Psalm Sunday…Er, Tuesday… #3

I exalt you, LORD , because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. LORD , my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. (Psalms 30:1‭-‬2 CEB)

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. It’s not Sunday, because the events below required that I take a two day break from blogging just to get home and get stuff taken care of and recollect myself, but I now have thoughts to share. 

Saturday morning, I wrote what I thought then was one of the hardest devotional blog posts I had ever written–and it was, at the time!–which was on still trusting God’s provision even while chronically ill and not expecting healing of your physical pain during this lifetime. 

And then, Saturday night happened. 

I was staying in a hotel in KY on my way back from the conference, doing some spiritual reflection and working on processing it all. I’m not sure how it happened, but when I go to my hotel room and unlock the door, there are two other people in the room, my stuff all sprawled out all over the bed and dug through. it seems perhaps the hotel double booked my room? That part is still blurry. They ended up stealing some money and medication from me; the medication is retrieved by the police, who were very kind and helpful, and it ended up being lot better than it probably could have. I got out of there as fast as I could, and it turns out the people had warrants out on them. 

When bad things happen, I have a bad habit of trying to understand God through them by imposing meaning: usually, by assuming that I’m doing something wrong and out of God’s will and that’s why something bad happened. 

Reading the Psalms was certainly a comfort. There is so much in the Psalms that can help someone going through a crisis. David was extremely honest in describing his suffering and asking the Lord where he was in the midst of it, while always still returning to God’s grace and mercy. One of our keynote speakers at the conference actually talked about David and things to take from his ministry, so I’m going to blog on that later today on my other blog, rather than on the session I had planned (I will still come back to what I had planned, because everything from was excellent!). 

 If you ever wonder what David was complaining about, just look at a chronology of his life. 

David finds out he is going to be kind as a child, but has a long way to get there, under a murderous current king who hates him. Saul is long jealous of David, and David had to leave his wife Michal, Saul’s daughter, and flee when an evil spirit makes Saul pursue David, aiming to kill him. He spends years fleeing and hiding, and being betrayed multiple times by people he trusts. Saul eventually dies in battle, but so does Jonathan, David’s oldest and dearest friend, and King Saul’s son. 

David is human, and clearly makes mistakes. But what I admire most about David, and what I hope to cultivate and emulate in my own life, is David’s constant reliance on the Lord. 

One of my recent Psalm readings is Psalm 30, which ends with the line “Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Now, thankfulness seems like an odd first response to crisis, whether it is David’s life or my own or yours. What is there to be thankful for when an enemy is out for your life, or your best friend dies…or, on a much smaller scale, when someone threatens your safety in your hotel room? 

Now, what I’m not at all saying is that we have to be thankful for all of these things, anymore than I’m saying you should be thankful for chronic illness. Bad things happen, and it’s OK–not only OK, but important–to acknowledge that, and deal with them in whatever way you need to. 

I’m not thankful for my chronic illness, and wish I could live life without it, but if this is my lot, I’m going to wrestle blessings out of it the best I can. The same goes for what happened Saturday night. It was really scary, and I wish it wouldn’t have happened, and I am sure I will have trauma from it for a long time, but I am still rejoicing and praising God through it: not because the bad happened, but because God is still faithful through it. 

Let’s look at all of Psalm 30 in context, with this verse at the end of it. 

I exalt you, LORD , because you pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. LORD , my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. LORD , you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit. You who are faithful to the LORD , sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but by morning, joy! When I was comfortable, I said, “I will never stumble.” Because it pleased you, LORD , you made me a strong mountain. But then you hid your presence. I was terrified. I cried out to you, LORD . I begged my Lord for mercy: “What is to be gained by my spilled blood, by my going down into the pit? Does dust thank you? Does it proclaim your faithfulness? LORD , listen and have mercy on me! LORD , be my helper!” You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. LORD , my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalms 30:1‭-‬12 CEB

When we look at it this way, it’s clear that praise was not David’s immediate reaction: and that’s OK! It’s good for us to live by David’s example (…in this case, obviously.) I think a lot of times, when we think of the idea that believers should praise continually, we get very discouraged and give up before we even try, because we think praise is at the cost of all other emotions: we can’t praise if we’re scared, or angry, or hurt. 

But David runs the whole gamut here: scared, angry, hurt, weeping, hopelessness, some self-insulting. But he still is able to end with praise, because David, through everything, has faith in the Lord. And that’s what I want to have, too: a faith that is honest, that allows itself to run through all the healthy emotions, but that always returns to joy, and to praise, because there is so much more to be joyful about: God is so much bigger than some scary, bad situations. 

The biggest reason I have to praise God through all of this, other than God’s innate character of being a God who is good and worthy to be praised, is the beyond-incredible support system God has placed in my life. So many people have helped me through this situation, and both given me safe places to be upset and run through the gamut of emotions, but also helped me: through practical needs, through love, support, understanding, messages, phone calls, rides, babysitting, and a whole host of other stuff. Whether you’re one of the incredible people from my church families, or a family member, or a dear friend, or a ministry colleague, or anyone else who has supported me in any way through this time: thank you. Thank you so dearly. You help keep my faith in God strong with your love and encouragement. So much love to you all. 

Because I can run through the gamut of emotions and still return to praise, I know sin does not have the last say. Evil in the world does not have the last say. Satan trying to derail me from the ministry and self-care work I feel called to do has no power compared to the power of the God I praise and the support system that holds me up. 

I have two very important things in my life and ministry happening this week, and could use continued prayers regarding them. One is that in addition to my ministry at my church, I am starting a second position as a Before and After School Program Coordinator through the YMCA. I spent a long time praying about this next step, and feel very called to starting this new extension of my call and ministry. 

Second, today I have a very important MRI to look at the progress of my Chiari malformation. I have been putting this off for a long time, but finally have the courage and am putting my faith in the Lord to go through with it. 

In conversations immediately after the hotel incident with some of the most trusted and valued people in my life, I struggled against my self-defeatism and desire to see what happened this weekend as a sign that I should quit my job before it starts and cancel my MRI. Through their love and wisdom and much prayer, I have decided that is fear talking, not God, and if anything, this is a sign of Satan trying 

One of the best compliments I’ve gotten through this, from a dear church member and pillar of the church and community, is that she admired that I was still going through with my plans after all that had happened. But I firmly believe that if they were my plans, I would not have the courage to go through with them. They are God’s plans, and I am just trying to take the next faithful step at a time, and praise God all the way. 

New Testament Saturday #2

Hello Writer Kat readers! I’ve missed you! If you wonder where I’ve been, I’ve actually been busy writing at my new blog, Kat Writes About Family Ministry. But don’t worry, I plan to keep writing about chronic illness, day to day life, and, of course, my personal spiritual practices here on this blog. I would love if you could follow both. 

I’ve been chugging along, reading Matthew: I love having my awesome Discipleship Program to keep me accountable! I am currently on Matthew 11, but today will be writing about Matthew 8:1-17. You can read those verses here, and it would be helpful for you to do so before returning to my post. These verses are all about healing: Jesus doing many miracles of healing. 

I’m going to lay it all out on the table here: I am not an expert on these verses. If someone is, and they are reading this, please, your expertise would be very much appreciated. 

What I am is a minister and Christian who has been chronically ill most of her life. So, because of who I am, and these thorns in my side that are chronic illness, I am very challenged and admittedly a bit disheartened when I read scriptures about Jesus healing. It’s even more challenging when I read devotionals like mine on the Matthew 8 day from the iKan study I’ve been following along with, “God Is…Through Matthew”:

“God is…healer. 

Notice how God heals every pain and disease. He is fully capable of healing any and all illnesses in your life or the life of those you love. God does not keep blessings from his children. Psalm 84:11 promises that God doesn’t hold back good things from those who live in a  right relationship with Him. Trust in the Lord today when it comes to your physical health.”

Those are incredibly nice, affirming sentiments, and I fully believe that the wonderful people who run iKan and created this devotional meant no harm in writing them. But as someone who is chronically ill, these statements, and others I have read, heard from pulpits, or internalised many, many times, can be extremely discouraging. 

“Why am I not fully healed yet?” I think. “Is my faith not strong enough? Am I not in a right relationship with God?” I know I am not the only one who feels these things. Just as many Christians get chronic illnesses, or terminal illnesses, or life-ending 

I am not disagreeing that God is a great healer. I also fully believe that our pain is temporary on Earth:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

So, I fully believe, when God calls us home, or when the fullness of God’s kingdom here on Earth is realised, there will be no more pain or suffering. I also fully believe my illnesses are not from God–I believe God is perfect, and I do believe all things given to us by God are good. I believe an all-good God would never put pain or suffering on any of us. But I believe that when Adam and Eve sinned, human choice allowed non-human evil–natural disasters, illnesses of all kinds–to enter the world. But when the creation is restored and it becomes as heaven on earth, I believe all of this suffering will end. 

Those are deep theological beliefs that require a lot of unpacking–something I don’t have space to do here in a blog post, but if you would like to talk to me and for me to explain them or us to dialogue about them further, please do reach out (Facebook messaging my blog page would be the best way to do so). 

So I believe that my chronic illness is not a punishment from God for anything. I also do believe in God’s ability to heal–but that maybe it is not God’s will to heal me right now. I can’t explain that. I can’t explain why it isn’t. 

But I do know, that even during Jesus’ ministry, not everyone who was sick was healed. There are absolutely no promises in scripture that following Jesus will lead to an easy life. In fact, if you go just a little bit farther, it promises the complete opposite:

““Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, and slaves aren’t greater than their master. It’s enough for disciples to be like their teacher and slaves like their master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.” (Matthew 10:24‭-‬25 CEB)

This is about human evil, but I believe that when Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow him, it means we’re all going to encounter a great deal of suffering (though it likely won’t be anything close to the suffering Jesus and his disciples encountered: I don’t see myself being executed by the government any time in the near future!). 

Even Paul, who wrote a great majority of the letters in the New Testament, writes of an unknown thorn in his body: 

“I was given a thorn in my body because of the outstanding revelations I’ve received so that I wouldn’t be conceited. It’s a messenger from Satan sent to torment me so that I wouldn’t be conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 CEB)

We all have thorns in our side, and we all have crosses to carry. Chronic illness is mine. 

However, the good side of that is, no matter what we suffer: God will be with us. God loves and knows all of us. I may be suffering from chronic illness, but I never, ever have to suffer alone. And while I don’t believe God is the reason we are sick, I do believe God has the power to use everything for God’s good, and I try to partner that good by pushing through my chronic illnesses and wrestling blessings out of them. 

If you are chronically ill and struggle with the fact you continue to go through the many burdens of your illness and no end to your disease is in sight: I fully believe God sees you and knows you. Your illness is not your fault, it is not a punishment from God, and you are not still sick because you don’t have enough faith. God loves you, knows you, and in God you can find rest. 

I may always be chronically ill during my mortal life here on earth, but I fully believe that my God is stronger than my chronic illnesses and will give me the power to wrestle blessings and encourage others through this thorn in my side. 

New Family Ministry Blog!

Two blog posts two days in a row! I don’t plan on making this a regular thing, but I wanted to make a quick announcement here before I left for the conference tomorrow. I have decided to start a second blog that will specifically be focused on Family ministry, Kat Writes about Family Ministry. You can find more information about why I made that decision over there, and there will be a lot going on over there this week and beyond as I blog about all I learn at the conference. 

This also means that my Writer Kat blog will be quiet this week. I won’t have any posts on this page through the week, but I will be back Saturday and Sunday with my second New Testament Saturday and third Psalms Sunday. 

Talk to y’all then! 

Psalm Sunday #2

Happy Sunday everybody! Today is the first day of a very exciting and full week ahead: tomorrow, I am leading a trip of youth and families from our church to an inflatables/trampoline park, and leaving immediately after to drive to the Louisville, KY area for the CMConference along with one of our awesome Family Ministry team volunteers. I am super pumped for everything I’ll be able to learn and bring back to my ministry settings. I have a related exciting announcement, which I’ll announce later today, so stay tuned! 

Last week, on Psalm Sunday #1, I talked about my spiritual practices, specifically about the spiritual practice of scripture reading and how I’m trying to do better in that area. To this end, I am currently working on two different long-term Bible reading plans, complemented by Bible studies and devotionals. On Saturdays, I’m reading through the New Testament. Today, I’m talking about my study on the Psalms and Proverbs. Alongside this YouVersion study, I am reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s one-year devotional on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus. 

A regular theme of the Psalms is how God is a God of sustenance: our God sustains us: God helps us sleep, and helps us rise to meet each new day. Psalm 3:5-6 reads, “I lie down, sleep, and wake up because the Lord helps me. I won’t be afraid of thousands of people surrounding me on all sides.” 

In their book The Psalms of Jesus, Timothy and Kathy Keller write, regarding this verse, “”God is the only one who sustains you, whether an army is pursuing you or you are at home in your own bed. God sustains every breath you take.” 

“Sustainable” is obviously a big buzzword right now: sustainable agriculture, sustainable living, many things related to living an environmental lifestyle. But sustainability extends far outside of that realm, too. “Sustainable” is defined as “able to be maintained at a certain level; able to be upheld or defended.”  My masters thesis for my Masters of Divinity with a specialisation in Youth and Young Adult Ministry, which I received from Methodist Theological School in Ohio, was written on sustainable faith formation in a postmodern world. The main idea was exploring ideas about how churches can foster faith development in children and youth that lasts into adulthood. 

Being sustained is one of my strongest desires right now in my ministry and life. I have been in Newark for just over a year now, and want to stay here as long as I continue to feel called to the ministry and life we have here. Staying in something for the long haul requires lots of sustenance, sustenance I know I cannot provide by myself. Ministry, like any profession, holds its shares of challenges. These are not made any easier, and in fact are further complicated, by the demands of motherhood, chronic illness, and the other roles and responsibilities of my life. 

Something I remind myself regularly–and that some of the dearest people in my life are constantly reminding me of–is that the best, most worthwhile things in life are frequently the hardest. Long-term, fruitful ministry; a long, happy marriage; raising a happy, well-equipped-for-the-world child; pursuing my writing dreams; cultivating wellness despite chronic illness so I can continue living out my calls in all these other areas: none of these things are easy. But God does not promise easy: God promises sustaining. With God, I never have to carry any of this life, any of these responsibilities, on my own. God helps me lie down, sleep, and wake up to each new day with God’s own helping hand. 

I want to close this post with this powerful prayer from the Keller’s devotional:

“Lord and Savior, I am facing so many troubles, some of my own making. But I can hold my head up because I am your child and servant. So be my shield—protect me. And be my glory—give me confidence that you are with me and will bring me through this. Help me! Amen.” (4)
Beloved reader, as you go throughout this week, despite whatever your troubles might be, hold your head up high. God has more than enough strength to sustain you and bring you through this. 

New Testament Saturday #1 

Well hi there! Long time no see…;) I know I already posted once this morning, but I really want to still start my new Saturday series, New Testament Saturdays, to complement my Sunday Psalm Sunday series. 

I am part of this really incredible non-profit ministry network, CMConnect. CMConnect aspires to network children’s ministers and volunteers around the globe, especially under-resourced ones. I am incredibly excited to be attending their CMConference, which starts Monday, and for all I learn and will be able to take back to my ministry settings. I am sure multiple blog posts from the conference will come next week!

I am also incredibly honored to be part of CMConnect’s first year of their Discipleship Program. According to their website, it is a “relational approach to ministry development based on the model and life of Jesus Christ.” I have been part of one video chat and several online conversations with my group, and I can’t overstate how amazing I find it. I can’t wait to continue to learn and grow with these other fantastic ministers!

Part of the plan is reading through the New Testament, thus why this series was born. We’re using YouVersion Bible’s  “Read through The New Testament” plan. I also wanted a devotional plan to complement the Bible reading, so I’m starting with “God Is…28 Days through Matthew”, from iKan Ministries, also available on YouVersion. 

We’re starting with Matthew, and one of my group members shared this great video, which gives an awesome overview of Matthew’s history and context. 

There were a lot of really great gems both in the Bible reading and the Ikan devotional this week, but the most resonant and powerful pieces for me were from The Sermon on the Mount, which we will continue reading next week. It is found in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. 

The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most famous sermon, was so strikingly rebellious, revolutionary, and counter-cultural when it was written, and the amazing part is it is still all of those things today. It contains Jesus’ moral teachings, and so many of the things he teaches are so hard and unnatural for us to do as sinful humans: even for Christians, even in the church. Matthew 5 & 6, which we covered this week, cover myriad challenging topics, like “happy are the poor”, the last being first, not having unresolved conflicts with others, lust being like adultery, and a lot more hard stuff. Jesus called his followers to be different from the world, and he calls us to the same things today. 

I would really encourage you to read Matthew 5-7 now. I read them regularly, as they are both some of my favorite scriptures, and some of the hardest. Different things pop out at me each time, though consistently, the most challenging for me has always, even when I was a child hearing it for the first times, were the parts about not worrying, found in Matthew 6:25-34.

My iKan devotional really helped give me new perspective on these verses. The devotional reads, “God loves you so much that He will provide for all of your needs if you let Him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”This does not mean that you get to sit idly by and wait for things to fall into your lap. Play an active part in what God has planned for you. Show up and pay attention to the directions that the Holy Spirit gives you!” The devotional ends by raising this question, “How has God provided for you recently?”

It’s a very important question to ponder, and I firmly believe that spending time thinking about God’s provision in my life specifically is one of the best ways to worry less. God has given me some incredible provisions in my life: a fantastic support system, a great job ministering to incredible kids, new amazing opportunities. Focusing on these makes it much, much easier for me not to worry about the future.God has provided so much to me in the past, all according to God’s own timing, and despite the many challenges each day holds, I can be confident that my God is much, much bigger than any of them, and will continue to provide for me. 

Thank you for reading my thoughts on these chapters. I hope you all have a blessed week! 

Why I Write About Living with Chronic Illness  

First of all, welcome to my new readers and Facebook followers! I am excited to have you here in my little writing corner. 

I don’t really follow a strict blogging schedule, but I’m trying to get into a grove where I write two days during the week–likely Tuesday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday–and two weekend posts. Of course, chronic illness complicates that sometimes: so there will be days like yesterday, where I couldn’t write at all because my Chiari was flaring, and days like today where I am feeling a bit better and try to I look forward to sharing my writing with you!

A lot of my writing on this blog has been either about the craft of writing, or about chronic illness, or a combination of the two. I’ve been writing pretty much since I could read, but my writing has gotten more and more personal as I’ve gotten older. I am gaining more life experience to fill the pages, and more emotions for which writing is cathartic. 

The novel I am currently working on editing, Panic Cat, is not the first novel I have ever finished a draft of, but it is the first novel–and actually, first piece of writing that was designed for eyes other than my own–that I wrote specifically to have an outlet to deal with a chronic illness. In the case of Panic Cat, I was writing specifically to process my anxiety and panic attacks after my grandfather died. 

I have had anxiety issues since I was a child, and started having panic attacks shortly after I graduated high school. My anxiety for the most part has been the lowest and most controlled it’s ever been since last April, and that’s owed to a lot of things: an amazing support system, great medical providers, accurate diagnoses (as much of my anxiety was over my uncontrolled pain and other symptoms). But it’s also in a huge part because of my writing. 

Writing Panic Cat proved to be incredibly cathartic and healing: especially as I started sharing it. I have been incredibly guarded with my writing in the past. I have written at least three other full novels, and two of them no one has ever read, and one of them has only been read, part way, by one other person, a fellow writer. 

But Panic Cat, I knew from the beginning, was different from anything else I ever wrote. While there is a fantasy dimension to it, it is also the realest, rawest work of fiction I have ever written. Much of if is my life, spilled out on the page, and I knew, in order to deal with what I had spilled out and was processing, sharing it was essential. Those who have read parts, or all, of Panic Cat have been incredibly supportive, and have given me the strength I need to continue writing: and, through my writing, continue coping and healing.  

In the same way as my novel ended up being an incredible tool towards wellness and healing, so, too, has been blogging for me. I didn’t intend for my blog, when I started it, to be a chronic illness blog. But I did know I wanted it to be real and honest, in the same way that my novel, despite being fiction, is one of the most honest things I’ve ever written. And, honestly, my illnesses are the biggest challenge I’m wading through right now. So writing about them seemed natural.

Blogging is also a wonderful way for me to get words out of what is going in my life right now, and to share them with others who can relate or empathize and form a community around me. It helps my closest friends know me and my struggles better, and has helped me to make new friends and form new support systems. Novels take a long time to write and edit, so I haven’t had a chance to write anything in novel form about chronic illness, since I’m still working on editing Panic Cat. Blogging is much more instant, so I can cope with new issues through writing much quicker as they pop up. 

The sequel to Panic Cat, undoubtedly, is going to deal with chronic health issues in my main protagonist, Cat. She is stagnating right now where I was several years ago: anxiety was her main issue, and though she has had chronic pain issues her whole life, she has not yet gotten vigilant in demanding answers and better treatment plans from her doctors. I look forward to going on that journey with her in the second book. 

Noveling helps me in very different ways than blogging. When I’m writing a novel, I can detach from myself for a bit, and dive into exploring these characters I have created. At the same time, my main protagonist is very, very similar to me, so I am both detaching and processing emotions and situations, through Cat, at the same time. Blogging helps me deal with the immediate, while writing a novel helps me slow down, untangle threads, process the past, and do some really important healing. 

Whether it is mental illness, like anxiety, or physical illness, like my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, my MCAS, or my Chiari Malformation, writing publicly, whether it’s creative writing like my novel or writing on my blog, has been one of the most effective ways for me to care for my soul and process what I’m going through.

I also write to advocate for those with chronic illnesses, be they mental or physical. There is still stigma around both, and there are a lot of people who just don’t know the day to day realities that the many, many chronically ill of the world face. I write for my fellow chronically ill community members, who live bravely and inspiringly in the face of pain, anxiety, and many other myriad symptoms. I write to remind us all we are not alone, that there is hope and love and brightness in the world, and that we are so much stronger and more than our illnesses. 

 Writing about my chronic conditions has made me feel so much less alone and opened my eyes to an incredible community of chronic illness bloggers. It has also helped me talk more freely about explaining my illnesses to my loved ones who are not ill. And it really has helped me process things and deal with them, rather than dwell on them. I may always be ill, but in 2017 I’m committed to being well regardless, and my writing is an absolutely essential component of that. 

My Support System is Stronger than my Chronic Illness

Happy Valentine’s Day beloved reading community! Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge holiday in our family: my husband and I don’t really celebrate it, though we did go out to the Chinese buffet today for lunch. The most excited member of our family for Valentine’s Day is definitely my three year old daughter. 

However, I do love any excuse to celebrate all the people in my life I love. I’m a very thankful person, because I believe I have a lot to be thankful for, especially on the people front. My ability to be thankful while still being chronically ill is directly thanks to all the truly fantastic people in my life, and the God I believe gave them all to me. 

One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2016 was that I am more than what I do. One of the biggest lessons that has already been reinforced to me daily in 2017 is this: my support system is stronger than my chronic illness. It’s bigger, too. 

There are moments where my illnesses feel huge and all encompassing: when I’m swamped with appointments or cry about new symptoms or thinking about scary things like brain surgery that might not actually help. But then, I remember: I have people for that. I have a diverse, varied, beautiful community of people that surround me and give me strength, and this post is a tribute to all of them. 

First and foremost, there’s my husband. We married young–a week before my 22nd birthday–and had a baby nine months later. Life has definitely thrown a lot at us, and I can easily get into a trap of feeling guilty that he married someone chronically ill. But he is always my rock. He reminds me that we are always a team, and teams take care of each other. He reminds me that he knew I was sick back when we met, even if I wasn’t diagnosed yet, and he married me anyway, and reassures me he would make that same choice again. He is also an incredible father, and steps up in incredible ways whenever either of us need it. I am so, so lucky to be on this adventure of life with him. 

Our three year old daughter is a beautiful ray of sunshine and love in my life. She is also my little nurse, and an incredibly empathetic, loving kid, always showering me in kisses and hugs and band aids. She is so resilient, and if she does inherit my genetic conditions, I am confident she will thrive through them. She has such a beautiful little soul, and I love that I get the honor of getting to watch her blossom into the little person she’s becoming. 

My biological immediate family–my mom, dad, and sister–all live six hours away, but I still know I can lean on and trust them with anything. They are always checking up on me and my health and making sure I’m OK. My sister, who is two years younger, and I fought nearly constantly growing up, but she has grown into one of the strongest, most inspiring, happiest people I know. Her happiness is contagious, and she reminds me to do my best to take care of myself and cultivate happiness every day. 

I am so thankful that I married into a family as wonderful as my own. My mother in law is one of the strongest people with one of the most beautiful hearts I know. My sister in law lives in Japan, but whenever she’s home on leave she makes spending time with my daughter such a huge priority to her. My in laws, both immediate and extended, live closer than my parents do, and are very often the village chipping in to raise my child. My daughter loves her frequent weekend sleepovers at her Nana’s, and I love what good care they take of her–and, by helping out with her, what good care they take of me. My husband also has a great group of friends that he grew up with that welcomed me in as one of their own, but are super understanding when he has to attend one of their weddings or parties alone because I’m too sick to go. 

I also have the best friends in the entire world, friends that help and sustain and support me everyday. I have friends from a few different areas of my life, and they all help me in different ways that have become absolutely essential to my support system. 

I have a few very close local friends, one of whom is a coworker, who I am lucky enough to get to see every week, oftentimes several times a week. I moved to my community just over a year ago, so I haven’t known these friends as long as I have some others, but we have gotten close fast, and they have become so essential to my life. They make me smile on a daily basis, and are often there for babysitting, coffee dates, lunch, moral supports, volunteering when I need an extra hand, or just to meeting up with me and letting me talk something out. One of them also has an adorable daughter who my daughter absolutely adores, so that helps, too. These ladies have made moving here a very smooth transition, and were also there holding my hand when I got my various diagnosises through the year. 

I also have five wonderful girlfriends who have been there for quite some time now: all for at least seven years, one has known me nearly as long as my biological sister. All five were in my wedding, and not one has “dropped off” or gotten distant when I got sick, despite the fact they all live a minimum of six hours away (and one of them all the way across an ocean!). They are there whenever I message or text me, but also have been so patient and understanding when I fall out of communication for a little while because of the unpredictable nature of my illnesses. One of these friends even encouraged me to research my now-diagnosed illness and helped give me information, even before a doctor even uttered the words “Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.” My girls have become like sisters to me, and they are just incredible people to have in my corner. 

My three years of graduate school were a weird transitory time in my life, and the time which my daughter was born, so there were many times, especially throughout the first two years, where I thought I was never going to make any meaningful friendships. Luckily, I was incredibly wrong. I have one strong, enduring friendship from grad school, and that friend quickly became the older brother I never had. As someone else in ministry, he can relate to the unique ministry challenge parts of my life, but also has become another safe person that I can talk to about my illnesses and never, ever accuses me of complaining too much. He, and all my friends, help me to be brave in the face of the often overwhelming enemy that is chronic illness. 
I am also a member of several incredibly supportive online communities, many who have come to be dear, trusted friends. Some are moms, some other bloggers, some deal with the same realities I do of chronic illness. Wherever I might know them from, I know they are sources of support, encouragement, and love, and they make every day easier. I may have never met many of them in person, but I still count them as dear, dear friends. 

And I would be remiss if I did not mention all the incredible ministry colleagues and church family that I have at many churches I have had the honor to either grow up at, attend, or work at in some capacity. There are families at several different churches that have come to be second and fifth and three-hundredth families to me. There are the role models in ministry that shelter me under the wings, show me the ropes, and listen to my stories. There are the incredible volunteers at my current and past churches who sacrifice their own time to help me out. The outpouring of love I get from so many people every day, in ways both little and huge, takes my breath away. 

The more I think about all the wonderful people in my life, the less I feel the need to dwell on the realities of my chronic illness. Not only that, but they support me through all the realities of my life: sickness, young working motherhood, being new in ministry. My support system is incredibly, unbreakably strong: way stronger than anything chronic illness can ever throw at me. 

Psalm Sunday #1

One of the essential ways for me to cultivate my 2017 guiding word, wellness, is to work on my personal spiritual practices so all can truly be well with my soul. 

Personal spiritual practices are so important in ministry. I am still fairly new at ministry, with a year under my belt at this current location, but one of the things that has really been stressed to me by older, wiser leaders in the faith is that you have to take care of your own faith first. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and if you’re not filled up with faith, you have nothing to give to those you minister to. 

When it comes to personal spiritual practices, I am admittedly uneven. Personal prayer is my strongest, most cultivated of these practices. I pray all the time. However, two practices I really need to work on being more consistent in this year are regular worship attendance, and daily Bible reading. 

Church attendance is hard because I’m at church every Sunday, but since our children’s and youth ministry programs have grown over the course of the past year, I’m currently teaching one Sunday school class at each service. My goal by Easter is to recruit enough volunteers to get myself off the rotation, both so I can be available for emergencies and so I can attend one worship service myself. 

But this post is to specifically focus on the Bible reading part of my personal spiritual practices. If I’m teaching children and youth the Word, I believe it’s imperative for me to be immersed in the Word myself. 

I am working through a one-year YouVersion Bible plan, Psalms & Proverbs, through the awesome phone Bible app. I’ve done many devotionals and other studies through the YouVersion app before, but am admittedly better at the short-term studies: again, that inconsistency! One thing I really like about YouVersion’s plans is the “catch me up” button. A little grace so I don’t feel discouraged! I definitely feel it’s OK to miss a day or two here and there. My goal is progress, not perfection, and I know God has abundant grace for me and for all.  

In addition to this Psalms & Proverbs reading plan, I am also working through Timothy and Kathy Keller’s one-year devotional book on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus. 

Now that I’m starting to get my Psalms rhythm down slightly better, I am going to introduce a daily New Testament reading plan as well as an additional part of my spiritual practices. This is part of the assignments for a children’s ministry discipleship program I am a part of, which I am very excited about. Once I get that into a regular rhythm, I will add in a weekly series on that as well. 

Since I started this series back in January, I am currently on day 19, but I’ll start with my notes from earlier for the purpose of this series. Once I have finished Psalms I’ll shift over to Proverbs Sundays. This plan reads the Psalms twice and Proverbs twelve times. 

 Psalm 1

In Psalm 1, verse 6 really jumped out at me. It reads, “The Lord is intimately acquainted with the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is destroyed.” (CEB) What a beautiful phrase, intimately acquainted! I love thinking about the fact that my God, powerful enough to create the whole world, still has that beautiful, personal intimacy with me, his creation! What a lovely thought! God knows me so well: intimately. Sometimes God feels so big and nebulous and far-off, so it’s so wonderful to have that reminder. 

I hope you are able to carry the knowledge that you are created by a gGod who loves you, sustains you, and is so, so intimately acquainted with you today. I know it will be what I attempt to carry in my heart as I pour out to my kiddos this morning!

Wrestling Blessings out of my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome 

In many, many ways, 2016 did not go as I expected. 

Early in the year, it seemed to be going on a “normal,” whatever that means, trajectory. The end of 2015 was a whirlwind, as between Thanksgiving and Christmas I was hired for my dream job, and my family moved cities in two weeks time. In May, my husband and I both graduated with graduate degrees a day apart. It should have been one of the happiest times of our lives. 

But my health was a huge grey cloud hovering over 2016. I missed out on so many weddings and other celebratory events because I was too sick to travel. It put a huge stress on my family, marriage, and my own sense of self-worth and meaning.

 I thought finally after having a label on it–a fibromyalgia diagnosis, which later would turn out to be a misdiagnosis–would make things better, and it did, for a bit. But then, I tried to improve my life with dietary changes. They may have helped for fibro, but cutting caffeine sent me into a two-week-long worse-than-a-migraine headache because of my unknownst to myself Chiari malformation.

 Finally, in December, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and its partners in body-ravaging crimes, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and Chiari malformation. 

So here we are, in the second month of a new year, a year where my word to focus on has been wellness. As someone who has been entrenched in deep faith her entire life and who went to seminary, has a Masters of Divinity, and works in ministry, certain biblical narratives have always resonated with different seasons of my life.

 One that is resonating particularly right now is the story of Jacob, found in Genesis 32:22-32. Jacob wrestles with a man, according to the narrative, and will not stop wrestling with him until he is blessed. It turns out the man was actually God, and God renames him Israel, which likely literally means “he who struggles with God.”

I also feel like I have been in an unexpected wrestling match lately, except my wrestling match lately has been with my chronic illness. And I’ve decided that if this is my fate, I’m not going to stop wrestling, stop fighting, until I get a blessing out of it. 

Don’t get me wrong, being chronically ill is hard, and it is up to the person who is chronically ill to decide on the reaction to their illness that fits best for them. Some people cannot find anything positive in their battles with chronic illness, and phrases like “look on the bright side” or “it’s a blessing in disguise” can come off as extremely insensitive and unhelpful. 

But in my own, very personal experience, I knew that I couldn’t lay down and accept defeat to EDS, Chiari, MCAS, any of it. I am going to take this lot that has been given to me, and I am going to do everything I can to wrestle blessings from it and focus on the lessons my disabilities can teach me. For me personally, this is the healthiest, happiest road to wellness in 2017 and beyond. 

To me, “wrestling a blessing” out of my chronic conditions means being very introspective and focusing on the positives: the lessons they can teach me, the ways I can grow as a person. I’m going to have these conditions my whole life, and so I am looking for ways to benefit from them, as really, really hard as that is some–OK, most!–days. 

So what blessings have I wrestled out so far? 

For one, knowing my conditions and having proper diagnosises has made me much more self-aware. I am learning my limits and my weaknesses, and how to take care of myself on both my best and worst days. I am also learning that I am stronger than I ever possibly imagined. Things that I thought at the time would break me haven’t. When I’m able to still reach my dreams and do more than I ever thought I could, while still taking care of myself and not burning out, I feel like a superhero. I would never be able to have this feeling without the formidable enemy of chronic illness to battle against. 

I am also learning how to prioritise. Chronic illness puts limits on me, but everyone has limits. I have used these limits to focus on what’s important, and let the rest go. 

I am learning what, and who, truly makes me happy, and chronic illness has taught me that I have an incredible support system of people I can depend on who want to help me and support me. As an exercise yesterday, I made a list of important things and people that make me really, truly happy. It’s a long list, and it keeps growing. While chronic illness makes it abundantly, obviously clear what I don’t have–a healthy body–when I keep wrestling it helps illuminate all the amazing blessings in my life I do have. 

I also think my chronic conditions have helped make me more empathetic and sensitive to the challenges and secret struggles of all people. 

When I was struggling with my health last year and how hard it is to balance illness and the career I love sometimes, I lamented to my husband about how I didn’t understand how I could live out my call to ministry when I was so sick and struggled so much. He, being the wise person he so frequently is, pointed out that the people in my churches will struggle, too. I can use my experience with chronic illness as a tool to reach out to everyone who is broken and hurting in their own way. We’re all human; we’re all fighting hard battles. Mine can help me better relate to others and have a heart for them. 

Seeing the positives in my chronic conditions is not a natural response for me. But my goal as I strive for wellness in 2017 is to do my best to continue to wrestle blessings out of them, no matter how difficult. 

Sometimes Pushing Through is Self-Care 

The other day, I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (just like Alexander ;)). There are just days like that, for everyone, ill or not, parents or not, in ministry or not. It was a hard day, so hard that even though I was exhausted that night, I didn’t want to go to bed because I was terrified the next day, which was my day off, would be just as horrible. 

The next morning, I woke up, and initially had much enthusiasm for the day. I had two important tasks I needed to get done, both of which were decidedly un-fun: finalising my health insurance for the year, and spending a substantial period of time at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get my Michigan title changed over to an Ohio title and get Ohio plates and tags on my car before the Michigan ones expired. As un-fun as both were, both had looming deadlines and needed to get done, and I was the only one who could do them: it was for my health insurance, and the title was in my name, so they weren’t tasks my husband could do for me. 

Unfortunately, that enthusiasm vanished after I dropped my daughter off at preschool and returned home to get ready for the day. The chronic fatigue that accompanies my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome was in full swing. All I wanted to do was rest. I was tired!! Wasn’t my body telling me to rest? 

Unfortunately, I am just really bad at listening to my body’s cues: or, more accurately, maybe my body just doesn’t give me good cues. For example, when I was pregnant, I had a very rough journey that was plagued by early labor scares and two and a half weeks of prodromal labor: real, actual, painful contractions, but that don’t send the body into active labor, just progress very, very slowly. Everyone told me once it was “real” labor, I’d know. And guess what! I didn’t! Real labor felt very similar to “not real” labor about until it was time to push. The biggest difference was I got a baby again. So how do you listen to your bodily cues when they’re not very good? (That could be a post on its own: and I think I will, in a couple weeks!).

Much talk goes into how self-care equals rest. And in a lot of ways, self-care does equate to rest. But sometimes, it means pushing through and doing tasks that might be hard, but are ultimately rewarding for our long-term health. 

For me, the best self-care plan involves plenty of balance. If I tip the scale too far either way, into too much productivity OR too much resting, it’s easy for me to get stuck that way, and fall into unhealthy patterns. In 2016, I got stuck both ways, within weeks of each other, and since my 2017 goal is wellness, I am determined to have a better balance this year. 

Since I couldn’t rely on my bodily cues, I relied on logic. If I would have put off these really important tasks, I would have just been much more stressed later. Any potential positive from the rest would be completely cancelled out later by the stress. So that morning, the best self-care for me was not rest, but pushing through. I put on my favorite outfit, got on my coat, shuffled off to my office to spend way too much time on the phone with insurance and to print out important documents, and, once I finally got all that squared away, went to the BMV. 

I was so nervous going to the BMV, as I’m not good with new tasks, and since I had to change over a title, it was a lot more than the routine drivers license renewal I’d done before. But despite my anxiety, it was a smooth, and even enjoyable (…OK, as enjoyable as the BMV can possibly be!) process. 

When I got home is when the balancing act came into play. I felt go go go, and wanted to go to the laundromat and do some laundry. But thanks to my husband’s wisdom, I waited to do that task, knowing I’d done a lot that was difficult for me earlier in the day and needed to slow down. And as soon as I sat down to eat some lunch, then the fatigue set back in, and then, having pushed through earlier, I was able to take that nap. 

So, yes, absolutely, sometimes self care is a nap. Sometimes it’s slowing down to find out what you prioritise and what’s truly important. But sometimes, self care is pushing through. It’s getting up too early in the morning to go to a job you genuinely love, even though it’s sometimes stressful. It’s applying for that new job because even though the application process might be stressful, because it’s going to be ultimately fulfilling work that will bring you joy despite your pain. And, yes, sometimes it’s long phone calls with insurance and going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. But for my self-care plan, I’ve got to push through. I can always nap when it’s over.