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A Look Back 3 Years Post Stem Cells

Three years ago I underwent a stem cell procedure to treat what I believed was a case of Multiple Sclerosis.

The treatment utilized cells extracted from my body’s fat. In my case, my legs were the only part of my body with any extra tissue left to extract from. After the cells were pulled from my body they underwent an activation process. Once turned on, they were pumped back into my body through an IV and injected into my nasal cavity.

Four hours after it began, the procedure was over and I was full of activated powerhouse stem cells.

 

Since that day I have been asked (and have asked myself), “What did that procedure do for you?”

After the stem cells were injected into the immediate results were remarkable. Symptoms that had been unshakable for years completely disappeared. My energy was back. Brain fog lifted. Muscle spasms abated entirely. For the first three days I felt like a new woman and thought, “I’m cured!”

Then I returned home.

And so did my symptoms.

One by one the debilitating ailments came back. Pain. Muscle spasms. Fatigue. Hot flashes. Brain fog. Optic neuropathy. Slowly all of the symptoms crept back into my body….except one.

My claw foot.

Prior to the stem cell treatment my foot had gone into a perpetual claw. My toes were curled over and completely stiff. To release the tension I had to manually straighten them back out again but that was only a temporary fix. In no time at all the claw foot would return.

The condition of my foot made walking difficult and painful. Until my foot went into a claw I didn’t realize how important the toes are for balance and stability. Without all four corners of my foot engaged I fell more easily, tripped with absolutely nothing in my way and had constant discomfort in every pair of shoes.

My claw foot was a catalyst for pursuing stem cell therapy. In fact, before I underwent the procedure, I said, “If I could only have my foot back, this treatment would be worth it!”

Well, I got my foot back.

The morning after the procedure I awoke to a claw-less foot. There was absolutely no gripping in my toes or pain in my foot. The stem cell procedure freed my foot from the grips of the claw and, to this day, it has yet to return.

 

The freedom in my foot following stem cells was immediate but the most amazing freedom I experienced as a result of the procedure didn’t become evident until much later. It took over a year before I began to see the most miraculous outcome of the treatment: freedom from the claw gripping my heart.

Until I had stem cells I was fixated on being healed – and fast. That’s why I pursued stem cells in the first place. I wanted a quick fix to my problems. I didn’t want to have to wait. I wanted it done in four hours – or less. In my mind, the wait had gone on long enough and didn’t want to have to practice any more patience. There was a claw in my heart gripping immediate healing and it was refusing to release.

But stem cells freed me from the claw in my heart.

When the stem cells didn’t provide the cure I’d hoped for, my hope in immediate physical healing died. It was as if I had put all of my healing eggs in the stem cell basket and when I returned home I realized the basket had a whole in it. Complete healing hadn’t made it home and off the plane. I was still stuck sick.

Although I had my foot back I lost temporary sight of that miracle when the rest of my symptoms returned. I had said having a free foot was enough of a reason to get the procedure but the reality was my foot wasn’t enough. No part of my physical body could have ever been enough because the real trouble was still the claw in my heart.

A year post stem cells the true healing came. That’s when I finally accepted that God wasn’t going to use a quick fix to make me well. Stem cells showed me that what I needed wasn’t a procedure. I needed patience. I didn’t need powerhouse cells. I needed powerhouse contentedness in all circumstances.

Stem cells opened my eyes to the foolish fixation I had on the quick fix and revealed that my hopes had become dependent on physical healing instead of on God alone. When the claw finally unclenched freedom took hold. In the presence of God I am free to enjoy peace and rest, regardless of circumstances or physical condition.

 

 

So, what did that procedure do for you? Simple. It freed me from my claw.

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Talking to the Birds

In the neighborhood I call home the houses are situated on quarter acre sized lots, only a few hundred feet apart. The homes are so close that, if you look just right, you can see in your neighbor’s window. Not that I’m peeking. It’s just a fact of residential suburban life.

In the summer months when the windows are open and my neighbors are out in full force I often hear their hearty laughter and boisterous conversation. In the comfort of my own home I’ve even listened to their rocking music. When they crank up the volume I can hear every word.

Living in close proximity to neighbors means you quickly become familiar with their habits, routines and preferences. You come to know, for example, what genre of music they enjoy and what time they leave for work. Or, as is the case with my newest next-door neighbor, you come to discover that they have a deep love and appreciation for birds.

To be honest, I haven’t officially met my new next-door neighbor. I’ve seen her car but couldn’t pick out her face in a grocery store line. But, even in spite of her anonymity, I am confident that my new neighbor love birds because she regularly talks and listens to them from her back deck.

Yes, you read that right. My new neighbors talk to birds. From inside my house I’ve heard her lively discussions with the feathered fowl in nearby trees. During their chats, my neighbor makes various bird-calls and practices a plethora of pitches. She even changes the tone and rhythm of her dialogue in response to her feathered friends.

The bird conversation begins with my neighbor making a few bird sounds of her own then pausing to listen as the birds respond. This back-and-forth dialogue goes on for quite some time, easily half an hour or so. Neither bird caller nor bird ever seems to tire of the discussion. From the energy in their voices there is no question that both neighbor and birds thoroughly enjoy their conversations.

When I first heard this chatter between my neighbor and the birds I’ll admit I thought it was a bit odd. Never before had I heard an individual have such a lengthy and enthusiastic conversation with birds. But the more I listened to the exchange the more beautiful it became. The back and forth soon became magical music to my ears.

 

The beautiful conversations taking place between my neighbor and the birds has taught me an important lesson: When you love someone – or some birds – you change your tune to speak their language.

Scripture says that my love for God is made manifest in my life when I speak His language and call out in His pitch of love and grace. When I turn to Him in prayer and seek His presence to not only speak but, more importantly, listen to His voice, Christ indwells my soul. When I surrender my selfish tune and earnestly endeavor to embody God’s calls the very Spirit of Christ transforms the song on my lips.

Every day of my life I am to be practicing God calls and engaging in the most magical, musical conversation man can ever experience: A holy and life changing conversation with God.

 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Colossians 3:1

 

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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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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.

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Thirteen Pounds of Proof

Fourteen months ago I stepped on the scale and read the numerical reality of my physical condition. Sixty-seven ailing pounds.
At twenty-seven years old I was wasting away. According to body weight and BMI charts I should have been dead, comatose or at least bed ridden. My frame was so sickly and skeletal I could no longer look in the mirror. It was simply too upsetting. So, for the sake of my faith, I had to suspend my sight.

Now, after a year battling my arch nemesis, Lyme disease and its accompanying co infections, the pounds are naturally returning. Since I began this fight fourteen months ago I have gained thirteen pounds of beautiful, healthy weight. A thin layer of fat has returned to my bones and my skeletal frame is at last being covered. I can look in the mirror again. I am no longer cringing!
After eight long years my body is exiting the danger zone and entering the road to recovery. The downward spiral has been stopped dead in its tracks. The diseases that have been slowly destroying my body are being eradicated. I am being healed. I am being made new. And it’s just getting started! God isn’t finished yet.

Dear friend, are you facing a devastating reality? Is it so shocking and troubling you can hardly bring yourself to look at it? Have you been avoiding the sight of it?
Hold fast to the Lord! He is mighty to save. He is faithful and able to carry you over every hill and through every valley. As long as there is breath in your lungs and a beat in your heart, there is hope. God is not finished yet. He is the healer who redeems and restores.

 

Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble but to take heart because He has overcome the world. Being stripped down to sixty-seven pounds has caused my body trouble but has lifted my Spirit. I would not trade this ravaging experience because through it I have been witness to the incredible sustaining and healing power of God.

Now I know by sight what by faith I always knew to be true. The Lord our God makes all things new. I have thirteen pounds of proof.

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Dandelions: A Beautiful Weed

For the past week I have been wrestling with dandelions and struggling to find the right analogy that describes what I see in them. I’ve tried to flee the very first analogy I saw in their weedy, lawn invading behavior but it has relentlessly chased me down. I am weary from running and can no longer escape the dandelion analogy that is staring me in the face…

Dandelions are to the lawn what chronic illness is to the body: a beautiful weed.

In every dandelion I see another invasion of sickness and disease. The yellow flowered weeds pop up without warning. As they grow they are a nuisance to well-manicured lawns. Dandelions are like disease at every stage of their life cycle. They bloom and then go on float into the air where they replant. Untamed, the pesky weeds go on to grow indefinitely, overtaking entire lawns.

Picturing an entire field covered in dandelions is a pretty image but not the lawn I had hoped for my life. I had always hoped for a manicured lawn with green grass cut on a diagonal. And to be perfectly honest I didn’t imagine myself as the one doing the mowing. In the dreams, I imagined a husband would be handling the lawn care. I had visions of planting flowerbeds with roses and watching children catching fireflies in the yard.

Those were the hopes and dreams I had for the lawn of my life, but now those hopes and dreams are covered in weeds. My life has been invaded by dandelions of disease. I’m covered from head to toe in symptoms and ailments that grow wild and free. I don’t have a bed of roses or even a single well-kept pot of flowers. All I have are bunches of dandelions. All I have is the brokenness of disease. All I have are weeds.

My yard full of dandelions had me defeated until I remembered a fondness I had of dandelions when I was a child. As a young girl I used to roam the yard picking them to make into bouquets. I would then go on to present them to my Mother. When my humble weed offering was given as a gift of love my Mother accepted them with joy and placed them in a special vase. She set the beautiful weeds on the windowsill right by the kitchen sink, right where my Mother could see them best.

In my Mother’s house the dandelions I picked were received like the finest of flowers. 

 

When picked with joy and gifted in love, my dandelions of chronic disease are accepted and cherished by my Heavenly Father. In God’s house my humble offering is received like the finest of flowers.  

My Lord does not see a weed in my symptoms and suffering. He sees a beautiful flower worthy of a vase and a place on the windowsill, right where He can see them best. All He asks is that I keep gathering my dandelions and presenting them before His throne with the faith and love of a child. All He asks is that I love Him and rejoice as I offer Him every one of my beautiful weeds.

 

In the dandelion I see a beautiful weed. I see the finest of flowers. What do you see?

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The Dog Wash

The dogs desperately needed a bath but the groomer was booked three weeks out. Pippy and Molly would have gladly waited that long. They dread the groomer. Pippy shakes the whole way there but I could not endure three more weeks with two stinky schnoodles. My girls desperately needed a bath so it was on to plan B.

The upstairs bathtub. Although convenient, at home washing never gets the job done. While kneeling on the floor and bent over the porcelain surround I can’t scrub well enough to really eradicate the dirt. Then there is the problem of the water pressure when it comes time to rinse. The girls hate the faucet and panic when we get too close to its powerful stream. Pouring water from a pitcher is the only inefficient option.

On to plan C.

The Dog Wash. The girls were excited when I grabbed their leashes and opened the front door. They thought we were headed for a walk but when I went straight to the car Pippy’s face fell into a panic. This wasn’t a mission for a walk. This was a mission for a bath. I could see the anxiety written all over her furry face. She thought she was headed for the groomers.

For the next seven minutes on our way to the dog wash Pippy panicked as if her life were about to be over. I did my best to reassure her. I said, “You are not going to the groomer.” And added, “Or the vet.” But Pippy was relentless in her fearfulness. She refused to settle down.

Until we arrived at our dog wash destination.

The moment I opened the door and Pippy jumped out of the car with relief and joy. She could smell the air and it wasn’t the groomers. She could see the pavement and it wasn’t the parking lot she had dreaded. Pippy pranced with glee because I wasn’t about to leave her behind to be shampooed by a stranger. I was going into the dog wash with her and I would be staying the whole time.

Fifteen minutes later the dogs and I had completed our cleanliness mission and were back in the car headed home. Both dogs behaved beautifully in the bath tub and Pippy never panicked. All three of us enjoyed the ride home in peace.

 

Poor Pippy, her fearfulness isn’t her fault. As I watched her panting in the backseat I realized that she’s just behaving how she was taught from her Mom. Pippy learned how to be fearful from watching me.

The truth is, I am fearful and prone to panic. While riding on the road of life I shake and pant with all of the anxiety of an unsettled Schnoodle. Even though God is behind the wheel I become anxious and tremble as if something terrible were about to happen. Even though the Word of God reassures me that the destination ahead is going to be good and glorious, I hold onto my concerns. Even though the Lord commands me not to worry I refuse to release my fear.

Until we arrive at God’s destination.

When the door is opened and God’s plan is revealed I leap into the future with joy because the reality is never what I feared. My anxiety disappears and all shaking is settled because God is not dropping me off at the groomers. He is not leaving me behind. Every time He opens the door the glory of His presence is revealed. God isn’t going anywhere. He is staying right there with me.

There is nothing to fear and no reason to panic. God is not about to abandon you and me, His precious children, at the groomer. Christ is going with us into the dog wash. The restorative, redemptive hand of God will go with you into the tub. The Spirit of God will surround you in every cycle and see you  through until His work is done and you are clean!

Thank God the groomer was booked and the tub at home wouldn’t do. As it turns out I’m the one who needed the trip to the dog wash so God could cleanse my heart of panic and fear and restore peace as I ride in the backseat with Him.

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…Yet

A heart to heart from the journal

I asked God to give me a sign and tell me what this is all about.

“What are you up to?” I asked.“God, can you give me a sign? Some reassurance that everything is going to be alright? I’m weary, but you already knew that. I need your strength to hold on. I’m asking Lord for you to come and rescue me in your Mighty way. Overcome my weakness with your strength. Defeat my enemy with the victory of Jesus Christ. I am sounding the trumpets, I expect and know I will see your face. Come quick God and reveal to me your way!”

I was hoping God would show me a glimpse of His plan or reveal a tiny sneak peek. A clap of thunder or chiming of bells would have been a nice touch to reassure me that God is still there and that He cares.

But when I asked God I got nothing. For months I heard not a peep. All I received was a still, small voice whispering ever so quietly. When I finally stopped to listen I could hear Him say, “I don’t want you to know anything yet.”

Yet…that word hung in the air and arose with glorious tones. Yet. There is a yet. God isn’t finished…yet.

I had feared it was all over. That is why I had prayed so desperately for a sign. My trust wasn’t standing on solid ground just yet. My faith was still holding out for sight.

And then I heard God speaking that glorious yet and my vision changed.

God does not want me to know what comes next. He just wants me to trust and believe that He has written me a glorious future and it will unfold page by page. All He asks is that I surrender in faith and rejoice in His story.

 

PS…Because He isn’t finished…yet.

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Surprised by God’s Joy

As hot water pierced the open cuts on my legs I let out a boisterous laugh. That’s when I knew, “I’ve been surprised by God’s joy!”

The bombshell breakthrough took place in the shower, where the best breakthroughs tend to occur. I stepped into the tub completely oblivious of the terror to come. On my legs open cuts have been forming and, as I soon learned, they don’t enjoy hot water.
The second I stepped into the porcelain tub the rushing water transformed into a swarm of bees. The fresh cuts up and down my right ankle and foot screamed in the heat. Shocked by the sudden stinging, I yelped in pain, resembling the sound of an accidentally stepped upon dog. Then, resembling something like a Mexican jumping bean, I hopped around the shower for a few seconds uttering phrases such as, “Golly gee!” and “Hot diggidy!”
After some creative maneuvering, I was able to position my right leg on the side of the tub, out of direct line of the shower’s head. The only trouble was that in such an awkward position I could not step or twist, both of which are quite helpful when showering.
In the not so distant past, this circumstance would have likely reduced me to tears or at least frustration. But not this time. Rather than causing me to cry the strange shower scenario catapulted me into a fit of hardy laughter.
The joy of Jesus swooped in to my shower and delivered me on the wings of uproarious comic relief. The delight of Jesus’ presence was enough to fill my heart (and shower) with laughter and joy in spite of the stinging pain. Once my soul was lifted up in laughter the physical pain did not need to be removed in order for true joy to be experienced.

Only Christ has the power to deliver sufferers from any and every pain, both inside and out. At His resurrection, Jesus removed the eternal sting of suffering and defeated the doom of death. He rose to render the sorrow and sadness of pain completely powerless.
Jesus does not assure His followers a pain-free life but, united with His glorious resurrection, they will be most assuredly be surprised by God’s joy.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now,
you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,
for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
1 Peter 1:8-9

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Let’s Run

“Turn left and head south on Milfair Road”
The navigational system stated its directions clearly but I wasn’t listening. I took an immediate right and headed east instead. I searched for a way to make my wrong into a right but there were no connecting streets and I couldn’t turn around. I was stuck taking the long route.
“Turn right in six miles,” the re-calibrated navigational voice said. The ETA added ten minutes and the total travel distance increased too but I before I had a moment to consider the lost time a vision of hope appeared through the glass of the car’s windshield.   Running on the right side of the road I didn’t’ intend to be taking I happened upon my runner friend chugging along.
My “runner friend” is an elderly gentleman who conducts his exercise on busy streets in town. His gait is stiff and every step labored yet he continues to move ahead. Rain, sleet and snow cannot deter him. He refuses to give up. He keeps running, defeating obstacles both inside and out. In all circumstances, my friend is determined to lace up his sneakers and run.

The wrong turn I made behind the wheel of my car added thirteen minutes and three miles to the total trip but infinitely more hope was added to my spiritual tank.
The vision of the runner pushing through his difficulty and pain inspired me claim the final victory in all circumstances.
And that’s just what I did.
Fueled by Christ’s overcoming Spirit and eternal hope, I claimed the victory over disease and defeat, laced up my sneakers and ran.

Turns out taking the long way was the perfect way for God to get me running again.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.