, , , , , , , , , ,

The Slow Road to Healing

I remember the first (and only) time a church body laid hands on me and prayed for my healing.

People were speaking in tongues and some others were singing hallelujahs. I remember the pastor’s hand in particular. It was heavy and clammy and when he lifted it off my back I had a sweat spot on my shirt. I hoped that in all of that energy was the delivering of a mighty miracle but, to be honest, I was skeptical.

Not having grown up in a Pentecostal church where the laying on of hands is a common occurrence, I didn’t know what to expect following my first encounter of this kind. Part of me was anticipating a crack of thunder or at least a powerful sensation in my stomach – some sort of “message received” communication from God. But none of those things happened. I felt nothing but that preacher’s sweaty palm on my back.

Despite no shock and awe, stand up and walk variety miracle, I didn’t leave the church entirely disappointed. “I bet tomorrow I’ll wake up and feel different,” I thought to myself. In my mind, all of those prayers and hallelujahs were like an antibiotic. I took them, now they just needed 24 hours to take full effect.

But, after 24 hours, still nothing had happened. And the same was true 48 and 72 hours later.

Nothing changed and nothing did change for years. In fact, just the opposite happened. Over the next seven years, I became sicker, weaker and frailer. From the outside looking in, it certainly appeared that the passionate church and sweaty palmed pastor had failed to usher in my healing. Or perhaps it was me and my lack of faith keeping my body from receiving restoration and fullness of health?

Following that experience and the lack of visible results produced by it, I stopped praying that God would perform an instantaneous miracle in my body. It’s not that I stopped believing God could perform such a wonder. It’s just that I stopped believing He would do it for me. I stopped believing that it was His will for me to be made well in a single moment and, in time, began embracing the belief that there was a purpose for my pain and suffering.

And, praise God, I was right.

For reasons far greater than my own, it was not God’s will to heal me with the snap of a finger or single touch. That wasn’t His plan for my life, my body or my testimony. Since before I was born, God wrote my story with a plot that included years of mysterious symptoms, misdiagnosis and all-out war against an invisible disease. He prepared for me a slow road to healing which, as I came to discover, is no less miraculous than an instantaneous healing.

Don’t get me wrong, instantaneous healing is wonderful and certainly a beautiful testimony to the unrivaled power and majesty of God, but it isn’t the only way God glorifies Himself through sickness. Sometimes God allows people to endure through illness and fight through disease for the specific purpose of demonstrating His unwavering faithfulness and sustaining grace. Often times, God allows pain and suffering because, in and through it, we who experience it are refined and sanctified by it. If we will allow God to have His way in our broken bodies, He will use every ache and hurt like a winnowing fork, removing the wheat from the chaff of our hearts.

Looking back now, I can honestly say that I am thankful God didn’t answer the prayers of those passionate believers who laid hands on me in church.

I am thankful God didn’t give me what I thought I wanted, which was a “pick up your mat and walk” miracle because, had He answered that prayer, I would have missed out on the spiritual regeneration He had in store for me. Had God let me skip out on my extended healing journey, I wouldn’t have had my faith strengthened in the fire of trials and tests. Had I not traveled along the lengthy path of chronic illness, I wouldn’t have the honor of sharing a story that includes being sustained at 65 pounds, upheld with failing organs and carried on a skeletal frame.

I am who I am today because God took me down the slow road to healing. That was His will for me and I will boast in it because it is indeed a wonderful story that glorifies and honors the Almighty God.

If you’re sick, suffering or struggling because God hasn’t healed you yet, I pray this story encourages you. I also hope it reminds you that your story is no less miraculous than someone who experiences a shock and awe miracle moment. Your story, no matter how slowly it might be unfolding, was written specifically for you by God, for your good and His glory. Trust Him with every detail. Remain patient when the timing doesn’t go your way. And keep looking for the mini-miracles along the way, because I promise that if you look into your heart, you’ll see them unfolding all the time.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

~ Isaiah 41:10

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Decade in Review

As this decade comes to a close, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and thinking about all that has transpired in my life over the past ten years. In doing so, three words have kept returning to my mind:

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

When I received salvation in November of 2009, just two months before a new decade began, I thought I was living the final chapter of my rescue story. Little did I know, my story was just getting started.

As the 2010’s kicked off, so did my sickness. By the summer of that first year, a mystery illness consumed me. In 2010 I encountered major health disruptions that completely derailed my twenty-year-old self’s plans. By 2011, those disruptions turned into the destruction of dreams, plans and even love. That year I watched my status go from engaged to single – and that’s where it’s been ever since.

Over the next four years, I traversed the trying trail of chronic, undiagnosed illness as a single woman. Thankfully, I never walked alone. I was blessed with the support of a loving family, amazing Mom and incredible dog – my Pippy love.

But what truly kept me going throughout those chronic, undiagnosed illness wilderness years was Jesus.

Whenever I wanted to give up, I’d remember November 2, 2009 and the moment when my life was forever changed by receiving salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Just knowing that Jesus rescued me, redeemed my past and reconciled me to God filled my spirit with the hope and strength needed to carry on. Whether in sickness or in health, I belonged to Christ. He bought my life at the highest price and I had to believe that He didn’t die in vain.

If I believed God’s Word, then I had to trust that my illness wasn’t a mistake and I wasn’t forgotten or forsaken. I had to trust that God had a purpose and plan for my life. So I grabbed hold of these three foundational truths:

  1. God is good.
  2. God is faithful.
  3. And He isn’t finished yet.

By standing on the rock of salvation, I was indwelled with the spiritual strength needed to keep fighting for my life even when sickness ravaged my body and caused me to physically waste away.

In 2015, I was 25 years old and 72 pounds when I was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seeing lesions on my brain and hearing the letters “MS” was as reassuring as it was difficult. Reassuring because those scans confirmed that I wasn’t crazy – there truly was something wrong with my body. But difficult, too, because MS provided little hope, no cure and limited treatment options. The prognosis for MS is simply a steady, and possibly swift, decline.

My physical decline was swift. Thankfully, my hope didn’t follow such an ill-fated trajectory.

As the calendar turned to 2017, I watched the scale drop below 70 pounds. By that point my body was experiencing so many debilitating, life-altering symptoms it would take an entire notebook to catalogue them. My health was failing fast but, praise God, my faith was growing even faster.

As my body went plummeting towards death at a seemingly unstoppable clip, I was compelled to go on a hunt for further help. By the grace of God, I was led to a doctor who took a fresh look at my case and gave me life changing news. I wasn’t a multiple sclerosis case. I was a lymie and had been all along.

After receiving a Lyme diagnosis in 2017, I entered a disease killing battlefield prepared to endure an intense and lengthly fight for my life.

Defeating lyme proved to be much harder than five years of undiagnosed illness and two years of misdiagnosed illness – but much more rewarding, too. Organs that had been shut off for years were restored and turned back on. Chronic pains that had plagued me for almost an entire decade began reversed. It was like being reborn!

Although I had to fight hard for victory over my lyme foe, I’ve never fought alone. God, in His unfailing faithfulness, carried me and upheld me when I didn’t know if I could go one step further. The joy of Jesus renewed my strength when my faith was wearing thin. The hope of salvation restored my resolve when I felt like giving up.

Looking back on the past decade, I can hardly believe I survived it! There is no doubt in my mind that the overcoming strength, love and grace of God saved and sustained me so I could live to tell this rescue story. God charted this course specifically for me. He had a purpose for every pain and a plan for every setback. There wasn’t one single step wasted. God, in His unwavering goodness, produced fruit in every season and used every struggle to sanctify my faith, strengthen my hope and secure my footing on the rock of salvation.

As this decade comes to a close, I’m ready for whatever lies ahead in 2020 because I am still standing on these foundational truths:

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Memories that matter: a cradle and a cross

They say a picture says a thousand words but, to me, this picture said at least fifteen-thousand.

It was our family vacation photo taken on the last day of our 2011 trip to Hilton head. There were fifteen of us in attendance – two brothers, two sister-in-laws, two parents and eight nieces and nephews. We had just finished enjoying a perfect week on the beach and, if I recall correctly, there had barely been a single argument or squabble among the whole group. It truly was a picture perfect trip.

In the picture, we were all sporting our very best tans and smiling with sun kissed glows. This particular shot has always been one of my very favorite family photos because every one of us looks happy, healthy and full of life.

But I wonder if we would have been smiling that big had we known what was to come over the next nine years?

Heaven knows, I didn’t have a clue!

What that picture was taken, I was feeling so good! I had just recently climbed out of my first go around with illness and, although I didn’t understand why I’d suddenly become sick in the first place, I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was that whatever had plagued me appeared to be history. I considered it a miracle and gift from God. I was thrilled to be well again and able to plan for the future without factoring in physical limitations. My body was strong, pain free and vibrant and I was loving every minute of it!

But my health didn’t stick around.

Before long, the plans I made (some on that very family trip), including a return to college and future as a fitness professional, went up in smoke. By November 2011, my weight was falling off again and every pound I gained (and then some) was gone. By Thanksgiving, every bit of muscle I worked so hard to restore had wasted away entirely.

On our family’s 2011 summer vacation to the beach I had no idea that, by the following June, I would be living in  Florida to be near a particular doctor I believed could solve my health mystery. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that over the next four years I would go across the country in search of someone who could explain what was wrong with my failing body. During that perfect summer, I didn’t think that in 2015, at the age of twenty-five, I would receive MRI test results revealing lesions on my brain. Nor did I have a clue that, two years after those brain scans, my life would be changed again by the word “Lyme.” To think, in 2011, I didn’t even know what the world Lyme meant!

Now, as I look back at that 2011 family photo and recall my former, long haired, optimistic, smiley self, all I can think about is how naive I was. There was so much I didn’t know and so much I wasn’t prepared for. Back then, I thought my life was on the verge of taking off, when in reality, it was actually on the precipice of falling apart.

As 2019 comes to a close and I stare at that beloved picture with 20/20 hindsight vision, I’ve asked myself this question: “If you could go back in time, would you want to know that life was going to get this hard?” 

The answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Even if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have wanted to know that a my life’s path was going to be this challenging to traverse. I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I was going to spent years fighting for my life and endure such excruciating pain that I thought I might die. Knowing how long and how trying this road was bound to be would have only proven to discourage me and, had I known what it looked like before I embarked on it, I fear I would have succumb to hopelessness and possibly even given up.

But, praise God, back in the summer of 2011, He made sure I walked into the future entirely unaware of what lay ahead. He blessed me three months of amazing health and picture perfect opportunities to enjoy it! During those months of ignorance, I lived in bliss and excitement about the future. I dreamed. I hoped. I lived life to the fullest and made exciting plans that included honoring and serving God with my restored body and soul.

Just because my illness returned after that summer, should I now look back on those memories with sadness and longing?

Since I have, once again, relapsed into sickness, wouldn’t it be understandable for me to moan, groan and complain to God?

Don’t I have grounds to say, “God, this isn’t fair! I wanted to pour out my life for you and you let me become sick, keeping me from the life of fruitful service I wanted!”

The answer, again, is “no” to all of the above.

No matter how hard these years have been, I have no grounds for grumbling to God. Like Job told his friends and wife after having every earthly treasure snatched away from him, he would not denounce God. The Lord had given and the Lord could take away. That was Job’s stance and it’s mine, too.

But, I must admit, sometimes I fall prey to lamenting. When I look at what I lack and what I’ve lost, it is tempting to slip into a state of utter hopelessness and defeat – especially during this Christmas time of year when, all around me, are messages about merriment and holly and jolly happiness.

But God never leaves me down in that dark and dreary pit. As long as I keep calling out to Him for help, just like Job did, and keep trusting Him, just like Job did, He keeps showing up to pull me out of the emotional and spiritual depths of doom and death. He reclaims my Christmas spirit and restores my hope and joy by calling back to remembrance two scenes: one of a cradle and another of a cross. These are the two memories that matter most. 

As soon as I return to the heart of the gospel and the reason for not only this Christmas season but the reason for my very life, what did and didn’t happen in the past nine years fails to matter. With my eyes and heart fixed solely on Jesus, I remember that the only moment in time that has any power over my joy and peace is the moment that the long awaited Messiah entered the world on a mission to save me and all of mankind from sin and hell. The only event that can impact the state of my hope its the event of the perfect Lamb of God’s sacrificial death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the grave.

The last nine years have been unexpected and, of course, the next nine are too. But I’m not afraid of the unknown because I have the confidence of knowing what and Who awaits me after my time on earth is through. Because I have been born again into the Kingdom of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, I can step into the future knowing that, one day, I will walk through Heaven’s gates and onto streets of gold where I will live perfectly healthy and completely whole in the company of my Father God.

, , , , , ,

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.