Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bad Nights

"I want to return to the matter of a previous letter, the temptations of some illnesses, for I think that many may be where I am now. When “something to give you a good night” has failed, and a long string of failures, or what your nurse calls “bad nights,” lie behind, so that you begin to reach the end of your sanguine expectations – then is the time that mental mosquitoes, silly and small, can swarm about you, or something lizard-like crawls and darts. One, the worst of the tribe, changes color as you watch. Nothing is too fantastic for the chameleon.

"There may be no good reason for sleeplessness; the clamors of acute pain have passed. How futile, then, is this way of spending time, a way that will make tomorrow so much harder, so much more ineffective. With that comes the high, thin note of the questing mosquito, teasing the ear. It is a long-drawn Why?

"And then, like tired children, we turn to our Father:

"It is Thy hand that settles
     Tired flowers’ affairs, and piles a starry heap
Of night lights on the jasmine. Touch my petals:
     Put me to sleep.

"And still we do not sleep. Why?

"I have found that in the end that prayer is answered, if not by sleep, then in something even better, the peace that passes all understanding, peace without explanation, peace that can take the edge off the morning’s weariness and make the impossible possible."

- Amy Carmichael, Rose from Brier

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Thanksgiving Parade

No, I am not writing about the parade on TV, of which I only caught a few glimpses before dinner at my uncle and aunt's home. Frankly, what I saw of that held no appeal to me, but the time with family was special.

Our parade tradition falls on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving day and is the start of our Christmas season. Sometimes a frigid outing, this year's horse-drawn parade of lights was a comfortable 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Elsa and I skipped browsing the fun shops downtown. (Mingling with a crowd amid the dryer-sheet-infused atmosphere of a town was tough enough exposure.) But we arrived through a foggy night in time to meet the rest of our family across from the bank for the parade. 

The horses were beautiful, the live nativity my favorite float, and the many calls of "Merry Christmas" encouraging.

After watching the parade clip-clop past twice, Maren and her family (including Jason's parents) came home with us for our traditional, little party. Out comes Grandma's elaborate cross stitch table-cloth for the coffee table loaded with hot chocolate and treats between the couches -- Norwegian-style. (Sorry, no pictures this year.)

Since Mom and Dad were heading out first thing next morning to the funeral of a fellow orchid-loving friend, Jason (another orchid-enthusiast) had picked up a plant for them to bring along. 

Meanwhile, he couldn't resist bringing a couple more for us to enjoy.

Each of my orchid plants has a name, so these are now dubbed Thanksgiving (green flowers) and Parade (pink). Such amazing specimens of God's creation!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Prisoners at Home, Part 2

A few years ago, I re-read a favorite book from my youth: Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott. Parts of it had more meaning than ever before as I understood what it was like for "Jill" to be bed-ridden and cut off from her previous life of activity.

The following song in the book caught my eye, so I snapped a photo which recently resurfaced.

A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air,
And in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there:
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee!

Naught have I else to do;
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing,
But still He bends to hear me sing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Prisoners at Home

"Be Still" - scene from YouTube video of
Let My Heart Be Quiet by ForeverBeSure
Five years have passed since I first started missing church now and then due to Chronic Fatigue and the slow take-over of Lyme disease compounded by co-infections, heavy metal and mold toxicities, digestive deterioration and more. 

Even after Elsa and I reached our lowest points in February and March of 2014, we were still making it to church occasionally - with earplugs to try to keep our weakened brains from being even more overwhelmed and often spending most of the time laying on the floor at the back of church. 

In time, chemical sensitivities took over and we made it to church only once a month... then a few times a year - knowing we would pay dearly and long for each of those intense levels of exposure to our triggers (perfumes, hair products, laundry detergents, cleaning supplies, scented soaps...) 

Now we make it to church for only the occasional funeral or holiday service. Who would have thought we would be "one of those people" after growing up [usually] glad to go to church three times a week! 

Our pastor asked Mom recently, "So, they're basically prisoners at home?" 

Yes, and no.

Earlier in this journey we felt more like prisoners. But now, partly from familiarity and majorly through God's grace, staying at home with Elsa and our Lord is less and less of a prison and more and more of a gift.

Today we are missing the annual Harvest Festival at church complete with a pot-luck, meaningful talks from a Bible-translator who grew up in our church, and special autumn desserts. Then Mom and Dad are heading over to our sister's place where she and her husband are hosting their little church for supper and an evening "Sing and Share."

But this morning I got up, dressed a little nicer than in my usual weekday "comfies" and felt the anticipation of spending the Lord's Day quietly at home again. No matter what time Elsa and I end up being able to crawl out of bed and settle on the couch together, I know we have a special day ahead including a recording of last week's church service, singing if we have the strength, and praying together.

"Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."  --  Matthew 18:19-20

As much as we wish each other did not have to go through this, we know it is a rare gift to walk this road together. And that is why I sometimes share from our trials and pain - hoping it may bring companionship and encouragement to those of you who are walking through your valleys alone. [...humanly speaking, that is. God's children are never alone! And even Elsa and I would have very little grace for each other on some of our sick days, but for God walking with us.]

This quiet Sunday morning while eating a breakfast of leftover meatballs and homegrown spaghetti squash, I found some new music to set the tone for the day. I encourage you to click the song title below and rest in God's presence today.

Let My Heart Be Quiet by Heather Schopf of Forever Be Sure 

"Lord, let my heart be quiet..."

"And daily help me choose to let my inward man be still..."

"...So that Your voice my quiet mind can fill."

Then if you are ready for something more lively yet still full of truth and power, check out this message we watched while eating our quiet dinner on the couch (that's the noon meal around here - every day of the week!).

"Restored Through Brokenness" - a message from Dr. Eric Mason at the recent TrueWoman '18 conference

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

It seems this has been a season of finishing reading book after book. But those seasons must eventually come when one is in the middle of reading at least ten titles at the same time. 😁

Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, is another worth re-reading regularly. Even for those without my background of growing up with sheep and lambs on our hobby-farm, the rich personal experience and vivid descriptions of this rugged shepherd catch the imagination and open up fresh depth and breadth of meaning in an "overly"-familiar psalm.

The following excerpt is especially meaningful as we lost another friend today. There is no doubt he is enjoying "higher ground" as he left behind a body shattered by ALS. God's grace was obvious even in the gentle release he had after such a hard battle. But we mourn with those "who remain on earth"... as Mr. Keller wrote:

"The Lord is my shepherd...
Even though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,

    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;

"Every mountain has its valleys. Its sides are scarred by deep ravines and gulches and draws. And the best route to the top is always along these valleys.

"Any sheepman familiar with the high country knows this. He leads his flock gently, but persistently up the paths that wind through the dark valleys. ... It does not say I die there, or stop there - but rather "I walk through." ... It is not something to fear, but an experience through which one passes on the path to a more perfect life.

"The Good Shepherd knows this. It is one reason why He has told us, "Lo, I am with you alway" - yes, even in the valley of death. What a comfort and what a cheer. 

"I was keenly aware of this consolation when my wife went to "higher ground." For two years we had walked through the dark valley of death watching her beautiful body being destroyed by cancer. As death approached I sat by her bed, her hand in mine. Gently we "passed" through the valley of death. Both of us were quietly aware of Christ's presence. There was no fear - just a going on to higher ground.

"For those of us who remain on earth, there is still a life to live here and now. There are still valleys to walk through during our remaining days. These need not be "dead end" streets. The disappointments, the frustrations, the discouragements, the dilemmas, the dark, difficult days, though they be shadowed valleys, need not be disasters. They can be the road to higher ground in our walk with God. ...

"Again and again I remind myself, "O God, this seems terribly tough, but I know for a fact that in the end it will prove to be the easiest and gentlest way to get me onto higher ground." Then when I thank Him for the difficult things, the dark days, I discover that He is there with me in my distress. At that point my panic, my fear, my misgivings give way to calm and quiet confidence in His care. Somehow, in a serene quiet way I am assured all will turn out well for my best because He is with me in the valley and things are under His control."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Acceptance and Celebrations

Another book is going on my "finished reading" list - earning my top rating of three stars. Waiting for a Miracle: Devotions for Those With Affliction by Jan Markell is honest yet God-focused. Near the end is a reading titled "Acceptance Doesn't Mean Giving Up." 
"There are certain tragedies that one is able to accept more than intense short term or chronic illness. The everyday pain, fatigue, and a myriad of other symptoms remind us of their presence 24 hours a day. Here's where a "sacrifice of praise" is needed - even if the praise sounds a bit hollow. God knows we are trying.
"Everything seems out of control. Our bodies are out of control and rule us like a cruel taskmaster. Our limits and our lifestyles are difficult to accept. 
"What if God were to say in a still, small voice, "These are my sufferings ... I am trusting you to go through this experience, even if I never tell you why. Can you do this for me?"
"Grace and trust. They need to make a grand entrance. For the afflicted, getting through a day is simply the result of God's grace. Grace comes by way of trust. Trusting God means believing his purpose is higher and more important than our comfort and convenience. The question remains: "Who will allow God the Father to work out his larger plan?" 
"We can look back longingly for the life we once had. For many, it will return; for others, life will never be the same. Can we make the best of a less than ideal situation for today?...
"Accepting out current situation doesn't mean giving up! It actually provides a base from which we can grow.
"Often at a point of acceptance, God's healing hand moves. But not always. Yes, our dreams were filled with grand expectations and what might have been. We wanted to make an impact on this world.  Unless God allows us to be cured or healed, we must accept that not all our plans will come without a miracle. Thus to better reflect our present dreams and ideals, we set new goals. Scaled down goals. Goals once thought too low to be acceptable, for we were out to save the world. To make an impact. To really count. To be extraordinary.
"Yes, it is possible to construct a life in the spaces between moments of dysfunction. But learning how to keep discomfort and dysfunction at a minimum may require trial and error as our symptoms flare and subside."
That roller-coaster of trial and error show more glaringly whenever we draw near to holidays. What used to be joyful times of traditional family gatherings (though admittedly with their share of stress from too much busyness) are now lonely times of wondering how we can find the strength to even attempt a bit of scaled back celebration at home. And if we pick one outing to be with our lovely relatives (saying "no" to many other great gatherings along the way), much of the enjoyment can be spoiled by how long we will have to pay for the energy expenditure and chemical exposure.

A large part of the holiday struggle can simply be "food." Until one can no longer eat any of the main ingredients, you may not notice just how many holiday celebrations center around food. For those with so many food allergies and sensitivities, this can rob our celebrations of much of the comfort and familiarity of tradition. Even if we ignore the delicious fragrances around us and "forget" the flavors, trying to concoct our own "everything-free" versions of old favorites can be the "the straw that broke the camel's back" at these inherently busier times.

While it is tempting to just throw out the traditional food element altogether as unimportant (and be free to turn more of our enjoyment to God's gifts that we are celebrating anyway), the focus on food is unavoidable when celebrating with "well" people. I remember having to put on blinders to cope with the first years of eating my own packed lunches at the same tables with holiday feasts. Thankfully God can and does answer our prayers for grace to deal with this loss.

Are celebrations and family gatherings worth it?! Is this even in God's will for the use of our limited strength? I believe so. You don't have to read far in the Bible to see that regular celebrations were part of God's plan to help His people remember His faithfulness throughout history and in their own lives.

So, how are Elsa and I going to navigate this maze of trial and error in the coming weeks? Prayer comes first. Then planning and working ahead as much as possible. And just being ready to trust God through the extra suffering. 

It's time to get pumpkin out of the freezer while I count my many blessings...

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Love the Truth

"The first sentence in this chapter is false.
Is it? Think about it."

Thus begins a riveting chapter by Vince Vitale in the book he co-authored with Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Secular Gods

On Monday I interrupted my reading of The Tapestry to finish this book in the sauna. Having read an excerpt from one of Ravi's chapters last year, this book went on my wish list. I've been reading it slowly since receiving it for my birthday. It is one of those books that I should read over and over to digest. But even with the state of my brain these years, I am able to understand many snatches of the foundational truth being discussed and now know where to go for reference when dealing with the pervasive "isms" of our day. Those discussed are:

Atheism - There is no God
Scientism - Science has disproved God
Pluralism - All paths are equally valid
Humanism - We don't need God
Relativism - True for you but not for me
Hedonism - Whatever makes you happy

The final chapter of the book, with which I began this post, is titled Love the Truth. The point is that the Truth can in fact be loved, because the Truth is a Person.

But first Vince discusses how futile it is to play with the truth. If you say, "There is no truth," is that itself a true statement?

There is also the danger of dealing only with "partial truths" - comically illustrated by these jokes.

"In which battle did Napoleon die? 
His last one.

"Where was the Declaration of Independence signed? 
At the bottom.

"What do you have if you have three oranges in one hand, and five in the other?
Big hands."

I could go on to share much more, but I encourage you instead to read a copy of this book for yourself - even if you believe there is no such a thing as objective truth. You will find these authors very sympathetic and understanding of where you are coming from. They've been there themselves!

"Because truth has so often been used as a weapon to manipulate, abuse, and control, many have stopped valuing truth altogether. We have lost the ability to disagree in love... Our experience of human nature has taught us that disagreement leads to devaluing which leads to intolerance which leads to violence. 

"Avoiding disagreement is not possible, and trying to do so lands you in incoherence; you forfeit your ability to have intelligent conversations."

Do you fear the truth or love the Truth?