Thursday, March 28, 2013

Square One

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalm 73: 21-26 ESV

In 2007, I cried because I couldn't eat a hamburger. This wasn't some radical diet; I just couldn't open my jaw wide enough to take a bite. And all I wanted was to eat a hamburger.
I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis - rheumatoid arthritis. All that means is that my body periodically tries to attack itself and floods my joints with white blood cells, leaving them swollen and painful.
It started around September of 2006 with my right thumb, and I thought that I had just jammed it, but by February of 2007, I was practically immobile. Every joint in my body was painfully full of fluid. I couldn't function. My feet and ankles hurt so badly that the weight of a blanket was too much to bear. I got locked in my own bedroom once because I couldn't grip the doorknob hard enough to turn it. I had trouble washing my hair because it was difficult to raise my arms that high, and standing up took so much energy that I could only manage it for ten minutes at a time.

And then my jaw locked up and I couldn't eat.

The medications were never ending - Planquenil, Methotrexate, Enbrel, high dose Naproxen, Prednisone, and Cymbalta were all on board - every day. I even had one of those old-lady pill dispensers.

Most of the time, I couldn't wear shoes because my feet were too swollen. A lot of the time, I couldn't sit down or stand up without help. And some of the time, I couldn't drive because I couldn't control the steering wheel.

I wanted to die. That's not hyperbole. One of the meds I was on, Enbrel, has psychological effects, and I, who am already prone to depression, was swept into the darkest emotional pit I've ever been in. All I did - all I did - was lay on the couch and sleep. In a nut shell, it was the worst year of my life. A total loss of independence and self-sufficiency coupled with extreme pain.

And then - it stopped. All of the sudden, within a couple of weeks, my flair ended and I could stop the meds. I could flex my fingers. I could stand. I could rest comfortably.

Thank. You. God.

Of course, I didn't thank Him then. I chalked it up to the right combination of meds or a reduction in stress or just my body finally working things out and calming down, and in hindsight, it was probably all three of those things, but that doesn't mean it wasn't God's work.

I think sometimes that we expect God to make his presence known in burning bushes, booming voices, or parting seas. I think we look for His intervention to be over the top - a clear sign of his magnificence, mercy, and power. And sure, God can work in extremes - the plagues of Egypt, the salvation of the Jews, the Resurrection of Jesus - but that doesn't mean he has to.

Jesus healed the sick - not with a wave of his hand and everyone in the crowd was suddenly cured, but in an up-close and hands-on and painfully slow way. One by one.


I am in a flair again. After visiting my rheumotologist for the first time in six years yesterday, we have decided that I'm back to square one: trying out meds, monitoring symptoms, and tracking the progression. Thankfully, this flair is no where near as extreme as the one six years ago, but I have to admit that I have some anxiety about it. I'm scared of it developing into the same level as it has been in the past. It's already becoming difficult to take care of the babies - what will I do if I can't even hug them? How long will it last? How will I work? I am scared of finding myself back on the couch, sleeping fitfully, and in pain.

But, I will survive.

God will bring me through it, one way or the other. He did before, and He will again. This is just my road, but I don't have to walk alone. I have the strength of my husband, the love of my children, and the support of my friends and family. And I have God - God who does not abandon us in our hour of need.

Every day, God blesses me, and sometimes I see the miracle. And sometimes I don't.

My challenge, therefore, is to keep my eyes open - to count my blessings and look for the miracles that will shepherd me through. It is always darkest before the dawn, but joy comes in the morning.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cast Down

Psalm 42: 5-6
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

Several months ago, I had a conversation with one of my best friends. She said something to me that, at the time, hurt my feelings. 

"I know how you're feeling now. You're really excited because everything is so new to you." (That's not an exact quote, but it's pretty close.) Anyway, I remember feeling insulted. The only reason that I'm excited is because Christianity is a new hobby? What I feel now isn't real? My interest and involvement in returning to God is temporary?

But now, six months later or so, I think I know what she actually meant: 

I've felt disconnected from God for the last two weeks or so. Not "abandoned in my time of need," just...I don't know - ignored? alone? forgotten?

I do a lot of things to maintain that connection. We go to church on Sunday and Wednesday. I've joined the choir. I'm working with a mentor and doing a study together. I'm doing another study with some friends. We listen to Christian music all the time. I read the Bible on my own at least every other day. We have a house "verse" up in our kitchen to memorize/think about. We pray. I pray...all the time.

Plus, I just think. I think about it a lot. But lately, the thinking has not been as inspired or in depth as it has in the past. While I'm in church, I'm distracted. A lot. I'll even catch myself falling out of step and pray for clarity and focus mid-sermon. And every once in a while, I will be focused. I will be moved. I will feel God return to my heart. But He's gone almost as soon as He's there.

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him...

Hebrews 11: 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

It seems so simple to just have faith and be patient. God will return. It's easy to say. It's easy to conceptualize. Really, how hard can this be? Just hang out - God will come back. 

It's not though, not for me. I am afraid that I'll lose Him again, and He'll never come back. Or I won't.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Home is Where the Dirt Is

Proverbs 31: 30-31
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.

Every mom is a working mom. Let's just get that out of the way right now. Whether you are working in public service, business, or as a homemaker, you are a working mom. And it's a big job. A BIG job.

Most of my waking hours during the school year are spent "working" - either teaching or planning/grading what I've taught, and then when I'm not doing that, I'm doing my level best to do my "mom" chores like cleaning and cooking and reading and comforting. In the summer and fall, I coach the school's color guard, so any extra time I end up with, I'm just exhausted from one of those activities. That's when I blog, get on Facebook, read, watch a few T.V. shows (though I have gotten much better about that lately!). Plus, I'm not 22 any more. I need to rest sometimes.

I wish there were more hours in the day.

It's just so much. So much. And I get very discouraged because I never do all of it well. I have to do my "working" stuff because, well, we need the money for bills. And I'm good at the grocery/cooking thing, so I make that a priority.  And my kids are at an age where playing with them and reading to them and teaching them and disciplining them is a 24/7 activity, so when push comes to shove, cleaning is what I throw to the curb. As a result, my house is in a state of grimy chaos most of the time.

It's an accomplishment to get most of the dishes done. Vacuuming and taking all of the trash out (all the way to the trashcans, not just to the front door) gives me the feeling that I have suddenly transformed our modest 4-square into a palace. And managing to scrub ALL of that mornings oatmeal/egg/peanut butter breakfast from the dining room table and chairs is usually only done minutes before we cover it in the hotdog grease/banana/milk lunch muck.

Removing the gunk and nastiness from the bathroom sinks and toilets is reserved for special occasions, like having someone over for a play date. But, by in large, if we're going to have company, it's just an exercise in damage control. Adam does the heavy lifting, running baskets of unfolded laundry (both clean and dirty) to hidden areas of the second floor. I run around with a trash bag, a rag, and a bottle of 409 power-cleaning anything that will hold still long enough (the kids included, you see).

And even if we do get all of the toys put away and dirt wiped up, there's still the random coat hangers in the dining room, the box of Goodwill clothes in the corner, the suitcase of snow clothes sitting next to the overflowing "shoe basket" in the living room, and the randomly broken curtain rods to round out my stellar decorating (If you've never been to my house, the irony will not translate here. I am a terrible decorator. Terrible. Seriously, I could have my own reality show). Every table top and shelf is just a place for "stuff."

Nothing is organized. Nothing is pretty. Nothing is clean. Nothing is welcoming.

So, I have to ask: is it just me? Is this just a testament to how badly I suck at homemaking?

And here's where irony enters (cosmic irony, for any fellow English teachers reading this):

I feel called more and more to be a homemaker.  Other than just after my daughter was born, I have NEVER wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. But lately, all I can think about is that I am really unhappy with the state of my house. It's not a home; it's just a house. And I am feeling a deep seeded conviction to honor what blessings God has given us by making it a welcoming, clean, comfortable, organized, uncluttered environment.

I want to spend my evenings playing and reading with my kids. I want to cuddle with my husband and watch a movie or talk about our day. But if I do that, then things don't get done - the dishes continue petrifying in the sink, the trash piles higher and higher, the toys become so distended and unorganized that the kids won't play with them because they can't find all of any single one item. And then there are all of the papers to grade, lessons to plan, emails to return, yada, yada, yada...

I feel like I am dishonoring God because I am not keeping my home as it should be.  I want my home to feel warm and inviting to everyone. I want my husband to come in to a clean, relaxed, comfortable environment. I want my children to live in a home that is an example of making the best with what we have, and this is not it.  It's not that I want something lavish and expensive; I just want it to be nice.

So, what do you do? I don't know that there is anything that I can do other than to pray about it. Look for guidance and listen to God for help and comfort. He has always opened doors for me, and I have to trust that he will open this one too, but not until it's time.

Patience. This seems to be a theme with my journey. I will be patient, and I will do my best with what I have and what I can do. God will take care of the rest, and in the mean time, I'll just dim the lights.

You won't notice the cobwebs that way.

(p.s. God speed to all of you "working moms" out there. That which does not kill us...)