From Struggle to Strength: Reframing the Year I got my Diagnosises 

Looking at things in a different way is often what brings me strength. It’s hard to do when I’m in the midst of things, but when everything is said and done, if is a lot easier to step back and see the big picture and see what God has done in my life. This is one of my favorite things to do. It’s especially true as I reframe and wrestle blessings out of my chronic mental and physical illness. Yes, I have these things, and sometimes, in the moment, it feels like they are winning. But when I am able to step back, I am able to see they never so . God won. I won. 

A year that I thought initially was a year of great struggle, 2016, is an amazing example of that. 

In my writing just after 2016 ended, I wrote about how hard 2016 was, and how much better 2017 would be. I couldn’t see the big picture of 2016 yet. I was too close to step back.

But now we’re four months into 2017, and I am able to look at 2016 with new eyes. And sure, it was a hard year. It was the her I received or learned about my many diagnosises. But goodness, did I triumph. I grew in collosal amounts of strength, strength I never would have had without those challenges. 

So I’m not going to list my diagnosises​ in this post. I’ve listed them before, and they’re no more important than the lessons I learned in 2016 despite, or maybe even through, those diagnosises.

 I learned that I am smart. My brain may be riddled with headaches, but it is also filled with knowledge. It is able to make complex connections and witty comebacks. It is filled with wisdom beyond its years, and many facts about subjects it cares deeply about.  

I learned that I am beautiful. When I look in the mirror, I like what I see. I am not perfect, but I have both inner and outer beauty. I work hard so my soul reflects what is on the outside. I work hard to smile even on the dark days, and brighten up people’s days. 

 I learned that I am strong. I may not have physical strength, but 2016 proved an incredible resilience of spirit and mind beyond anything I ever knew I had. I can withstand so much, and keep going. I am strong. I am capable. I persevere. 

I had always thought of myself as average before 2016, and it was only this year that I started truly recognizing my positive qualities. I also plain old just did a lot in 2016. We moved. I wrote a thesis. I got a masters degree. I started writing the novel that I am working to publish. 

If I was able to finally accept so many positive things about myself the same year I got my diagnosises, that shows me pretty definitively they are realizations my illnesses will never be able to take away. And because of that, I don’t think 2016 was a bad year at all. In fact, looking back, it was a pretty great year. I finally accepted a lot of awesome things about myself, and God and my incredible support system were there all the way through.

Advertisements

“Church Shopping” with Chronic and Mental Illnesses 

First of all, sorry for the absence around these parts the last week! It was spring break for the school district I work in, which meant I worked spring break camp and massive overtime, and was too tired to do much of anything when I got home. But I really bonded with a lot of the kids and had a great time. Glad to be back to my normal schedule, though! (For those who don’t know, I work as a Site Administrator for an Elementary School Before and After School Program. It’s a blast!). 

There’s a really funny video going around–a parody of the show House Hunters–thats called Church Hunters. Watch it here. In this video, a couple is trying to find the right church for them, and it parodies modern church, parishoner-centered, experiential-culture. 

Now, if you’re someone who is religious and attends church, you probably had a good laugh at this, because you know that there’s so much more to church than this. Church is about way more than what a church has to offer: it’s about what the person who attends church can bring to a church, too. Everyone has their own gifts. When the right church for the right person combine, it’s a beautiful thing, because the person brings their talents and makes the church a better place, and the church makes the person a better person, and together they are truly able to advance the Kingdom of God and be the hands and feet of Christ. 

But what happens when mental and chronic illness are brought into the Body of Christ which is the Church? 

I believe wholeheartedly that the Church–both the whole, universal Church, and individual churches which are all supposed to be little branches of the Church Universal–are all the Body of Christ, and every single member is made in God’s image. That’s right, every single member. Often, all members aren’t treated that way, and it breaks my heart.

 I believe if Jesus lived today, he would be appalled by how many churches treat people with mental and chronic illness. They are often rejected, stigmatized, left behind, and ignored. Because of this, many people with chronic and mental illnesses, which are often invisible, hide their illnesses from church communities, which are supposed to be places of love and mutual help and support but more often become a place of judgement and dressed-up facades. There are many churches that do strive to do better, though, and I hope everyone with a mental and/or chronic illness finds one. 

I haven’t been in the position of trying to find a church family to belong to for a while, and it’s especially complicated for me because I have my Masters Degree in Divinity and have worked on staff of several different churches. The last few churches I have been at I have been at because they’ve hired me. I have learned a lot and benefitted a lot from all these churches, but I never really “church shopped,” or looked for a church that I will attend, not work at, that will not only best fit mine and my family’s needs, but also that I can contribute to and help through my gifts and talents.

Since I have last looked for a church, years ago, I have received several diagnoses that might not define me, but definitely affect how I view the world, and myself. These include Bipolar II, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, PTSD, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, adding to the Chiari Malformation, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic disorder I was already diagnoses with. My health has deteriorated, and it affects how I act, including in church. This makes me have several considerations as I consider finding a church that will accept me for who I am and that I can give my gifts and graces.

First of all, is it a church that generally is accepting and understanding of mental health? I know lots of churches that get very squeamish around discussions of mental health. They see anxiety and depression and other illnesses as sins, not disabilities, and they do not take the time to understand them correctly. Is it a church that wants people to sweep their mental illnesses under the rug and be their polished, prim, dressed up “Sunday selves”? Jesus didn’t deal with “Sunday selves.” He dealt with prostitutes and tax collectors; widows and orphans. He loved people the way they were, and called others to do the same. 

I want a church where I can be open about my anxiety, panic disorder, and bipolar II, and where other members feel open about theirs, too. I want a church where people would be no more nervous with me working with children and volunteering and leading in different church leadership capacities than they would be someone with diabetes or heart disease. I want a church that advocates for inclusion of people with mental illness in their church and other churches and sees them as an essential part of the body of Christ. I can help with this, but I can’t do it on my own. It has to be a whole church effort. 

And generally, how is the church with chronic illness? Is it the kind of church that only is comfortable with illnesses that are neatly resolved after two weeks of prayer? This sadly happens more often than you think, and at many churches I’ve seen. These churches preach the power of prayer, and say if you only pray hard enough, you will be healed. 

But I don’t believe that my chronic illnesses will likely be healed. They are genetic and lifelong. And while I believe God is a God of miracles, I don’t think curing my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Chiari Malformation, or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome are likely miracles God is going to perform. I will likely have these illnesses for life, so what I want from the body of Christ is prayer for management of symptoms, help when the symptoms flare up badly, and most of all, love and understanding, rather than judgement and bewilderment. I want a church where they help put my daughter’s coat on when I had to sit through all the hymns because my hips hurt too badly to stand, not where they look at me judgementally because I’m clearly too young and healthy looking to be ill. I want a church that understands I have good days and bad days, and that I might have to call off volunteering for a Sunday because of a flare, but I will try my very very best to be there. And I want a church that will still let me help; I may have sicknesses, but I am passionate about helping children develop lifelong faiths, and I am very good at what I do, even if my health sometimes gets in the way of that.

I know not all people with chronic and mental illness are religious, and even if they are religious, maybe they do not attend church for various reasons. But for me, church attendance is very important to me, and I want to find a church where I can be open and help them be the hands and feet of Christ just as much as they help and support me. We don’t have any family in the area, so it’s important for me to find a church to be like family for us. 
I have found a church that seems promising, but I have only visited a couple times, so I will have to keep going and see what God has in store for me! Until then–and past then–I plan to keep being an advocate for Christians with mental and chronic illness because they bring so much richness and value to individual churches and the Church Universal. 

The Diagnosis I Don’t Write About (Until Now)

I started blogging in January, and in the nearly three months I have been blogging I have been very upfront about my chronic pain and illnesses and how they affect my life. 

I have also mentioned, at least in passing, my long struggle with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Other than my Chiari Malformation, which I was diagnosed with in eighth grade, my anxiety is the condition I’ve been diagnosed with the longest, and so I’ve learned to be open about it. 

But there is one diagnosis I have not written about openly, and that is my diagnosis with Bipolar II Disorder, which I received late last August. 

The more I don’t talk about it, the more my bipolar feels like this big secret, this heavy weight. But honestly, most of this is self-imposed. I was so afraid of all the “what ifs”, of all sorts of imagined judgements, that I did not allow myself to be an advocate for bipolar disorder, like I attempt to be with my other conditions, that I have never written about my bipolar. I let it be the elephant in the room, something I let my doctors treat but that otherwise I never talk about. 

But I believe it is something we should talk about. Mental illness is often comorbid with chronic pain. Me hiding my bipolar disorder diagnosis doesn’t help anyone. And if you’re afraid to talk about a particular diagnosis you’ve gotten…You’re not alone. But your mental health diagnosis is not shameful. It is not something that has to hold you back from a job, or parenthood, or a full life. It’s just something else that needs to be dealt with and treated, just like any illness.  

My bipolar disorder, just like my Chiari Malformation, my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and my other disorders, doesn’t control me. Sure, it is definitely hard some days, and it is something I have to treat: just like any condition. But by acting like it’s something shameful, I actually only hold myself back from getting good treatment. 

I have found a good treatment plan for my bipolar disorder, thanks to my doctor and therapist. It didn’t come overnight, and my fear of the stigma was a big reason why. I have never had a problem taking medication for my chronic physical illnesses, but fought having to take medication for my bipolar. I treated it like a personality weakness, something I could power through, rather than what it is: an actual medical condition. Finally, with the support and urging of my family and friends, I stopped fighting my need for medication and counseling. Thanks to them, my bipolar is incredibly well-controlled, and my treatment plan helps me to be my best self. 

I am finally sharing openly about my bipolar diagnosis because I do not believe it is a diagnosis that is shameful. If any of my friends were to share with me that they had bipolar, even before I had gotten my own diagnosis, I would have accepted them fully, asked how I could help, and not treat them any differently. So why would I not talk about it myself? I cannot talk about how much I value honesty and vulnerability–two things I value most in the world, as a writer, minister, educator, and person–if I am not willing to be honest and transparent about all the conditions I’m being treated for. 

People with all sorts of chronic illnesses, both physical and mental, thrive in all sorts of professions. We are writers, teachers, business owners, scientists, advocates, and much, much more. And if I believe that bipolar is nothing to be ashamed of–which I fully do believe!–then I need to practice what I preach, and be open about my own diagnosis.  It is a diagnosis I am happy I got, because it has led me to effective treatment which therefore helps me live a more healthy, well, happy life, where I flourish in all my roles. 

Finally, I also believe, as a Christian and a Christian leader, that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, because we all are created in the image of God. Mental illness is exactly that–an illness, not a personality weakness or a punishment from God–and we should treat mental illnesses like we do all illnesses: honestly, with dignity and respect for the whole person for whom our illness(es) is only a small part. 

Replacing Guilt with Grace with Chiari Malformation 

I am a naturally guilty person. Feeling guilt over situations is my first reflex. I feel very easily like things are my fault, and that I should have done better, tried harder, somehow foreseen whatever situation I made a mistake in. 

This is only compounded–or maybe caused–by my lifelong chronic illnesses, both physical and mental. I logically know none of them are my fault; this is how I am wired, how I was born or developed or whatever. But the guilt still flares up more every time I go into a flare. When I have a horrible Chiari headache and still go into work but am not my normal peppy, bouncey self, my first reflex is to apologize. I apologize not just for what I do, but for who I am. Guilt makes me feel like a mistake, like I am fully defined by my illnesses and good for nothing else. 

My last post was about control; what I can control, and what I can’t. My illnesses, as I wrote, are something I can’t control: but what I can work on controlling is my reactions to my illnesses. I can work on moving from a place of guilt to a place of grace. 

Grace for myself is probably the hardest grace I have ever experienced. When I make decisions, especially decisions around my illness, I feel intensely guilty. Recently, I had to make one of my hardest decisions yet: leaving a job I loved for another, my health and need for health insurance being the reason. My first reaction was so, so much guilt. 

Then, all the stress from that decision sent me into a series of flares, and temporary illnesses–a bad cold and a bad stomach flu–and a Chiari flare on top. That meant that over the weekend, I was pretty much good for nothing, and my wonderful husband and in-laws took over a lot for me so I could rest. I am not going to lie: guilt was my first reaction there, too. But since in 2017 my goal is wellness, I decided to take a deep breath, accept the help, and consciously focus on giving myself grace. I have to let myself be ill, because I can’t control it, and not feel guilty about it. 

There’s a powerful Christian song by Matthew West called “Grace Wins” that really helps me in my guiltiest moments. I actually have switched to listening to a lot of inspirational music this year and I have actually found that it has helped me tremendously in my chronic illness journey to wellness. I am going to write a post shortly about Christian songs that help me through my Chiari battle, if that’s your belief system and that helps you too (if that isn’t, that’s perfectly fine! You can still have grace with yourself and not be guilty about your chronic illnesses.) 

Here is a section of the lyrics:

There’s a war between guilt and grace, And they’re fighting for a sacred space But I’m living proof Grace wins every time

No more lying down in death’s defeat, Now I’m rising up in victory, Singing, hallelujah, Grace wins every time. 

This song helps me see my life as precious and sacred and important to God. I only have one life, and I could let it be ruled by guilt. It would be easy for me to let every single one of my decisions be motivated by feeling like in not enough, that I have to prove myself to people, that I can’t show others my cracks and flaws, that illness is weakness. It helps my grace define me, not my guilt, because I remember grace is stronger, and I am stronger. I can rise up after a bad day. My bad days do not define me. Grace defines me. I can give myself grace, remember to be strong, and triumph the next day. 

But moving from guilt to grace is not easy. It’s one of the hardest things I do. It involves a complete mental shift, where I acknowledge the guilt and remind myself–sometimes out loud–that, even if it is a mistake I made, I am already forgiven by God for it. And if it is illness related, then it’s not even something I need to ask for forgiveness for, because it’s not my fault! I don’t need to feel guilty about my illnesses, because there’s nothing guilt can do. 

How does grace look in practice? To me, it means making choices that sometimes mean putting my health first, even if for some reason I feel like there’s an unconcious “should” that makes me feel guilty. I have a great therapist who gave me a great challenge to get rid of unconcious “shoulds” in my mental vocabulary. I have a lot of them, and they all lead to guilt.

 For instance, I “should” work all day, instead of taking a split shift job where I come back and nap and take care of myself, then go back in. I. “shouldn’t” nap, because I am 25 and should be a healthy career woman. I “shouldn’t” let my husband watch our daughter for a bit so I can take a break, because moms shouldn’t be chronically ill. 

These “shoulds” are all ridiculous, and they don’t live in reality. I am the way I am, and I firmly believe that I need to have grace and love myself, exactly as I am, illnesses and all. And to do that, I need to have grace with myself. I need to do things to build my self-esteem. I need to have honest conversations with people in my support system, people who love me unconditionally, about what my health struggles are and how they truly affect my everyday life. I need to have honest conversations with my doctors and take medications that help me, instead of feeling like I “should” be able to power through my conditions without medication. 

I need to look in the mirror, and have grace and love for what I see. This body isn’t perfect. She is often sick. But she is mine, the body God gave me, and all people are made in God’s image. Even the chronically ill; even me. 

This is also important because guilt makes me sicker. It builds up inside of me and becomes stress, and pushing, pushing, pushing because I am motivated by guilt, not grace, often causes me to totally neglect true self-care, have a meltdown, and end up in a long flare. Guilt is a counterproductive emotion.  

I am human. I make mistakes, big and small. I am chronically ill, and sometimes I am not able to do what I would like to do, and sometimes must let things go so that I can keep being a healthy, whole person. And the key to this is grace: grace with myself. I forgive myself, I accept myself, and I love myself, chronic illness and all. 

Having my Conditions vs. My Conditions Having Me 

In 2016, I didn’t know what was causing me constant chronic pain and myriad other symptoms. But even–especially, actually–before I had names for my conditions (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Chiari Malformation), my conditions had me in a chokehold. Even when I was doing other things, thinking about my pain consumed me. When would it flare up again? Was I a burden on others? How long would I be able to keep doing the things I loved? I let the pain take control: of my thoughts, of my pain, of my life. 

I still pushed through, and I did accomplish some significant things. I graduated with my master’s degree. I started my first professional job. I was a mom and a wife. But I was in pain first. My identity as someone who was in pain and sick a lot became my primary identity. Everything else mattered, but it was secondary. I felt like a slave to my pain. 

My correct diagnosises began in late 2016, and so did my turnaround. It’s not that my symptoms got all that much better, especially not right away: though having the right management program definitely helps tremendously. But the number one most important thing naming my illnesses did was strip them of the massive amounts of power they had over my life. My enemies were no longer unknown, and I took back the reins, took back control. 

I never really thought about control until fairly recently, when my brother started talking to me about how everything in life boils down to control and people wanting control. There are many, many things in life we have no control of. For the most part, chronic illness is one of those things. 

I cannot control when my diseases are going to flare up. This is just something I must accept. Sure, there are sometimes preventative measures I can take, but I sometimes flare because of the weather, noise, stres…Nothing. I cannot possibly minimize all factors. 

What is in my power to control, though, is what I focus on. Do I focus on the unpredictability and uncontrollable nature of my illness, which leads me to feel weak and powerless? Or do I instead try to give my conditions as little attention as I possibly can, and focus on what I can control? 

It all started small: with a list. A list of things that made me happy. There were big things on the list, like my relationships with my family and friends; my relationship with God; meaningful, fulfilling work. And there were also lots and lots of little things: freshly painted nails, blueberry coffee, Christian music, reading certain books of the Bible.  

From there, I decided to make decisions that maximised happiness, and I found that plenty was in my control: little things that made a big difference. I was in control of making sure I painted my nails once a week, made myself coffee, cultivated relationships with my family and friends, went to work even when I had a bad Chiari headache because I know I love my job and it’s meaningful to me even on the bad pain days. I listen to positive music and internalise the messages; I try to read my Bible most every day. 

Some days I have less control: I can’t even get out of bed. But when I’ve been focusing on how much power I truly have on the other days, something amazing happens for me: I feel powerful, even on the days I can’t get out of bed. My overwhelming pain feels temporary, and I know it is not all there is to me, even when it is all I feel. The positive messages I send to myself on all of the other days push me through the really bad days. And even on those days, I am not controlled fully by my conditions. They hurt me, they affect me, sure. But I am always stronger. 

This is the first post I am writing as part of a series on changes I have made in order to change my perception on my illness and therefore how in control I feel: not of my illnesses necessarily, because they are constants, but of my life that my illness is a part of. My illnesses provide challenges, constraints, and boundaries, but I am intuitive, strong, and wise. I am so much more than my illnesses. I have them now, and I am doing everything in my power to keep from them having me. 

Psalm Sunday #4

For today’s post, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do. I pasted the entirety of Psalm 34 here for us all to read together. I normally will just include selections, and if I wrote about the whole passage, will include a link. But Psalm 34 really resonated with me this morning, and I have a feeling it might with you too. So read these words below, and let them really wash over you. Then I will return with my thoughts on them. 

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise will always be in my mouth. I praise the LORD — let the suffering listen and rejoice. Magnify the LORD with me! Together let us lift his name up high! I sought the LORD and he answered me. He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to God will shine; their faces are never ashamed. This suffering person cried out: the LORD listened and saved him from every trouble. On every side, the LORD ’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them. Taste and see how good the LORD is! The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy! You who are the LORD ’s holy ones, honor him, because those who honor him don’t lack a thing. Even strong young lions go without and get hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, children, listen to me. Let me teach you how to honor the LORD : Do you love life; do you relish the chance to enjoy good things? Then you must keep your tongue from evil and keep your lips from speaking lies! Turn away from evil! Do good! Seek peace and go after it! The LORD ’s eyes watch the righteous, his ears listen to their cries for help. But the LORD ’s face is set against those who do evil, to eliminate even the memory of them from the earth.  The righteous have many problems, but the LORD delivers them from every one. He protects all their bones; not even one will be broken. But just one problem will kill the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be held responsible. The LORD saves his servants’ lives; all those who take refuge in him won’t be held responsible for anything.

(Psalms 34:1-‬22 CEB)

This was certainly a week where I had “many problems”; I would not call it a stress free, easy week at all. I finally got home after an incredibly stressful Saturday where I was robbed and both my husband and my cars broke down in different states. A third car broke down on us. My phone broke. We didn’t have childcare for two days. I had to deal with credit card fraud. I started a new job. I found out we are going to have to switch primary care doctors because mine no longer is going to take my insurance. I had a major medical test and found out that I still have a serious brain condition that is only improved with surgery. 

Even a few weeks ago, all of these events in tandem would have been enough to majorly stress me out. I have been struggling with anxiety and worry my whole life, since I was a child. And yet, somehow, I have had an incredible sense of peace this week. I’ve been able to use positive coping skills. I have felt extremely happy and well all week. It as an amazing week because of this. 

How did this transformation happen? I’m honestly not sure, but I am confident it is the Holy Spirit acting in me, not myself. I am confident that God saved my life last Saturday night. 

It’s probably cheesy, almost like something that happens in fiction and not real life, to say that after what happened Saturday, it was like a switch was thrown to where I could really trust God fully and live my life differently. The Holy Spirit took over. And I may have suffered this week, but I have been consistently full of praise, because I know God is with me. I am more aware of God’s presence in my life than I ever have been. 

I am sure the week ahead will hold struggles: for you, for me, for all of us. God does not promise us a life of ease and free of problems, but quite the opposite: we are promised a life of picking up our cross daily and following Christ. But what we are promised is that the Lord will listen every single time we cry out; and for that, we can praise God in every single circumstance. 

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.