I don’t think I’m as afraid of this pandemic virus as I am sad. I feel sad, not just about the virus itself but about the quarantine. I think maybe it’s because I understand the loneliness of isolation. I’m sad for the kids who won’t be able to eat lunch at school. I’m sad for those in nursing homes who may not understand why their loved ones can’t come visit them. I’m sad for the college students and others missing once-in-a-lifetime spring break trips for which they’ve scrimped, saved and looked forward. I’m sad for those with chronic illnesses, like me, who do so little outside of the four walls of their home that losing those few activities just adds another blow to the grief. And I’m sad for the precedent this is setting and wonder when the next virus will put us all out of commission again. I get it. I’m part of the vulnerable population the powers that be are trying to protect: those with compromised immune systems. But it still makes me sad, and that’s okay.
I’ve been faithfully engaging in DNRS (the Dynamic Neural Retraining System) for more than two weeks and it has significantly increased hope and happiness, two things I once believed would never return to me. This sadness and fear feels like a blow to that. DNRS is a brain retraining program. To try and briefly explain, when nothing else works to heal a body from chronic illness, why not go straight to the top: the brain? Actually, I wish I had started there in the first place but, I digress. Basically, my limbic system is stuck in trauma loops. I experienced a trauma (could have been emotional, chemical, excess mold, or a combination of anything really) that put my brain into fight/flight mode but, instead of eventually calming down, it became stuck in that mode. Without the ability to calm down, my brain started sending my body messages that normal stimuli (food, smells, even pathogens) are extremely dangerous and the body should react severely to them (food sensitivities, sensory issues, allergies, etc). Also, while my body is in constant fight/flight mode, the things it should remember how to do automatically (blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate regulation, digestion, etc) have been put on the back burner so my whole body has been thrown into utter chaos due to perceiving threats that aren’t there. Throughout this program, I am retraining my brain to calm the fight/flight response, to react normally, to start remembering how body systems are meant to behave, etc. The program involves a lot of calming meditation, visualizing myself healthy, and steering my thoughts away from illness and fear altogether until my brain heals. It’s an extremely intense, difficult program that requires at the very least one hour a day, but usually many more as it calls for a vigilant mind that constantly redirects thoughts every moment of every day. It’s the practical application of 2 Corinthians 10:5- taking every thought captive. It’s overwhelming, but I have been trying so hard because I believe it works. I have already experienced changes.
Probably one of my biggest trauma loops (thoughts stuck on repeat that my brain and body believe to be true) is that it’s not safe to leave the house. You see where this is going. I have been working SO hard to believe that I am safe. I’ve gone to church, Celebrate Recovery, the park, and each of these trips was a victory that blessed my heart and gave me hope to keep going. Now I see these opportunities taken away from me because the world is literally reinforcing my trauma loop, telling me that it really is not safe to leave the house. I could feel defeated.
But as is His gracious habit lately, God spoke to me through His word today. I was reading about the Israelites enslaved in Egypt and my eyes fell on the passage where they were forced to make bricks without straw. That seems like a strange thing to relate to but it sounded familiar. It’s extremely important for me to train my brain not to fear and to do the things it’s been afraid of, like leaving the house. But we’re pretty much facing a quarantine. It feels like having to make bricks with no straw. It feels impossible.
But here’s what struck me after that passage. Over and over again God said, “I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:2,6,7,8,28, 7:5, 10:2, 12:12, etc, etc). Even when things are fearful and seem impossible, God has not left His throne. Throughout the next chapters He speaks of His mighty hand, remembering His covenant, freeing His people, redeeming them, multiplying miraculous signs and wonders, His power, keeping vigil over His people. He never forgets. He never leaves. If His deliverance means that we are delivered from the virus and into the desert for awhile, so be it. I think we can learn a lot in the coming days or weeks from God’s interaction with His people in the desert. Worshiping instead of complaining when His deliverance looks different than what we would have hoped. Trusting instead of fearing when things seem ominous. Spending this time away from the world with the Lord. What a beautiful opportunity to become more aware of God’s presence rather than complaining of boredom and missed opportunities.
In the chapters that followed, the plague that jumped off the page at me was the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-29). Verses 22 and 23 say, “So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.” Here we see a distinct difference between the Egyptians and Israelites. God’s people had light while the Egyptians floundered in pitch darkness. Do you realize how true this rings for us? The world appears to be in a panicked darkness. We who are God’s children live in the light. We see clearly love casting out fear, God’s presence lighting up the darkness, and our hope of heaven’s deliverance. Let us not forget all of this.
The truth is, if my precious few activities end up being cancelled or avoidance seems wise, there are plenty of things I can train my brain and body to do during this time. I can walk a little further than usual. I can train with foods that my body has rejected in the past. (Side note: mealtime is super entertaining at the Baker house these days as I try to train my brain to believe that food is safe. I keep making up silly songs like, “Food is good, God made food and called it good, God made my body and called it good, my body accepts food”, and I dance while I eat. Jason finds this quite amusing.) And nothing… NOTHING has been more healing to me than being constantly aware of the presence of God. DNRS is not an inherently Christian program. I tried to start it on and off for months but my heart just wasn’t in it. Now that I’ve invited God into the process, my practices are supernaturally-charged. Instead of just speaking that my body is healthy and calm, I thank God for His healing in my body systems. I ask Him to turn on healthy genes, fill in the negative brain ruts, and pour His supernatural power into the new and healthy brain grooves. I speak out loud that I am led by the Holy Spirit of the Living God Who lives in me and activates my parasympathetic nervous system. I choose the peace of Christ and urge my fearful limbic system to let go and fall into the arms of Jesus. I tell her that she was never meant to be my protector. God was and is and will always be. I reassure her that she is safe and I most often cry because God inviting me to rest in His protection is such a beautiful thing, something I can’t remember fully experiencing before. It is precious and healing and I’m overcome by the gift.
God says, “I am the Lord.” His power still reigns over seemingly impossible situations. He is not daunted by bricks without straw, brain retraining in isolation, or a worldwide pandemic. In this time and space, we can let God’s healing light fill us, giving us hope and peace in the midst of fear and loneliness. Because of His presence, we can be different than the world. We have Him… and that is more than enough.