of the juice from our homemade sauerkraut to some of his foods, too).  The other one is all in Joshua's court: he needs to actually chew his food instead of inhaling it.  As I was texting with my mother, conveying all of this to her, I said that it was the next step in the healing process, "because unless his body can break down and assimilate the healing foods GAPS focuses on, we will not see any healing -- except for supernaturally, but I really do believe God is calling us to walk this out."  She agreed and said, "There is something in this for all of us."

Well, when she said that, it suddenly occurred to me that I should ask God what that is (I know, clever, right?).  So I said, "Okay, God, what is this whole stomach acid thing a picture of?"  And the Lord brought to mind a scene I have written about here before.  Back when we were still living in Toccoa and Jeff was still looking for a job, Joshua was due soon and I was frantic because our situation just looked increasingly bleak.  And while I could not sleep one night I was out at the sink doing dishes and just talking to God.  And I ranted to Him, basically, that I did not understand why we were still in this situation.  I knew He wanted us to trust Him and I felt like we were doing that.  Instantly He answered me with, "Melody, there is a big difference between trusting me, and pulling the covers over your head and saying, 'Wake me when this is over.'"  I was instantly convicted, this morning, that we were doing that again.  "Okay, Lord, just get us through this until he is healed."  Well, if we are to walk this out, it is because there are things we need to learn along the way.  Things we otherwise might not be able to really internalize otherwise.  So we need more "stomach acid," so we can break these things down into pieces and really absorb them; pulling every last bit of nourishment out of them, so we can testify to it later.  I have said before; God is a surgeon who operates without anesthetic, so we can testify to what He has done.  If that is true -- and I fully believe that it is -- why am I sitting here trying to avoid the painful bits and just plow my way through to the other side?  Why am I not, instead, allowing the God of all Comfort to nurse us and nourish us through this, drawing us closer to Him and healing us in more ways than we even realize we need?

So I asked my mother how she thought I should "pray into" that revelation; and she said I needed to pray that God would show me His way in all of this, and help me to understand what He is wanting us to learn.

Then another thing comes to mind, and that was the fact that our GAPS practitioner had advised (because we were seeing no resolution for the chronic digestive distress) that we remove all fiber from his diet, including his much beloved broccoli.  The only "veggie" she wanted us to give him was avocado (I know, I know, it is a fruit but that is not the point).  I balked at this, inside, because of my insistence that "kids need vegetables," but really he does not need them.  He is on a very good multivitamin/mineral, and he gets plenty of calories in fat and protein during the day.  So we did what she asked, and low and behold, his digestion cleared up.  Thinking about this, I asked the Lord again, "What am I supposed to be seeing here?"  And He answered right away, "What is it that you are relying on -- that you think is absolutely necessary -- which is actually doing harm right now?"  OUCH.  Well, I have to confess that I told God it was a little intense for me and I would have to think more about that one later.  But I have not actually been able to get away from it all day.  And if there are things we are relying on that are actually hurting us, there are surely also things we are afraid of that are the best thing for us. 

So this is the whole picture: If God is bringing you through something; if He has told you He is walking through this with you, stay by His side and allow yourself to learn from every bit of it, pleasant or unpleasant.  Then, allow Holy Spirit to examine your heart, to point out things you are placing your trust in which are not of Him and are actually doing you harm.  And no matter how scary what lies ahead may appear, walk toward it prayerfully, trusting that the God who has been with you this far is going to keep you and guide you in every single step.

This is where I am right now.  I am working on digesting this word from the Lord, and let me tell you it is not easy.  But it is good.  If we walk this journey with our eyes shut tight, we miss the opportunity to witness all that our wise and wonderful Creator has and will accomplish on our behalf (and for His glory).  Not only that, but we render all of these trials absolutely useless if we refuse to learn from them and allow them to shape our faith.  I do not want to strip all of this "stuff" of all its meaning.  I need it to mean something, or it was all in vain.  On the other side of this, we are going to have a remarkable testimony, but right now, I have an opportunity to grow closer to my God, and that is even more important!

Friday, June 8, 2012

At Just the Right Time

A few days ago I found a scrap of paper that held a song attempt from when I was in college.  Most of it just felt wrong, but the chorus stuck out as salvageable, and it was found just in time to encourage a friend.  It read, "You hem me in, behind, before.  You take away every flawed recourse.  When will I see You're leading me through desperation, to liberty."

Then yesterday, while I was driving home from praise practice, the new verses came to me.  I marveled at how God must be giving this to me for someone else, because I had already gotten past this feeling of being thwarted at every turn.  Ha!  Let me just tell you that God is not without a sense of irony.

You see, in our struggle with our son's digestive issues (multiple food allergies and Celiac Disease), there was definitely a period of time when I was struggling with the futility of my own efforts.  We knew of two allergies, and found out of a few others.  We pulled those foods out of his diet, but they were foods he loved and he responded by restricting his diet even further (limiting himself to starchier, sweeter foods).  Then further allergies were discovered as his symptoms persisted, and again we pulled those foods out of his diet.  Most kids with a few food allergies grow out of them by about 5 years of age, but with Joshua I seriously was concerned that by the time we got to five he would be down to bananas and water.  Not that he would have minded, of course, because by the time we got to January of this year, that was all he was willing to eat: bananas and pastured pork sausage. 

It feels utterly helpless when the primary way by which you care for your child's needs turns out to be exactly what is harming them.  Add to that the fact that we had gone from a perspective of hoping for wellness to just doing damage control, and we felt like we were basically helpless.  That was when, by the grace of God, we discovered the GAPS diet.  We got Joshua (and ourselves) on the diet and he started to thrive: growing again for the first time in several months, talking and babbling again (also for the first time in months), persistent eczema completely gone, and personality once again glowing.  And that is basically where we've been for the last three months.  We did have to go through three almost impossible days where Joshua would not eat the GAPS food and so did not eat.  He was drinking plenty, though, and we worked very hard to remind ourselves that keeping him from bananas in order to get him to eat his vegetables was worth it and the right move.  Though those days were a harrowing ordeal, they were followed by three months of relative ease.  And I began to think of that frantic, "What is WRONG with my child??" desperation was a thing of the past.

These last few days, though, some of Joshua's digestive symptoms had returned, and he seemed to start restricting his foods again, apparently out of nowhere!  Well, I learned that a fruit tea we had allowed him to drink pretty regularly (in the last few days) had soy lecithin in it (NEVER take it for granted that you know what is in a food.  ALWAYS read the label...this is my lesson).  Then we found out that one of Joshua's medicines which had been given some prevalence in the last week or so (due to teething) contained corn, corn and soy being two of his middle-range allergies (not as bad as peanuts, eggs, and milk; not as mild as oranges).  Digestive symptoms explained, and we -- of course -- felt largely to blame.  Well all of this was frustrating, but nothing we could not handle.  We know the drill.  Nothing but his puree, meat, and juice until he was over this hump, and that should only take a few days.

Today, however, we had to make a planned trip, but earlier than planned (we were thinking Monday, originally, and that Joshua would be over all of this by then).  Jeff had to go one place while I did some shopping at a very busy market with Joshua.  This market had a food court where I planned on getting lunch, but of course I brought Joshua's food with us.  As has been true yesterday and played out this morning, he flat out refused to eat.  He wanted my food (which had things we was definitely allergic to in it) and made a decent-sized scene over that.  People stared.  Many folks even forgot to hide the fact that they were staring.  Some commented awkwardly, "nap-time, huh?" While I reassured Joshua that he had food, and my food would make him sick.

You see, a major theme in my life has been allowing God to uproot the fear of man in my life.  Always worried about what others are thinking, I struggle with wanting to make sure I do not look foolish, wanting people to approve of the way I do things, and wanting to make sure that they know if I do happen to get an answer wrong, they know it is not because I am stupid, but just some fluke.  Things are not nearly as bad as they have been.  A stronghold that was once completely debilitating is now just a haunted ruin, with a few last stones still standing.  And that is a good thing.  But today I realized God wanted to knock some of those other stones right now.  So I reasoned aloud with my son, trying to make sure he and the rest of the world knew I was not neglecting him.  If anyone gave me a hard time I would have had a million justifications for why things look the way they do, including the fact that our sons two main doctors approve of this plan.  But I realized that the process by which my son finds healing is going to make me look foolish.  The food he eats is different, and is not convenient or easily portable.  The liquid in his juice cup (a small small amount of kombucha tea with lots of water and a few drops of honey) looks different than what is in the other kids' juice cups.  He' is in cloth diapers which -- while it is not such a fringe thing, is not so mainstream -- necessitate a larger and more fully packed diaper bag when we are out for the day.  We look funny.

On top of that, I have to be one of those "hovering parents" I disdained and -- let's face it -- judged in my pre-parenting days.  My child is severely allergic to things other kids eat all the time.  Anytime we are anywhere where there are children, especially where food is planned ahead of time, I have to keep a close eye on him, and then I have to listen to one person or another tell me that I am smothering him and I can let him out of my sight for a few minutes.  If I succumb to the pressure to just let him be, he inevitably picks up something he should not, eats it, and breaks out in hives.  But even though I know this, I struggle every time someone suggests I do things differently.

I cringe when people ask "What is he drinking???".  I cringe only slightly less when they ask why my toddler is eating "baby food (he does eat several solid foods, but a veggie puree is the only way we have been able to get him to "drink" the broth that is part of his diet)."  I cringe when people tell me I need to do this or that differently.  I do not want to be so different, and I do not want to look silly to these other people who do not have a multi-allergic celiac diagnosed child.  I cringed all day long today when he threw tantrums in the food court, and again when we passed banana chips in the dried fruit aisle, and again when he saw this allergen or that which used to be a part of his diet.  I was alone, with a myriad of bags (the cooler bag we have for his food, his diaper bag, my purse) and an overflowing shopping cart, and a toddler who every few minutes (after being totally happy and fine) was suddenly screaming and wanting only to be held; and I felt so much more than conspicuous because people kept asking questions about why he was upset. For the first time in three months, I was at the end of my rope and clinging to what felt like the last bits of my sanity, when the words God had given me just the day before came to mind and showed me what God is doing in all of this...

by Melody Joy Buller

Thwarted, I've never felt so thwarted
Everything I do just comes to naught
Effort after effort is rewarded
With the loss of every ounce of strength I've got
And I'm desperate for You

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

All those greener pastures look like freedom
'Cause I can't see the chains under it all
You try to tell me I don't need 'em
But I don't see You're right, until I fall
And I'm broken again

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

I fall on my face again and again
Trying to prove to you, I don't need Your hand
But all I'm proving, really
Is that I'm poor and needy
And desperate for You

You hem me in
Behind, before
You take away every flawed recourse
When will I see, You're leading me
Through desperation
To liberty

And I called my mom for prayer, and just let her pray for me while I bawled my eyes out.  I cannot do any of this on my own.  And I cannot do any of this if I am more worried about the opinions of other parents (and non-parents), especially if they have no idea what it is to really walk through this thing called "Celiac Disease."  We look weird.  We go through a lot of efforts that just look weird.  But God put this possibility before us when we were completely desperate, and it is working!  It is not easy, and it obviously has not been foolproof, but even the (initially skeptical) pediatrician says, "Keep going, it is working!"  So if I want my son to get better, I am going to have to look a little foolish.  And in the end, not only will I have a healthy son, but I will be free of a good chunk of my spiritual baggage, too!  But I have to be willing to look "weird."

And is that not like our faith walks?  We believe some crazy-sounding things, and sometimes our faith makes us act in crazy ways (I moved from a perfectly good life in Boston down here to Georgia because I started crying when I walked into my brother's church, and others have done far stranger things).  There is MUCH healing and blessing that we are going to miss out on if we are not willing to look a little foolish.

If you are struggling because all the "right" moves keep landing you back at the start, maybe you should consider that the truly right move is to stop striving.  God is on the throne, He is in control.  Hew knew this moment before you ever came to it, and He will see you through it to His glory.  You may look a little foolish. You may come out the hero.  Who knows?  Just know that if you can stop striving and lean on God to direct your steps, He will be glorified in your life, and that is all that really matters.

"He says, 'Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'  The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress."
Psalm 46:10-11