There’s Something About November 12…

Two years ago today I had arthroscopic surgery on my right hip. I posted on Facebook after the surgery and said that I was looking forward to starting the journey toward being pain free. Two years, another hip surgery, weeks on crutches and even more weeks of physical therapy (and not mention a few thousand dollars) later, and it seems that I’m still on that journey toward being pain free.

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Sometimes I have questioned whether surgery was the right thing, but I know it’s foolish to question decisions I’ve already made, for I can’t change the past. And if I had to do it all over again, I probably still would have the surgeries because if I didn’t, I would always wonder if I did everything I could to find and treat the source of my pain. Even though my surgeries didn’t have the complete outcome I hoped they would, they did show me how blessed I am to have a strong support system. My husband was invaluable to me in the days and weeks after my surgery, helping me get out of bed and to the bathroom and in the shower and around the house and on and on and on. My parents helped care for Charlotte and also for me. My church family made sure we had meals to help us in the early weeks, and I don’t even know how many prayers were prayed for me. There is nothing like suffering to show you who your friends are.

Five years ago today, I came home from another visit to a hospital, this time after spending a week there and finding out I have ulcerative colitis. I remember feeling so incredibly grateful to be at home and being overwhelmed with the kindness of the Lord. I had a chronic illness but also a heightened sense of God’s love for me.

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I don’t have any desire to spend more time in a hospital, but I’m thankful for the way that the Lord has watched over me there and everywhere. I’m thankful for the way this day reminds me that the Lord’s mercies are new every day.

Giving Thanks for Chronic Illness

Five years ago today, I woke up from a drug-induced nap to see my parents as they sat by my hospital bed, ready to give me the news that would change my life. I had just had a colonoscopy, one test in a string of different tests that doctors did to figure out why I had been so sick for weeks. But with this test, I finally had an answer: ulcerative colitis, a condition I would become well-acquainted with over the weeks and years to follow.

Today I looked at pictures taken around that time and remembered anew how sick I felt. I had lost weight and was incredibly fatigued and soul-weary and beyond tired of visiting the bathroom. But in the midst of my confusion and sadness, the Lord met me with His peace. I felt Him with me and knew that because of Him, I would be fine, more than fine even. I had spent that year reading through the Bible, and that foundation of truth upheld me when I needed it most. The Lord prepared me for that season of sickness by grounding me in His Word, and so even though I didn’t know what the future held, I knew I could trust Him with it.

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Smiling after my first shower without being attached to an IV pole.

The years since my diagnosis have been equal parts difficult and beautiful. At one point I was taking 16 pills a day. I dealt with a variety of side effects from medications and the disease itself. I have spent many hours in doctors’ offices and given up dozens of vials of blood. I didn’t achieve remission until 3 years after being diagnosed. Even though my disease has been inactive for 2 years, I still wake up each day not knowing if I will find myself in a flare.

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At one point I was taking 9-12 of these pills a day. Now I’m down to 4 a day.

But I do not dwell on the uncertainty of my disease; I dwell instead on the certainty of the Lord’s kindness. He was faithful to me in that hospital room, He is faithful to me now, and He will be faithful to me always, for He must be true to His character. I may not be able to control or fully trust my body, but I wholeheartedly trust the God who made it. He knows me inside and out, and in His Son, I have all that I need. Ulcerative colitis taught me to let go of control and embrace God’s sovereignty in a way I hadn’t before, and that is a gift so valuable that I am able to give thanks to God for my chronic illness. Chronic illness has taught me not to depend solely on medicine or doctors but on the Lord, for He holds my past, present, and future in His hands.

I give thanks that in regards to my disease, I feel better now than I have in a long time. Back in May, I stopped taking Humira, a drug that I self-injected every 2 weeks for 4 1/2 years, to prepare for Ava’s arrival. I have yet to take it again, almost 6 full months later. I am on less medication than I have been since I was diagnosed. Of course, all of that could change tomorrow because autoimmune diseases are largely unpredictable. I’m not foolish enough to think I will enjoy this level of health forever, but I give thanks while it lasts and will give thanks when the next flare comes because I know the Lord will meet me there. I may not be cured in this lifetime, but I know that one day I will stand before Jesus healed and holy. Glory to God.

Here Again

Here’s a tip for all of my readers: if you’re feeling dissatisfied with your body, don’t go clothes shopping. It will only make it worse. I knew this, and yet I still decided to try on clothes tonight at Kohl’s. I tried on at least 12 things and hated all but 2 of them. This in itself is nothing new, as finding clothes that I like and that are flattering has always been hard for me, but it was all the more discouraging tonight because I realized that I’m on the borderline between regular clothing and plus sizes. (And can we just take a moment and admit that the way clothes are labeled is stupid? All the terms are obnoxious.)

I can’t believe I am here again: at a weight that I thought I would never see again, about to need a size I thought I would never need to wear again. During my high school and college and grad school years, I spent a lot of time in the plus-sized section of stores, and I hated it. I never wanted to shop with friends because I was almost always the biggest one and knew I’d have to go to a different section of the store or wouldn’t even be able to find any clothes in my size. If I did end up on an outing with friends, I would make up some excuse as to why I wasn’t trying on anything (“I don’t really need anything.” or “I’m saving up for something.” or “I’m just gonna go look at the purses.”). And then after my friends had bought their cute clothes and I was back at home, I’d go in my room and cry and probably eat too much food and wonder what was wrong with me.

What’s wrong with me, of course, is that I’m a glutton. I love food to excess. I obsess about it, and it’s embarrassing to think of how much of my day is spent dwelling on food. Even when I was actively losing weight, thoughts of food were never far from my mind. If I wasn’t eating, I was planning what I was going to eat and trying to figure out if a Twix bar would fit into my calories for the day (I’m not even kidding). Even when I lost 90 pounds, I didn’t defeat gluttony. Sure, sometimes it was dormant for a while, but it always reared its head again. I told myself that I had figured out this food business for good, but I was lying to myself, and that became all too clear after I became pregnant and gave myself permission to ease up on my restrictions because after all, I was “eating for two” (never mind the fact that Charlotte weighed less than 7 pounds at full term). After I had Charlotte, I fought hard to shed the 40+ pounds I had gained, and while it took me a year and a half, I did it, getting back to pre-pregnancy weight in October 2012. However, I wasn’t as disciplined as I had been the first time around, and I let a lot of things slide. It wasn’t uncommon for me to find myself at the end of a bag of chips, not aware that I had eaten half of it. I ate desserts with abandon and then hoped my running would counteract the extra calories. And yet in spite of my struggle, the scale moved in the right direction, so I told myself I was fine and that an occasional slip was not a big deal when I was clearly on the right path.

Then I got sick, sicker than I have ever been in my entire life, and because for the first time in my life food was repulsive to me due to the effects of my disease, I dropped down to a weight I had not seen in my entire adult life. I was elated but also terrified. I didn’t know how to process my smaller size, especially in light of the fact that it was not earned but instead was a reminder of how broken and diseased my body was. I hoped that I could maintain my lower weight after I felt better, but months of prednisone wreaked havoc on my body in ways that ulcerative colitis didn’t, and I watched the number on the scale slowly creep up. On May 1, 2013, I wrote a post with a weigh in and talked about how discouraged I was at the weight I had gained. At the time, it seemed horrible, but I weighed  175 pounds and was upset that over the course of a year I had gained one pound. ONE POUND. Given the fact that at my highest I weighed 261 pounds, 175 is still a great number! I would LOVE to be 175 pounds today! I wish I could go back to my self of 3 years ago and slap her on the head and tell her to lighten up on herself, but I can’t. It’s not as though being hard on myself helped at all. If anything, my feelings of defeat only made me more prone to bingeing and unhealthy habits, and so it’s no wonder that by July 2014, I was over 200 pounds again. It’s there I’ve stayed ever since, with the exception of a few months last year when I briefly dipped down into the 190s. Having hip surgery twice and being immobile for weeks only made matters worse, and so that’s how I found myself in the Kohl’s dressing room wishing I could just disappear instead of face this again.

This isn’t a post about how I have a new plan to lose this weight once and for all. I don’t. I’ve written that post before, and it got me nowhere, and I’m heavier now than I was when I last wrote about my weight. This is a post about how ultimately, the main problem isn’t with the size of my pants or the number on the scale, it’s with my heart. My heart is sinful, and I have not fought the sin of gluttony as I need to. If I’m honest, I don’t even know where to begin, but I do know that it’s wasted energy to try to change the past. So for now I’m just going to wake up tomorrow and pray that the Lord would guide my steps and strengthen me and help me to resist temptation, and I will do my part by not stuffing my face full of cookies or chips or all the other junk I love to eat when I feel despondent. I will soak up the truths of Scripture, knowing that I am loved completely by the God of the universe. I will read resources like this one and this one and plead for wisdom. And then I’ll do the same thing the next day, and the day after that. I don’t know if the number on the scale will go down, but I hope and pray that holiness will win out over gluttony. That’s the battle I really need to win.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” I Corinthians 10:13

Remember

I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said,“Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Psalm 77:5-12

Three years ago on this date, I was waiting to be admitted to the hospital after having spent a miserable 7 hours in the emergency room. I remember thinking at one point that I was going to spend the rest of my life waiting in that ER and would never hear my name called. I was so desperately sick and so desperate to know what was wrong with me. Of course, long time readers of my blog know that what was wrong with me is that I have ulcerative colitis, which I learned just a few days after I was admitted to the hospital.

I can’t think about this time of year without thinking about those early days of my illness. That week I spent in the hospital is one of the defining periods of my life. Though it was horrible and difficult, it was also beautiful because of the way that the Lord showered love and blessings on me. I spent a lot of time reading His Word while in the hospital, and the words became alive to me in a whole new way. Even though I was so confused and didn’t fully understand what was happening or how my life would change as a result of my diagnosis, and even though I was afraid of what would come, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and freedom from worry. And I know that this is a gift that could only come from God because ordinarily worry is my daily companion!

Counting my blessings while in the hospital

Counting my blessings while in the hospital

I feel that it is especially important for me to remember that time in my life right now, as I’m a week away from hip surgery. I’m facing another relatively unknown situation, and I’m unsure of how it will all turn out. I hope and pray that the surgery relieves my pain, but I also know there is a long road ahead of me, and I am not guaranteed success. So as I am tempted to worry and fret and imagine every horrible worse case scenario I can think of, I stop and remember. I remember the goodness of the Lord. I remember His steadfast love and faithfulness. I remember that He does not change and is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I remember that there is nowhere I can go that He is not there with me. I remember that He is my strength when I am weak, the Rock that I cling to. I remember that He is the lifter of my head. I remember that though my flesh and my heart may fail, He is the strength of my heart. I remember that He has given me everything I need for life and godliness. I remember, and I am comforted. I remember, and I know that the grace that has carried me through life with ulcerative colitis is the same grace that will meet me with every trial I face.

I am not promised a life free from pain. What I am promised, and what I know I can count on, is that God will be with me. What wondrous love!