365 Days

This year has been difficult in a lot of ways. If you remember, last year at this time, I wrote a post about the discouragement I was facing and the joy I was fighting so hard to experience.

I wrote, “So, what’s my New Years resolution? To fight for the joy that God has already provided for me. To pray constantly that the Lord would open my eyes to see His kindness and grace in all circumstances, not just the ones that go the way I want them to go. To walk through my circumstances with thanksgiving and trust that God will not leave me unchanged. That I would see and experience the Gospel. That my heart and actions would glorify my Savior.”

Did I stick to my resolution? Well, honestly, no, not all the time. But I can tell you that God was faithful in those areas. And I can tell you that God did not leave me unchanged – physically and spiritually.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hostel in London, sipping a decaf soy latte with sugar-free hazelnut syrup and eating gluten-free, sugar-free cookies from Whole Foods. When I started treatment for lead and mercury toxicity on Jan. 3, 2013, the thought of Starbucks or cookies was out of the question. Traveling, even an hour away proved daunting. Going on weekends trips for Cru conferences in the states felt tedious – having to cook all my meals and transport all my food with me because of the strict rotational diet. I couldn’t have chicken for six months, let alone eat out. I remember rejoicing on Potato Day, every fourth day. I remember the first time I ate a meal out in six months. I remember when I could start traveling without having to bring all my own food. I remember how I was able to exercise well for the first time since high school, and I remember the progress of my blood work with each follow-up appointment. I remember the day when all the mercury was finally removed from my mouth through extensive dental work. I remember sitting at STINT briefing in Chicago, with 400 other Cru missionaries, and thinking, “It’s a miracle that I’m here.”

Why has this year been so difficult? So often during this past year, I’ve doubted or questioned God’s goodness and His provision. I’ve questioned His love for me and His willingness to heal. A lot of things did not go according to my plan or meet my expectations. When I get discouraged, I often can’t see beyond my circumstances. I overlook all the other ways God provides for me. I forget how good He’s been to me. I forget the Gospel, and it’s much harder to experience His presence. This especially characterizes my past few weeks. I’ve been so frustrated with my lack of progress in feeling better. I’ve been so tired of not feeling myself, emotionally and physically. I’ve been tired of having to always worry about food or medicine or insurance claims or getting blood tests. In the past few weeks, many times I’ve cried, Lord, I’m so tired of being refined. Can’t I just get a break?

But as I sit here writing this, I’m almost brought to tears, not only by the sadness over the attitude toward God, but also by the joy over the fact that God is faithful to me even when I question Him. Just looking at the list above of all the ways that God provided (and there are so many more), makes me sit in amazement. Because of the Gospel, my sin hasn’t kept Him from keeping His promises. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience through death on the cross, my failures no longer separate me from God. I’m overwhelmed thinking about the unfailing grace, unconditional love, unending joy, and everlasting peace that God gives to me through Jesus. Through this experience, though I’m not physically “there” yet, spiritually, God is constantly changing my heart and showing me Himself. He has been allowing me to see my need for Him and the Gospel in new ways. I’ve experienced more depth and understanding in my relationship with Him, that I don’t think I would’ve experienced without this 3.5-year trial. Even if nothing else happened, experiencing Jesus and Gospel makes this all worth it.

This year, my New Years resolution is two words – abide and rest.

Jesus says in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

A dear friend would always remind me, “Your only responsibility is to abide.” While I believed it then, I’m seeing my need to do this more and more. Jesus commands us to abide, because He wants us to experience His presence, and He wants to produce fruit in our lives. By fruit, I mean character like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and also spiritual influence in others’ lives. When we do things in our own power or when we resist Him, this doesn’t produce fruit, and I’ve definitely experienced that. (There’s so much more that I can say about this passage and this topic, but I’ll save that for other posts.)

So, resting and abiding. Though it sounds so simple, resting and abiding in Jesus are two of the hardest things for me to do. It’s hard for me to let go of control, and it’s hard for me to trust Jesus, even though He’s the only One worthy of my complete trust. If in His presence is fullness of joy, then that’s where I need to be.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I learn to abide and rest in Jesus this year. And I pray that we will all come to a greater understanding of what it means to rest in His presence.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with a song that’s been my prayer recently.

Happy 2014!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_3248

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?

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.

IMG_3228

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.)

IMG_3237

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.