Sunday, June 26, 2016

Seeing orange

I grew up nestled, geographically, between three major NFL teams; the  Buffalo Bills, the Cleveland Browns and The Pittsburgh Steelers. Come Sundays during football seasons the supporters of each team could be easily identified by the color of their clothing. Buffalo supporters wore red or blue. Pittsburgh fans were decked out in black and gold. Cleveland diehards would break out the brown and orange.
Given my lifelong position of sports neutrality I purposely avoided all such colors on game days. My aim has always been to be the Switzerland of football fandom. This is due in part to my family's divided team loyalty. Dad, born and raised outside of Pittsburgh, has been a life long Steelers supporter. My brothers are Cleveland team enthusiasts through and through... along with all of their kids who run the risk of being exiled to a Harry Potter-style closet for a bedroom should they pledge allegiance to any team outside of Cuyahoga county, Ohio.
To keep the peace I've kept away from gold and orange on Sundays. Not that it is any major loss to my wardrobe. I'm not known for sporting sparkly gold and orange was never my color. That all changed this time two years ago. Until the month of June in 2014 I had always associated orange with football, The Browns and, sorry Cleveland, losing. Orange was the color of loyal fans who remained true to their team despite suffering continuous losses and sporadic wins.  But with football season out of sight and out of mind, orange became the color of my life for an entirely different reason.
Orange is the color synonymous with Multiple Sclerosis awareness. Two years ago, when I received my own MS diagnosis I looked at the orange ribbon displayed in support of the disease and saw what I had always seen on the face's of those diehard Cleveland Brown's fans: defeat. All of my research and reading pointed to loss. The best outcome I could hope for was management. I might be able to stay in the game but no one would be placing any bets on my making it to the playoffs, let alone winning the MS equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy. In that defining diagnosis moment, orange took on a meaning more depressing than a losing football season. I looked at orange and saw incurable, inescapable defeat.
This coming month will mark the two year anniversary of my diagnosis and my clouded vision of the color orange. It has been a roller coaster of a couple of years with countless ups and downs. My health still fluctuates, the Browns still haven't made it to the playoffs and orange is still the color of MS awareness. But my view and understanding of orange has changed. It no longer symbolizes defeat and loss. Orange is the color of glory.
In these past two years I have learned that God has given me MS as a match to start a flame of glory for Him. My suffering and my struggle is my own personal light that burns a brilliant orange as a witness to the faithfulness of God. Orange signifies the fire in my soul that has been set ablaze by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Orange is the power of God's all consuming fire that envelops me and sustains me. Orange stands for the purpose and plan He has for me in spite of MS.
This football season I won't shy away from wearing orange because it will no longer be a symbol of sports or a city. God has draped my heart and my life in His glory, a bright and shining shade of orange that stands for eternal and everlasting triumph over every foe. Orange is and will forever be the color of God's victorious light in me.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Unlocked and Inviting

The front door to my house is always unlocked. My family takes the "open door policy" quite literally. We don't even own a key to that front door. Maybe I should be keeping that piece of information a bit more guarded. I can only hope a home burglar isn't reading this post and aware of my address. At least if my home is robbed no doors will be beaten down or windows broken to gain entry. The burglar can walk right in. No destruction necessary. This isn't an advertisement for a thief to take advantage of an unsecured residence, just a heads up that if they should so choose our home to rob they can save themselves the hulk-like entrance and just turn the knob.
I've always assumed that the lack of security guarding my family's home is an anomaly. Most people have a key to their front door and I assume most people use that key and its corresponding lock to protect their home from unwanted intruders. I rationalize my family's lack of locks by defending the theory that if a burglar wants in badly enough they will, one way or another, find a way in. That is why I suppose security-savvy individuals invest in alarm systems. If the lock doesn't work the siren can alert authorities before the thief gets away with too much loot. I have another theory about  security system protected homes that assumes the people who live there must have a super fancy TV complete with surround sound or have a stash of gold. Or possibly both TV and gold. Maybe even a TV encrusted with gold at the front of a theater style media room complete with lush leather recliners and state-of-the-art 4K Ultra HD. Whatever that means.
To me a well-guarded house is practically an invitation to break in. It is a challenge. Go ahead, just try to get beyond my obnoxious alarm system and booby trapped windows. We'll see how badly you want my possessions after your ears are assaulted by a deafening air horn playing on repeat. 
I prefer to let the burglars have their way. If you want in, just walk in. Some may call it silly, naive or negligent. But I like to call it Biblical. After all, God doesn't use locks, security systems and noisy alarms to keep people away from what He has that is desirable and good. He does just the opposite. God lets people in right off the streets to come and partake of every beautiful, beneficial blessing He has to offer. He does away with locks and throws away keys. God swings the door to His goodness wide open.
In my heart I know that God is a welcoming God who offers me a place in His theater room complete with the comfiest chair and a bag of freshly popped corn, yet I often behave as if I have to sneak in. I tiptoe around to the windows to try to get at what I believe is God's best. I try prying away at the trap door to shimmy down into the cellar. All the while the front door is open leading to the beautifully decorated and most well-appointed places in God's home. I don't need to dirty myself by climbing through a bush and shrubs to sneak in the back way. God is welcoming me in through the foyer, through the grand entrance, right through the unlocked front door.
Dwelling in the goodness of God's presence is as simple as making the decision to walk through a door. It doesn't take special access or the deceptive skills of a Catch Me if You Can inspired criminal. All it requires is the chutzpah to walk directly up the to the front door and turn the knob.
The only obstacle standing in the way of entering God's safe house is a lack of humility and surrender. Once pride and self-reliance are set aside entering into God's home is as simple as recognizing our desperate need for what He has offer on the other side of His door's threshold. He has peace, rest and contentment available for the taking if only the desiring human heart will stop trying to break in through the window and humbly enter in through the front door.
God hasn't put a lock on His blessings and there isn't a single square foot of His residence off limits. We can come to Him and dwell in His presence the right way - by way of the unlocked doorway. The unlocked door is God's invitation to come and take our heart's residency in the comfort of His presence and His open and inviting home sweet home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pixie Perfect

I am a twenty-six year old with the thinning head of a hair of an eighty-year-old. To be fair my head was never known to produce thick, luxurious locks but in the past year every strand of my hair has gone from thin to emaciated. The gauntness of my face has met its match. My thin hair is giving my thin body a run for its money in the race of "Which physical feature can survive at the slimmest size/weight/circumference possible." Right now hair is winning.
For the past year I have been trying to avoid the subject of my dwindling hair. I journeyed through the five stages of grief. First I simply denied that the strands were thinning. When my ponytail began struggling to fill even the smallest of elastic hair-ties I ventured out of denial and straight into anger. The lifeless, lank brown strands drawing down my face made me mad at more than my hair. It made me mad at MS for ravaging my body and stripping me of my physical being. MS has taken my weight, damaged my vision, destroyed my neurological signaling and now it was robbing me of my hair. Initially I retaliated by twisting the hair-tie around a few more loops and wearing headbands and hats. Then I had an idea that took me from the stage of anger to the stage of bargaining: mousse.
I introduced a green bottle of sticky mousse to my post-shower routine. I shook up the bottle, placed a dollop on my hands and followed the manufacturer's instructions to achieve maximum volume. After several attempts, more pumps from the bottle and a bigger round brush, the verdict was in. The bargaining tools of the hairstyling trade couldn't remedy my hopeless case of early female pattern thinning.
And so I went onto the next stage of grief, depression. In my case depression took its form in abject sadness. I looked in the mirror and saw emaciated bones framed by scraggly hair. I abandoned the sticky, useless mousse and decided that the next best option was to simply get a haircut and hope a few less dead-ends would help to revive some lift and life to the brown mop on my head. The stage of sadness took me to the door of the walk-in hair salon with the shortest line and cheapest prices. At a loss for a look I asked for a bob, paid for the unflattering cut and style and went home even sadder.
Back home I tried to like the new cut but all I could see was thin hair. All I could see was my thin body and the toll of invisible symptoms and years of chronic illness. When I looked in the mirror I saw so much more than that haircut. I saw what MS was taking from me and it broke my heart.
That was the moment I decided it was time to leave stage four behind and end my journey with grief. I decided to accept my hair. Not the cut - the cut had to go, but the hair...thin as it was... would stay. Either I could get a wig, try on some extensions or I could take drastic measures and cut it off. Can you guess which option won?
A few hours later I was seated in the chair of a new hair stylist at a salon that required more than a ten dollar bill and do-it-yourself hair-dry. I showed her a picture of a pixie cut and put what little hair I had in her hands. Just before she took the shearers to my strands she paused and caught my gaze in the mirror. "Are you sure about this?" she asked.
With a deep breath and complete conviction I answered, "Absolutely." Little did the stylist know that my response was about much more than hair. I could affirm the haircut because it was a confirmation of my heart. Absolutely I will accept what MS has taken from me. Absolutely, yes, I will love my body that has been stripped of weight, muscle and even hair. Yes, absolutely, I will praise God for sustaining me against all odds. I will absolutely live fully and vibrantly in this tiny little body and short pixie cut.
When the cut was complete, the product applied, the style perfected and my chair turned around I was met by a new face in the mirror. She didn't have scraggly hair pulling down her cheekbones. There was life on the face in the mirror. There was lift in the hair that brought light to the eyes. I looked in the mirror and saw me, the inner me that hasn't been ravaged by MS and chronic illness. In the mirror I saw a joyful, radiant, energetic over-comer. I saw who I want to be and who I can still be in spite of MS.
I left the salon with a new hair product, a new style and an appointment to trim it up again in four weeks. But most importantly I left stage five and journeyed into a whole new stage of life: joy.
My new haircut revived my outlook on life. I looked in the mirror and remembered that my every ounce of weight, strand of hair and flaring muscle has been made in God's image and created for His glorious, majestic purposes. I know who I am, my value and worth because I know who I am in Christ. I'm not MS, my symptoms or my weight on the scale. I'm not a head of a hair, a hot flash or a fatigued body. I am a girl on fire for the Lord. I am a great surprise in a small package. God made me perfectly, specially and without flaw. It is because I know the greatness of my creator that I can love this life, this hair and live with a joy that is bigger than any body.

Monday, June 20, 2016

To my prayer warriors...

Dear Prayer Warrior,
For six long years you have stood by me and for me in my fight for health. Before I could see the devastating effects of malabsorption take hold of my body you noticed the changes in my appearance. When invisible symptoms have caused me pain you have sensed the change in my demeanor. At every turn you have kept thoughts of me close and prayers for me frequent. When I haven't had the strength to pray for my own healing, you have taken up the torch and petitioned on my behalf. On days when I have struggled to find words to express my frustration and feelings you have met my silence with supportive hugs and endless understanding.
Even with all of the thousands of languages in the world there simply are not enough words or deep enough sentiments available to express my gratitude for your steadfast presence in my life. Whether I am physically near or far, you, my prayer warrior are always with me in spirit. You have prayed for peace, strength and endurance on my behalf and God has heard your pleas. The fruits of your intercession are at work in my life and my heart. I have been woken up at night with the pressure of praying hearts pressing into me. I know those prayers are being poured our from your lips straight to the ear of God. And He hears them and answers them. He has stepped in to calm my anxious spirit in the face of uncertainty. When my will to press on has worn out your prayers have lifted me up on the wings of eagles to reach the mighty hand of God who restores to me the perseverance to face another day and fight another battle.
Dear Prayer Warrior, I will never be able to say thank you enough for taking up my cause and never abandoning it. Thank you for entering into this war being waged for my health. Thank you for never sitting out a single battle even when I am too weary to assist in the fight. And thank you for faithfully believing that victory is ours.
You have never lost hope, lost faith or lost patience in prayer. You have never forgotten my cause. Even when I want to call it quits and wave my white flag, your dedication won't allow me to surrender. I think of you, your love and your care for me and I know I can't give up just yet.
You, my Prayer Warrior, standing shoulder to shoulder with me in battle, remind me that God has a plan for this fight. We are showing up and suiting up because God has a story of His greatness that He is writing with every battle. One day the record will show that this army of ours stood on God's promises and trusted in God's plan when defeat appeared inevitable. Our enemy, fierce as it has been and will continue to be, will be shown to be no match for our great God.
So, my fellow warrior, I will continue to fight alongside of you because I know that we are fighting for the ultimate prize. I know that we have won this battle, this war and the eternal crown of glory. With every prayer we strike the enemy on His head. With every hallelujah and praise we push back our foe and advance in the direction of God's purpose and plan. I know that the way ahead will have more struggles and conflicts but I know who goes beside me. My great army of Prayer Warriors will be right next to me in the Lord's armor, fighting the Lord's fight for His glory and His great Kingdom come.
I am humbled to be in your prayer care and I am honored to be counted among your precious cavalry. Together we are pressing on toward a goal greater than my health. We are pressing on to take hold of that which God has called us knowing that victory is already won. So together we will continue to fight till the very end because we are fighting for the resurrection from the dead, new life in Christ and eternal glory in the presence of our Mighty Warrior King.

Philippians 3:12

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


For some unknown reason, this afternoon I found myself seated on top of the kitchen counter, right next to the sink while Mom dried clean dishes. Once again, it's back to hand washing dishes again at my house. The dishwasher is malfunctioning (seems everything is on the fritz) and hasn't been doing a thorough job of beautifying dirty dishes or delivering on the Bosch's promise of shine and sparkle. As a result we are, once again, washing all of the dishes by hand and towel drying them.
For some homeowners the thought of a dishwasher-less kitchen would be horrific enough to call in emergency services - namely the Maytag repair man. But not in my house. We are so accustomed to appliances with defective mechanics that to have an entire home completely defect free would be cause for mental alarms to sound. "Is this my home?" "Has someone broken into my home and fixed all of my busted appliance?" Certainly an appliance dependable home couldn't be my family's residence because our home sweet home has never known such a victory.
The saga of our malfunctioning machines goes back as far as my childhood memory. I can remember sitting in the very same kitchen (pre-remodel) and pasting stickers on the dead placeholder of a dishwasher that sat for years without every being put through a cycle to clean a single dish. The machine had been long broken and was never fixed. Years after the dinosaur sticker frenzy of my youth a new machine came in to replace it when the kitchen was remodeled and made bright white. The brown and yellow 1980's hunk of junk went to the landfill by way of a dumpster. 
As I sat atop the counter watching Mom return to her dishwashing role, this time thanks to her deadbeat stainless steel edition, we chatted about my latest list of symptoms. Spasms have been topping the list. Even while we spoke I was rubbing essential oils into my left leg's flaring muscles in an attempt for some relief. I could see the frustration on Mom's face and I knew it had nothing to do with the dishwasher. Like me, she has been searching for answers to my symptoms. Every new bulging vein and tight muscle is another reminder that we still haven't solved the mystery just yet. 
Before Mom's words could journey into laments and aggravation, the white salad plate resting in her hands took on a life of its own. At least that's what seemed to transpire. The plate lifted from Mom's fingertips and, in what appeared to be slow motion, soared into the air before it came twisting and twirling down to the wood floor beneath where it went on to shatter into a thousand pieces. Both Mom and I looked at each other in shock and amazement. It had been a Matrix moment as we watched the accident occur but were helpless to stop the impending crash. 
It was there from my perch on the counter, looking down at the shattered pieces of white porcelain, that I saw the tragedy of Multiple Sclerosis. We, the suffering, and the one's who love us, watch as our bodies go lifting up and out of health and into imminent danger. Peril lies just below with the body careening towards its doom. And no one can stop it. No one can even put their fingers on it. Everything about MS eludes professionals and lay-men alike. There is little explanation for how the body went flying off in the wrong direction and there are no answers for stopping the descent. The crash happens and no one can step in and stop it. 
As I watched Mom grab the broom and sweep up the broken bits from the floor and off of the rug I saw not only the tragedy of MS but the hope in it too. Broken bodies don't have to be the end of the story. The pieces of the physical life's brokenness can be put together to make something absolutely glorious. Artists have famously done just that with broken pieces of pottery, beach glass and porcelain. The visionary collects the broken bits, both big and small, and puts them together to make a new creation, a new image, a new picture. From the brokenness something beautiful is created. 
God has the same artistic vision for the brokenness caused by an MS shattering. God has this amazing ability to take the broken pieces and refit them together to make a life abundantly more beautiful than  before. He does it with love and with grace. He refines the hard places and softens them in His new design. He replaces rough edges with renewed love and grace. The resulting creation is so glorious that what once was a whole plate... a fully functioning body... is a distant memory. The new creation is so lovely that the old actually loses its appeal. Only the beauty of the new work of art is to be desired. 
I've been shattered like that plate but God is putting back together my broken pieces to craft something new and wonderful. I can't wait to see what He creates because I know that it is going to be infinitely better than the white plate of a girl I once was. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A truly beautiful life

If beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder then why do nearly all of the faces on fashion magazines and runways look alike? Every model has a small nose, glowing skin and high cheekbones. The "beholder" always shares a similar vision to People magazine. Beauty is in man's chiseled features and women with curves in all the right places.Beauty comes with conditions. To be beautiful there is specific criteria: symmetrical facial structure, captivating eyes, long legs, a friendly smile. From my place at the checkout line it appears that beauty doesn't vary very much.
And it's not just physical beauty. One-size-fits-all beauty is just as relevant for day-to-day living. Just swap out high cheekbones for health and a gleaming white smile for wealth. Top it off with happiness and you have a life that any eye would behold as beautiful. Myself included.
By my own estimation a beautiful life would fit quite nicely within the stated criteria. To qualify as a "beautiful life" I have my own stereotypical mental checklist and conditions. For starters a beautiful life includes a fulfilling love life. Add to that a successful and meaningful career. Vibrant health is a must, as is an active social life. Low stress, a happy family and faithful friends all come together to make for a magazine-cover worthy beautiful life.
The trouble with this conditional list of life must-haves is that I can't put many check marks in the corresponding boxes. When I evaluate my life, take a look at the head shots and critique the poses I come up undeniably short. And not just in feet and inches. It's not just my body that wasn't built for the runway. By every worldly standard my life leaves much to be desired.
So does that mean that my life is not beautiful?
To my lamenting heart the answer that has come through frustration and tears has, admittedly, been "yes" far more often than I would dare remember or care to admit. In the quiet of my own mind and even out loud I've complained to God that my stated conditions for an appealing, alluring and enjoyable life haven't been met. With childlike indignation I've stomped my feet and thrown temper tantrums demanding a classically beautiful life.
Countless times I have delivered my beautiful life check-list to God on high with the promise that if He will meet my conditions I will be abundantly happy and entirely fulfilled. I have assured Him that with my requests met I will give Him praise and thanks. And it's true, I would honor God with a classically beautiful life, but God isn't looking for honor in the ordinary. God has given me an unconventional type of beautiful and that's where He desires for me to find my heart's health, my spirit's wealth and soul's endless joy and happiness. God wants honor and praise to flow from this unconditionally, unconventionally beautiful life.
God doesn't measure beauty by the People magazine standard. Or any worldly standard for that matter. God has thrown out every worldly method of measuring for what is a desirable and appealing life. He's rewritten beautiful to meet His eternal and Holy standards that specialize in being diverse, unique and unexpectedly lovely.
God has given me just such a beautiful life, one that doesn't meet my conditions. The life God has given me rewrites them. In the eye of the Beholder my life is stunningly beautiful. Without conditions or a check-list of must haves, I will praise God for my lovely life and use it to bring praise, glory and honor to the creator and perfecter of my unconditionally lovely life.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Duck, duck...goose!

For six long, grueling years I have been playing a grown-up version of Duck-Duck-Goose and I'm always "it." I keep getting stuck as the head-tapper, walking around a circle of remedies, therapies and nutritional plans tapping on each one as I say either "duck" or "goose." I've passed up my fair share of ducks - the Mayo clinic, steroids, being stung by a swarm of bees. Although I've lingered over each treatment option I've always determined that the outcome isn't promising enough to be explored. In duck-duck-goose terms, I haven't held out much hope that I can outrun my medical or bee opponent and snatch their seated position in the circle.
I've tried my hand at other types of geese in the circle of treatment options. Lately that has included acupuncture, stem cells, essential oils and herbs. Each time I yell goose with the hope that this will be my moment, my golden opportunity to snag a seat in a place of health and wellness. So I run after that goose with every fiber of my being. In an attempt to make my chosen treatment approach a success I read and research till my computer dies. Then I grab my iPad. I devote myself to my mission. I run hard to defeat my goose.
But MS, my goose, always seems to win. Even when I get close to snagging my coveted seat in the symptom-free circle the goose manages to snag me at the very last moment. I've come so close to success that I could taste victory but every time I've ended up tagged before my life can settle into its new state of well-being. Before I can put on coveted weight or relax into a spasm-free existence the goose bests me.
Once tagged it's back to the outer ring of the circle to try again. Countless times I've asked God if we can play a different game or at least take a break before returning to another frustrating round of duck-duck-goose but He has yet to grant my request. I can only assume that God must really fancy ducks and geese.
And so, it is back to the goose chase for me. I don't always return to my position as "it" with a smile and jubilant attitude. More often than not my initial return to my position as tagger is done with a spirit of a pity party. But I come back. Reluctant, complaining and doubtful I take up my position as "it" and begin to duck-duck-duck my way around the circle.
This last time around the circle I realized something about the game. It isn't that God is so fond of geese or ducks. And He doesn't get a kick out of watching me wallow in repeated defeat. God likes the chase. He likes the exercise. God likes giving me a workout while I run hard and as fast as my little legs will take me towards the place of healing and rest. God is pleased that I am seeking, searching and straining towards the future He has in store.
No matter how many times I fail to snag my seat and have to return to the outer ring of the circle God meets me there with hope for the future and strength to take up my role as "it" once again. Despite countless failed attempts to tag my goose I still have hope that one of these days I'll run faster than my symptoms and relax into a life of health and well-being. Someday, someway I will tap the right goose and put an end to this seemingly unending game of goose chasing.
Until the day this game ends and another begins I will choose to embrace the exercise of the chase. With every stride and step I am being conditioned in spirit. Running without a break has increased the capacity of my heart to persevere in God's strength.
As I take up my place as "it" I can run frustrated or I can find purpose in the game and hope in the losses. Today I choose to play God's way, to choose my geese with His direction and to run for His glory. Today I choose to find joy God's game of duck-duck-goose and embrace the chase.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Forgetting 101

I can't remember the first prayer I ever sent to Heaven's doorstep petitioning healing for my body. It must have been over six years ago. Back in those days my floundering health was a big mystery and all I wanted was God to make it go away. I wasn't asking for explanation for the cause or the catalyst. All I wanted was the ordeal erased for good. So I asked God to heal me.
Six years later and that prayer hasn't been answered. My condition has worsened. Instead of getting well, I've gotten more ill. Instead of symptom elimination, I've experienced symptom multiplication. This certainly isn't what I was looking for when I turned to God in prayer. I wanted a quick fix and a speedy resolution. He's had a much different agenda in mind.
Throughout my years of prayer and health ups and downs I've run into countless walls. Somewhere along this journey I stopped keeping track of the failed therapies, treatment options, drugs and doctors. For the sake of resiliency I've had to learn to release the regret of failed remedies. To keep going I've chosen to forget the heartache of the let down. In order to formulate my souls prayer for healing I've had to learn to let go of every past dashed hope and dead dream.

Forgetting gets a bad rap. Most people, doctors and magazine articles tout the benefits of a good memory. To boost the brain's capacity to remember there are supplement, puzzles and entire websites devoted to "brain games." To protect the brain's memory get ample sleep, eat leafy greens and don't you dare smoke. The goal is to remember everything, forever.
Well, I'm here to tell you that memory isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, forgetting can be quite freeing. Take for example, forgetting every time you trip and fall. Wouldn't you like to forget how your knees hurt and the embarrassment of ending up face down on the pavement? Wouldn't it be nice to forget the day of your big breakup with the ex you thought you were going to marry? I wouldn't mind forgetting a number of unpleasant nightmares and the one D I received on my high school report card.
Forgetting has its benefits, no supplement required. Forgetting can be an ability and a blessing. The last six years of my life are proof. For six years I have learned how to forget and the skill has done more to protect my heart more than Ginko Giloba ever could.
My exercises in forgetting began with a prayer sent to Heaven's doorstep as a petition for healing. Back in those days my floundering health was a big mystery and all I wanted was God to make it go away. I wasn't asking for an explanation, just a big eraser to make it all go away for good. So I asked God to heal me.
Six years later and that prayer hasn't been answered. My condition has worsened. Instead of getting well, I've become more ill. Instead of symptom elimination, I've experienced symptom multiplication. This certainly isn't what I was looking for when I turned to God in prayer. I wanted a quick fix and a speedy resolution. Despite the length of the ordeal and the unanswered prayers I've never stopped coming to Jesus with my plea and that's thanks, in part, to my terrible memory.
You see, throughout my years of prayer and health ups and downs I've run into countless walls. Somewhere along this journey I stopped keeping track of the failed therapies, treatment options, drugs and doctors. For the sake of resiliency I've had to learn to release the regret of failed remedies.  I've had to learn how to forget. To keep going I've chosen to release the heartache of let down. In order to formulate my soul's prayer for healing I've learned to let go of dashed hopes and dead dreams.
God has, for six long, tedious and trying years, been conducting a class He designed and perfected and it's called, "Forgetting 101." The mission is to forget what is behind so that I can strain towards what is ahead. When I graduate I should be a professional at short-term memory loss and skilled at lacking long-term remembrances. God has been training me in releasing the chains that once bound me by forgetting their strength. By relieving me of my past God is diminishing its power.
Let's be honest, we all want a pill or a supplement to make all of our aches go away and our bodies to perform at their optimal levels. We want memory to come in a bottle and cures for diseases to be found in the medicine cabinet but God works in an entirely different way. He takes the long road to the higher places. He puts us in the classrooms of His choosing, not the world's, closes the door and keeps hold of the key. He teaches us lessons in principles we didn't sign up for.
I didn't know I needed to learn how to forget. I, like the rest of the world, thought I was supposed to remember. But God has plenty He wants me to forget so that I can move forward. The past can turn into shackles that bind. Forgetting can break those chains.
To forget God's way is to strain towards the hope of tomorrow and find freedom from the regrets of yesterday. Forgetting the past is the catalyst to a new, bright, bountiful future full of hope and healing.  I don't want to remember yesterday and I need not remember every detail of the past six years because God is writing me a tomorrow. I'm learning to strain with great anticipation for God's good and faithful promises of the future. Today I am forgetting the past, my chains and the shackles that bound me so that I can run towards the bright and shining glory God had just ahead.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Monkeying around

Do you remember the monkey bars at the playground? I do... and it makes my arms hurt just thinking about the time I spent dangling from the metal bars of the jungle gym. My playground equipment of choice was always the swings, never the monkey bars. I attribute that choice to a lack of upper body strength. When in doubt, blame genetics. My legs, on the other hand, were strong, despite being even then rather small. I remember pumping my legs in fluid motions while rocking my body weight in perfectly synchronized timing. I would soar up into the air and cast my gaze straight up into the blue sky. I remember the sound of the heavy chains pinging against each other as the tension in their links released upon my descent. When my legs became tired and fatigued I would dismount and send myself leaping from my swing, sticking the landing on the wood chip covered earth.
The swings were my happy place on the playground. The monkey bars were my nemesis. As fate would have it, the monkey bars were a favorite among my peers. An integral aspect of the daily recess "fun" was always a lengthy visit to the monkey bars. I obliged my elementary school friends and engaged in the muscle fatiguing exercise of hanging from the overhead bars. As if hanging by my weak little arms weren't enough of a challenge, my peers would engage in the fun-filled antic of tickling the dangler. With pokes and playful jabs they made the hand-over-hand journey to the other side of the contraption a near impossibility. As my knuckles would turn red and my palms sweaty my will to hold on would deteriorate. Without shame I would let go of the metal bars, fall to the ground below and wait on the sidelines for the rest of the group to tire of monkey bars and head for the swings.
In all of my elementary school years I never did discover a love for monkey bars. When I grew up and grew out of recess I was relieved to be free from the obligation to engage in what amounted to torture to me. So imagine my surprise when, as an adult, God brought me to a new playground and invited me to join Him on the monkey bars.
Of course my immediate response was, "No thank you. I'll go for the swings." But God had another sort of "fun" in mind and it included monkey bars, endurance and hanging on for dear life. Instead of the playful fun of tickling I would be enduring trials. Instead of white knuckles and sweaty palms I'd have to contend with depression and hopelessness. I asked God if we could just stick to the traditional game of monkey bars, the one I knew as a child. Suddenly the jungle gym torture of my youth looked amazingly appealing.
Six years have passed and God hasn't tired of the monkey bars. I keep waiting for Him to go to the swings or at least the slide, but no. He really loves the monkey bars. And since I really love Him you can guess where I've been hanging out for the past six years. The monkey bars.
Countless times throughout my years on these bars I've tried to hold on tight and not fall down while the trials of life have taunted and teased me, tempting my hands to let go. Below I see the fate that awaits and it is more perilous than a bed of splintered wood. If I let go of the bars I will fall away from God. As challenging as it is to keep my grip secure I know that the alternative is far worse. The landing would be painful and bruises would be a sure result. So I keep holding on.
In all of this dangling I've had so much time to think. Sometimes I think about my disdain for the monkey bars. Sometimes I contemplate a way to compel God to move onto the swings. And other times I think about how much my muscles have grown. When my heart is right and my focus is on who I'm hanging out with on the monkey bars I don't even notice the fatigue and pain radiating throughout my body. All I think about is how wonderful it is to be with God - even if it is on the monkey bars.
The greatest challenge of the monkey bars is not the physical holding on, but the spiritual concentration on who is with me on the playground. When I look to my circumstances, my knuckles and my fatiguing body I am sure to lose my grip. But if I can look to the wonderful Friend I have in Jesus who is there with me I can hang on. By looking to Jesus I am filled with the endurance of His Spirit to stay with God as long as He desires to dangle from the monkey bars. By surrendering my plans for the swings and choosing to be present with Christ in the moment I may even find that the monkey bars aren't so bad after all.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A corn meal conundrum

All I wanted to do was put my cantaloupe in the fridge. How could that simple act have gone so wrong? Cornmeal, that's how.
The afternoon was going along just swimmingly. After an acupuncture appointment where my back pain was relieved I made a quick stop at the grocery store where, among other food items, I picked up a baby cantaloupe. Yes, I do categorize my fruit by age. With my cute and innocent cantaloupe in tow I drove back home to unload my health-nut load of produce and yogurts into the fridge.
And that's where the trial began.
I opened the stainless steel doors and began surveying the scene. The fridge in my house is always crowded. Let's just say that if cantaloupes suffered from claustrophobia they wouldn't step rind into my fridge. It is crowded with not only the assortment of fruits, vegetables and various seeds of a health food junkie but the cheese, milk, flour and various lemonades belonging to the rest of my home's inhabitants. Our fridge works overtime.
Despite the lack of space I was determined to find a special place for my sweet melon. Fruit is always best chilled and I like to give my fruit the best. So I scoped out the options for melon placement. With a little shifting of the cornmeal container I could easily slide the cantaloupe into a safe place where it would fit snuggly. I wouldn't want my baby melon to roll off the glass shelf and onto the floor.
The task of relocating the cornmeal three inches to the left should have been a non-event but when my palm clasped the half-used cardboard container it is as if my brain took a vacation. As my hand lifted the container my whole arm jerked and my hand had a moment of complete weakness. It released its grasp on the cornmeal which managed to fall at such an angle that the canister's top popped off. As the container hit the the edge of the glass shelf it spewed mealy contents all over the floor, not to mention the unsuspecting freezer below and every fridge shelf that found its way into the cornmeal's path of destruction.
And there I stood, at the fridge door with a cute little cantaloupe in hand, covered in cornmeal dust and utter disgust. "These hands - these blasted hands!" (In my frustration I even took on a British accent.) Under my breath and, more forcefully, in the privacy of my own mind I cursed my unpredictable, unreliable hands.
This sudden hand drop phenomenon is not new but that doesn't make it any less troublesome and, when cornmeal is involved, messy. I've dropped more glasses and plates than I can count. Thankfully all of the paring knives that have slipped out of my grasp in the kitchen have yet to land on my toes. I'm well acquainted with dropping papers, books, cell phones and keys. I'm practically a professional dropper of all things. When my hands started losing their capacity to clasp and release as I will them I became anxious and concerned. The sensation was so foreign. One moment I would be holding on to an object and the next it would be as if my hand had turned to jello. My concern led me where it always has in the past, Google. A quick search of "hand drop" and "MS" turned up over one hundred million results and a wave of relief. At least I wasn't alone.
It turns out that the hand drop I was experiencing was much like the foot drop I had already become accustomed to since my brain went on the fritz six years ago. The foot drop is also troubling but not nearly as messy since my feet don't try to carry canisters of cornmeal. Hand drop, on the other hand, leads to the breaking of many dishes and shattering of many glasses.
On my way to the kitchen cabinet to retrieve cleaning supplies for the cornmeal disaster I knocked over the Comet and dropped the roll of paper towels. All in an aggravating day's work of MS challenges.
With cornmeal all over the floor and Comet spewed all over the rug I was officially at my MS wit's end. I was internally angry at my brain for allowing my hands to go on the fritz at the precise moment powder was involved. Couldn't they have waited for a stack of papers to lose their coordination? The clean up would have been so much simpler.
As I surveyed the scene in my kitchen the cornmeal and the Comet and the mess taunted me, tempting me to become angry at my hands, feet and physical being. In that moment I felt the compulsion to lash out at God for allowing all the dysfunction of my body to continue for so long and with so little relief.
But then I walked away. I left the house without cleaning up the cornmeal or the Comet for that matter. Sometimes when the MS gets tough, this MSer simply must get going. Sometimes it takes everything in me just to step away from the troubling scenes of my condition because if I didn't I might go crazy with frustration. Space and separation from the scene of the angst can be a much needed retreat from the despair of uncontrollable symptoms and unmanageable physical dysfunction. In the moments when I am struggling to hold on - physically or emotionally - taking a step back can provide me the cleansed and renewed perspective I need to face the messes of this life.
When I returned to the kitchen floor it didn't look like such a disaster. In fact, from my refreshed perspective, the floor looked like a display of God's promises. When I looked back at the floor I was reminded that disasters will come - some as inconsequential as cornmeal and others as devastating as MS - but God will always be with me in the clean up. Whether it is with a spray bottle and rag on the kitchen floor or on my knees begging for healing, God is faithful and He hears my every prayer. He sees when I'm frustrated at my body and when my heart is heavy with hopelessness. He's right there with me every time I lose my grip.
And, what's more, God brings all of the tools and supplies I need for the cleanup. He comes equipped with the resiliency I need to keep picking up canisters and plates even after I've dropped them a thousand times. He's my supplier of endurance to keep pressing forward when my body is weak. When my soul is dry and too fatigued to go on, He brings me the cup I need to be renewed and restored.
There isn't a mess on earth too massive for God. From cornmeal to chronic health conditions like MS, God specializes in spotless cleaning and making all things new.