When It's Obvious that God's At Work

JV(23) I love John chapter 21.  The scene opens in the early morning light.  The crucifixion and resurrection have taken place, and the disciples have been out fishing all night without any catch to show for their efforts.  Jesus, standing on the bank, calls out to them and tells them to cast their nets over the side of the boat.

Now, if this had been me, I probably would have grumbled about having to try again after a fruitless fishing expedition.  I might have stubbornly refused to do it at all.  Thankfully, the disciples obeyed, even though they hadn't even realized that it was Jesus Who was asking them to do it (verse 4).

Their incredible yield from obeying the Lord resulted in 153 fish (verse 11).

Wow.

That's the power of God at work.

In verse 12, we learn that they didn't ask Jesus Who He was, because they knew it was the Lord.  They didn't recognize Him at first - whether due to the poor light or because they were too far out on the water or because their hearts were hardened, I'm not sure - but they knew exactly Who He was after He performed that miracle.

Sometimes, things occur in life that are so inexplicable in human or scientific terms that we know instantly that only God could have performed them. There is no doubt that He is the One orchestrating these events, and they leave us in greater awe of His majesty than ever before.

For me, the days and weeks following Jon's surgery come to mind. I thought I knew exactly how the Lord would choose to meet our needs while Jon took time off of work to recuperate. He had accrued a week's worth of paid vacation (so we thought), and the previous month had had an extra pay day. While the extra pay check from the earlier month was an enormous blessing, the paid vacation fell through.

Instead, the Lord graciously met our needs above and beyond what we could have imagined. My mom came to stay with us while Jon was in the hospital, and she brought with her ingredients for over a week's worth of meals. Other family and friends gave us gift cards (most at great personal sacrifice), brought meals, provided childcare, and helped out financially. I was amazed and humbled at the ways the Lord used so many people to bless and comfort us!

I also know there are times when it should be obvious that the Lord is behind something, but so often I fail to recognize His hand. Sometimes I'll later realize that He's been at work, but a lot of the time, I'm completely oblivious and never thank Him for His provision. For times like those, I can only ask forgiveness and pray that I'll become more sensitive to seeing the obvious.

Your turn:  Has there been a time in your life when you've clearly seen the Lord at work?  I'd love to hear your story.  Share in the comments!

When it's obvious that God's at work

Lessons from Laura: Managing A Healthy Lifestyle

JV(22) Because of my family's health issues, I've started down the rabbit hole of living a healthy lifestyle.  While I find the subject extremely interesting and have learned a tremendous amount about whole foods, specialized exercise, essential oils, and natural cleaning, I'm realizing that it's very easy to go over the healthy living edge - to focus on it so determinedly that everything else in life falls by the wayside.

While I love what many healthy-living, whole-foods-minded bloggers write about, my favorite blog on the topic is Heavenly Homemakers by Laura Coppinger.  Laura understands that we need to live as healthfully as possible without becoming consumed by the healthy living movement.

There are several lessons I can learn from Laura!

1.  Choose Gratitude

Laura comes across as an extremely thankful person.  Her weekly Gratituesday posts, where she shares anything and everything she's thankful for, are one of my favorite aspects of her blog!

One thing she routinely thanks the Lord for is her family.  Laura and her husband Matt have four boys.  They don't have any daughters.  Now, I know from experience that having four children of any gender is enough to garner many incredulous onlookers in the grocery store, but when all four are boys, sentiments such as "too bad you didn't get a girl" are added to the already-annoying "wow, that's a lot of kids."

I've never, ever seen any resentment on Laura's part that she doesn't have a daughter.  Instead, she shares how her youngest saved Christmas; how eager she is to have daughers-in-law some day; and how wonderful it is that the family has Gladis, a little girl they sponsor from One Child Matters.

Rather than bemoan the fact that she has all boys, Laura has chosen gratitude and focuses on the beauty of having four sons.  I love that.

2.  Don't Obsess Over Healthy Living

Laura's journey toward better health is similar to many that I've read.  She understands the importance of wholesome, whole foods, but at the same time, she also realizes that there are times when eating freshly-prepared meals isn't always going to happen.  Are frozen pizzas healthy?  Not at all, but Laura shares how once in a while, store-bought pizza can have a place in a healthy homemaker's kitchen (unless you need to be gluten free - that's another discussion entirely).

There are going to be concessions and compromises in life, even for the most dedicated health nut out there.  We don't need to fall apart over the fact that we can't always eat everything organic or that convenience over nutrition will occasionally have to suffice when the family goes down for the count.  (For a related post on this topic, I thought that Stacey Makes Cents' post "Food is Not Your God" was an excellent read.)

3.  Be Honest

No one would have thought of Laura's healthy lifestyle to be anything other than a desire to treat her body as the Temple that it is, but Laura openly shared how she tried for years to do everything in her own strength.  And although I haven't yet read it, some day I'd love to get a copy of her book Oh, For Real! because I think it probably expands on this topic even more.  Her honesty about her try-hard way of doing things reminds me a lot of Emily Freeman's Grace For the Good Girl, another fantastic read about relying on the Spirit's help instead of one's own willpower.

A few more favorite posts from Heavenly Homemakers:

The Boy Who Saved Christmas

Every Good Cook Burns Herself Sometimes

Reading articles from devout health-conscious bloggers can be a great motivation for an improved healthy lifestyle, and those posts definitely have their time and place.  However, I've just found that I really resonate with the realistic approach of Heavenly Homemakers.  I'm still searching for that elusive balance between healthy living, financial stewardship, and time management, but I think Laura comes pretty close to finding a workable solution between those three!

Your turn:  Are you trying to live a healthy lifestyle?  What struggles and successes have you found along the way?  What are your favorite healthy living resources?

Lessons from Laura:  managing a healthy lifestyle

Spiritual Spaghetti

Spiritual spaghetti I miss pasta.  It’s one of my all-time favorite foods, but we don’t eat it at home much anymore.  Turbo’s Celiac Disease prohibits him from wheat pasta, and although tasty gluten-free noodle options now exist, they tend to be a blood sugar nightmare.  It’s simply easier to eat some chicken and steamed veggies instead of trying to make pasta dishes work for our family.

Last night, however, we had spaghetti for dinner.  I’d really been missing my beloved pasta, and when I found Angel Hair on sale last week, I bought some both to indulge my craving and to supplement our food budget with a cheap meal.  Paired with Classico-brand sauce (gluten free and no sugar added, all for a decent price – score on multiple accounts!) and a side of cauliflower, all I had to do to make it suitable for Turbo was to steam a spaghetti squash for some Celiac/Diabetes-friendly “noodles.”

It was a huge hit.  From the beaver-cheeked smiles and multiple compliments from the spark plugs, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had been missing an Italian-inspired meal.

As easy as spaghetti is supposed to be, though, ours wasn’t.

It may seem like an easy thing to keep separate utensils and dishes to prevent gluten contamination, but I find it difficult.  Multiple times I caught myself about to stir the squash noodles with the wheat noodle spoon.  I had to dig out my spare pair of tongs for dishing out the various meals.  Even cleanup was no simple matter; what if I scrubbed out the pasta pot first and then washed the other pans?  Would the scrubber cross-contaminate the other items?  I’ve really no idea.

As tasty and refreshingly different as the spaghetti was, I have to wonder whether or not it’s truly the best meal for us.  While there’s nothing wrong with serving it, we have to be extremely cautious, and that detracts from the ease of preparation.  And what if I’d actually contaminated something?  We would’ve had to start the cooking process over, I suppose.

I began to wonder how many things we do in life that are not truly harmful but could easily lead down a path we shouldn’t go down – things that, at first, appear to be a fun idea but which take us dangerously close to becoming involved in something we as believers should have no part of.  I’m sure there are many.

Our spaghetti experience likely won’t keep me from preparing it on occasion, but I will take extra precautions before serving it again.  Truthfully, I really should simply serve all of us the squash noodles and thus avoid the possibility of contamination all together.  If only there were such a simple fix in our spiritual lives so that we could enjoy the “pasta” without threat of falling into temptation!

Your turn:  Have you ever found yourself in a spiritually-dangerous situation?  How did you handle it?  What would you do differently in the future to prevent the same thing from happening again?

Spiritual Spaghetti

When God Chooses Not to Heal

When God Chooses Not to Heal

I strongly believe in the power of prayer.  I know that God can, and often does, the impossible.  When He chooses to work in ways that are clearly miraculous, it bolsters my faith and increases my trust in Him.

But what about the times that He chooses NOT to heal?

Shortly after Turbo was diagnosed and we were told that there was no cure for Type 1 Diabetes, I started hearing reports on rare cases of T1D being cured through diet and lifestyle.  Both intrigued and skeptical, I started researching the possibility. 

What I found was both encouraging and confusing.  To the best of my untrained understanding, there have been a few instances of people reversing Type 1 Diabetes*.  There are reports of curing Type 1 through an alkaline diet, a ketogenic diet, a gluten-free diet, the GAPS diet, a raw/vegan diet, and the Paleo diet.  Oddly enough, many of these specific eating regimens seem to completely conflict with one another (for example, the Paleo diet is heavily animal-protein-based, while a raw/vegan diet contains no animal products at all).  But some of the key similarities are low-carb/starch foods, the use of whole, unprocessed foods, and gluten-free foods.

(*Note:  I want to point out that many of the supposedly-cured patients likely were experiencing what is called the “honeymoon” phase of diabetes, where – for reasons not yet determined by science – the patient’s own pancreas produces adequate amounts of insulin for a time shortly following diagnosis, often resulting in the patient’s need to discontinue insulin shots for a while.)

Because of these claims about reversing Type 1 Diabetes (and I do believe that for a very few Type 1 diabetics, this has really happened), we have been experimenting with various diets for Turbo.  We took him to a certified nutritionist who specializes in reversing autoimmune disorders, including Type 1 Diabetes.  We’ve tried supplements.  And we’ve prayed.  A lot.  Many, many other people have been praying, too.

But despite the fact that our dietary choices have definitely helped us to better manage his blood sugar and have ultimately helped him to lead a healthier life, he still has diabetes.  There has never been a single day since his diagnosis that he’s not needed insulin injections.

Why didn’t the Lord choose to heal him through diet as He has for others?  Is it a lack of faith on our part?  Does God enjoy seeing His children suffer?

I certainly can’t pretend to know why God chooses to do what He does, but I know that He delights in caring for us and loves us beyond our wildest comprehension.  I am also convinced that His decision for Turbo to remain a diabetic is not due to lack of faith on our part.  God gave us Baby D when it was medically impossible for us to have another child.  Because of this, I have no doubt that He could heal Turbo in the blink of an eye.

The Lord has blessed our family with diabetes because it brings Him glory.  How or why that is, we might not know until we reach Heaven.  Dealing with diabetes has definitely increased my prayer life.  It’s expanded my faith.  It has stretched me more than anything else has ever stretched me.  It has opened my eyes to the suffering of others.  It has made me more aware of my need for a Savior.  And those are all good things.

When God chooses not to heal, it is because He has something far better in store.

Joni Eareckson Tada was once uninvited to a speaking engagement after the committee leaders decided that since God had not healed her, she must not have had enough faith.  I think her life is a beautifully-clear example of how the Lord has used her much more powerfully from her wheelchair than He would have were it not for her diving accident.

I don’t know all the ways in which the Lord will use our family to glorify Him, but I do know that since He has currently chosen to allow diabetes to remain a part of us, we can better serve Him with this affliction than we could without it.

Will God ever heal Turbo?  I don’t know.  I know that He is able to if He decides that it would serve Him best.  Diabetes isn’t our punishment.  It’s simply a tool, albeit a difficult one at times, through which we can best glorify God.

God sometimes chooses, for His glory and our good, not to heal.

When God Chooses Not to Heal

CSF Leak Diagnosis

CSF leak diagnosis

“I have a CSF leak.”

When Jon came home from an Ear-Nose-Throat specialist one afternoon in July 2009 and said those words, I didn’t fully grasp the severity.  At the time of his diagnosis, I knew nothing about cerebro-spinal fluid leaks; in fact, I didn’t even know that CSF stood for cerebro-spinal fluid.  All I knew (because Jon told me) was that he needed surgery, and the sooner, the better.

After a very long and miserable surgery that August, I started researching CSF leaks to learn what, exactly, it was that Jon had.  Evidently, the brain and spinal chord are normally surrounded by a thick layer called the dura that protects these vital organs.  In addition to keeping the cushioning cerebro-spinal fluid around the nervous system where it belongs, it also creates a perfect pressurized chamber that the brain needs in order to function well.  For people like Jon, a hole develops somewhere along the dura, releasing spinal fluid and breaking the pressurized vacuum.  It also allows bacteria direct access to the brain or spinal chord and can result in meningitis and other serious health complications.

For years before his diagnosis, Jon had suffered from what we wrongly assumed was horrible allergies.  He already knew that antihistamines didn’t help at all, and he didn’t seem to get better or worse depending on the changing seasons.  Every few days, he would be wracked with headaches, burning eyes, and nasal congestion.  In 2009 after the birth of Little Princess, we met our out-of-pocket maximum with our health insurance, and Jon decided to get help with his “allergies.”

We were shocked to learn that, after three rounds of intense testing, he was allergic to nothing.  The allergist wrote him off as having “non-allergic rhinitis” and sent him home.  Unsatisfied with this non-answer to a very major issue, I got him an appointment with an ENT for a second opinion.  It was during this appointment that he first heard the term CSF leak, and a week later a CT scan confirmed his diagnosis of a spontaneous cranial cerebro-spinal fluid leak.

Jon’s CSF leak has caused him migraine-level headaches, breathing difficulty, and numerous other side effects.  Although his first surgery was successful in repairing the leak, the repair only lasted 18 months before it ruptured again.  He’s had more surgery and seen more doctors, but nothing has yielded a permanent fix yet.  We’re hopeful that someday he might be healed, but for now, it’s simply his “thorn sent to buffet him” that we have to live with.

Even so, simply knowing what it is that is causing his bizarre symptoms has in itself been a help.  We’ve connected with other CSF sufferers who not only sympathize with the often-debilitating effects but who are also a wealth of knowledge about specialists, procedures, education relating to CSF leaks.

This will be an ongoing journey for us, but we know that the Lord will use it for our good and His glory.

Update:  Want to know more about our CSF story?  You can find it in my new ebook, "A Place Prepared."  In it, I share about the struggles of a suffering spouse and how it's taught me more about God's design to be Jon's helpmeet.  You can grab your own copy right here!

CSF leak diagnosis

Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Although I didn’t know anything about CSF leaks before Jon’s diagnosis in 2009 and didn’t know much about Type 1 Diabetes when Turbo was diagnosed in 2013, my experience with Celiac Disease was different.  Because Type 1 and Celiac Disease often accompany one another, it’s now common to test Type 1 diabetics automatically for Celiac Disease.  Thankfully, another mom whose son also has Type 1 gave me a heads-up about this automatic testing.  When Turbo’s blood work came back positive for Celiac Disease, I wasn’t as unprepared as I had been for our family’s previous diagnoses.

Since gluten-free diets have become a regular buzz word in today’s world, I knew what a gluten-free diet was, and I also knew it was used to treat Celiac Disease.  Although I still had a lot to learn about gluten-free eating and Celiac Disease, even knowing what they were was a good start.

However, mastering the art of gluten-free cooking in addition to carb counting and insulin administration seemed overwhelming.  As we’ve adjusted, though, it’s become clear that Celiac Disease may be one of Turbo’s biggest blessings in disguise.  High-carb meals cause uncontrollably-high blood sugar, but when we were forced to replace wheat flours with almond flour and nut butters (all low-carb options), we saw an instant improvement in Turbo’s diabetes control, so much so that I believe that he is actually healthier with Celiac Disease than he ever would have been without it!

I’ve never been a decent cook, so in a way, I think that having to learn to cook gluten-free was probably easier for me since I’d never really learned to cook well in the first place.  I didn’t have much to un-learn!  It’s rather funny that I now spend a large portion of my day creating, testing, or altering recipes to suit our family’s new way of eating.

If I ever discover or create something worthwhile, I’ll be sure to share it on the blog.  Until then, I’ll keep creating and hunting online for gluten-free, diabetic-friendly recipes.

Update:  We've now embraced a grain-free, dairy-free lifestyle for Turbo after learning that a strict gluten-free diet wasn't enough to overcome his celiac symptoms.  It's been a long journey, but we are hopeful that this new endeavor will help his digestive system heal and prevent the onset of any more autoimmune issues.

Celiac Disease Diagnosis

Day 21: Learn to Suffer Well

JulieVarner.com(130) Dear Little Princess,

Earlier this year, I read a fantastic article about looking for a spouse.  It’s true that we’re admonished to choose a Godly mate, someone who meshes well with our unique personalities, and someone who treats us and others well.  But how often are we encouraged to look for someone who suffers well?

We can take this advice even closer to home:  how often are we challenged to suffer well ourselves?  God never promises us a comfortable life.  He doesn’t promise us tomorrow.  He does promise to be with us through every step of our Earthly journey, and He warns us that there will be tough times (see James 1).  Since we know that suffering is coming, Little Princess, I want you to learn to suffer well.

I’m learning that there are two distinct types of suffering in a marriage:  suffering when you yourself are ill, and suffering through the illness of a spouse.  With Daddy and me, I’ve had occasional, acute suffering with minor infections.  Although I feel pretty miserable for about 24 hours, my illnesses have never lasted much longer than a day or two.  Daddy suffers chronically with his CSF leak.  The two weeks when he was recovering from his first major operation were some of the hardest weeks I’ve been through (Turbo’s diagnosis was also pretty rough).

I feel truly horrible when I’m sick, and I don’t handle illness well at all.  I’m grouchy and snappy, and I’m sure no one likes being around me.  But taking care of a sick spouse is miserable in a completely different way.  It adds a layer of stress unlike anything else in life.  In some ways, I almost think it’s worse than being sick myself, not because Daddy gets grumpy like I do, but just because he’s not able to help share the rewarding burden of caring for our family.

More than likely, either you, your husband, or one of your children will experience a health crisis at one time or another.  Whether it’s something short-lived or a long ordeal, you will need to learn how to suffer gracefully.  It won’t be easy.  It won’t be fun.  But the Lord can use that situation to help you become more like Himself.  He will use that hardship for His glory.

We cannot, on our own strength, suffer graciously.  But we can learn to suffer well with the Spirit’s help.  

When hardship and illness hit, pray.  Ask the Lord for the grace and mercy to get through each day.   Walk in His strength and not your own.

Read the Word.  Scripture abounds with stories of real-life people who have graciously endured difficult times.  Jesus Christ set the Perfect Example of this when He accepted the bitter cup of the Cross and did so without complaining.

Accept help from others.  It is truly humbling when the Body of Christ comes together to help in times of need.  Humble yourself and accept others’ offers of meals, house cleaning, and childcare.  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to bless them in kind.

Never forget that no matter how difficult your suffering may become, Eternity with Christ will erase all the pain and suffering from your mind.  No matter what, keep your focus on Heaven.

All my love,

Mommy

31 days image link

Learn to suffer well

Day 1: I'm Thankful to be Your Mommy

I'm thankful to be your mommy Dear Little Princess,

I’m so thankful to be your mommy.  When we found out that you were going to be born, Daddy had just lost his job and our only car died.  We’d also just bought our house with a higher mortgage than the rent on our previous apartment.  It was not a fun time, but the excitement about you helped encourage us and gave us something to look forward to.  As a mommy of two wonderful little boys, I was eager to become a mommy to my little girl, too!

Oftentimes you’ll hear people complain about the high cost of raising children, the trouble kids cause, and the frustrations of parenthood.  While those things may be true at times, I want you to know that children are cause for celebration, are a source of great joy, and are gifts from the Lord.  You were our gift during a very hard time.

Your big brothers were so excited to have a baby “stister,” as Wing Man called you.  They helped me set up the crib, sort through a mountain of clothes that people gave us, and eagerly awaited your arrival.  It was so fun to see them so excited about your coming!

You were a very sweet baby and hardly ever cried.  You loved being held, you loved sitting in your bouncer, and you loved being entertained by your big brothers.  You were so content!  This was a huge blessing since Daddy was working nights and needed to sleep during the daytime.

When you were about two months old, I tried to get you to smile.  I encouraged you all week, but you only gave me half a smile here and there.  When Daddy noticed that I was trying to get you to grin, he walked over and tickled your feet.  Immediately, you broke out into a big, beaming smile!  He’s never let me forget that you smiled at him first.  I think he’s pretty proud of that!  “Mommy tried to get you to smile at her first, but Daddy got your first smile!” he’d say over and over.  This is just one example of the joy that you have brought to our family.

So, even if the Lord blesses you with a husband and children some day, know that there will be hard times.  Your brand new baby might vomit blood at four days old.  Your toddler might lose part of his finger in a door.  Your grade schooler might end up in intensive care with diabetes, or your husband might suffer from a chronic condition.

But the Lord also promises to be with you and to give you the strength to endure.  For me, He gave me you to help remind me that He is still good even when hard circumstances hit.  I am so thankful that He lent you to us, and I’m beyond thankful for the privilege of being your mommy.

All my love,

Mommy

31 days image link

I'm thankful to be your mommy

Loving My Lazarus Experience

Loving My Lazarus Experience Throughout Scripture, we see over and over how Jesus worked through hopeless situations in order to display God's glory.  The man born blind went 40 years without sight before Jesus opened his eyes.  A sick woman suffered for 12 years before Jesus healed her.  Countless parents went through untold agony as evil spirits tried to kill their children before Jesus cast out the demons.  Even Jesus' close friend Lazarus died before Jesus performed a miracle and raised him back to life.  As unpleasant as suffering is, often it serves to heighten the relief when it does come.

When the blind man was a child, I'm sure he had no clue that one day he'd meet the Son of God and have his sight restored.  The blind man had to wait for four decades before he fully understood the purpose of his suffering.  And when Jesus' friend Lazarus died, many asked, "if Jesus could heal all those others, why couldn't He have prevented Lazarus from dying?"  Of course, those who questioned Jesus' ability didn't know that the best was yet to come when Jesus raised him from the dead instead of simply healing him from his infirmity.

2013 was the hardest year for me to date (2008 takes a close second when, 2 months after we bought our house, Jon lost his job, the car died, and we found out that Lauren was on the way - all within the same week).  Although I'd give anything to change the fact that Tyler has diabetes and has to inject insulin multiple times a day, I love what this year has taught me about trusting in God's sovereignty and seeing how He's working everything together for my good and to His glory.

When life began unraveling the summer of 2013, I couldn't see past putting one foot in front of the other.  When Lazarus grew sick and died, I don't think Lazarus' sisters Mary and Martha could have predicted that they'd see their brother alive on earth after he died, either.

And yet, for each difficulty this year, God provided me the measure of grace needed to get through the current hallway.  His timing was perfect.  He had plans bigger than any I could have imagined.  When He allowed Lazarus to die, He allowed it so that that His glory might shine more fully and so that more people would put their faith in Him.  When the frustrations of 2013 hit us, it was so that we'd more fully comprehend the greatness of our God and would better understand His kindness and grace, so that we would trust more readily that His way is far better than our own.

A familiar quote from C.S. Lewis appropriately sums up the lessons from our suffering:  "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are Yourself the answer.  Before Your face questions die away.  What other answer could suffice?"  I didn't necessarily question why He allowed the trials that He did, but I am finding that He Himself silences any questions that might try to surface.

I don't have to love the fact that Tyler has diabetes or that Jon thought he would lose his job (it's now going much better).  But I do love the Lord more for His care for me during these and other trials that we faced this year.  I can love the lessons that each Lazarus experience brings, because they bring me closer to the One Who brought back Lazarus from the dead.

Your turn:  What hallways are you facing right now?  What parts of Scripture are encouraging you?  Share with me in the comments so that I can better pray for you!

Loving My Lazarus Experience

Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

June 4, 2013, was the worst day of my life.

I sat in an Urgent Care exam room with my oldest spark plug Turbo and tried to absorb what the on-call doctor was telling me:  Turbo’s flu-like symptoms were the result of Type 1 Diabetes.  He was now in a life-threatening situation called Diabetic Keto-Acidosis (DKA).  In minutes, a team of EMTs would arrive to take him by ambulance to Children’s Hospital, where he would be admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Before that terrible Tuesday afternoon, I knew very little about diabetes, especially Type 1.  The grave but kind Urgent Care doctor briefly explained that Turbo’s body had attacked its own insulin-producing beta cells in his pancreas.  Without insulin, his body had no way of getting the needed energy from his blood sugar into his starving cells.  He would need to be on life-long injections of insulin.

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