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Pain is Beauty

When I was ten years old I wanted to get my ears pierced. All of my friends were getting their ears pierced – if they didn’t have them already – and I desperately wanted to join the bejeweled earlobe crowd.

Despite a deep and, at times, irrational fear of needles, I was willing to brave the Piercing Pagoda chair if it meant I could have pierced ears. I actually wanted to endure the pain so I could wear dazzling diamonds on my ears. Even as a young girl I believed that pain is beauty.

But, to my great disappointment, Dad didn’t support my ear piercing plans.

”Pierced ears are preposterous,” He said. “Why would you want to intentionally stab yourself?”

I told Dad I wanted to pierce my ears so they would look beautiful. “Imagine the pretty earrings I will be able to wear once my ears are pierced,” I told him. “I’ll need my ears pierced for prom!”

I used every excuse (and puppy dog face) in the book but Dad didn’t budge. He wasn’t buying my sales pitch and, in the end, I never did get my ears pierced.

Nearly two decades have passed since I begged to have pain inflicted on my delicate ear lobes and to this day I have yet to get them pierced. As it turns out, Dad was right. I didn’t need pierced ears to have beautiful lobes. Even on prom night, I didn’t need diamond studs to shine.

But I was right, too – a least in part  – because pain truly is beauty. To be made beautiful in the sight of God is painful.

The way of Christ is a way of pain and suffering. The sting that afflicts the followers of Jesus often hurts worse than a needle through the delicate skin of an ear lobe but the results are more dazzling than diamonds.

God allows the piercing of trials and stabbing of suffering in order that His beloved children become adorned with the righteousness and perseverance of Jesus. Our Heavenly Father does not spare us the needle or the sting. He does not keep us from the experience of pain. Instead He perfects us in pain and makes us beautiful by the power of the cross.

It is through the piercing of affliction that God transforms us into dazzling diamonds by the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ.

 

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

1 Peter 4:13

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Strand by Strand

Two years ago I went short. Super, pixie-cut short.

I made the decision to have my hair chopped off when my long locks became terribly thin. At the time, my health was rapidly declining. I was twenty-six years old and less than seventy-five pounds. Everything about my body was wasting away – hair included.

When I took my seat in the stylist’s chair on June 20th, 2016 I was at peace with a life without miraculous healing. After six years of failing health I had come to accept Multiple Sclerosis as God’s plan for me. As I watched my long locks fall to the floor I watched my dreams of restoration fall, too. Allowing my hair to be cut was the outward expression of my inward decision to cut ties with my will and plan for a life of physical health.

My short pixie cut was a declaration of joyful acceptance. By cutting my hair I declared to the world, and myself, that God was not making a mistake with my illness. He had not abandoned me. My life was not worthless and without purpose. Sickness was part of His plan for my life and I decided I would spend my life rejoicing in it.

But sixteen months ago the words “Lyme Disease” God changed the trajectory of my life – and my hair. In that moment a new door was opened and a future of restoration was revealed. The gloomy prognosis of MS was erased with two words and the mental image of a tick. At once I saw the possibility for a future of complete and total healing.

It didn’t happen overnight or with a thunderous bomb. In my prayers that’s how I had pictured receiving my physical healing but in God’s sovereignty He didn’t answer my prayer according to my will. All along He has been healing me from the inside out in accordance to His perfect will and providence.

To God be the glory for great things He has done and is continuing to do in my body and hair. After eight years of devastating weight loss, pounds are naturally pouring onto my frame. Function is returning to organs that were as good as dead. Even my hair is being restored. My short, thinning strands are being transformed and redeemed with renewed body, thickness and strength.

The journey to physical restoration is only one year in and already God is performing miracles before my very eyes – and mirror. He is fighting battles to reclaim the territory that has been taken by disease. He is defeating my enemies and reclaiming my future health. Against all odds God has sustained every part of me, even the hairs on my head, so He could save me, one strand at a time.

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What NOT to say to a “skinny” person

“You’re so skinny!” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that statement directed towards me in the past eight years I’d have a very flush bank account.

Unintentional weight loss was at the genesis of my health saga. I dropped thirty pounds in less than three months and unsolicited commentary from friends, family and complete strangers soon followed. In response to questioning and (oftentimes callous) comments I used to freeze up. Being accused of anorexia or some kind of eating disorder hurt me. I could barely swallow let alone talk, thanks to the lump in my throat. To cope I’d crumble internally and cry externally once the offending commentator was out of earshot.

It has taken a long time (I’m a slow learner) but God has faithfully been teaching me how to handle low weight comments and questions. I’m learning that it is better to extend forgiveness to those who know not what they do and say rather then hold a grudge or be hurt by their words. It is far better to give grace and educate instead.

By opening up in honesty about my diagnosis and health struggles I’ve discovered that most people have no idea that weight loss can be a symptom of Lyme disease. In fact, most people don’t seem to realize that low weight can be a symptom of a whole host of chronic illnesses. The fact of the matter is low weight does not necessarily mean a person is not eating or that they have an eating disorder. Low weight can be a debilitating symptom of chronic disease… Like it is for me.

In an effort to educate with love and grace I have compiled my top three comments that should not be made to someone who is visibly underweight. Although these comments are specifically directed towards low weight the principle behind them applies to all chronic illness. We should all treat each other with love and grace, in sickness or in health.

So, without further ado, the top three comments you should never make to a person who is obviously under weight. And one tip on what to say….

 

1.     Don’t say, “You look like a Holocaust victim.”

Yes, it’s true, I have been on the receiving end of this comment.

It should go without saying that this statement should never be made to anyone, ever. 11 million innocent Jews were killed in the Holocaust at the hands of evil. Telling someone they look like they have been or are in a concentration camp is not only rude it is callous and disrespectful to the immense suffering of millions.

2.     Don’t say, “I wish I were as skinny as you.”

No, actually you don’t. I can’t sit for long periods of time because my butt has no cushion. My feet have lost all the fat on them causing the bones to rub against my shoes, producing constant pain. Because of my low weight I have an extremely low blood pressure, low body temperature, infertility and hair loss.

I could go on but you get the point… Be careful what you wish for. And don’t wish to be as skinny as me.

3.     Don’t say, “You should eat more.”

If only you knew how much and how often I eat then you might change your tune. Unintentional low weight cannot be remedied by drinking more milkshakes, as a doctor once suggested. The food type and amount is not the issue. The problem is the body’s ability to metabolize, digest and use the food. For eight years my body has not been utilizing food leading to blood sugar drops, gallbladder troubles and inescapable stomach pain. If eating more could solve my problems I would have been healed long ago.

4.     Do stay quite about the obvious ailment.

Let me be clear. I do not mean that the underweight person should be treated as if they do not exist. Being treated as invisible can be hurtful, too. Simply treat the underweight person like you would a normal or overweight person. Do not treat the individual as if they were an alien with a mental problem. Treat them like a precious individual with a heart and feelings. Treated every person, regardless of weight, with the dignity and respect you would like to be treated with.

So, in other words say, “Good morning!” and not, “You’re so skinny!” Or say, “How are you this bright and sunny afternoon?” instead of, “You should eat a Big Mac.”

 

For those who have been on the receiving end of callous comments regarding a physical condition or weight I urge you to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Responding in anger only perpetuates the hurt and does not help you heal. Opportunities to enlighten and educate can be missed when we allow rude comments to build walls and burn bridges.

Instead, let us respond like Christ and turn the other cheek. Instead of lashing out, crying or storming off in anger (all of which I have done), choose to extend forgiveness and show mercy. Even if the person making the comment never asks for forgiveness – which they most likely never will – give it anyways. Extend the grace that has been given to you.

 

At every weight and in every physical condition may the encouragement from Ephesians 4:29 guide our speech and heart in every conversation: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

 

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The Joy that Freedom Brings

It’s here. The day children wait for all year. And no, I’m talking about Christmas. Jesus’ birthday didn’t suddenly move to June.  The highly anticipated day I’m referring to is none other than the first day of summertime freedom. It’s official. School’s out for the summer.

All year long students have been held like caged birds trapped in small, stuffy classrooms. Confined to uncomfortable desks and a dictatorial bell schedule they have not been free to flit around and fly. For one hundred and eighty days they have waited for summer and all the fun it brings. Now it is here and students are giddy with relief.

In commemoration of the final day of school children and adults of all ages are gathering at amusement parks and picnic pavilions to celebrate. There will be rejoicing on roller coaster rides and suds of fun on water slides. Ice cream will be eaten for lunch and funnel cake will be devoured for dinner. For one day shouts of glee will be encouraged and no one will be shushed.

On school picnic day children are full of the joy that freedom brings.

 

In June or January, while stuck at a desk or basking in the sun, I aspire to live with the joy of a child enjoying the first day of summer vacation. I long to embody a child-like delight and glee as I rejoice in endless freedom.

I have every reason to be full of joy because Jesus Christ has set me free. God has released me from the guilt of my past. I am no longer caged by sin and shame. The door to salvation has been opened and on the other side is an eternity infinitely more glorious than summer.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

We are free to be full of the joy that freedom brings.

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Turtle Rescue {because God cares about reptiles too}

Why did the turtle cross the road?

To get rescued before he made it to the other side.

In the past two weeks I’ve witnessed two extraordinary turtle rescues and heard of a third.

The first turtle in distress was standing stock still in the middle of a busy two lane road. A daring member of the military stopped his car in the midst of the traffic, hopped out and alerted oncoming cars to halt. Then, in full Navy uniform, he kindly guided the confused turtle off the pavement, over the shoulder and into the abutting woods where he slipped into the protection of a pond.

Turtle rescue two occurred in the same location, minus the military uniform. This time the citizen rescuer came prepared with experience. He had saved turtles in that precise location a time or two before and knew just how to guide the turtle off of the street and back into wooded safety. With the help of the reptile rescuer it only took a moment for the lost turtle to find his way back to the pond again.

Turtle rescue three took place on a two-lane street where there was no pond in sight. This time an SUV stopped in the middle of the road and two men hopped out of the back seat. From afar I could see one of the men carefully lift something large and round from the middle of the road. Sure enough, it was yet another turtle rescued from a devastating, crushing fate.

After each turtle rescue I drive away in awe. The fact that the turtles survive on the street amazes me. How the turtles end up in the middle of the road without being crushed by a passing car is a miracle in and of itself.

Next is the miracle of being spotted by drivers passing by. The turtles could easily be missed. The tortoise’s shell blends in so well to the dark pavement. If not missed entirely, the turtles could easily be mistaken for a stray piece of trash or left over rubber from a tire. But the turtles were not missed. They were spotted, recognized and saved by heroic men who willingly stopped and saved the stranded turtles. They risked their own safety and stepped into harms way to protect the turtles. They delayed their own journeys to ensure that the turtles in these stories had a happy ending to theirs.

In the turtle rescues I see the wonder of my own salvation and am struck by the awe and wonder of my Hero, my Savior, my Rescuer, Jesus Christ.

 

From up on high God saw me in distress. I had wandered away from safety, standing bewildered and in harms away. I could have so easily been crushed at any moment. I was completely oblivious to the dangers whizzing all around me. I was trapped in sin, blending in so well with the rest of the world and yet God spotted me. While I was a lost sinner God recognized me as one of His own and sent His Son to rescue me. By the power of the cross, Jesus defeated death and guided me into the glory of His eternal safety.

I am in awe of Jesus, my rescuer.

 

So why do the turtles cross the road?

So God can rescue them.