Life to the Full

I’ve noticed something about my days that needs to stop. For quite some time, I have just been getting through one day until the next one comes. I’ve caught myself lately thinking things like, ‘well, I managed to do all the morning rituals (take supplements, make tea, cook) that keep me alive. Only 10 more hours to go.’ Or, ‘thank goodness lunch is over. Just one more meal to cook and then I’m finished.’ I measure my life in survival. Not too long ago I was having trouble falling asleep because I didn’t want to sleep. In my weirdly-flawed logic, falling asleep meant having to wake up and do all of this surviving again and, frankly, I’d just rather not.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I believe Him. But then I look at my life and think, what gives? In the midst of this mere survival I say, “this can’t possibly be all there is. How exactly is this a full life?” Well, it’s not. So then I asked what Jesus meant by a full life and another verse jumped out to me. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11a). In God’s presence, we find life… to the full.

I need to change the way I believe a full life FEELS. Otherwise my life will continue to be about surviving or waiting for some elusive fullness as I understand it. I’ve believed for so long that the people who are out there with healthy bodies being active are the ones who are thriving. I see that kind of life as full, a life I’m just waiting to have before I can start actually living. Now I know that God wants me to stop biding my time and start thriving right where I am.

But how? I’ve started to ask God a lot in the last few days when I’ve found myself dwelling on an illness that just WILL NOT GO AWAY, how I can thrive here. When I haven’t left the house in over a week, when I’ve missed church and CR and small group because I’m nauseous and running a fever… God, what does it look like to fully live HERE? And I think the above verse gives us the answer. Being constantly aware of the presence of God is how we live a full life. I have been allowing Satan to steal my life by making it just about survival, kill my joy by steering my focus to my illness, and destroy my peace by keeping me longing for the wrong definition of life to the full and disappointed when it doesn’t come.

Life to the full doesn’t have to feel good in the moment, but I sure am sleeping better. When I think about God’s definition of a full life, I am living it more now than I was when I was active and leaving the house regularly. I am aware of God with me through most of my days, I have taken risks I never would have taken before because I was acutely aware that He was nudging me, I am beautifully connected heart-to-heart with God and, even though it’s sometimes hard for me to mean this, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even health. I have more of a spiritual peace than I have ever had, even though nothing about my physical life is peaceful.

So what does thriving look like here in this place of pain? Psalm 126:5-6 says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Living life to the full means continuing on in faith AND pain, believing there will be joy. It is communing with God from our sick bed, telling Him how we feel and listening for His voice. It is lying here letting Him comfort us. It’s singing to Him in the midst of the battle raging inside of us. It’s doing whatever we can to help others from where we are, even if it’s just praying for someone or checking on them. Those are the best things we can do anyway. For me today, it’s writing this blog from the couch wrapped in two blankets longing for some physical relief. I asked God for the words and He chose to give them so, I write for His glory. Everything we do is worship. We just have to choose who or what we are worshipping.

This is living life to the full. I don’t have to wait for some future fullness. I already have it now. Praise be to God. I think I finally understand Psalm 27:13, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

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Distorted Gifts

I was a bossy little kid. Maybe that’s hard for some of you to believe, or maybe it isn’t because you think I’m a bossy little adult too. My brother would run to mom saying, “Tell Krina she’s not the rule-people, Mommy. Tell her she’s not the rule-people.” I know. Adorable, right? I became known at our babysitter’s house as the girl who loves to give speeches, or something like that. Tell me how I can’t remember to put water in the coffee pot but I remember every detail of this moment from my childhood. My brother and I were outside at the babysitter’s with her two girls and we were all playing “house”. That day, we each had imaginary houses in individual sections of their swing set. One of the girls had built quite the fortress, informing us that none of us were allowed inside her house. The problem with that was, she believed she could go into our houses. Being the strong champion of justice I have always been, I launched into a very moving speech about fairness, informing her that if she could go into our houses, we could go into hers. I was so passionately engrossed in my speech that I was startled when my babysitter leaned out the door and said, “Listen to what Karina is telling you.” I was simultaneously embarrassed that I had been caught being the bossy girl and happy to be validated. Moments like these have the potential to create a monster.

Several people have told me over the last few years that I would make a good therapist. I’ve scoffed, laughed, said “been there, done that, no thanks.” I was a therapist in the past and I’ve been telling myself for years that I was terrible at it. It makes no sense that I should believe that my therapy skills are lacking based on my last experience because, I had great outcomes. But I told myself it was just the ‘luck of the draw’, that somehow I got mostly ‘good’ kids as clients. I was miserable at that job and I think I projected that misery to the therapy experience as a whole. I vowed that I would never entertain the thought of being a therapist again. The fear that rose up in me each time I thought about being a therapist could have lit a fire. FYI – the things we vow we’ll never do again are very often the things God calls us to. Usually the vows we make stem from our acceptance of lies straight from the evil one. God wants us to crush his cunning little head so He leads us right back to the ‘scene of the crime’.

Looking back, it’s no surprise to me that I’m still using the gift of words. Believe it or not, I enjoy public speaking, as ‘shy’ as some people think I am. And I still have a die-hard passion for fairness. I generally have a clear picture of right and wrong and have a great deal of discernment. I truly want what’s best for people and have a deep desire to help them climb out of their difficult circumstances. These things in and of themselves are beautiful. They are not beautiful, however, when they are distorted by the enemy.

I’ve been talking about Satan a lot lately. It’s just that, I’m onto him. I see what he’s done to these gifts God has given me and if I call him out on it, he loses some of his power over them. How sneaky he is! He used his subtle deceit to distort my gift of public speaking into an air of bossiness. He fed me lies that altered my affinity for justice into a spirit of judgement. I have a tendency to believe that I am always right and I have the speeches constantly running through my head to back me up. Satan used my fear of misery and emotional situations to lead me away from a career God may have intended for me. He distorted my discernment into an extreme desire to fix myself and others, even when they don’t want to be fixed. I often see how people can be set free and I so deeply want to help them get there that I have a tendency to go overboard.

This is not what God had in mind when He gave me these precious gifts. They were pure and holy and I have let Satan tarnish them. But like I said, I’m onto him. These days, I’m fighting back with a vengeance. I am stomping on his lies and letting God speak truth over my life once again. I am asking God to redeem the gifts I’ve dragged through the mud. I’ll likely have to do this over and over again for the rest of my life in order to keep God’s gifts holy and beautiful. But the closer I stay to God’s side, the purer His gifts to me will remain. I was never meant to be anyone’s Savior, but to point people to the One who is. I was never meant to boss anyone around, but to humble myself, listen to others’ perspectives and realize that I am certainly not always right. I was never meant to go on a judgement rampage, but to remove the plank from my own eye first (Matthew 7:5).

I recently found myself in situations that involved both public speaking and therapy and, I’ve got to tell you, my heart was ON FIRE. I felt the passion I had stuffed down for so long just burst out of me. I felt excitement, peace, anticipation – things I haven’t felt in a very long time. I was so keenly aware of how natural it was to use the gifts God has given me. I felt as much at home as I’m probably going to feel until eternity… because I was using the eternal gifts God gave me.

It’s fascinating to me that Satan doesn’t always feed us lies that instigate sins that are completely off-the-wall. Instead, he tries so desperately to ruin our God-given ministry by subtly steering us away from our gifts. Think about it. If Satan successfully nudges us to walk away from our gifts, he not only taints our lives but he keeps us from positively influencing others’ lives. Get behind us, Satan! I am excited about rediscovering my gifts and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use them. I don’t feel the guilt attached to them that I once felt because I’ve exposed the distortions for what they are. I can’t wait to see where God takes me when I finally start using my gifts with humility.

So here’s what I want you to do. Think about your most pervasive sins, the character flaws you thought you just had to live with. Ask yourself and God if these sins are just distortions of God’s biggest gifts to you. You may be completely surprised at what God reveals to you and the world will get to experience the gifts you’ve been hiding/denying for so long. Get excited! Enjoy your freedom! God is about to get some major glory!

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Jesus Will Carry Us Both

“When you’re tired, I will carry you. When I’m tired, Jesus will carry us both.”

Those are the words you said to me early in our relationship. I knew I loved you then and I love you more now. You said those same words to me in your vows on our wedding day and again when we danced to the song that has become ours, Hold You Up, by Matthew West. In this moment so shortly after we married, we had no idea how real that song would become to our life together. Our world was truly about to become a war that never ended.

You have given up so much in your life, things that need not be mentioned because you and I both know what they are, but the loss has cut deeply. You have always said that it’s all okay because you have me and that’s enough. You have held me up so beautifully through almost six years of marriage. You have clung to hope when I lost mine. You have had faith for both of us. But I know it has taken a toll. And when we finally allowed ourselves to believe that one of the reasons I might not be getting better is because you are bringing illnesses home to me that my exhausted body can’t fight off, I watched the last of the light fade from your eyes. It shattered my heart once again. I know you have tried so hard. Life is just. so. hard.

I’ve been fairly certain for quite some time that I have given you Lyme. Most people don’t realize that it’s not uncommon or difficult for it to pass through entire families. We didn’t know that until it was too late. But guilt is a powerful thing, isn’t it? One of Satan’s favorite tools. Just as you wish you could stop bringing illnesses to me, the knowledge that I brought Lyme to you has the potential to curl me into a fetal position until there are no tears left. I am so sorry. Sometimes I can hardly breathe with the weight. How my heart hurts. Our hearts hurt together.

But here is what I want us both to know, dear husband…

  1. We did not do this to each other. We may have been ignorant of the consequences of certain aspects of our life together but I wouldn’t change them. Lyme and all the other evils floating around in our bodies entered the world with sin and, as hard has it is for us to lay down our guilt, we have to do it every second of every day for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, we let Satan have too much power. There is no condemnation. God said it. That means it’s true. We are not guilty.
  2. God did not do this. During those moments we’re able to believe that we are not guilty, it will be tempting to blame God. Just as no one could tell me otherwise when I was angry with God, I know that my telling you won’t help you believe, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I want so badly to pull your heart quickly past all the looming darkness but I know I have to let you go through it. You held my hand as we walked through my darkness together and I will hold your hand wherever we go from here. God loves us both so much and he loves our marriage. I will never stop thanking Him for the gift that you are to me. And I will never stop praying for Him to pursue you through the thick fog just as He never stopped pursuing me. What a gracious God. I promise that if we cling to Him, our relationship with Him will be unbelievably more beautiful on the other side.
  3. We have not failed. When I look back at our lives together I see a constant fight to keep me alive. We have done everything we know to do and it is tempting to think that we failed. We have not failed. Maybe we need to stop trying so hard. God fought for me and He will fight for you. We both need to let go and allow Him to do so.
  4. The fight for your health will not be easy but, in my experience, nothing of value ever is. You know how difficult this illness has been for me but if you asked me if I would go back and not have to go through it, I would say no. I’d love for it to be over right about now but that’s not up to me. The beauty I have gained and the lasting impact of what truly matters is far too precious to give up. If my illness never existed, many aspects of my life that have eternal value would never exist either. This will not be easy for you and it will be agony for me watching you go through it. Fixers such as you and me could be tied in constant knots if we’re not careful. I don’t know how you’ve handled my illness thus far without giving up but I can’t thank you enough for hanging on. Your strength means more to me than I can put into words. I promise that I will never leave your side as long as I live. What you go through, I go through. Let me hold your hand.
  5. You don’t have to carry me anymore. Thank you, my love. Thank you for the many ways you have carried me over the past six years. Your burden has been unbearable. I cannot imagine. I’ve prayed countless times for God to be your strength and I know that He has. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to shoulder the weight. But you don’t have to anymore and, honestly, that may be the hardest thing for you to give up. But it’s time for you to let Jesus carry us both. His shoulders are stronger. You can rest now.
  6. You are worth the effort it takes to heal. Neither one of us have ever thought very highly of ourselves. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that God’s opinion of me matters so much more than anyone else’s opinion, including my own. Do you know how much He loves you? No really, do you KNOW how VERY MUCH He LOVES you? I pray He shows you in the most beautiful of ways- through the comfort of His arms at the most unexpected times, through a word you needed to hear spoken by one of His people, through an acute awareness of the strength of the Holy Spirit living inside of you. He loves you enough to choose you, to carry you, to live in you, to delight in you. And if He says you are worthy of healing, it is the truest thing I could say at this moment. The grueling effort of taking care of ourselves even when we find it nearly impossible is so worth it. Your health is worth it. Your future is worth it. You are worth it. We are worth it. I pray you open your heart to believe it.
  7. As our dear friend told me while she hugged me tight: Satan does not win. He doesn’t. Period. God already won and the work is already finished. This trial may not feel good or finished but God has promised that He will never stop working in our lives. He will never leave us. Satan has been defeated and he knows it so he works extra hard to pull us away from God, sabotage our ministry, and kill our self-worth. But he has already lost the war. Don’t let him win the battles. I’m fighting with you and God is fighting for you.

Just as we have always done, we will walk through this together. As we near our sixth anniversary, it’s hard to believe but I am more in love with you now than I was on our wedding day. My illness has brought us closer and I pray that yours will do the same. We meant what we said, “in sickness and in health.” While I often wish we didn’t have to mean that so literally, I have to believe in the depths of my heart that we will look back on our lives with gratitude for the ways God sustained us. Yes, there will be times we fall to the ground in exhaustion, choking on the “why”, but I pray that in those times we will open our eyes to the ways God is moving. There will be many moments we beg God for respite, a break for our weary bodies and hearts. But I know sometimes it’s better to have breakthroughs and deeper healing than it is to have breaks. God knows what He is doing far better than we do so I hope and pray that we will never stop clinging to Him. Our hearts are broken together and I believe they will heal together. I love you, my beloved. You will always be my miracle.

Hold You Up – Matthew West
“Love is the blessing
Love is the vow,
Love is the reason we’re standing here now.
The future before us,
Tomorrow’s untold.
But love is the promise that whatever it holds

I will hold you
I will hold you up
I will hold you
I will hold you up

So give me your bad days
Give me your fear
Bring all of your burdens
And just lay ’em down here
‘Cause I’m not gonna leave you
When your world becomes a war
I’m staying in the trenches
‘Cause you’re worth fighting for

Yes, I will hold you
I will hold you up
I will hold you
I will hold you up

And I will hold you up in victory
Watch your light outshine the stars
When you’re breaking down and weary
Just be weary in my arms

There will be trials
There will be tests
As hard as I’m trying for you
I’m human at best
But baby don’t worry
If you should start to fall
Just cling to the One Love
That’s bigger than us all

He will hold you
He will hold you up
I know that He will hold you
He will hold you
He will hold you up
And He will hold you
I know, I know, I know
He will hold you up”

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Joy is Not a Four-Letter Word

Joy has been like a curse word to me for the last few years. While typing that sentence I realized that curse words have probably left my tongue more easily than the word joy. Wow, that’s sad.

I’ve tried to understand joy. I really have. One of the definitions people spout is that happiness is based on circumstances while joy has no dependence on circumstances. I just haven’t been able to buy that. Merriam-Webster’s definition of both concepts is pretty much the same. So, I just don’t get it. Yes, I realize Merriam-Webster is not God, but I’ve studied joy in the Bible too and I still don’t get it.

There was a time I would have understood it better. Then life stomped my joy to a pulp and has continued to do so for years. I think joy is not even allowed in my vocabulary because I truly believe that the second I let it back into my life, my heart will be crushed again with the next horror that awaits me. I’ve heard many people who start to climb out of chronic illness say the same thing. We are afraid to rejoice. We are afraid to get our hopes up. We. Are. So. Afraid. Goooood grief, this post is depressing. Speaking of, everything I’ve described above might be the actual picture of depression, which adds another depth of difficulty. How do we get past this? How do we let joy back into our lives without waiting for it to be crushed again?

The answer may have something to do with the verse below. It jumped off the page yesterday, piercing my heart, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. I know there’s a reason. I know God wants me to find joy again. I know this. I believe God wants me to be happy. I also believe life will never stop trying to suck the happiness away. How can these two beliefs exist so strongly in one person?

“…my joy in unrelenting pain- that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.” – Job 6:10b

I’m still not entirely sure, but maybe joy isn’t all feeling. Maybe it’s more related to faith than I ever knew. Through unrelenting pain, joy comes to us when we do not deny the promises of God. I have to face facts… and feelings. When I doubt God’s promise that His goodness follows me all the days of my life (Psalm 23), I have no joy. When I doubt that God will turn my pain into something beautiful and good (Romans 8:28), I only despair. When I doubt that God’s purpose in my life is the very best purpose there could ever be (Proverbs 19:21, Jeremiah 29:11), I live in the darkness of sorrow.

But when I believe that God is always, ALWAYS good, the sparks of joy appear. When I sing about His goodness following me, I can feel them ignite. When I let God love me through the pain, the tears turn to from sorrow to joy or maybe a mixture of the two. I’ve been seeing more of the sparks lately, though I stomp them out myself before life can do the honors. But maybe their fleeting existence means that one day I will be able to quit stomping and welcome the flame of joy with open arms. Maybe my eyes will become wet with joy, awe, wonder, and God more often than hurt. Looking forward to that day fills me simultaneously with excitement and terror. God, help me. Help all of us who are terrified to let joy back into our lives.

Living without joy is miserable. It is dark. It closes the door on any kind of happiness we may experience, rejects the gifts God wants to give us, and only lets Him love us with limits. I don’t want to limit God. I don’t want there to be any boundary at all between God’s love and me. I pray that He breaks this stronghold in my life, gives me strength to combat the lies I have believed, and loves me back into joy.

When I picture myself joyful, my shoulders physically relax a little, like a weight is being lifted off of them. So I have to ask myself, what is the weight? I think it can only be one thing: self-protection. God has been revealing this as the biggest issue that still entangles my life. I’m trying to fend off the sting of more crushing when that is not my job. It’s God’s job to protect me, not mine. That doesn’t mean He will protect me from bad things happening, but that He will protect me from being completely crushed when they do. He will love me through whatever heartbreak is in store for me. He will be my safe place to pour out my pain if I will only open up to His safety. If I attempt to block more pain from my life, I also block joy, love, peace, everything that is the fullness of God. I block God from the deepest parts of my life. He longs to enter into those deeper places and bring His light. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand joy – I haven’t let Him deep enough to explain it to me. I don’t want this anymore – this illusion of self protection. It’s too much. It’s too heavy a burden I was never meant to carry. God, help me lay it down. I don’t care anymore how it has to happen or how much it might hurt or how many tears I have to cry in front of how many people. I am done. I am tired. I want the fullness of God. I want the fullness of love and of joy.

The fact that I’m even willing to talk about this is a big deal. It says to me that God is making me ready for His healing in this area. It gives me hope that I am moving in the direction of joy. Thank You, God. May I along with my fellow fearers of joy break free from that fear that so hinders us and open our hearts to the joy of the Lord. We will not be disappointed, this I am sure. His goodness is His promise and when we hold that tighter than we hold our protection, we allow joy to show up and to thrive. Pour into us with the fullness of joy, Lord God. May we remove the blocks, embrace the sparks, fan the flames, and fuel the fire. Amen.

“You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

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I Wonder If They’ll Notice My Scars

Getting ready for church is hard for me in many ways. To start with, there’s the issue of finding something to wear. Pro tip: Don’t give up on gaining any of the weight you unexpectedly lost by finally getting rid of your wide variety of clothing sizes. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll start gaining it back the second you say goodbye to your wardrobe. I own four pairs of dress pants… and not one of them fit. Trust me, I tried them all this morning. So then I moved on to skirts but I had a problem with the short-sleeved top that matched. I finally just decided that’s what I was going to have to wear. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I thought, “I wonder if they’ll notice my scars.” That’s when God stopped me in my tracks.

If I can’t show up to church with God’s people, bearing my scars, where can I go? Where else can I belong, free from my perfectionism? I don’t talk much about this issue and I am embarrassed to draw attention to it but for some reason, today is the day. Around the time of upper elementary/junior high I started battling dermatillomania, which is a mental illness related to OCD, causing the urge to pick at any imperfection in my skin. I usually just do it on my upper arms so I can hide it for the most part but the more stressed I get, the worse it gets and the further down into the open it creeps. It’s why you’ll usually see me wearing 3/4 length sleeves even though I’m most often blazing hot and would love to be wearing a cute little tank top. Tank tops have sadly never entered my wardrobe. I hate what I do to myself but I can’t seem to help it. So usually, I cover it up. But I’m tired of worrying about it and I don’t want to anymore. While looking at myself in the mirror I finally decided not to care if people… my dear church family… see my scars. Yet in the next moment I looked down at my wrinkled skirt and said, “well, shoot, I don’t have time to iron that” and then my gaze fell to the deodorant mark on my shirt as I said, “good grief, I’m a mess today.” But I’m God’s mess, His work in progress, and He welcomes me into His house.

I’ve not made it much of a secret that I’ve been struggling with exponentially-increased anxiety lately so you can imagine how that has worsened my dermatillomania. I’ve wanted to write a post describing my panic attacks but each time I try, I realize I cannot put them into words. Unless you have panic attacks, you cannot understand, and that’s okay. The only way I can think of to describe it is, at least to me, it feels like the fiery depths of hell trying to swallow me and I’m trapped where I am, unable to escape. Being ‘trapped’ in a car triggers these attacks. I stopped driving years ago due to my illness but what keeps me from trying again is anxiety. And now even being in the passenger seat has started to trigger me. I almost made Jason get in a wreck a couple weeks ago because at the last second I made him swing into a parking lot. I just could not handle sitting at another red light. Trapped. It’s not rational and I know it. But knowing and believing are two different things. I’m fighting a battle spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Actually, I’ve been reminding myself that God is fighting the battle while He lets me worship (2 Chronicles 20). While I’ve too often let the panic win, I remembered the truth of this passage last week when I had a panic attack just sitting in my living room, seemingly triggered by nothing. I let the storm come. I fell to my knees hyperventilating and sobbing. But then, I tried to worship. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it was mostly: sing one word… gasp… sing one word… sob. But God helped me worship no matter how awful it felt and sounded to me and He fought my battle while I sang. Thank You, God, for fighting for me.

The first victory today was getting up and getting ready despite the anxiety and dread. The second was actually making it to church, many miles away, through traffic and multiple red lights, ‘trapped’ in a car. Guess what song came on the radio? The current song based on 2 Chronicles 20, I Raise A Hallelujah, by Bethel Music. Worshiping with that song reminded me that God is fighting for me. We made it to church and instead of fading into the background as usual, multiple people noticed me and they did not accept my pat, “I’m okay,” answer to the “how are you?” question. They genuinely wanted to know how I am, and I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. Answering the question more honestly was God’s third victory today.

You may not be able to see the words in the picture but the first song we sang was You Make Me Brave. I just about laughed out loud. The fourth victory has to do with the perspective of this picture. I am standing. I was able to stand through the majority of the service, which is something my illness doesn’t usually allow me to do. But God continued to fight for me. As always, when we were singing one of my favorite songs, Living Hope, I praised God that death has lost its grip on me once again. “The work is finished. The end is written… Hallelujah.”

There were other victories that left me breathless, thanks be to God, but the point of this post is this: I walked into the midst of God’s people with scars showing… and I am better for it. If we do not air our scars, we will never heal. I far too often play the “what if” track in my mind. What if they see my scars? What if they see my hands trembling with anxiety? What if they notice me sitting down while everyone else is standing up? What if I told them I took 1/4 of a klonopin to even manage walking in this morning, and it doesn’t feel like it’s helping? What if they knew I struggle with control and trust, that I’ve hurt people and struggled with grace? But when God stopped me in my “what if” tracks this morning, He turned the questions on me. So, what if? What if they DIDN’T see your scars? What if you continued to hide them? What if you stayed home and gave into the fear and isolation? What if you gave up on healing and stayed hidden? What if you missed the opportunity to be embraced by God and His people in your brokenness? WHAT IF JESUS HID HIS SCARS?

I think part of the reason Jesus kept His scars when He rose from the dead was so that people would recognize Him (i.e. Thomas, who said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail marks – John 20), so that people would see Him and believe. If we hide our scars, how can people truly see us? How can they believe there is a God who fights our battles if we’re not willing to let them know there is a battle raging around and within us? How can Jesus be fully seen in our lives when our scars are hidden? How can our wounds heal if they aren’t exposed to the open air of God’s love?

I’m tired of being afraid to show my scars to God’s people. They proved to me today that they actually do want to see me… to know me… the real me. And it helped me heal just a little bit. I’d rather show up in God’s presence with a wrinkly skirt, deodorant marks, uncovered scars, trying to breathe under the weight of my sin… and maybe receive just a little bit more healing… than wither away in my own misery. God calls us to be in the light. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). I decided to live in the light today, and received the gift of true fellowship.

As if the blessings weren’t already enough, God celebrated with me on the way home when another song came on the radio. Once again, I sang to my God in thanks for continuing to fight for me, “My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.” Amen. Please don’t miss the healing that can come from sharing your scars. And if you see someone with scars, love them with the love of Jesus. The church should be the people who most welcome our scars. When scars are aired and loved on, only then can we finally receive the healing God offers. Let’s not be afraid anymore to let the healing happen. Who knows? Maybe there’s a tank top in my future. 🙂 Or more importantly, maybe there is grace, reconciliation, love, light, and healing in my future.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”- James 5:16

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Change My Name, A Different Take on the Prayer of Jabez

Right in the midst of 12-ish chapters full of names in 1 Chronicles is a verse that has become known as The Prayer of Jabez. I remember the book with that title being very popular around the time I was in high school. I think it was so popular because people like the idea of bold prayers granting a pain-free life. It’s so tempting to latch onto the “health and wealth” movement only to be disappointed when life doesn’t go the way we pray. I was very turned off by this story for awhile but now I see a deeper meaning.

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from pain.’ And God granted his request.”- 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

I don’t know why God granted Jabez’ request but not the requests of countless other people who prayed this prayer during the Prayer of Jabez craze. That’s not the point of this particular post. What I find so interesting is that right there in the middle of a myriad of names is Jabez, a name that literally sounds like “pain” in Hebrew. His name was “pain” and he asked God to free him from pain… to free him from his own name. And God did.

Several times throughout the Bible God changes people’s names to mark significant events in their lives. When Jacob wrestled with God, God gave him the name “Israel” (Genesis 32:28). I wonder if that’s why Jabez “cried out to the God of Israel”, or if I’m reading too much into it. Maybe he was thinking something like ‘God, you changed the name of Jacob when He met you face to face. Please change mine too. Let me see You. Bless me like You blessed Jacob/Israel. Give me a new identity.’

So many of us walk around with pain as our identity. Guilty! I grew up in the church and gave my life to Jesus at age 13, but I’m not sure I placed my identity in Him for a long time. Prior to my illness, my identity was in my job. I was Karina, the Social Worker, and I took great pride in doing my job well. I thought it was my purpose in life until it was taken away. After that, sickness and pain became my identity. Without even realizing it, I became Karina, the Chronically-ill, and I’ve continued to arrange my life around my sickness. While I’ve been aware of this mistaken identity for awhile now and have been working on it with God, I still haven’t shed my identity of pain and illness. Pain is certainly not the identity God has for me and He is working to help me believe the freedom He gives me from that identity, the freedom that Jesus gifted to me on the cross. I wonder if that’s why God granted Jabez’ request. He wanted to give him a new identity, one that has nothing to do with pain and everything to do with Him.

God does want to bless us and enlarge our lives. Jesus said he came to give us life to the full. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). A life trapped in a painful identity is definitely not full. An identity placed in Christ is a life of fruitful purpose and possibility, of service and blessing, connected to the heart of God. It is a life of freedom and expansion.

An identity placed in anything other than Jesus steals, kills, and destroys the full life of freedom God has for us. It cheapens what Jesus did for us. Oh, that we would place our identities in the One who gives us life… He would bless us indeed! I want to be Karina, Child of God. And I want that for you too. Let us pray along with Jabez and Jacob…

Bless me, Lord. I will not let go. Keep Your hand with me. Enlarge my life. Free me from the pain of placing my identity in anything but You. Help me embrace the new name You gave me. In the most beautiful name of Jesus, Amen.

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One Body

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there  are many parts, but one body. 
The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it." - 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27

There are some body parts I’d sure like to throw away. Quite often I’d love to be rid of my autonomic nervous system, sometimes my brain, and pretty much every moment of every day I’d love to chuck my entire abdomen out the window. This is not an exaggeration. When one part is acting up, I find myself struggling not to hate it, thereby perpetuating a constant me-vs-my body kind of scenario. When I’m successful at not hating my stomach, most of the time I’m just doing my best to ignore it. Is any of this actually helpful? Not likely. Fighting with my own body parts does nothing to heal them. In fact, holding onto anger actually makes the chronic abdomen problem worse because anger sits in my liver and rots. Those aren’t the exact scientific words for this phenomenon but it’s the truth. A problematic body part is trying to send an important message about the general function of the body or about issues that need addressed in order for the whole body to be healthy. Therefore, ignoring those body parts doesn’t help any more than fighting them. Ignoring my stomach doesn’t fix it. When it is ignored, sometimes it feels the need to scream louder so it can get my attention and I can try something else to help it. Ignoring a problem may seem convenient in the moment, but it never makes it go away. Guaranteed.

I am in a very unique position to understand this passage from 1 Corinthians. I’ve never actually read it literally until now and my physical body has helped me understand the passage so much better. I don’t feel that I belong in the body of Christ. But just because I feel that way doesn’t make it true. My excessive absences and lack of connection doesn’t make me any less a part of the body. Just because I am no longer a “more presentable part” doesn’t mean I am less important to the function and health of the entire body.

The church as a whole has a sad tendency to forget the chronically-ill. It’s easy to have the “I don’t need you” mindset when it appears that the body is getting along just fine without them. But Paul could not be any more clear that those people in the body who appear to be weaker are “indispensable.” We also tend to roll our eyes and ignore the people who ‘act up’, while harboring anger toward them. But Paul says we give special treatment to those parts that we think are less honorable. And just because I am no longer an eye or hand or something desirable like that, doesn’t mean it’s not my job to bring absolutely everything I do have to the table. All our gifts, as small as they may sometimes seem, are God-given and important. Ignoring them or hiding them away causes the entire body to miss something beautiful.

The very next chapter in 1 Corinthians is the famous love chapter. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. We unify the body with love. Unfortunately, we aren’t especially great at love and, as a result, the church as a whole is sick. We’ve thrown out our eyes and ears, choked on our anger, and ignored our pinky toes until we’re blindly hobbling around in pain wondering what happened. Fighting or ignoring our own body parts does nothing to heal them. Holding those parts close, listening to them, bringing them to the healing hand of God, loving them. That is what will heal.

We need to find our hearts again- those ignored, shriveled up love containers – and limp them up to the heart of God crying, “We’re so sorry. Please, fix this.” The fact is, God made us each an integral part of the body and no one is dispensable. If I throw out my abdomen, my body would die. If we throw out the members of the body we see as problematic, we die. We are not living in the healthy unity that God desires. We are sick, the kind of sick that only love can heal. I truly believe God sees it, and grieves. When will we?

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The Right Questions

I’ve been stuck amidst the questions again. God, are you going to heal me? Will I ever feel better in this life? Should I just accept that You may not heal? Does submitting to Your will by ending my own striving mean giving up more attempts at treatment? Should I stop what I’m doing now and let You heal me on Your own? Sometimes I think I would be able to handle suffering better if I knew there would be an end date. If I knew God would heal me, I could stick it out until then. The possibility of feeling this miserable for the rest of my life is unbearable and I struggle to accept it. That’s why my questions keep swirling.

On Sunday I was worshipping upstairs in the window room when God spoke to my heart and said, “You’re asking the wrong questions.” I thought about it for awhile and realized that all of these swirling questions boil down to one thing: Am I going to be disappointed with or angry at God? God hasn’t told me whether or not He will heal me and I have to admit that part of the motivation for knowing the answer would be so that I would know how to feel. If the answer is “yes”, I could thank Him and rejoice and hold on until then. But if the answer is “no”, I could be angry and hurt and have no more will to continue. Perhaps that’s the reason God hasn’t answered… because He knows if He said “no,” I would lie down and give up.

So then, what are the right questions? Maybe the questions I need to ask myself are, if God does say “no” to my healing, can I still thank Him and rejoice and hold onto Him? I’ve been openly angry at God in the past and I tried to walk away from Him. It was the darkest time of my life and I never want to go back there. I thought I had worked through this with God, but maybe a small root of poison is still inside of me that needs to be torn out in order for me to continue to heal spiritually.

I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah for a couple weeks because, goodness, those people had to wait! God tells them that they have a future and a hope even though they will have to wait in exile for 70 years. That does not sound hopeful to me. My lack of healing does not feel hopeful to me. But God tells His people what to do while they wait for deliverance:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”- Jeremiah 29:5-7

In other words, don’t just give up on life. Their circumstances were far from anything they wanted, but they were not to fall into despair. God wanted them to get comfortable with the circumstances in which He placed them and get on with their lives. He wanted them to stop pining for deliverance and start planting gardens and enjoying their fruit. He wanted them to increase and pray for peace in the midst of their circumstances.

I am asking God the wrong questions. He wants me to stop pining for deliverance and start planting and enjoying the fruit of my suffering. The right questions are actually directed at me. Am I willing to settle down and plant here or am I going to give up on life? Am I going to pray for peace here or will I fall into despair again? Am I willing to throw off the chain I’ve attached between deliverance and all things good (joy, endurance, etc)? Will I grow and increase here instead of shriveling up in the poison of my mind?

We have a poison ivy problem at our house and Jason is severely allergic so I’ve been trying to kill it with natural weed killer. Three times now I’ve sprayed it all along the fence to no avail. And this morning, as if to mock me, I noticed that instead of dying under the wrath of the weed-killer, a beautiful flower has actually bloomed. I laughed out loud. God gave a visual gift to my questioning heart. It was as if the vine said, “I know you want me to die here. I know I live in the midst of poison. But I will not die. I will bloom instead. You can spray me all you want but I will not shrivel up. I will increase.”

Will I say the same? Will I bloom and shine here or will I shrivel up in the darkness of disappointment? Will I pray for peace and for the poison of the enemy to be removed from my heart or will I shrivel up and die, fruitless? Will I not only survive here but will I increase and thrive? These are the right questions… and I hope and pray that my answer will be a resounding, “YES.”

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Home Sweet Home

Dear ones,

It’s been awhile and I’ve missed you! We have had an incredibly busy summer. Since I last wrote we have moved and, blessedly, had a revolving door of visitors to the house. I have loved every second of it to the point where it was VERY hard for me to see Jason go back to work this morning, knowing how quiet and lonely this place will be now. But my heart is also overflowing with the nearness of God.

I thought I would jump on here and tell the story of how we got this house. Jason and I have wanted to move out of our condo ever since we got married 5 1/2 years ago. It’s healthier for me not to have to worry about anyone spraying pesticides or contaminating my air with smoke and dryer sheets. We also dream about growing our own food so we know exactly where it’s been and what’s on it. Not to mention a yard for June to run and play. So we finally decided to talk to a realtor who, despite my serious doubts, assured us we could find a healthy house in our budget. We put ours up for sale near the beginning of the year.

Back in February we had such fun looking at a house with the most character I’ve ever seen. Around each corner was another nook or surprise that made us laugh out loud. Our realtor remarked that it was like Narnia! “It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places” (C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia). Exactly. But for whatever reason, we wrote the house off as not practical or ‘normal’ enough for us and we moved on.

Then around mid-May, a sweet woman we had the privilege of meeting later, put an offer on our condo that we could not refuse, as much as it scared me! Prior to the offer, it hadn’t become quite real to me that we were actually doing this. We had to get serious about finding a place. I was pretty disappointed with the quality of houses in our price range and knew that we would have to give something up, like a bathroom or dishwasher, which are both very hard for a person with chronic illness to give up. Also, the nicer houses were even smaller than our condo and I began to wonder why in the world we were even doing this. Well-meaning people kept telling me that God had the perfect house for us, but I knew a perfect house was not one of God’s promises. Side note, we really need to watch what we say. If God promises houses, wouldn’t there be no homeless Christians? I digress.

Believe it or not, I didn’t really get stressed until the actual moving process. For quite some time I had been praying for a house that could somehow be used for God’s glory. I knew God would give us what He knew we needed, even if it wasn’t a house at all. I gave Him the process of finding a house and He, in turn, gave me peace that I truly believe I would still have if the outcome had turned out differently.

We settled on a very small house with one bathroom, pretty far from most people who usually gave me rides to appointments, which made me nervous but I also knew I couldn’t arrange our lives around my illness more than I already had. We thought this cute little yellow house with the teal door and purple flowers was for us. After all, those are our colors and it really was a beautiful house. The problem was, the house already had an offer on it, which broke our hearts. This was even after we had fallen in love with a different house until we found out the basement was in danger of caving in. Heartbreak after heartbreak, while still believing everything would be okay no matter the outcome. The realtor of the cute yellow house told us that the contract was going to fall through so we actually put an offer on it and, after some negotiating, they accepted it as a secondary contract. That would have been all well and good except that we couldn’t be a secondary contract and have assurance that we wouldn’t be homeless after our condo closed if this contract actually didn’t fall through. The realtor wanted to get out of the primary contract but they legally couldn’t do so until it would have been too late for us.

So, our realtor asked for our backup plan. With broken hearts and some amount of resignation, Jason and I suddenly thought of the Narnia house, at the exact same time. Who needs ‘normal’, right? I still don’t know why this house was in our price range. It is HUGE and we wouldn’t have to give up anything except a garage and garbage disposal. And we would gain more than we dared to dream. Our realtor asked us if we wanted to go see the house again on Wednesday or Thursday. This was the last week of school for Jason and he had multiple meetings to prepare for so we originally said Thursday. But then Jason decided we needed to see the house again ASAP even if it meant he was up all night, so we went to see it Wednesday. We fell in love. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such excitement in my husband and it was such a joy. I could not stop laughing because this house is so quirky. The even bigger surprise was that Jason’s parents, who came to look at it with us, approved wholeheartedly. After seeing the Narnia house again, we pulled our offer on the cute little yellow house and put an offer on this one. That is why the days were important. After we put in an offer on Thursday morning, we found out someone else was going to put in an offer on Thursday night. Talk about timing! What a gift to have our contract sealed!

Then, of course, the inspection process was less than fun and my stress level sky-rocketed during the actual move. It has triggered my illnesses, especially dysautonomia. So I’ve been struggling with that and acting like a healthy person far too long. I haven’t stopped for months and my body is screaming for rest, so under it’s and Jason’s orders, that’s what I’m doing today and likely for the foreseeable future.

We are so grateful for this house and I very often walk back in after taking June for a walk and become breathless with the wonder that it is ours. The excitement comes back and the warmth of such a beautiful gift swells my heart. It is perfect. It’s almost 100 years old so it has unbelievable character. There are built-ins all over the place. There’s even a claw foot tub! I didn’t even know I could dream of having one of those! I have always imagined having a music room but knew never to expect one. Guess what? I have one now! The wall looks like it was made for my piano.

But honestly, I think my favorite room in the house is upstairs. It has tons of windows and, get this, it overlooks the mountains. I have dreamed of a home with a view of the mountains but never actually thought I would have one. What a gift! Our first day here was so stressful. Since no one had lived here for awhile, it was way too hot for me and I was feeling awful and very discouraged. Then, God gave me another gift. He showed me that I could see the most beautiful sunset out those same windows. The next morning He showed me I can also see the sunrise… over the mountains! I weep over this overwhelming gift!

For a long time, I have wanted a home that felt welcoming and open to everyone and we have had many people say it is warm and inviting when they visit.  When I thanked her for opening her home, a dear woman once said to me, “This is God’s house. I’m just visiting.” That beautiful sentiment is one I want to live by. This house that is beyond our wildest dreams is God’s gift to us that we can, in turn, gift back to Him. I cannot wait to see how He uses it! One day I was trying a little bit too hard to ‘help’ God use this house, coming up with things we could do to serve others with it. While it’s good to dream with God, we also need to wait on His guidance. It occurred to me that, at least right now, this may just be God’s overwhelming gift to us. I can hardly let myself think that because I always want to DO something to please God. My brain can’t wrap around His delight in me and I wonder if this is His way of helping me understand. What could give Him more joy than me simply enjoying the gift He gave? So, we will do that until He tells us otherwise. What an extravagant God we have!

This is our house on the Fourth of July. By the way, everyone has been calling it Narnia, so that name has stuck. It’s perfect. We even have a lion door-knocker and a lamp post in the backyard. It makes me wonder if the previous owners had Narnia in mind. So now we even have a guest book called… The Chronicles of Narnia! Come visit! We would love to welcome you!

I have a lot more blogging to catch up on so, stay tuned. I haven’t forgotten. I’m always looking for beauty in the rubble!

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When Healing Causes Grief

There are days when I can see and feel that I am getting better and healthier. I rejoice in those days. With God’s help, I have climbed my mountain again, both literally and figuratively. I have been to church more weeks than not over the last few months. I have been to the grocery store with my husband. I can generally stop and talk to people without scanning my surroundings for the nearest chair. I have added several previously-forbidden foods to my diet. I haven’t had to get labs in five months. These things are celebration-worthy. Step-by-slow-step healing is meant to be savored and celebrated. So, I celebrate.

But something unexpected is putting a damper on my full celebration. My old frenemy, grief. I know what some of you are thinking, “Goodness, this girl will find anything to complain about. She’s even sad about healing.” I almost didn’t write this post because I know how it sounds. But, hello, #thisisdepression. Also, I cannot be the only one with a chronic illness who feels this way and I think we need to talk about it.

In her book, “Fully Alive” (see, I told you I’d never stop talking about this book), Susie Larson discusses the man in John 5 who Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well.” The man’s immediate response is, “I can’t, Sir.” Susie encourages us to explore our own “I can’ts.” And so, I have… often. I’ve been asked over the years by counselors and various health practitioners if there is something holding me back from accepting healing and I’ve done my best to come to grips with those things and give them up to God. I know that fear is an issue – fear of the unknown, fear of hope because if I get better I’m not sure I can emotionally handle getting sick again. There are other hindering beliefs that I have fully explored as well, but I kept having this nagging feeling that there is something else gripping me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. But God has recently opened my eyes and named it for me: GRIEF.

How can a person possibly grieve getting better? Well, after careful examination of my heart, I think I’ve nailed down one reason why each step forward is accompanied by a sharp stab to the heart. It’s because the people I’ve always imagined rejoicing with me in my healing are largely the ones who abandoned me in my suffering. They are the first people I imagined telling about my healing and yet, they are no longer in my life. Each step forward is a reminder of their absence and therefore, grows the intensity of my grief.

Not only is my celebration not happening in the way I imagined, but I see it as a final closure of the relationships I have lost. If I get better, the people who abandoned me are out of time and chances to show that they are willing to sit with me in my pain. If I heal, I have to finally accept that I will never receive what I want from them. I have to move on without them and I don’t know how to do that. It wasn’t “supposed” to be this way. I’ve been attempting the Dynamic Neural Retraining System, which uses a lot of visualization to help retrain the brain to wellness. I am supposed to visualize a future in which I am well. The problem I’m running into is, when I imagine my wellness, the people I thought would always be there are present in my visualizations… but they’re not with me now. And they haven’t been for a long time. So my visualizations are usually accompanied by grief, which kind of ruins the experience.

I don’t know how “normal” life goes without the people with whom I used to laugh. Those who were present in my healthy life have been largely absent during my sick life. Maybe my problem is that I’m trying to go back to a reality that no longer exists when God intends me to go forward with Him. I feel like I’m struggling for the right words so I’ll share a post by Sarah Panther, who speaks part of my heart a bit more clearly. I encourage you to read it here.

How do I celebrate when my heart breaks with loss for each step that I take? I guess the answer is that joy and sorrow are not mutually exclusive. I can rejoice in my healing while grieving my losses. If I refuse to celebrate the victories, that discounts the work that God is doing and I never want to do that. He has been my constant through all of this and His work deserves every bit of recognition I give it and more. Healing is not only given to bring God glory in the eyes of the people who “deserve” to see it- those people who have held my hand in the trenches- but it is to reveal God’s glory to every eye who chooses to see. And maybe even more-so to the people who have misunderstood. Maybe those who feared my pain need to see that God is there and can heal even at length. Maybe those who couldn’t handle knowing that there can be long, intense suffering without God stepping in with a miracle need to know that He does still care. And maybe I need to fully recognize the miracle of God’s sustaining presence rather than pining for those I have lost.

So, I rejoice and grieve. I’m realizing that this may be life. Maybe the grief is our constant reminder that we are not Home where we belong. I don’t ever want to respond to Jesus’ offer of healing with, “I can’t, Sir.” This doesn’t sound like a very happy post, but we do have some celebrating to do. I invite you to rejoice with me and, if you have the heart, grieve with me as well. Together we will look forward to the final separation of joy and grief. Come, Lord Jesus.

Song I’m feeling: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet, by Avalon
“For the wounded, there is healing. Strength is given to the weak.
Broken hearts find love redeeming where joy and sorrow meet.”

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