The Answer I’ve Been Waiting For

It’s been almost two years since I published a blog on this site. Then, I shared about my battle with an illness that plagued me, an illness that no doctor could seem to find an answer for. I shared about my struggle to remain content in the plan that God had for me even as the list of medications that I was on grew longer and longer, as my symptoms grew worse, and as there seemed to be no end in sight. I wanted to be healthy, but God was asking me to rest in Him in my sickness.

Sick

This is a picture of me in June of 2011 (I am standing at the far right), after I had already had the first surgery. Every time I see it, I can’t help but think how sick I still look. I thought the illness was over, but it was going to get a lot worse.

After I published that blog post, I was still sick, but I was determined to learn to be content in illness. I decided that I didn’t want my life to be limited. I didn’t want to spend my time waiting around for a diagnosis or an answer. So, I started training for a triathlon, which I completed in June of 2014. I went out with friends, even when I wasn’t feeling the best. I volunteered every week with Youth for Christ, an organization which I love. I took a trip to the Wisconsin Dells with my family. I was sick, but that didn’t mean I had to stop living.

Triathlon

Here I am in June of 2014, getting ready to complete my first triathlon. I would have surgery 2 months later.

However, in the Spring of 2014, something happened. I went to the doctor for a routine allergy appointment. As I was waiting for the test results, which typically take about 20 minutes, the nurse handed me a magazine to read: Ladies’ Home Journal. It’s nothing I would have chosen to read on my own, but out of boredom, I flipped it open. A headline caught my eye: “20 Years of Mysterious Pain: How I Was Finally Diagnosed with Endometriosis.” I turned to the article out of curiosity. I had been diagnosed with Endometriosis in 2011, but a surgery in April of that year was supposed to have corrected the problem.

I read the story of Adina Kalish Neufeld. For years, she suffered with many of the same symptoms I had: food intolerances, extreme pain, vomiting, weakness, and more. She finally found a doctor who diagnosed her with endometriosis. She had surgery, but within a year, all of her symptoms were back. Determined to find an answer, she finally ended up at the Center for Endometriosis Care in Atlanta. There, she underwent an aggressive surgery to remove all Endometrial tissue. It was the answer she had been waiting for.

I left that allergy appointment that day with a list of things I was allergic to, a prescription for seasonal allergy medication, and a question. Could all of my symptoms be from Endometriosis? And if so, could the Center for Endometriosis Care help me, too? My doctor had insisted that vomiting and food intolerances were not symptoms of Endometriosis. She said that since I already had the surgery, I couldn’t still be suffering from the disease. But what if my doctor was wrong?

I spent the next month researching the Center for Endometriosis Care. I collected all of my medical records, copies of scans, test results, and a personal description of my illness over the last five years, and then I sealed it all up and mailed it to them in Atlanta. And then I waited.

A few weeks later, my cell phone rang. It was Dr. Sinervo from the Center for Endometriosis Care. He explained that he had reviewed all my medical records, and he was pretty sure that he could help me. He explained the surgery that he would need to perform and how it was different from treatment that I had received in the past. He told me he thought the chances that I would walk away symptom free were 80%. It was the best news I had received in years.

In August, exactly one year ago, my mom and I arrived in Atlanta. On Monday morning, I met Dr. Sinervo for the first time. He explained again how the surgery would work. As my bed was about to be wheeled back to the OR, he asked my mom and me if he could pray for me. The three of us held hands as he prayed for answers and healing. Back in the OR, he held my hand as the anesthesiologist put me to sleep for the surgery.

I woke up in the recovery room several hours later. I was scared. What if it didn’t work? What if this whole trip was a waste of time, and I was going to go home just as sick as when I came?

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This is me in Atlanta. The surgery was 4 days prior. I was able to get up and walk around at this point, so my mom and I went out and explored the city a bit. I was still in some pain, but I was on the road to being healthy again!

But that’s not what happened. It’s been a year. None of my symptoms have returned. I feel healthier than I have in a very long time. All of those trips to the ER, the phone calls to my mom for help in the middle of the night, the vomiting, the being scared to eat because I didn’t want to be sick again- it’s all over.

I saw God work so many times throughout that illness. I saw God in my friends who sat in the hospital with me and brought me food when I was too sick to get out of bed. I saw God in my parents who always took my phone calls when I was sick and needed help. I saw God that day when the nurse handed me the Ladies’ Home Journal to read with the article that would lead me to the diagnosis and answer I had been longing for. I saw God in Dr. Sinervo and his care for me. I saw God in Patty, the woman who assisted me in my appeal to my insurance company and helped me get the surgery paid for.

God asked me to be content in illness. And now, I can celebrate that God has brought me to a place of healing and health. In the past year, I finished my second triathlon. I just got back from a trip to Cedar Point where Shannon and I rode 20 roller coasters (some were repeats) in 3 days. I did an Inflatable 5K with friends. I’ve eaten tons of ice cream and popcorn, drank lots of coffee…all foods that would have made me sick before the surgery.

Roller Coaster

Shannon, my parents, and I after just riding the Rougarou Roller Coaster at Cedar Point. It has a 137 foot dive, takes you upside down 4 times, and sends your through high speed twists at 60 miles an hour. Pre-surgery, I’m not sure I could have done this. Today: I rode this roller coaster and 19 others in three days! I even followed up the ride with an Oreo ice cream shake at Johnny Rocket. I never once got sick!

God gave me the answer I had been waiting so long for. And I know that not everyone gets that answer. Some people remain in illness and never get the chance to be healthy again, like I have. My heart goes out to them, because I know how hard it is to be in that place, wondering if it will ever end. It is my prayer that maybe my story can help someone else find an answer they have been looking for. That maybe my story can help encourage others. And that I would take the health that God has blessed me with and use it for His glory, always.


Learning to be Content

I am 23 years old and I take more medications on a daily basis than most adults twice my age. Every couple of weeks I find myself sitting in a waiting room, in a doctor’s office, and answering the same questions, talking about the same problems. When I think I’ve finally overcome one illness, another surfaces, and I can’t help but be disappointed and discouraged time and again.

Of course, when I hear about the life threatening illnesses that others face , I feel guilty that I ever lamented over my own health problems. I have never had to sit and listen as a doctor explained my cancer diagnosis or impairment or paralysis. In comparison to those, I am a healthy, fit 23 year old. Every morning I get up and go to work or to the gym or to church or to meetings with friends, and I lead, for the most part, a fairly average life.

However, behind all the normalcy, I feel like I am constantly struggling. I eat the wrong food and feel sick for days. I wake up with splitting headaches that leave me tired and unfocused during the day. I am plagued by nausea, stomach aches, pain, insomnia, rapid heart rates, anxiety, and muscle tension. I always seem to be covered in unexplained bruises. Running instantly causes shin splints. Exercise causes neck pain. Sitting causes restless leg. An imaging scan reveals tumors on my liver. My jaw constantly clicks and dislocates. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I always seem to be sick.
Perhaps the worst part is that there is never an answer. There’s never a cure, just symptom management, more medication, and more side effects from medication. And then there are the comments. “Maybe you’re just faking it.” “I think you’re making it up.” “You’re so dramatic.” “It’s all in your head.” I think it’s the skepticism from others that is the hardest. I know they grow tired of my constant pleas for help, my having to admit that today, I just can’t make it. I just can’t do it. I get tired, too. I want to be able to eat a full meal without growing nauseous later, to go on a trip without worrying about whether I have enough meds to cover all the emergencies. Over and over I’ve pleaded with God, “Just make me healthy.”

Contrary to how it may appear, I do not write all of this to complain or elicit sympathy. I actually write it as a confession. For years I have struggled. For years I have felt angry and upset as symptoms grew worse, questions went unanswered, and test after test came back inconclusive. I looked to God for answers and grew discouraged each time He seemed to stay silent. I craved to rid myself of the pain and panic attacks and regular visits to the doctor.

This week I was struck by a passage in Philippians, one that I have read countless times before. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NASB)

I cannot say that God has not provided for me. He has given me great doctors. He has blessed me with a mom who takes my phone calls when there is an emergency in the middle of the night. He has given me friends who pray for me and care for me. He has allowed me to still graduate from college, work full time, and pursue a career I love despite my health problems. He has walked beside me through every scary moment, every discouraging appointment, and every test. However, despite all of this, I cannot say I have responded as Paul did and wrote about in Philippians. I have not learned to be content in whatever circumstance. I have not learned the secret of being filled or going hungry. I wanted to be healthy, not suffer in illness.

This is my confession. And it is also my first step forward. I want to know what it means, not to be healthy, but to be satisfied in the One who is healer. I want to know what it means to be content in the grace of a God who is so much bigger than a test result. I want to look to Him as my strength, not a medication or a cure. I want to understand the secret Paul spoke of. As I look at all the blessings around me, I cannot help but be grateful. God has give me more than enough.

So I’m inviting you to take this journey with me. What is standing between you and contentment? And is God bigger? I know there will still be days when I feel discouraged. However, I want to be intentional about learning to be content in every circumstance. I want to thank Him for the medications that do bring some relief, for the doctors who help, and for the victories and failures along the way. I want to stand with my family and friends, knowing that whatever the problem, my God is enough. I am satisfied. We are satisfied. And He will carry me through.


Iowa

I’m from Iowa.  I’ve lived in Iowa most of my life.  Most people who aren’t from the Midwest, when I tell them where I’m from, say something like, “Iowa.  Isn’t that where they grow the potatoes?”  No, it’s not.  That’s Idaho.

There’s something about this small state in the middle of the country that I find beautiful.  I’ve said that to several people, and usually I get weird looks and maybe a chuckle.  They think I’m kidding.  I’ve been to Israel and stood looking out over the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley.  That’s a beautiful sight.  I’ve been to the state of Washington and watched the sun set behind the mountains, camped in the Boundary Waters and watched a thunderstorm roll powerfully across the lake at twilight, stood on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and gazed at the miles and miles of water stretched out before me.  I’ve hiked in the Lake District in England, walked the National Mall in Washington D.C., and glimpsed the Promised Land from Mount Nebo in Jordan.  All of these are absolutely beautiful places, but there’s something beautiful about Iowa, too.  It’s a different kind of beautiful.

I drive about forty-five minutes to work and back each day.  It’s not a very exciting drive, but most days, I find myself marveling at how beautiful this state is.  And it’s always changing.  During the Fall, it’s awash with colors that take your breath away.  In Winter, the trees sparkle with ice and frost.  Spring always reminds me how much I’ve missed the color green as the leaves and grass begin to grow again.  And then there’s Summer, where day by day the corn grows taller in the fields and the sky seems more blue than I imagined.

There’s something about Iowa—the wide open spaces, the run-down farm homes and red barns, the grazing cows, towering silos, and of course, rows and rows of corn.  All of this I find beautiful.  Maybe it’s simply because all of these things represent home to me.  I love running outside during a thunderstorm as lightning streaks down from heaven or lying in bed listening to the rain on the roof and the thunder rattling the windows.  I actually like the heat and humidity that wraps around you like a blanket during the Summer.  I enjoy the rambling creeks and rivers, the slow rolling hills or flat farmland stretched out as far as you can see.  Sweet corn stands set up along the side of the road, farmer’s markets spanning city streets, bike trails through the forest—all of these thing are part of Iowa, part of home.

I’ll admit, I hate the winters, hate the cold wind that sucks the breath from you and freezes your lungs, hate donning my heavy coat and boots every time I walk outside.  But it does make Spring all the more wonderful.

Perhaps even the simplest, most ordinary things can be beautiful.  I know most people don’t think much of Iowa, but I don’t know that I will ever stop marveling at the acres of farmland and the dilapidated barns that dot the landscape.  This is home to me.  And that makes it beautiful.


Shannon is Graduating

5My sister graduates from high school in just over a week.  She’s the youngest of the family, so it’s not only a big deal for her, but for the rest of us as well.  My parents are no doubt preparing for an empty house after twenty-three years of kids hanging around, eating their food, and demanding their attention.  My brother and I now have to get used to the idea that Shannon, our “little” sister (I put the word little in quotes because she’s several inches taller than me) isn’t really that little any more.

There have already been noticeable changes as Simon and I moved out.  The five of us are rarely together as a family anymore. Either I’m at work or Simon is at school or Shannon left for a weekend with her friends.  But when we are together-maybe for Easter or Thanksgiving or some random day when we all happened to decide to come home-I find myself paying attention now.  These are moments that I want to hold on to.

However, I’m getting off track.  It has been a year since I graduated from college.  One year isn’t a lot of time, and I’ll admit that almost everyone still mistakes me for a student and asks me where I go to school.  As I think of Shannon getting ready to begin her own college career, I can’t help but remember what it felt like for me as I made that first step.  So Shannon, as your “big” sister, I wanted to share a few things:

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1. Learn to pray dream prayers.  College is a time where you are always focused on the future- on who you will become and how you will get there.  Maybe you know what you want your future to look like and maybe you don’t.  Share your dreams with God.  Tell Him all your wants and desires.  And then ask Him to make His dreams for you yours.  You might find yourself suddenly dreaming of things that scare you.  Or things that don’t seem to make any rational sense.  Those are the dreams worth pursuing, because they were written and inspired by a God who knows you so much better than you could ever know yourself.

2. Make friends who will look out for you, challenge you, and grow with you.  If it wasn’t for my friends in college, I’m not sure I’d be the same person I am today.  My friends talked me through situations that I didn’t know how to handle.  They fought for me when I wouldn’t fight for myself. They made me laugh so hard that I couldn’t stay sitting in my chair.  They took care of me 193when I was sick, went and got food with me when I was hungry, and told me off when I was being stupid. Make sure you have friends who will do all of those things.

3. The syllabus always makes things seem harder than it is.  Syllabus shock is a real thing. I suffered from it every semester. Just remember that you’re looking at work to be done over a 4 month period.  You don’t have to do it all tomorrow.  But don’t put it all off until the last minute, either.  If you’re having to pull all-nighters, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Have tons of fun.  College is unique because you are surrounded by people all the time.  If you’re like me, that will sometimes make you want to crawl beneath the covers and wish everyone away, but it’s also great because your friends are always around. There are alway social events and groups getting together.  You can study together, get dinner together, go the gym together…whatever you want to do, chances are, someone is there to do it with you.  Take advantage of that.  Go on that study abroad trip or retreat weekend.  Make sure that you enjoy your time in college.  You’re supposed to have fun (and work hard, so don’t forget that part).Family Edited

5. Call home once in awhile.  Let mom know you got the package she sent you during finals week or the giant box of popcorn balls she mailed you just for fun.  Skype Simon when you need help on your math homework (yep…I did it). Call dad when you run into car trouble or guy trouble or any kind of trouble, really.  Come stay at my apartment some weekends!  We’re all going to miss you.

There are a million more things I could tell you.  Join a campus ministry and get connected with a good church.  Trust me, it’s essential.  Go ahead and drink (once you’re 21).  Just be smart about it and and do it with people who will be smart with you.  Get a job, take out as few loans as possible, and be proud that this education is something that you are earning and paying for.  Own it; it’s yours.  Don’t walk by yourself at night.  Don’t make skipping classes a habit; it’s hard to break. Try things just to try them.

I’m very excited for you.  I hope you’re excited.  Happy graduation, Shanno! I love you!

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Good Friday

History’s darkest hour.  God Himself hangs dying on a cross.  God Himself.  The God who carved the rivers and the valleys of the earth with His finger, who placed each star in the sky, who set the universe in motion.  The God who breathed into the dust and gave life to man is crucified by man.  Each breath drawn in agony.  A cry of forsakenness.  And the God who is the giver of life dies.  History’s darkest hour.

How can it be comprehended?  How can this happen?  It is fitting that the earth shake, that darkness descend.  For in this hour, the created killed the Creator.  The unrighteous condemned the Righteous to die.  It is unjust, an act of hatred committed against the God who is Love.  History’s darkest hour.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Life and Love and Righteousness lie dead in a tomb.  Hope has fallen, shattered, broken.  Darkness descends.  God is dead.  God lies wrapped in linens, un-breathing, sealed behind a stone.  All is lost.  All.  Salvation cannot be realized.  Death is certain.

Three days in a tomb.  Three days of hopelessness.  Three days of darkness and defeat.  History’s darkest hour.  Good Friday.

Wait. Life will be born from death.  Darkness is cast away by the light.  Easter morning is coming.  Wait.


A New City

For me, moving to a new city is always a weird adjustment.  Each place has its own culture, its own feel.  People drive differently in small town Iowa than they do in eastern Washington or in Chicago.  People eat different foods, talk with different accents, and have different interests.  More changes than just the skyline and your zip code.  Moving to a new city involves a readjustment to what is normal and what is strange, to the way the seasons change, to the way you live in general.  I always find that one of the biggest adjustments is finding a new church.

Whenever I move to a new city, I spend the first couple months of Sundays visiting different churches.  I’ll spend hours on the internet visiting different church websites, reading doctrinal statements, maybe even listening to snippets of sermons.  I ask co-workers where they go to church and what they like about it.  What is the congregation like?  What is the preaching like?  What keeps you coming week after week?

But during these months of searching, I always find myself getting restless and lonely.  I’m used to having a church body to connect to.  It’s part of what helps me develop friendships in each new place I move to, what helps me feel like I belong in a city that is otherwise strange and different.  During those months of visiting one church after another, I don’t feel as invested in my spiritual walk and don’t feel like I’m investing in anything.  And if the search continues for more than two months, I find myself feeling more and more disconnected.  God created us to be in community and to be part of a body.  I feel that absence every time I move somewhere new.

It’s been about two months since I moved to my most recent “new city,” and for the past three weeks I attended the same church.  I loved the preaching and the commitment to Christ.  I agreed with their doctrinal statement and confessions, and I found myself challenged to grow in my faith each time I attended.  The only thing that caused me to be hesitant about calling the church my home was that I didn’t yet feel connected to the people.  Each time I went I sat by myself.  But I sent in a request to be part of the small group ministry and started attending some events for the young adults group.  I hoped that the sense of community I longed for would come as I made an effort to be a part of it.

It came in a way I never expected.  Last Sunday was my third visit to the church.  I arrived, made sure my cell phone was on vibrate, and slammed the car door shut just as I remembered my keys were still in my bag beneath the front seat.  I tried the door handle, knowing that it was useless because the doors were locked.  I called my mom.  She didn’t answer.  I tried to ignore the little voice of panic in my head.  I wasn’t too far from home.  I could always walk back and leave my car in the church parking lot if I needed to.  But my first shift at a new job was that afternoon, and I knew that without my car, there was no way I was getting there.  I had to get the door unlocked.

Unsure of what to do, I went into the church, took the bulletin the usher handed me, and sat down in a seat in the back.  Just then, I felt my phone vibrating.  My mom was calling.  I answered and ducked back out into the foyer, but she didn’t have any good advice for me except, “Ask the people at church to help you.”  I hung up, dismayed.  I wasn’t part of this community yet.  I didn’t even know who to ask.

I walked over to a reception desk and explained my problem to the woman there.  I could tell she didn’t know what to do either.  She suggested I try and see if the police could come unlock it and helped me find a non-emergency number to call in the phone book.  I called, but the man who answered said there was no way they would do that for me.  He gave me the number of a towing company that could.  I hung up, trying to do the math in my head.  This could be expensive if I had to call someone.  Where was that money going to come from?  I already live on a pretty tight budget.  An expense like this could leave me hurting.

I went back to the receptionist.  She got the attention of an older gentleman who was in the foyer and who she seemed to know.  “Could you help this girl?  She locked her keys in her car.”  He smiled at me and said he’d take a look.  We walked out to the parking lot together.  He looked in all the windows, asked me how the locks worked, checked the handles and the seals on the doors.  But in the end he concluded that I was probably going to have to call a professional.  He just didn’t know how I was going to get the door unlocked otherwise.  I went back inside, thanked both him and the receptionist for their help, and called the number for the towing company I had gotten from the police.  They said they could do it for $50.  The price wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I was still upset with myself for making such a stupid, expensive mistake.

I walked back to the foyer.  The towing company was going to call me when they arrived, so I decided to go back into the service.  On my way in, the receptionist stopped me.  “Is the towing company coming?” she asked me.  I nodded and told her I was just going to sit in the service until they called.  “How much is it going to cost?” she asked.  When I told her the price, she pulled out her checkbook.  “I’m going to pay for it for you,” she said.  “I know how it is when money is tight.  And you shouldn’t have to come to church and worry about stuff like this.”  I was blown away.  I hadn’t told her I was worried about the cost.  I insisted that she didn’t have to pay for it, but she wrote out the check and handed it to me.  I walked away stunned and overwhelmed with thankfulness.

I missed most of the service that week.  I don’t know what the sermon was about, and I don’t know what songs they sang.  The towing company came and unlocked my car door.  I paid the man, knowing that it was my mistake, but someone else had picked up the bill.  A friend I had met in the young adults group texted me as I was climbing back into my car and invited me over to her house for lunch after church.  I realized then that I had found a church community.  I had people who cared for me.  And I left feeling a tug on my heart, wondering how I could bless someone else who was a part of that community.

After two months, thanks to the wonderful people I have met at church, I can finally start feeling like this new city is really home.


Hope Eternal and Grace Undeserved

Sometimes I feel as if it is the loneliest thing in the world to be a Christian.  As a Christian, you are burdened with a mission and a message that the world, by nature, without the grace of God, simply cannot understand.  As a Christian, you believe in Truth that is contrary to the popular concept of inclusivity, contrary to the human desire to do it yourself, contrary to the way the world defines life and love and salvation.  As a Christian, you are blessed with incredible joy as you are united to Christ and incredible sorrow for a forsaken world.  And though your heart yearns to share that joy with the world, it is most often rejected, characterized as archaic, unintelligent, barbaric, and unrealistic.  A fallen world has no capacity to recognize Love.

Sometimes I grow weary.  I look around me and feel incredible sadness at the brokenness but also piercing anger at the outright rejection and mocking of God.  There is this tension that pulls at me constantly, where I want to go to the world with arms outstretched, ready to meet them where they are and offer them the only thing I have to give—Jesus Christ.  But I also want to retreat, fall to my knees and weep over what has been lost, grieve for a world that will not repent and mourn with a God whose people have forsaken Him.  Sometimes I feel like there is so little hope.  And yet, I serve a God who is bigger than all of it.

I have accepted that mine is a lonely call.  I have accepted that there will be days when the darkness will seem to drown out the light.  But I hang on to a God who is omnipresent and omnipotent, transcendent and living, Love and Life.  I hang on to a promise of life abundant and everlasting, of hope eternal and grace undeserved.  I am blessed.  I am called.  I have been set apart, made holy.  It is because of God’s love that I have the capacity to love at all, and He fills me with passion to love the world around me.  I am not alone, but am part of a Church that carries the name of Christ to every tribe, tongue, and nation, a priesthood of saints that has proclaimed the name of Jesus for centuries and that will not fail.

We are all fallen, but not unreachable.  We are all broken, but can be made whole again.  We are all dead, but we can live.  This is the message I have been blessed with.  And by the grace of God, in humility and awe, I proclaim Jesus Christ.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9