What Do You Need?

Recently, after a church service, a friend tried to break my ‘shell’. And to her credit, she came pretty close. She hugged me until I started to crack and a tiny amount of my feelings came out through the cracks in my armor. She asked how I was doing and I kept saying, “I’m OK”, trying to make her believe it. But the tears in my eyes betrayed me and she kept saying, “No, you’re not”. The only thing I could finally say was, “I’m having a flare.” But that’s not the whole reason I was having a ‘moment’. I’ve had flares before, many of them. In fact, some could argue that the whole last two years of my life have been a flare. So I’m not sure why that’s all I could think to say in the moment. I think I was just feeling very fragile about everything that’s going on in my mind and heart, as well as my body. Illness takes a massive toll on every aspect of life and sometimes the feelings just well up and threaten to overflow. Plus, God was speaking to me in a very real way that day and the blessings and intimacy of God always heighten my emotions.

The next thing my friend asked was, “What do you need?”, and the question almost completely stumped me. I responded with something like “I don’t know”, or “Nothing”, which is such a lie. I’m sorry, friend, for lying! I don’t mean to, but it’s such a habit. What I should have immediately said was, “prayer”, because that’s the only thing that came to mind. I’m so thankful that people are praying for me even when I’m too stubborn to ask.

For whatever reason, or I should say most likely for a God reason, the question has been with me ever since. What DO I need? I have sat and wrestled with the question, and God is slowly revealing the answers to me. I touched on this subject a little bit in a previous post called Food, Fellowship and the Isolation of Chronic Illness, but I will further address it here in hopes of giving voice to the needs of those of us who live with chronic illness.

First and foremost is the obvious answer. I need God. Every waking moment, I need to be reminded of him and his presence and every sleeping moment I need him to hold me and preside over my dreams. I truly have everything I need if I have God, because everything else is provided by him.

Along the same lines, I need prayer. I need people to speak to God on my behalf, to pray for a complete healing if that is his will, but also to pray for my strength, comfort, and peace if it is not his will. I am beyond blessed to already have people in my life whose faithful and fervent prayers for me consistently lift my head. I am awed and humbled by prayers uttered on my behalf. I consider prayer very intimate and it amazes me and touches me deeply that others would mention me during their time with God.

Now, here’s where I kind of get stuck. What else do I actually need? In a practical way, my husband and I often have a financial need, although it would take another blog post entirely to describe the ways in which God has been faithfully providing for that need. From providing my husband with the perfect second job (even though I struggle with the fact that it was necessary and feeling like the burden is all on him and worrying about his stress – I’m a slow learner when it comes to worries), to receiving gifts from the beautiful people of God shortly after getting behind on the bills, to health insurance very unexpectedly covering some of my Functional Medicine treatment, God is providing. I am unable to fully express my gratitude to him and to his people who are willing to be his hands and feet to bless us.

In addition to the physical needs, and perhaps sometimes more important than the physical needs, are my mental and emotional needs. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like to explore this subject, but I do feel it necessary if I am ever going to reach complete healing (remember, healing is not necessarily health). What I need in this regard is to know that people care, however that looks. I need encouragement in whatever form, but a major love language for me is words. I hold onto words of encouragement for a very long time after they are spoken. They are life-giving to me. Even more amazing is when someone goes to God on my behalf and comes back with his words to speak to me. I can’t even describe how much words mean to me – written, spoken, quoted – I take each one to heart. And I need these words often. Illness is like a roller coaster on all levels. I could be flying high one moment and the very next feel like my feet have been kicked out from under me. So there is ALWAYS a good time for encouragement. I also still need to feel needed, like I still have something to offer the world. Encouraging me to remember that, and inviting me to share in your own struggles is also very much appreciated.

Sometimes this ‘care’ comes in the form of your presence, whether that be face to face, or heart to heart. Sometimes words are not necessary, especially if God doesn’t give you any. I very much understand the desire to fix things, to do SOMETHING, or to say SOMETHING, but sometimes things need to stay broken for awhile in order to reveal God’s purpose and teachings. In those moments, I just need you to be present with me and walk through it with me. Learn from God along with me through prayer and spending time with me in conversation or even in silence.

Sometimes things get so overwhelming. My thoughts race and my emotions rise as I desperately try to force them down. I hesitate to write this because I’m afraid someone might actually succeed in doing it, but at some point I may need someone to hug me until I break (very nice try yesterday, friend!), to understand that I am not OK, and to allow me to not be OK. But don’t get too frustrated if I try to fight it. Habits die hard and I may not be ready to break.

In all of these things, what I need is for you to try to understand. I know it’s hard. I know you don’t know what to do or say. I know you grieve the loss of your healthy friend. But understand that, by the grace of God, I am healing. It may not be in the way we hope or pray, but the journey is packed full of blessings and miracles. I would love for you to share in them with me.

And thank you. Thank you so much for asking the questions!

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

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When Healing Doesn’t Look Like Health

As defined by dictionary.com, “health” is soundness of body or mind, freedom from disease or ailment. The definition of “healing” is growing sound, getting well, mending. You’ll notice that healing does not necessarily mean restoring health. It is very possible to heal without wellness of body. Possible, but not at all easy.

When people get sick, it’s an automatic reaction to think that one day they will be healthy again. I don’t think anyone ever expects that one day they will become ill and never get better. My illness started with chronic sinus infections and asthma. At the time I don’t even think I realized how chronic they were until people would start exclaiming that I was always sick. I would just take my meds, suck it up, and continue living my life as usual. I always thought that I would get better. And then one day I didn’t. My illness morphed into, among other things, constant stomach issues causing me to lose weight at an alarmingly rapid rate. There has not been one single hour in the past two years that I have been free from stomach pain, nausea, worries, or other related problems.

Although much of the time I struggle to believe that I will be healthy again before I reach my eternal home, I do believe that I am healing. If you could feel what is going on in my body, you would not think that I am healing. But if you could see what is going on in my heart, you would know that I am. I am experiencing a more important healing than bodily healing. I am “growing sound” on my Foundation, my Creator God who heals my heart and life a little more each day. I am “getting well” spiritually, learning/being forced to rely on His strength to live each day. And I am “being mended” by a God who takes the broken pieces of my heart, my dreams, my goals, my past and slowly stitches them back together into His heart, His dreams, His goals, HIS LIFE. Hallelujah.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." - Psalm 147:3

Please do not hear me say that this process is pleasant. Far from it. In fact, this is the most painful experience of my life. Through much complaining and exhaustion, I cry out for mercy over and over. But if I could go back and start over, without having to go through this process, I would not do it. Being healthy without actually being healed is just not important to my eternal soul. The healing is too eternally valuable to miss.

How ironic to be healed through shattered health, but that is what God is doing.

So what does healing look like, if it doesn’t look like health? For me, healing looks like seeing God in everything. Healing looks like slowing down. Healing looks like kindred spirits who walk with me in understanding. Healing looks like sun rays, sunrises, and sunsets. Healing looks like honesty. Healing looks like learning to allow the tears to fall when they gather. Healing looks like an impulsive hike to a waterfall. Healing looks like an unexpected card or word of encouragement. Healing looks like time- time spent in nature, time spent in God’s word, time spent writing or being creative, time spent with a friend, time spent on my knees with my face to the ground in sorrow, praise, or worship. Healing looks like reflecting on the past and caring for old hurts. Healing may eventually look like the courage to walk through the door of a therapist’s office. Healing looks like doing for others and allowing them to do for me. Healing looks like walls falling down. Healing looks like a husband’s love and constant sacrifice. Healing looks like dog snuggles and hugs from those who care. Sometimes healing looks a bit like a dance. Two steps forward and one step back, or even one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes I’m a willing dance partner and sometimes I’m dragged around the floor kicking and screaming.

Healing always looks like Jesus, showing up in unexpected, ordinary or extraordinary, but always miraculous ways. 

"But perhaps in our zealous quests to live long and prosper, we have confused Jesus' invitation to be made well with our own desire for fully cured bodies, and in doing so, we have altogether missed a deeper knowing of what it means to be healed by the Savior" - Jenny Simmons in Made Well

When I imagine myself fully healed, I am standing before God in Heaven. But if I am able to imagine a full healing before that time, I see a person completely in love and fully heart-connected to God. Someone who makes spending time with him a priority because she is communing with him all day long. I see someone who serves others with her entire strength. Someone who shines Jesus from her face because her heart cannot contain the depths of his love. Someone who is so connected to God that she cannot talk about any area of her life without talking about what he has done. That is the person I want to be, and that is the person God is healing me to be. I am a very blessed child of God because of this gift of healing he is giving me.

Healing is an amazingly beautiful process. It is also filled with much fear, pain, exhaustion, and tears. It’s going to take a lot more time, perhaps the rest of my life. But without the painful parts, I would miss the beauty. And I never, ever want to miss the beauty. The Healer is at work, and I am being healed.

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." - Isaiah 53:4-5
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Sentimental Value and Heart Smiles

Material things are not at all important to me. I couldn’t care less about the latest technologies or newest toys. I do, however, cherish gifts because of the thought and care put into them by the giver. I’ll just go ahead and admit it. I’m incredibly sentimental. A card often means more to me than the actual gift because of the words spoken by the giver to my heart. I’ve been known to keep cards, print out emails or other messages so I can look back on the love and care shown to me. For our first anniversary I printed out all of our messages and texts and put them in a book I titled “Our Story”. I know, gag. But I really cannot emphasize enough what sentiments mean to me. Knowing that someone cares enough about me to show kindness in the form of words, gifts, or prayers touches me deeply, humbles me, and makes my heart smile. Their tokens of love serve as reminders of their presence in my life every time I look at them. Very, very sentimental!

Now that we’ve established that I get all heart-fluttery over sentiments, allow me to tell you a couple stories. My grandma Kate passed away when I was 12 years old. I’ve mentioned before how close I was to her. After she died, my grandpa gave me one of her rings. I would occasionally open the box and look at it, remembering her and the unique style that I loved. Once I got a little older, we had the ring sized so I could wear it. And I’ve worn it every day since then. However, there was this one time…

Our family was out perusing car lots as my dad loves to do. While riding in the car I decided to put lotion on my hands so I took off my ring and placed it in my lap to put back on when I was finished. I bet you can guess where this is going. I still cannot believe I did not remember to put it back on. We got home and went about the rest of our day. It wasn’t until evening that I suddenly realized my finger was empty. I tore the house apart trying to find it. I tried to play it cool but I was dying inside. Pure panic! This was the ‘thing’ that meant most to me in this world and I had lost it! I said many, many prayers, begging God to help me find it.

Finally, my dad drove me back to the car lot to see if it happened to be there. Fat chance! This was FIVE hours after we had been there, walking all around the car lot. And it was now dark. There was no way we were going to find it. I was heartbroken. But we made one last-ditch effort. We pulled in the lot and got out of the car. I promise you within 15 seconds I laid eyes on my ring, in the middle of the parking lot, on the ground, in the dark. No one had picked it up. No one had run it over…in five hours. I immediately put it back on my finger, shed some inside tears, hugged my dad and we went home. I later wrote a prayer of thanks to God for helping me find it, even after I had done something so irresponsible. I cannot describe the relief I felt, and still feel every time I look at my finger!

Fast forward to the present. One of the few gadgets I have is a Kindle Fire that my parents gave me for Christmas last year. I didn’t even ask for it, so it was a total surprise. I had just found out I was leaving my job so this Kindle has provided much mind-relief for me, in the form or books and music. It had more value to me because it was a gift than it would have had if I had bought it myself.

The other day I knocked the Kindle into the bathtub…as in, dunked the whole thing in water. Just for one second, but that’s all it took. It still worked at first, all except the sound, but it quit altogether shortly thereafter. Once again, I felt so irresponsible and heartbroken. I hadn’t even had it for a year! I spent most of yesterday on the phone, chat, and email with Amazon customer service. I talked to four different people, who all came to the conclusion that it couldn’t be fixed and all they could do was offer me a discount on a new one.

Believe it or not, I will eventually get to the point of this jumbled post, but before I do that you need to understand that I’ve been going through an extra-rough patch for what seems like a long time. I’ve been even more sick than usual for quite some time now. I can sometimes handle things alright if I know there is some kind of treatment coming up that ‘might’ give me at least a small amount of relief. Looking forward to treatments or next steps is what keeps me from losing my sanity. I had a treatment of what I call my ‘detox juice’ two Fridays ago and I just have not been able to recover from it. Each day I go to bed thinking tomorrow has to be the day I finally get some relief from the physical suffering. And each day I am disappointed. It takes a massive toll on my mind and emotions.

So when I killed my Kindle, it was just the icing on my very own cake-wreck. I was somewhat irrationally upset about it, but really it was the combination of everything that sent me down the depression hole.

I complained to the Facebook world, I complained to my sister, I agonized about how I was going to tell my parents, I beat myself up, I cried to my husband, I pleaded with Amazon and I came up empty. Finally, I was smacked in the head with the thought… I have not prayed about this. Prayed? God, you really want me to pray about a Kindle? So, I did. I prayed and then the Kindle teased me for awhile, turning on and then turning right back off. I thought that was sort of cruel.

Right about that time, my self-proclaimed ‘meddling husband’ entered the room. He told me he had messaged my mom and she had called Amazon herself. They offered to replace the Kindle free of charge. Oh. My. Goodness. Relief, joy, thankfulness rushed over me. Praise God!

I think there are two morals to these stories. The first is that, believe it or not, God does care about the little things. They may seem silly or insignificant to mention to an all-powerful God, but he wants to know how we feel. He knows absolutely every detail of our lives and he wants to talk to us about them. How amazing is that?

The second is that God can work with our irresponsibility. And he can turn it around and/or use it for his glory. He can use us even when we mess up! I find such relief and comfort in knowing that! We are not powerful enough to ruin God’s plan just by making mistakes. That’s so amazing to me!

So, dear ones, if you’re sweating the small stuff and it feels silly to talk to God about it, I guarantee he wants you to tell him anyway. If you’re worried about messing up his plan by making mistakes, please know that God can use your mistakes to bring him glory!

Yes, these ‘things’ of mine have some monetary value, but what matters far more to me is their sentimental value. Did you know that we have sentimental value to God? He created us in his image (Genesis 1:27), we are worth more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10), we are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31), if we get lost he will come searching for us (Matthew 18:12)! God values us so much that he will come looking for us if we are lost, even if it’s because we’ve done something dumb. Amazing! It’s as if we are the ring on his finger, the one he looks at and his heart flutters with how much he loves us. He smiles at the memories we have together and looks forward to the ones to come.

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When My Heart Grows Faint, I Climb

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” – Psalm 61:2

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I picture a hiking trail, the beginning of which winds through a thick forest of trees. The canopy of foliage makes the pathway dark and shadowy… until I reach the heights, the rock on the top of the mountain that allows me to see above the trees. The most beautiful view over the darkness.

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Continue reading “When My Heart Grows Faint, I Climb”

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Working With All My Heart

I usually read my “On This Day” memories on Facebook. I love to look back and see where God has taken me and how he has walked with me on this journey. However, I’ve noticed that it can be a bit depressing when I see things like: 2011 – I was sick. 2012 – I was sick. 2013 – I was sick. Etc, etc, etc. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t complained so much on Facebook so I wouldn’t have to remember that I’ve been sick for years. But really, who could forget? And if the memories weren’t there, I wouldn’t be able to remember the good times either, and to clearly see God’s hand in my life all of these years. So, I read them.

Today, I was accosted by this status from 2010:

"Go rest high on that mountain. Son your work on earth is done." When I see all my wonderful, mostly grown-up cousins, I know your work was good and lives on in all of us. We will continue to make you proud, Grandpa. Headed back to TN today and in the words of my sister, the next time we get together needs to be because the family is getting bigger, not smaller!

The status was not explicitly stating that six years ago today was the day my mental health fell apart, but reminding me all the same. We had just lost our last grandparent and I was leaving my family again to go back to Tennessee to a stress-filled job after losing the last of a generation and barely having time to grieve. Just a few hours after this status was written, I would be calling an ambulance on myself during my first panic attack.

Let me tell you a little bit about my Grandpa Hays. He was told years before I was born that he would only live five more years due to his heart problems. And yet, he outlived all the rest of my grandparents and lived to see his great-granddaughter, Kate, the namesake of his wife, Grandma Kate. I’m incredibly blessed to have even known him! Praise God! Everyone who knew him said that he was a great man, well-known in his community. He was extremely hard-working, organized, and he continued to live his life to the full, even with all of his health issues.

When I look back on my life, I believe I am most like Grandpa and Grandma Hays. They were honest, albeit somewhat blunt, and I can definitely tell it like it is. I am certainly the organized one in my immediate family, and my grandpa was always proud of me for that. I remember one day he stopped by in the morning when I was just getting started with cleaning our incredibly cluttered house and he just kinda looked at me, shook his head, and wished me luck. He then stopped by again several hours later when I was almost finished and I will never forget the astonished look on his face as he told my mom, “this girl needs some kind of an award!” It seems like such a silly little thing, but I beamed with pride at my grandpa’s approval. I then grew up to be very hard-working in my jobs, just like him. I knew he was proud of me, as was stated in my Facebook status.

But just a few hours after the status was posted, I fell apart and just haven’t been able to quite put myself back together again. I let stress ruin my mind and probably my body. I lost my health and I lost my job. And today when I saw that status, a thought crossed my mind that I have had trouble letting go of ever since. Deep breath. If I’m being honest, my thought was, “I bet Grandpa is not proud of me anymore.” Now, I know that’s not a God thought and it’s probably not even a Grandpa thought, but it hurt my heart all the same. I wonder what he would think of me now – not working, applying for disability, sometimes barely able to get out of bed. What happened to his hard-working, honest, and organized granddaughter?

And as I’ve sat with this thought throughout the day, mulling it over and talking to God about it, the answer is – SHE’S STILL RIGHT HERE. I may not be able to muscle through my health issues to do all of the things I used to do, but I can get out of bed. I may not be able to go to a normal job anymore but I can walk the dog. I may not be able to follow the normal ‘rules’ of society, but I can write a blog. I am still the same person, and I will never give up. I still work just as hard as I ever did before. It just looks different now because everything takes more effort and strength.

Maybe you are feeling like you are not doing enough. Take heart! It doesn’t matter if your work doesn’t look like everyone else’s, as long as you are doing it with all of your heart. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” – Colossians 3:23 (NIV). You know your body’s limitations, just as I know mine. You may hate them sometimes, just as I have a love/hate relationship with mine. But if my limitations had not come, I wouldn’t have been able to see the beauty in the ‘slow down’, the joy in helping others through their journey and allowing them to help me, and the love of a God who carries me through all of my days. I pray that you are able to see the good in your limitations and thank God for his work in you! “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

So while that status hit me like a ton of bricks this morning, and I was already too weak to even deflect one brick, my God is strong enough to lift them off of me and kiss my wounds. He is teaching me to reject the thoughts that don’t come from him, and embrace HIS PRIDE IN ME. I’m fairly certain my grandpa would still be proud of me because he loved me so! But I’m absolutely certain that my God is proud of me, even when I don’t deserve it, and that is the best thought of all!

Love to you,

~Karina

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Faith in the Waiting

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."- Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

It's me again, bowing so low
One more defeat, another low blow
My heart's desires fade into shadows of doubt
Growing weary trying to figure it out
Lifting tear-filled eyes, I beg you
Do something, anything

But that's what you're doing
Stretching my faith
Making sure I'm sure you're there
Though I can't see your face
But what are you doing?
I'm waiting to see
All that I hope for finally coming to be

It's me again and humbly I come
I've seen your hand in my life
My heart's desires fade in the light of your face
No use trying to make sense of your grace
Lifting tear-filled eyes, I thank you
For doing something, everything

For you hold my life in your faithful hands
You hold me and I'll never understand
You love me and I don't have to understand
All that I hope for is you and I'm in your hands
You hold me in your hands

This song that God gave me years ago could not be more relevant now. It’s yet another bit of proof that God has always been working in my life. If you would like to listen to one of God’s gifts to me, click here.

In Matthew 9:18-26, a ruler asked Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus started to go with him when he was touched by a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. He stopped to acknowledge her and heal her before continuing on with the ruler. How anxious do you think this man was to get his daughter back? The Bible doesn’t say that he questioned Jesus’ lack of haste, but I’m willing to bet I would have been a bit impatient if it had been my daughter!

God’s timing is absolutely perfect. If Jesus had not stopped to heal the woman, she may have lived the rest of her life bleeding, witnesses may not have been able to fully understand the power of just one touch from Jesus, and we would not have this recorded miracle that gives us a glimpse of how God works.

We want so badly for God to move on our time schedule. But think of all that we could be missing if he worked in that way. Sometimes I think I am like the ruler, waiting impatiently while God works miracles in other people’s lives. It would be, and sometimes is, very easy to envy the healing touch of God. But what if I’m actually like the woman who was bleeding and finally received her miracle? How grateful I would be that he stopped to acknowledge me!

I find comfort in this anonymous quote that says, “Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” Do you think the woman longed to be healed for years? Of course! But if she had already been healed, she would not have had this incredible encounter with Jesus. Think of what she would have missed!

Oh, how I long for God’s healing touch! I dream about it all the time. But if God can use my longsuffering to reveal a greater glory later, I want his miracle instead. If he stops to heal others ahead of me, I rejoice in their miracles! If my waiting eventually places me directly in the path of Jesus, I certainly will wait! Even if I am never physically healed in accordance with my plan, I know that God is working other kinds of healing miracles in my life according to HIS plan. And his plan is always better.

"I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope."- Psalm 130:5 (NIV)
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