Frustrations

“I’m not touching you,” says the mischievous little brother, pointing his finger as his older sister. “I’m not touching you,” he mocks. “I’m not touching you.”

I remember that commercial well. You empathize with the sister, wishing that the teasing would just stop already.

Well, recently, I’ve felt much like the older sister. In the last few weeks, I’ve dealt with quite a few minor annoyances — exhaustion and frustration over my health, confusion over not knowing what more I can do to get better, chaos over the month-long period it has taken to simply order supplements, figuring out how to get blood tests, lack of motivation, confusion over my future after this year, and a random assortment of things popping up on my never-ending to-do list. But one thing I’ve noticed in all of these oh-so-enjoyable occurrences is my immediate reaction. It’s like clockwork. First comes annoyance, then comes discouragement. Then come the tears and the pity party I throw for myself.

For example, one night a few weeks ago, I was on the phone with my doctor’s nurse about not feeling well. It felt like my physical health was reverting to its previous state before treatment, and that did not feel good at all. She asked about my diet and if I was eating too much sulfur. That question triggered discouragement and tears. I’ve been trying so hard, I’ve been doing everything I was told. I’ve been faithful, what more can I do? I thought. As I battled my cracking voice, I managed to tell her that I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. Within the minute, she concluded it wasn’t my diet, but that I’ve been taking too much medicine. This turned out to be excellent news! I can now lower my dose of medication because I don’t need as much.

Not even 15 minutes later, I was on the phone with FedEx trying to arrange a pick-up for my supplements from the doctor to be shipped to Slovenia. And then FedEx broke the news that I need an import license from the Slovene government to be able to receive medication via FedEx. And what was my response? Discouragement and more tears.

This week, I called my mom crying because I thought the US Postal Service stole my Friends DVDs out of the package they shipped to me. (They actually didn’t steal anything, the outside box was just damaged.) In a fit of over-dramatization, I sobbed into the phone, “Why did I ever think STINT was a good idea? Everything just feels so difficult. I’m just so frustrated with the world.” Then I proceeded to laugh at my dramatic, woe-is-me attitude. “I take that back, I know STINT was a good idea.”

In this constant roller coaster of emotion, I’m thankful that God is constant. I’m thankful that He’s in control and that none of these occurrences is a surprise to Him. And I’m thankful that in the midst of this, He’s showed me my sinful heart that idolizes a comfortable and easy life. God has even revealed a truly ugly part of my heart that is bitter toward Him because I’ve felt like He constantly calls me to do difficult things.

Remember how 10 months ago I told you about my fight to find joy in Jesus despite my circumstances? Let’s just say I haven’t mastered that area yet. I think that’s obvious. I regularly have to fight resentment over not getting my way and the attitude of entitlement. My heart still needs the Gospel and God’s grace, and will until I die. But I’m thankful that His grace stretches farther than my sin.

And I’m thankful that God has used these frustrations to cause me to seek Him so He can encourage me again. And I’ve found peace in His words in the New Testament book of Philippians and also encouragement through music.

In Philippians, it is amazing to see Paul’s attitude and faith in the midst of imprisonment. He says that now counts any earthly gain as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. He says, “For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul rejoices in suffering because through it, He is sharing in the suffering of Christ. Paul longs to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and we share in this power when we die to ourselves for the sake Jesus.

(If I could, I would just type out the entire book of Philippians and give you that as a post. Since I’m not going to do that, I encourage you to do that for yourself. God’s words don’t disappoint.)

The Lord has been showing me that though things won’t always go my way (and they normally don’t), I can rejoice — rejoice in knowing that Jesus is shaping my heart to be like His, that He is removing idols from my heart, and that I get to share in the resurrection and power of Jesus because it is causing me to die to myself constantly. I can rejoice because although it feels like chaos and confusion are persistently surrounding me, Jesus is my rock and refuge. I’m not doing this alone. He is stable, and He is peace. When life pokes at me like the little brother, I know that Jesus leads my soul to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. His peace that transcends all understanding is guarding my heart and mind in Him. My future and eternity is secure in Him, because He alone is my living hope and He works all things for my good and His glory. And ultimately, He is sovereign, and He is good. This brings me joy.

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Because God has showed me all this about my heart and about who He is, I’ve been praying that instead of responding with discouragement when things come my way, that I would respond with joy in knowing that Jesus has it under control.

So, I’ll leave you with one final story from today, a story of how God has been transforming this area of my heart. This morning, I went to get bloodwork for my doctor’s appointment in a few weeks. My bloodwork is complicated for labs in the US, so I had no idea what to expect trying to figure out how to do all these tests in Slovenia. I went in for an appointment with a clinic here at 9. I was tired and hungry. (It was a fasting blood test.) After waiting, some discussion with the nurses, and more waiting, I was nearly in tears because I didn’t know if I would actually be able to do the tests. But in those moments, and this time before tears fell, the Lord prompted me to pray and to renew my mind with His words in Philippians. His peace calmed my heart, and my attitude shifted.

Eventually, they sent me to another clinic on the other side of town to get the blood tests. But all went smoothly from there. Praise God that everything worked out. Every little detail. Amazing.

How has God been working in your heart lately? Where have you found encouragement in Him and His words recently?

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Food for Thought

After undergoing treatment for heavy metals these past 10.5 months, my way of thinking about food has drastically changed. I never realized how much diet plays into your overall health, especially foods with sugar, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and preservatives. After all, food was probably the major cause of my metal toxicity. As a result of nearly a year on a sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, low-sulfur, mostly organic and antibiotic/hormone-free diet, I can honestly say that I don’t want to go back to a “normal” diet, especially now that I’m feeling so much better! (You’re probably wondering what on earth I have been eating for the past year. You can view the original diet plan here. Some other foods have been added back in because my food allergies went away!!) And all those who were around me at any point in this process know that I still have a weakness of Kettle Brand potato chips. I don’t think that will ever go away.

But, despite all that God taught (and has been teaching) me spiritually, I’ve also learned how to make wiser decisions in food choices. I’ve learned that fruit and honey are naturally sweet as they are, and I’ve learned that food in the simplest of forms actually tastes best. Who would’ve thought that minimally processing foods would actually bring out more of the simple, natural flavors? And even more, who would’ve thought that this once sugar-and-chocolate-addict would actually prefer homemade desserts without added sugar? Amazing, isn’t it? And I bet some of you are cringing at the idea of not having sugar in desserts, but trust me, with the right ingredients, you can totally do it!

Though I could talk for days about food and what I’ve learned through this process, I decided to spare you all the scientific and technical jargon, get off my soapbox, and actually post my recipes. These recipes are pretty easy, and most of the ingredients can be found at a normal grocery store. (If I’m able to do these recipes in Slovenia, I’m sure you can do this elsewhere!)

Without further ado, here’s my version of Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo, inspired by one of my favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Eden.

Roasted Red Pepper and Coconut Alfredo Sauce
(Vegan, Gluten-free, Low-sulfur, Sugar-free)IMG_3233

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 medium red peppers
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1/8 cup water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon basil (I used dried, but fresh works, too.)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (fresh ground pepper works best)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.

2. Cut red peppers in half. Clean out seeds. Place face-down on baking sheet. (I put parchment paper on the baking sheet first.) Bake for 15 minutes, or until the peppers begin to turn dark brown on the outside.

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3. Purée cashews, coconut milk, and water in a good blender. (The blender worked better than a food processor for this dish.) Blend until smooth.

4. Add garlic powder, basil, red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Blend thoroughly.

5. Add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth.

6. In medium skillet, pour olive oil and sauté zucchini until golden brown. Pour Alfredo over zucchini and simmer until hot.

Serve with grilled chicken over your favorite pasta! (My favorite is brown rice pasta.)

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Here’s to clean eating! Dober tek!

Fighting for Joy: It Continues (Update Part 2)

“It’s a miracle I’m here,” I thought as I stood worshipping to hymns amongst 400 fellow missionaries during STINT briefing in Chicago a few weeks ago. These 400 missionaries, or STINTers (Short-term International), are going to 40 countries on 6 continents.

It’s really a miracle that I’m going to Slovenia. These words rang through my mind repeatedly throughout briefing, a 6-day conference through Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) that prepares STINTers for a year overseas sharing the Gospel and building student lead movements (SLM) on college campuses. The conference was such a wonderful experience for me because I had the opportunity to hear from regional and national staff with Cru about what this next year overseas will look like. I met all of my teammates for the first time (pictured below), and I spent time with other STINTers going to Eastern Europe and Russia, learning about the history and spiritual background of our region, as well as ways to adapt to the culture. To end the conference, we had a night of Commissioning, where we listened to wisdom from Cru President Steve Douglass. That night, we were introduced by region, given encouragement from Scripture, and then prayed for “Korean style” (everyone prays out loud at the same time).

While our region stood in front of the crowd of fellow missionaries, our director Scott Matthews told us to look at our feet. He proceeded to read Romans 10:13-15, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” I can’t imagine a better way to be sent to Slovenia!

Outdoor STINT Photo

From left: Anna, Katie, Melissa, John, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, and myself

But why was it a miracle, you ask? Three years ago, I began to experience pretty significant health issues that spilled over into every area of my life. I suffered with chronic fatigue and infections, insomnia, depression, no energy, and multiple other symptoms. But last fall, the Lord provided a doctor who was finally able to give a proper diagnosis (lead and mercury toxicity), as well as a detailed treatment plan. In January, I started an intense detox process through medication, supplements, and a strict organic diet. When I began treatment, I had no idea if I’d be able to leave the U.S or even how long the healing process would be.

Knowing that God had given me the desire to share the good news of life and reconciliation through Jesus, I decided to step out in faith and apply to spend a year in Ljubljana, Slovenia, helping to raise up a movement on the college campus there. Though I was accepted to STINT, I began to have doubts. How will I continue on my diet in Slovenia? How will I get bloodwork done? What if I don’t get better? What if I’m a liability to my team?

The same day the doubts started, my Bible reading plan took me to Luke 12. In verses 22-26, Jesus says to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

Through that, God showed me that I had an incorrect view of His goodness and His provision. And this summer, I’m so thankful that He has been correcting that in my heart. In these past few months, God has provided physical healing. Though I’m not completely healed yet, Slovenia is probably one of the best places for my health to be restored because I have access to organic and local high-quality food. (I know the Lord worked that one out for me!) And He has provided all of my financial support, including extra funds to cover costs for my diet, all to be able to share the Gospel in Slovenia! Praise Him for His abundant blessing!

This year, like I said in the previous post, I had an incorrect view of God’s goodness and favor toward me. But the Lord has showed me this summer that He enjoys giving good gifts to those who are His.

In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

And the thing is, I did nothing to deserve these gifts. Nothing. Often, I think if I work hard enough or do enough good things that God will give me what I want. But that’s a lie. God doesn’t bless me or give me good gifts because I do things for Him. He gives me good gifts because I am in Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on God’s just wrath (the wrath that I deserve for my sin), and in exchange, He gave me His righteousness (a right legal standing before God) and God’s infinite favor. This is propitiation according to Systematic Theology, “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in doing so changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”

Romans 3:21-25 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

What amazing words! I have God’s favor because of Jesus. And He wants to give me good gifts! I knew this truth before, but this summer, I really began to believe it true for myself.

I can’t wait to share this truth and the truth of life through Jesus with students in Slovenia! It’s hard to believe I’ll be there on Friday! I’m so thankful that the desire God planted in my heart my freshman year of college is finally coming to fruition — spending a year overseas sharing the Gospel.  I’m sure the Lord has so much to teach me this year, and I can’t wait to share that with you.

Thanks for continuing on this journey with me!

Fighting for Joy: It Continues (Update Part 1)

I’ve been pondering this post for a while, and honestly, I’m embarrassed for my 5-month writing hiatus. I’ve been learning a lot this summer, and I know it’s time for me to get back in the swing of things and start sharing my heart with you again.

So, what’s happened throughout these past few months? I last talked with you in March about my battle to see God’s goodness in the midst of my circumstances and how that fits into the greater battle of fighting for joy. I wish I could say that I’m done with this fight because I’ve mastered the art of finding joy. But that wouldn’t be true. The fight hasn’t necessarily been easier, but it has been different.

If you remember from my previous post about God’s goodness, I was struggling to see that God was not only sovereign and in control of my life, but also that He’s good at the same time. We tend to separate these two attributes of God, when instead they both make up who He is. For a long time, I’ve teetered on the side of God being in control, but with the idea that He’s just an angry disciplinarian. When I realized that, I started to pray that God would correct my view of Him, and that I would see His goodness.

In fact, I took my prayer from Psalm 27:13-14, which says, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

And the Lord really has been faithful in showing me that this summer. Honestly, I was surprised that He answered this prayer, but that’s just another sign of my incorrect view of who He is.

For the past few months, I’ve seen God’s provision in a multitude of ways, but these two are pretty significant (and they’re related).

First, my health.

For more than two years, I struggled with persistent exhaustion and a number of other symptoms, but every doctor I saw passed me off like nothing was wrong. Finally, in September of last year, I found a doctor who listened and was able to get to the root of the issue. He found lead and mercury toxicity. In January, I began my road to recovery by making drastic dietary changes and by adding over a dozen medicines, detoxifiers, and supplements into my daily routine. And by God’s grace, my body started to detox the metals, energy began to come back, I started to sleep well, and I was even able to start exercising again.

I can’t tell you how significant these seemingly small things are to me. Take exercising, for example. Prior to this treatment, when I exercised, I felt completely drained of energy afterward, I had a terrible time breathing, and I even had a metallic taste in my mouth. Before, running was completely out of the question. But now, in two weeks, I’ll be running my first 5K!

In June, I was able to start adding foods into my diet (chicken, chickpeas, peas, corn, bananas, strawberries, lemons, limes, coconut and onions), which allows me to eat out occasionally now! It feels good to be somewhat normal again!! Just look at how happy I am…

Panera Chipotle

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in July, I saw a holistic dentist who specializes in mercury removal. I had five old fillings that had been depositing mercury into my system for about 15 years. The process of removal was really a surreal experience. I was hooked up to oxygen, I wore a hairnet and goggles, and there was a contraption in my mouth blocking the mercury from going into my body. Not to mention I had to drink a mixture of charcoal and water as a preventative measure. And the dentist and her assistant both wore full body suits (like haz-mat suits) and large gas masks to prevent them from breathing in the mercury vapor. I also had three vacuums placed around my mouth. This is how toxic those fillings are. No wonder I was sick! So, in two long, intense sessions, taking about five hours total, the mercury was finally removed. I got a pin to prove it!

No Hg

Though this strict diet is still ongoing, this whole experience with my health and diet has really taught me to appreciate the goodness of natural, non-processed foods and also taught me about how the body works. I’m so thankful for that. Now, I’m just waiting for the day when I can add cocoa, coffee, and spices back in. It’s amazing how much I’ve taken these simple flavors for granted!

One more thing, I celebrated my final round of extensive bloodwork on Thursday! And by extensive, I mean about 20 vials taken. I’ll have my results and follow-up with Dr. Waldo in 10 days.

(For the full-length explanation of my health issues and my treatment plan, check out these previous posts: Fighting for Joy: Discouragement and Fighting for Joy: Attitude)

This leads me into the other significant way I’ve seen God’s provision: Spending a year sharing the Gospel overseas. But I’ll share more about that in the next few days.

Fighting for Joy: Attitude

Sorry I’ve left you with some unanswered health questions after the last post about discouragement. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget.

Let me rewind a little…

Shortly after the breaking point in September with the doctor who said no one could help me, I called what seemed like my last resort, Dr. Waldo, a functional medicine doctor in Indianapolis. (*Insert “Where’s Waldo?” reference.) Within a few weeks, I was in Indianapolis with my parents explaining my symptoms to the doctor. Immediately, he started nodding and chuckling, showing me that this would be an easy case for him. I walked out of the office with an unofficial diagnosis and with a more hopeful heart.

Three months and 20+ vials of bloodwork later, on my 23rd birthday, I had my next appointment with the official diagnosis based on the lab results and the biochemical makeup of my body. (It was amazing to listen to him piece it all together. He sounded like a child who just pieced together a 10,000-piece puzzle.) Without giving you the long scientific explanation, in short, I have lead and mercury toxicity, plus high ammonia levels and not enough good bacteria in my stomach to get the toxins out. These are causing my body to not be able to make melatonin or serotonin. This is also not allowing my body to eliminate toxins normally. It’s a vicious cycle of reabsorbing toxins, which makes all these problems worse. Needless to say, my body is “broken.”

A few weeks later (January 3), I started a strict rotating diet (low in sulfur and without preservatives, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics) and an intense supplement regime. If you’re friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you may have seen pictures of the foods I’ve been eating or my attempts at cooking unfamiliar foods. Putting together the diet was like a puzzle, but the end result is shown below.

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(In the last few weeks, I’ve switched a few things around.)

The first four days were the hardest. My body was detoxing sugar and caffeine, which made me feel like I had the flu. And I was cranky. That’s probably an understatement. My poor parents had to deal with me and my attitude for those few days, but they showed me a lot of grace and kept reminding me that this is for my good and for healing.

It’s been exactly one month and one day since I started the diet, and it hasn’t been easy. I thought I was doing okay for a while, and then the dreams about food started. I would wake up and not remember what food was in my dream, but it caused a lot of discontentment with the food I’m currently eating. The dreams brought out a critical and frustrated attitude that was worse than any attitude I’ve dealt with before. There was even a point when I was in front of bowls filled with chips, pretzels, and desserts, and all I wanted to do was rebel. Not because I was hungry, but because I felt entitled to eat the food in front of me. By the grace of God, I didn’t give in. It was in that moment that I realized that I had been trying to walk through this in my own strength, not in total dependence to Jesus. In that moment, God exposed my heart idols of food, health, entitlement, and control. My attitude toward God was an attitude of entitlement. I want to eat what I want when I want to eat it. I should have good health because I eat better than a lot of other people. I shouldn’t have to spend hours cooking one meal every day. Yes, entitlement at its finest.

It’s this attitude that I have to fight constantly. The “I want what I want and when I want it” attitude. This attitude is sinful and robs me of joy in what God has given me. And it’s only by His grace and power that I can fight it. Not in my strength, but only in His.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

When we give our lives to Jesus, we belong to Him. We are no longer our own; we have been bought with a price. When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we surrender our rights, our desires, our futures, our plans to Him. But we surrender it to Jesus, the only One worthy of our lives. The only One who can satisfy and give life.

When we surrender, we receive life and life abundantly.

If it’s one thing I’ve noticed in the last few months, it’s that complaining and having a critical attitude or attitude of entitlement really keeps us from experiencing the joy God has for us.

I have life in Jesus, and for that alone, I can be joyful. He has given me so much else that I don’t deserve, but because He loves me, He wants to provide me with good gifts. The doctor He provided is a gift. The food I can eat is a gift. The wonderful group of people surrounding and encouraging me through this; it’s a gift! And this trial is a gift, because the Lord is changing my heart and stripping me of myself so I can be more like Him.

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(This is me after a trip to Whole Foods. So thankful for that store!)

And I’ve noticed that as I thank God for what He has provided, I see more joy.

So, I ask you, wherever God has you, how is your attitude? To what rights are you clinging? Have you surrendered fully to Jesus and the life that He brings?

Here’s my challenge to you: Think of five things for which you can thank God. And in moments when you start to have a critical attitude, choose to thank God instead. Watch what happens!