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!

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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!