A Covenant of Grace

Sunday is a a big and precious day for our family. At church we are not only becoming members at Trinitas Presbyterian Church but we're also baptizing our kids, Roger (just turned 4) and Juliet (2 1/2 in a few weeks). Neither professes faith.

My people <3

Had you told me even 18 months ago that I would become a Presbyterian or baptize my kids? Yah, no. Three, five, ten years ago? I would not have believed you. Go back 15 years and I would likely be sad that, if it were a future I could not alter in any way, you were telling me I was going to grow up and fall away.

Yet here we are. It's been such a beautiful journey. Our biggest resistance to attending Trinitas when we were in the process of planning our departure of Mars Hill this time last year was paedobaptism, or baptizing unprofessing infants and children. Or, basically, not someone who is openly able to say they believe Jesus died for their sins. Many conversations went something like, "Well, ok. Sure. It sounds like a really gracious community with a pastor pastor, a guy who genuinely shepherds his people. So say we do end up there, can we really join if we don't agree with sprinkling our kids? Or attend in good conscience if we disagree on such a big issue?" [Note: Paedobaptism does not necessarily involve sprinkling - in our church baptism is performed on both children and adults with sizeable handfuls of water being dumped on the head.]

Welp, we've come along. But this is why: we stopped trying to figure out how to make disproving credo, or professing believer's; by "creed"of confession, baptism the point. We quit trying to determine if we were wrong or if our beliefs hold up. Instead, we studied what paedobaptists believe and why, studied scripture after scripture on the subject, and it just wrecked our previously held beliefs.

See, we were taught that you get baptized as an adult / "old enough" person because you have to "believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you will be saved" (the profession part; the ESV is slightly different than what I memorized as a teen). Once you are saved, you get baptized after because you are telling the world, "I'm different. I belong to Jesus now."

That was exactly why I was baptized. And it was this huge thing, coming from a non-Christian family, because the reason God saved me, everyone said, was because that was what he needed to do to save the rest of my family. So there was all this pressure to perform, to prove to my family that I was different and better now, and they could be, too. And I will tell you right now that the SINGLE biggest cause of damage in my family relationships was me having all these new Christian rules that my family could never keep. And I just had this air of "I'm better than you, but you could come join me and not be so disgusting to God." I mean, I didn't see it that way, but I know that's how it felt to them. And I just put so much pressure on them to be like me--come to church! Come see me baptized, so my profession of faith will change you! I'm not that same 16-18 year old girl, but man alive, I regret so much about her in that regard.

Everything is changed now. Because after reading a lot of scripture, and a lot of books, the Lord revealed the most beautiful thing to us: baptism is God saying, "This one is mine." See, we had never heard of covenant theology. Not in a meaningful way, not in a New-Testament-gloriously-connected-to-the-Old-Testament way.

See, in the Old Testament, God chose his people. He chose Abraham by nothing of Abraham's doing, and the primary way to be in the covenanted people of Israel was to be born into it. It was to circumcise the sons and to raise them and daughters alike to know and love their God. The thing is, none of these kids did anything but be raised by Hebrew parents. And when new people, say Rahab, joined in, it seems like her choice but she didn't seek out God. The two spies found her and she, by grace, was able to see these people represented the one true God and she helped save their people, now her people.

In this covenant vein, to be in the people of Israel, by birth or grafting in, wasn't salvific. People could rebel and turn away. It could become clear that what seemed like a lifelong thing, or a parental hope that children will remain in the Lord, might not end up that way. Though sometimes people seem to be gone and then come home. Either way, the covenant is about the character of God wooing his people to himself.  Circumcision did not guarantee salvation; it was simply a sign of God declaring a people as his own.

Likewise, then, we see baptism as thus in the NT. Christian parents, brought into the New Covenant with Jesus, are acting on faith that because the Lord has called us and made us his own he will also do the same in our children. It is not guaranteed that they'll remain in the faith, but it is our hope. The Old Covenant is mirrored in the new, and as circumcision mirrors baptism then we have no reason to believe that the image shifts to, "But only when that child is old enough to receive it by professing their faith." Every covenant God ever made with his people included children, and nowhere does Scripture deviate from this pattern.

So here is the thing: I was always taught that, oh, no, baptism isn't salvific. A baptized person is no more guaranteed inscription of their name into the Book of Life than is an unbaptized one. Yet it was only for the assuredly saved, those who can answer the questions right. But even many adults profess Christianity and get baptized but seem to fall away.

Likewise, if we can be really real, how many four or five or seven or nine year olds are going to say, "This thing my parents teach me, that this perfect Jesus forgives me of every bad thing I ever did so I don't painfully burn for eternity? Nah, I utterly reject that." But how realistic is it that they absolutely understand what they are doing so much that it's now on them to withstand the test of time of their confession? You see some people in credobaptist tradition, getting baptized as a child or teenager, who go on to detest all things Christian. Some return, and people say, "See! It was real!" Others run and never come back. So then the pressure is on what that 6 year old kid believed. It's on how well the adults in the child's life interpreted the child's understanding to determine if they "should" have been baptized. And then you get adults baptized as "believing" children who experienced life and sin and constantly question if they need to be re-baptized because they know they really believe it now.

Goodness. What a lot of pressure. There isn't a single thing I thought as a child nor teen by which I would want you to judge my existence. But see, the "No, it's not salvific!" breaks down, because the idea is that you can only be baptized if you are saved or at least think you are. And the proof of that is on the decision making and understanding of the child.

My husband wrote this in his notes (it's not entirely structured prose, just connected thoughts) that he prepared as he was laying out his convictions from reading a bunch of books and chapters of books, and such:

"Just as covenant breakers could be ultimately excluded from the old covenant, so goes the new one. And at the end of the day, we don’t know who is truly saved, we just go with what we see, and God never commands us to do it any differently. In fact, he specifically commands us NOT to intentionally seek out false brothers (Matt. 13:24-30). Visible v. Invisible church distinction. Mode of baptism doesn’t get us out of this tension: recipients of believers baptism can fall away just as easy as someone baptized as an infant could."

Don't you love that? I do! The Bible pretty clearly warns us that God knows who is actually his or not, and we aren't meant to go around focusing on everyone else and who is real or not. It's one baptism, one time of God's declaration of, "This one is mine," with no need to baptize and rebaptize (Note: even most paedobaptist churches distinguish the branches of Catholic and some protestant denominations who believe that sprinkling an infant literally obliges God to take that child to heaven no matter what. This type of paedobaptism does not represent covenant theology, because the focus is on the "work" of the human and not the work of the Lord). And baptizing of babies doesn't mean anything other than, as I said, "God has claimed us and we are trusting the Lord for his claim on our children right now, done through his claim on us, to ultimately result in them finishing life with the gracious gift of faith in Christ." But we're to presume that those who claim the Lord are actually his, as opposed to taking everyone who says they love the Lord and then just sifting them apart to figure out if it's real.

Goodness. Couldn't the church use a dose of that? I mean, really. Trusting in the sovereign grace of God to sustain broken sinners, instead of everyone trying to keep it together and earn their way to stay in? With the subsequent result of nitpicking everyone around them apart? No, no, no, no, no. NOTHING to do with our Lord, who bled and died for us so we could rest in his life lived on our behalf.

Now I'm not saying you have to share our newfound views on baptism to actually be in a culture of grace. No! I'm simply saying that we don't get to write off paedobaptists as sinfully rebelling against God's word. In fact, in one book exploring different views on baptism, a theologian we generally respect said, in sum, "Though I respect many of my Christian brothers who understand baptism differently, I believe that based on my understanding of the Great Commission [go baptize people who believe on Christ as Lord] paedobaptists are walking in disobedience to the Lord." Ouch. This is the exact attitude we do NOT have about our credobaptist friends and family. But there are very solid Biblical accounts for understanding the scriptural basis for paedobaptism, and we share a few helpful books at the end of this post.

We are not here to say that this is what every true believer needs to do. It's simply how the Lord has convicted us in his word, and we can graciously agree to disagree with friends who think it's not Biblical. We would simply ask that you know about what you're arguing; we don't believe this makes our kids saved. We just believe that when they do profess faith later it's the fulfillment of this sign. It's that God chose to bless our kids with the Gospel through us, which led to their belief. Again, not because of us or their baptism, but God's grace of claiming them being acted out in faith by us in choosing baptism and then God working it out in leading us by the grace-gift of faith. This faith plays out in how we raise them, teaching them about the Lord, his character, and how willingly he gives himself to them and how desperate they actually are for him.

Now this is where it gets deeply personal for us, where this journey to paedobaptism isn't one we chose, yet it's been such beautiful revealed grace to us. Our beautiful babies have autism. Children and people with developmental disabilities are this weird exception in the credobaptist world, especially those with Arminian, or free will to independently choose God, leanings. I remember conversations about things like an "age of accountability" at which if a child too young to believe dies, do they go to heaven? When they never had the chance to choose God? And there was general consensus that developmentally disabled people kind of get a pass. Like, if God gives a child so severe a cognitive disability that they can't choose to believe in him then he kind of owes it to them to give them a free pass into heaven; their sin nature is null and void.

We are reformed. We believe God is sovereign, and he chooses who belongs to him and who doesn't. All people who do believe in Jesus? Absolute grace, absolutely the work of God alone. It can be summed up in this phrase: God does not help bad people become good; God makes dead people alive. Dead people choose nothing, earn nothing, avail themselves the opportunity to nothing. It's all on the one doing the resurrecting, thus the newly alive person recognizes the gracious salvation they had nothing with which to do.

Regarding whether God is a gentleman who doesn't force himself on us or whether God only and always does all of the "work" in a person, I'm not here to argue about that. I'm simply stating for you our Biblical conviction on the matter. But, for us, what incredible grace that our children get to join in with our Christian family and partake in Christian life and sacraments like Communion [note: our church welcomes to the communion table all baptized children ages four and up, primarily because the Bible does warn against carelessly taking communion and age four-ish one in which most babes can start to recognize it's not just a random snack] without the pressure to prove they believe something.

Yesterday, at the Seattle Aquarium with Roger's preschool class.
When we got home, Jas asked how the aquarium was, and
Rog gave a blank stare. But he had the most amazing time!
On the bus ride there, he kept saying, "Go to aquarium! Go to aquarium!"

It goes even deeper. While Juliet's autism is less severe and she has made great strides in verbal communication, Roger has extreme difficulty with expression. He does chat some, has probably 500-750 words, but only uses about 150 with any depth of meaning. Many of these are repeated phrases, and nearly everything he says is preceded with, "Do you want ____?" when he's actually trying to say, "I want." He's repeating what we have said to him, understands that, "Do you want to go bye-bye," means that when we ask him this he gets to go with the parent putting their shoes on. But if you ask him his name, or how old he is, he stares at you blankly. This is with a lot of work on, "What's your name? Now you say, 'My name is Roger.'" But in any room he'll point at any burned out light and say, "The light is bro-ken! The light is bro-ken!"

This is where I lean on my husband's words again, because I just love how he puts it:
"What if our autistic son never professes faith? Not because he doesn’t have it, but because he literally cannot? Shouldn’t the Gospel we profess have something to say to that? Is there evidence that the God of the Bible would exclude such children from his covenant?"
Still wrecks me. What glorious grace, that my sweet baby boy isn't put on the outside looking in on his parents's faith and his church family, because of something he may never be able to articulate. Because, as Jason and I talk about constantly, Christianity isn't about the life of the Christian; it's about the life of Jesus lived and relinquished on our behalf.

So, yes. We are baptizing Roger and Juliet on Sunday. Because our God is a god of grace, and we believe he's led us to see this in his word and partake in this beautiful sacrament with joy.

I want to leave you with this video that has had much emotional impact on Jason and me. We were there in person for this, at Liberate, and just keep talking about how beautiful this analogy is for the grace of God, how we don't earn it, we can never spend it all, and it's his joy to keep seeing us enjoy it more and more. That is our God, friends! You just read this whole thing! You have ten more minutes to let your heart be made lighter.

Books on paedobaptism that helped in our decision:

The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, Gregg Strawbridge (ed.)
The Covenant Baptism of Infants, Jim West (If you only check out one book, check out this one. It's only 37 pages. This book could be retitled A Book You'll Actually Read on Covenantal Infant Baptism)
Baptism: Three Views, Wright; Ferguson; Ware; Lane


The Next Thing

Friday I wrote about the experience I have had with my health, how difficult the emotional weight has been. Today is a bit more technical, just letting people know what my doctor thinks is wrong and what we're doing about it. And, because it's me and I don't know any other way to live, telling you a bit of what is going on in my heart about it all.

It's a long story, but based on symptoms and other factors, both my naturopath and the gastroenterologist I saw believe I have something called SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). My most basic explanation for you is this: the good bacteria in the colon grow into the small intestine (hereon SI) and wreak havoc. They feast on not-yet-broken-down sugars and carbohydrates and continue to grow. They release gas and break down the mucus lining of the SI. This leads to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, which triggers the immune system and a whole host of health problems.

For example, if you were feeling bored and wanted to list out just the symptoms I wrote about Friday and then compare them to these SIBO symptoms and these associated diseases, they're basically all there. A large problem is autoimmunity, and therein lies the preponderance of my illness.

Oh, and it's complex, but low-functioning thyroid is often connected to allowing the bacteria to overgrow and not be kept in check. My thyroid has likely been underperforming my entire life, but finally showed up in conventional medical testing (only testing TSH levels, which can allow hypothyroidism to go undetected until they get "bad" enough) when I was pregnant with Roger and suddenly my thyroid hormones tanked (which isn't uncommon in pregnancy). Additionally, SIBO is actually very common in gastric bypass patients like me, because such a large portion of my gut is bypassed that it's very common for foods to reach the end of the SI undigested, allowing the bacteria to feast on the carbs and grow.

In other words, I'm kind of a prime candidate because even if my body was keeping the bacteria in check, getting pregnant only 9 months after gastric bypass likely caused my tanked thyroid to fail my SI and the bacteria went nuts. Many of my problems and symptoms began around the middle of my pregnancy with Roger, and then skyrocketed when I got pregnant with Juliet 9 months after Roger was born. Since my pregnancy with her, and four months of just not sleeping (yes, she's worth it, but no, I did not think I'd survive) my body has just never been the same. But add up these factors and all of my symptoms and, even though my gastric bypass surgery prevents me from the test to definitively prove I have SIBO (long story short: it's a breath test that measures gases released from intestines and timed;  only the specific bacteria release certain gases, and the drink which the bacteria digest takes at least x-amount of time to reach the colon, where the bacteria should be. The problem is my shortened intestines would alter the times, because there would be no way to prove whether it is my SI or a quicker arrival at my colon, thus not definitive of whether I had the SIBO or not), this is what my doctors believe is going on and what led to the rest of my autoimmune problems.

So, the plan is to attack the SIBO in two ways. The first is to take an herbal antibiotic treatment to kill the bacteria. We chose this method for two reasons: one, my insurance won't pay for the conventional antibiotics since I can't take the breath test, and the herbal method costs less ($30 for two weeks instead of $1200 out of pocket--and yes, you read that right, we are paying 2.5% of what the conventional antibiotics would have cost), has fewer side effects and is safer, plus the herbal regimen actually was found to be significantly more effective. I found this study and my naturopath was really encouraged by it.

The second mode of attack is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This is used to treat intestinal disorders. What the diet consists of is...well, not a lot. It limits carbohydrates to monosaccharides, meaning no complex carbohydrates. Imagine paleo (so no grains, no dairy*, no soy, no sugar) plus I can have no complex carbohydrates (thus no starches at all, including potatoes / sweet potatoes, taro, etc), no nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, most spices) for quite awhile, no onions or garlic (THE HARDEST PART), no eggs for me at first, no meats processed at all beyond being ground, and zero emulsifiers or yeasts of any kind. Oh, and no chocolate or caffeine, and only very dry wine in moderation after the first 1-3 months, or whenever I'm feeling significantly better. Many fruits are allowed, but they have to be super ripe. I have to peel everything, deseed, and for a solid 1-3 months every veg has to be cooked / mashed.

If you are feeling super curious, here is the legal / illegal foods list on the website based off the book written by the woman who founded the diet. That said, the dairy* is that after the initial phase, in which I basically have chicken broth and, broiled meat (with only salt), and pureed carrots, I can slowly add the things on the linked list. If I don't have reactions I can eventually have aged (aka low lactose) cheese in moderation and am strongly encouraged to make my own special yogurt, plus it actually allows certain nuts and such and even some legumes, if properly prepared, are allowed later, around the six months mark. But point being, it's so strict for the first year or two that I can't risk even buying anything other than raw nuts that I dehydrate myself because most nut mixes have some sort of starch but don't list it on the ingredients. Yahoo.

How the SCD should help me is that the idea is for my body to break simple carbohydrates down in my stomach so that by the time they get to my SI there is nothing left for the bacteria to feed on. This is why the one-two punch is killing the bacteria with antibiotics and then starving them by providing no carbohydrates for them to feed on.

The results can be mixed. Some people feel better almost right away and within a few weeks just have a new lease on life. Others feel awful during die-off and take a few months to finally feel better. There's also the possibility of a lot of tweaking. Some people swear their healing took off after starting the yogurt, others swear they felt better when they cut it out. But for a lot of people with SIBO and/or autoimmune response from intestinal permeability, after a lot of trial and error to find what works for them, this sort of diet (there's also AIP [Autoimmune Paleo] and the FODMAP diet) brings healing and, though it's a pain especially in our convenience food culture, it literally changes their life.

So that's what is thought to likely be what's happening in my body and the plan for how to treat it. This is the next thing we're trying; we've have a few things that seemed like we'd found the problem and tried to treat me and it didn't work. While my doctors think this could be it, we've also thought that before. So again, this is simply the next thing. Maybe it's finally the thing, but for now it's the next thing.

I wanted to end with how I'm doing with it all. Practically, I'm nervous about how hard it is to eat that way for a long time. If you've ever cut sugar for even a few days, or done a Whole 30, you know how careful you have to be. I call this diet Paleo or Whole 30 on steroids. And then there's the fact that it's TONS of prep--making bone broth, all the preparing of the fruit, the fact that every thing I put in my mouth has had to be cooked or peeled or assembled by me. Since my symptoms are extreme fatigue and chronic exhaustion and pain, that makes me a bit nervous about how it will go. But those are things that I simply can only deal with in the moment, other than consistently asking Jesus to help me rest in him when I feel anxious about things I cannot control because they aren't even here yet.

The biggest stuff is deeper. I realized that part of me feels that same hope I've described before--maybe this is finally an answer, that magic key my naturo speaks of in other patients where they tried the antibiotics and suddenly every symptom just started falling down like dominoes. Maybe I'll heal and be able to live a simple, normal life. Maybe having two more kids starting next year isn't a pipe dream. Maybe cleaning up the piles of mail and paying bills for an hour won't feel like I just spent 12 hours in a dungeon.

But then there's the other part, the part that's afraid to hope. Afraid that I'll try so hard yet again and nothing. Time and energy and emotion and stress and money and my soul poured into something just so I can live that simple, normal life and more questions and no answers.

My heart currently looks like a twisting of those two--hope and afraid to hope--and a turntable of conversation with the Lord. It generally looks something like believing he's telling me to hope, to ask, to come boldly before the throne of grace and ask that this is it, that this will bring healing and I won't spend the rest of my life getting sicker and sicker like I have been. And then feeling that dreadful sense that it's bad to hope, that God's not a piñata. But then reminded again that it's beautiful to hope, beautiful to ask my father for this good thing while also asking that by his grace it doesn't become an Ultimate thing, wherein my joy in the Lord hinges solely upon getting healthy.

And, in and beyond all of the above, trusting that if I do, by grace, realize I'm treating the Lord like his job is to heal me and only then will I believe he loves me? Well, then I can repent, receive grace that Jesus has covered that sin, and I don't need to try to manage myself now in attempts of avoiding needing Christ later. Always desperate, my friends.

So, then, I want to share something incredibly vulnerable with you. I was feeling pretty sad a few weeks ago, because I was just so. dang. sick. And the thought of getting through the next ten minutes? HOW? So then, how could we even consider more kids? Especially since, both statistically plus my gut feeling, any future biological children are also quite likely to have autism and the same gamut of therapies and such that I have now, but just added to wherever we are with Roger and Juliet. Not to mention pregnancy and not sleeping and all of the normal difficulties of more kids for a generally healthy mom. I just felt like it wasn't possible and I needed to accept it. No more kids. Not even adoption. Maybe we're just meant to be a family of four.

My two favorite pics with my babes--just from this weekend!

My dream of having a baby with a '16 birthday (16 is the best. number. OF. ALL. TIME. and I LOVE numbers--happy 3.16, btw. Only 7 months until my birthday!) should just die.

The hashtag my friend Kerry started, #twomore because the existing Haggluniños are so dang amazing, should die.

My dream of having four biological kids, two boys and two girls, should die.

My dream of foster adopting a black sibling duo in 7-10 years should die.

My family dreams should just die.

I don't know what was self-centered despair and what was the Lord asking me to cling to him and not my own plan. I didn't feel angry with him, nor did I feel sweet release. I felt sad and and disappointed yet not abandoned.

So, then, fast forward to Wednesday. I was driving the kids home from Juliet's CUBS class, full of Roger's birthday joy, and just feeling thankful for our children and family. And suddenly I just felt very certain that the Lord's will for our family includes more children. That I'll be healthy enough to try for a baby to be born late next summer-ish. Or at least surprised pregnancied (yeah, I make up words), because we are two for two in the "what are the chances?" game.

And then yesterday. I was at church, seeing the many moms bouncing infants around the room (in their seats, standing in the back and to the sides of the sanctuary). I went to the bathroom and saw a group of dads in the common area, with the one-ish year olds underfoot, listening to the sermon and chatting out there. I thought about my many friends with babies in the room for nursing moms, listening to the sermon and chatting. I just thought, clear as day, "That's going to be me again. I'll be pregnant and then in with the other nursing mamas. More biological babies are in our future."

I have no certainty that it's true. And I wasn't thinking about the diet or healing and being able to have kids. But it didn't feel like me just deciding I'll make it happen. It felt like a promise.

So we'll see. The beauty of sharing it here is that if it happens, what a sweet joy to celebrate in together. And if not, I can share what has happened and how the Lord is with me right there, right where I'll be on that future day. There is no losing. The loss would be in being all scared and saying nothing, as though the Lord only gets to be talked about when we're certain, like when I'm holding babies numbers three and four (feel free to join my prayers for boy/girl twins), and only then say, "Well I actually had this thought once and since I'm right I'm safe to say it."

Nah. I don't roll that way. I'll likely still battle feeling foolish if I end up being wrong about what I thought the Lord was saying, but I was no less foolish if it was just in my head. I just feel less foolish if I didn't tell you. And even then, only sorta, because if I feel foolish inside I assume it's just all oozing out of me anyway. Why keep it in?

And, for me--which is to say it's not law or "best" or for everyone's personalities--I'm always most comfortable in my own skin just sharing things like this. Because I get such great joy in that piece later where we talk about where I was and where I am, and you think, "Oh, yeah, I remember that."

So. We'll see where we are someday. Today, I start the kill-SIBO regimen. Yesterday, today, and forever the Lord is good and trustworthy and man alive, he LOVES me! So I can rest in that.

While working realllllllly hard to convince myself that I actually *can* survive without chocolate. Because, just honestly, I know God sustains all things, but in a woman without chocolate even he probably wonders sometimes if he's gonna make it. ;)


Maybe, Just Maybe

Well, shoot. This is hard to write. Wanna know what a ridiculous sinner I am? Here's just the most currently revealed example. I knew what today's post would be, planned to write it last night, and it's part one of two posts about my health. Today? Being honest about how bad it's been, what has been going on. Monday, what my doctor thinks is wrong and what we're doing about it, because I start treatment that day. Still have a thousand posts about awesome Gospel amazingness that has been graciously oozing from every pore of my life, both in an around me, lately, but that's what I planned to write about.

Then something awesome happened yesterday. Some people I mad respect surprised me by mentioning me on Twitter out of the blue late last evening.

First this happened:

And then this happened; she's quoting from my Yes, Jesus Loves Me post:

Which is crazy humbling because I admire dem people so much.

But then I thought, "Gah! What if people decide to check out me / my blog and then the most recent entry is about my health? And they're all, 'Yeah, no. Whine much? She sucks.' I should write about something gospel-y-er. Then I'll actually be able to help people see the reality of grace and the Good News.'"

See it? Thinking there are spiritual things that matter more than REAL LIFE. Particularly ironic that my heart jumped there when my deepest desire is to help others see that Jesus exists and matters most in real life and not those loftier spiritual things up there. You know, the places we're always attaining to but never quite reach, but it keeps us focused on where the what if Jesus would be instead of where Jesus resides in the what is.

So to find some more worthy post for today than what I already planned? That's crap. I have nothing more wise and spiritual to offer you than the truth that my heart and life are a mess. I desperately need Jesus for things so simple yet impossible as not hoping I can impress you, right now, as you read this. So yup, I need Jesus, and I'm going to stick with my original post.

Here it is, then:

I don't want to write this post. As a girl I was told a lot of awful things, but the sum of them was: "You want attention. You are horrible for wanting attention. Be small, be humble." If I was sick? Banished to my room so it wouldn't spread. Physical injury? Get help only if it's really emergency material and then get over it, it'll heal faster if you shut up about it. Emotional trauma from years of incest? It wasn't my fault, so now move on and get past it. Don't be a burden, don't get a big head of thinking I matter. Do not be victim. Humility, then, was to think that I wasn't very smart, wasn't pretty, wasn't to desire attention, wasn't talented, wasn't wanted. But what I was, then, was selfish, greedy, proud, and a burden for desiring any of those things.

A huge part of what I still struggle with as a result is a tendency to think it's good to find every gross part of me and fixate on that, assume that's all people see and all that matters. I'm fat, talk too much, want people to like me, don't read to my kids enough, snark at my husband too much, get too angry when I'm driving...blah blah blah. And then I believe those are the total of my identity, but I guess since Jesus died for me I should work on them, waste his shed blood a little less. But, in humility, I'm seeing how yucky I am and that's the only way Jesus can make me suck hopefully a tiny bit less.

That is all a bunch of lies. Who I am is Jesus's beloved daughter. What is going on in my life matters to him, and it's through my circumstances that I get to experience the grace of growing in belief that every detail of my life matters to Jesus. I'll say it a hundred million times--not a hair falls from my head that wasn't foreordained by my Lord. And he cares. If God's sovereignty over my hair follicles shows his love and faithfulness then so does everything else.

Well guess what? A lot of hairs fall from my head lately, due to autoimmune hypothyroid disease and a gamut of other related issues. I've written somewhat about my health struggles, but always with some protective barriers. I'm so afraid you'll think I'm pathetic, or trying to get attention, or make you feel sorry for me if I tell you how I'm really doing. I hint at it, say sort of enough except not really. I keep myself in check.

That's slavery, people. Living my life according to some arbitrary rule about not making people think I want them to feel sorry for me? It's a law I was taught as a child but have chosen to keep believing that keeps me feeling good about myself when I think I'm keeping it, horrible when I fear I'm failing. I live under constant self-scrutiny, doing that sifting thing I talked about in this post.

Do you know why it's slavery? Because my eyes are constantly on myself. I think if I'm careful to speak right about my health struggles then Jesus will get glory. All that sifting is a whole lotta looking deeper into myself.

No. Just no. You know how Jesus gets glory? Through my weakness. So allow me to be weak with you.

When I wake up in the morning, I don't hear my alarm for about 20 minutes. Because I'm so tired that my brain just incorporates the sound into my dreams. Getting out of bed is incredibly difficult. And if I sleep until I wake up on my own? Those glorious weekend days when my husband gets the kids? I don't even open my eyes until between 1 and 2 pm, and still wake up with dread that sleep is over. But I wake up exhausted every. single. day. I have for so many years that I truthfully don't remember what it feels like to wake up rested, no matter how much sleep I get. I'm only now realizing that isn't normal, that not everyone who says they're tired (and Americans are tired) means the same thing I do when I say it.

And once I'm up? Many days include more Buzzbee and Super Why! than reading books. A lot of snuggling in my red chaise and very less-than-I-want playing therapeutic or educational games on the floor or at the table. A lot of being on my lap but not much running / jumping / chasing. Wednesday, for Roger's birthday, we took the kids to the park for the first time in I couldn't even tell you how long. Six months? Nine? I don't know.

I feel shame. For being a failure as a mom. Who can't even get her lazy ass out of bed. Because at my core, I still think that I'm just not trying hard enough and the exhaustion and fatigue are just me making excuses. Everyone is tired and they fail so much less hard than I do. So the shame spreads, thick and sticky, over all of my inner thoughts.

Don't even let me start on the piles of mail, dust on my baseboards and counters and toilet and--actually, we can make this easy: EVERY SURFACE...and I got started. So my house is messy and cluttered. Beyond what I can even bear to admit to myself let alone you.

Beyond the fatigue and guilt is the actual physical pain. My stomach hurts constantly. Headaches incessant. Dizziness. Nausea. Feeling so weak I can't stand up. Sometimes grabbing the nearest piece of furniture or wall when I do. Seeing black swirly spots all of the time. Never being able to get warm all day and then burning up at night. My skin on my face so red and just going completely insane and I'm embarrassed to be seen half the time. Plus the crazy battle with my pride every time I post a picture with my face in it (unless I'm wearing make-up, in which case I must exercise extreme self-control to not post allthepictures because I felt nothorrifyinglyred for two seconds). My tailbone, at random, hurting so badly that I can't stand or sit or lounge or lie down without excruciating pain. My lower back so sensitive that the slightest amount of pressure feels like you are stabbing me with needles. And the same is true, just lesser in intensity, on most of my body.

There are more physical manifestations of my illness, but you get it.

The weight? I don't need to explain the frustration of killing myself with diet and exercise and gaining weight. The depression of knowing the joy of finally being able to buy GAP jeans because I got down to a size 18 only to have to go back to Old Navy plus sizes five months later when nothing fits. Not even my stretchy pants.

So. Many. Supplements. Every. Single. Day.
That doesn't even include my thyroid medication or liquid supplements. 

I drink apple cider vinegar--and then fight vomiting it all back up--so that my gazillion supplements will actually digest. Schedule my life around thyroid medication and adrenal supplements and when I can and cannot eat due to them. I usually don't take my iron because I always forget to leave enough time between meals and, truth, just don't feel like making the vitamin C drink I need to take with it so I'll actually absorb the iron. But the other night I envied a woman who said her medication was making her sick because nothing I ever take seems to make a difference--I don't get better or worse. I have no way of knowing if anything is even happening. But I definitely don't feel better. I would like to feel worse because then I'd at least know my body recognizes I put something into it.

What's really difficult is that symptoms do sometimes lessen. If I feel better and try to do something like our weekly Costco trip, or go to church or Bible study, the next day they are all back but way worse. If I keep doing things through the symptoms, eventually I'll crash and have a day where I have to cancel everything because I can't leave the house. And sometimes it's so bad Jason has to take a sick day because I can't get out of bed. And I live under the fear of when I'll have done so much that it's multiple days...or weeks...or worse.

But I can't stop doing everything. Juliet has therapy 3-4 times a week, Roger has school and I need to get him off the bus every day and be in "go mode" with him for 3+ hours until Jason gets home, plus he has therapy I take him to once a week (which will increase five fold next month when we are finally able to start a new therapy we have been fighting to get him). Plus all the paperwork and meetings. Because Autism doesn't care that I'm sick. I usually have an appointment or two of my own because of the illness. Add in church, errands, trying to have some social life so I don't go insane, even if it's just a friend on my couch...it's just normal life but for me it's exhausting to the point of breakdown.

One day I just lost it, started sobbing when I realized that nearly every waking moment of my life is spent figuring out when I'll next be able to rest. And by rest I simply mean sit down without a child all up in my face or a task to accomplish. My body is so broken that without even meaning to all I can think about is lessening the utter strain on me in every waking moment, that those moments feel like the only time I can breathe and the rest of my existence feels like drowning.

This gives you a picture. What is hard is that by not being honest about it I keep it in my own head and try to figure out how to have a good attitude. So I admit it's hard but not actually how hard it really is.  I admit I feel discouraged and struggle with hope that I'll ever heal, but not that I question if I would actually want to keep living if I knew I wouldn't get better. I admit that I'm disappointed that it's not cancer, because at least I'd know what's wrong, but I don't say that the fact that with cancer you eventually die, thus know there's an end that likely isn't 30-40 more years of fighting, is pretty damn appealing. I just keep attempting to temper the darkness, make the blackness in my soul kinda grayish.

That's killing me worse than the disease.

What I need is light. I need Jesus. I need the Gospel, that Jesus suffered on my behalf, endured excruciating pain and sorrow and loss of life and had the perfect response to all of it. God doesn't need my good attitude, because he already has Jesus' perfect attitude on my behalf. God isn't asking me to scrub out the bad thoughts because Jesus only ever thought good ones for me.

At church on Sunday, the preacher said something that just broke me wide open.

1: God doesn't need my service. He doesn't need anything from me, because he already has everything. I don't ever serve God; I serve my neighbor, and the Lord gives grace to others through that but it does nothing to impact God or his ability to do anything.

2: I don't serve God, but God constantly serves me. He keeps the cells in my body functioning so that my heart pumps and my lungs oxygenate my blood. He keeps the ground stable under my home. And he gives me grace upon grace to live and receive the Good News that he's done everything on my behalf.

I realized that I have been trying to serve God by keeping it together, all while admitting just enough to seem like I'm relying on him. You know, so you'll know that I know that I need Jesus. But, as I told you, that's slavery because it has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with me.

Because my reliance on managing how you'll perceive me is just as much
a mind game as this episode entails, just infinitely less funny.
And also because Friends is everything

Through a conversation with a friend I realized exactly why. What rules me with regards to my health is not the truth that God loves me and allows my ailing health so I'll recognize my desperation for him. What rules me is my avoidance of my worst case scenario. I wish I could tell you that it's that I'll miss the grace of God, but it isn't.

My worst case scenario? I tell myself it's that you'll think I'm complaining and whining and trying to make you feel sorry for me. That's what keeps me in "moderate" and "temper" the pain mode.

But no. My worst case scenario has two facets.

1: That you will pity me if you know how bad it really is.

2: That you will try to help me.

Want to know how I know that's true? I knew I was going there, to recount those two things as I expressed them to my friend, but as I typed them I thought to myself, "OH NO! What if people reading this think I'm asking them pity me and offer help in a passive aggressive way, all twisty and...oh my word, what if they don't and they say, 'Whoa, I didn't know it was that bad; I want to help her,' and then they actually try to help me?" And I felt sick to my stomach and like I should just delete this post, that I was wrong about it being what I'm meant to write about today.

Dear Lord. Save me from myself.

So why am I writing this? In part it's so I can lean into my weakness. To let the beauty of, "for when I am weak, then I am strong," flow through me, to process it in written words so that I continue to see God's grace. But I'm also seeing, when I start to be really honest with close friends about how actually bad things are, how everyone I love lives in this same bondage.

For some people, it's also devastating health struggles with no answers. For others, it's guilt and fear that they aren't doing enough to overcome bitterness from life-wrecking circumstances. For someone else it's about their struggle to believe God is good and that he loves them as their spouse cannot overcome a painful addiction, keeps hurting them over and over again. For another it's that they will burden people with being honest about how devastated they are by a horrific death of a loved one. Someone else is in the excruciating process of trying to diagnose a child with special needs but no one can figure out exactly is wrong, so no matter how much she fights for her baby she's helpless to control anything, to actually get him the help she knows he needs. On and on. The single common denominator is all of these friends feeling like they are failing God and burdening others if they admit that. Just like me.

Do you see it? It's a complete and utter lie that I will burden others with being honest about my struggle, that it will hamper God's will by making me the focus if I admit just how weak I actually am. As though I have the power to interfere with the will of God. He didn't allow my body to be this broken just so I could impress people with a "right" and "godly" response of good perspective.

Maybe, just maybe, the cry of my soul, the one I try to suffocate, is not that I need to respond right but that I'm drowning in the darkness and the burden is too heavy to bear.

Maybe, just maybe, others are suffering and weary and just as desperate for the light and lightness of the Good News of Christ's love to flow into their heavy darkness as I am.

Maybe, just maybe, if I admit my weakness and need of Christ it will lead to his love flowing into said weakness, turning my eyes from down and inward up and outward to him and his love; to remember once again that because of Jesus' love for me, his perfect life was sealed on my behalf by his willful death on the cross.

Maybe, just maybe, when I see how much Jesus loves me and performed perfectly on my behalf, I won't keep trying to "respond godly" because Jesus already did and it. is. finished.

Maybe, just maybe, when I realize that I live under a banner proclaiming "it is finished" I will be free from trying to control how I'm perceived and instead admit my weakness just as it actually, really is.

Maybe, just maybe, when I confess how Jesus loves me in my weakness, I can be a safe place for others to admit theirs.

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus will shine his light and love not just into my heavy darkness but through me into others and their heavy darkness.

Maybe, just maybe, they will realize that they, too, are loved in the midst of their failure and they, too, live under a banner of "it is finished."

And maybe, just maybe, this Good News will make us freer and lighter, and we'll love one another like we're freer and lighter and so are they.

Maybe, just maybe, this love will allow the people we've longed to meet Christ for years to see in us not people enslaved to themselves but liberated in Christ.

As Ray Cortese recently said,

"Church should be so full of laughter & joy that outsiders press their noses against our windows longing to get into the party."

Does your soul yearn for that to be true like mine does? But then think it's way too good to be true, that we must be missing something that sucks all the fun away? Because we're sinners and God is holy so we mustn't have too much fun, take him and our sin too lightly?


Friend, I am so desperately weak. I mean, really, really desperately weak. There's no good thing in me. The Bible isn't kidding about that. The more Christ shows his grace to me the more I see sin in every bit and part of me. Find an impure motive in me and you've found a pretense and a lie because at some level you'll find a part of me that's hoping for some sort of gain--at least, for you to believe I'm a pretty solid Jesus-loving woman, and at best, for me to finally believe it.

And my health? It sucks. It really, really sucks, and most days I don't even bother asking God to help me find answers and heal because what's the point? I get pretty Lamentations-y about it and Eeyore would be like me on Prozac.

But do you know what's true? Actually, really, beyond-what-I-think-and-feel true? That health is comfortable grace because it's a good gift, but it's also often merely an illusion of strength. This sickness, this weakness in my failure to believe that God is good through my sickness? It's a gift of uncomfortable grace that allows me to see how desperate I actually am. How weak and unable to perform perfectly like Jesus I actually am. How quick to believe the false Gospel of "try hard to be like Jesus" I actually am. How much of a sinner in need of grace I actually am. My loss of health hasn't made me desperate, it's simply revealed my desperation.

And so are you. It may not be your health. It may be nothing like anything I ever write about. But we're the same, you and I, because we're both infinitely weak and unable to be perfect as God is perfect. Even our repentance when we fail is tainted with hoping God will help us not need to repent this same way again, that this act of repentance will make us just a little less needy, a little less weak, next time. Our heart's bend, as a Christian, is always wanting to need God a little less because we are a bit more like him now. But the truth is that we are never less weak; to grow in Christ is to become more aware of just how weak we actually are.

Where is your weakness, friend? Not the sum of every way you fail, but specifically that thing where you're finding yourself in my words, and the Lord is saying, "Yup, sinner like her. Same." Because you know what comes next. Jesus' perfection is imputed to you as righteousness and you are equally as liberated from trying to manage your stuff as I am.

Jesus came to set the captives free. We are just as easily enslaved to the addiction of trying to be godly as the worst substance abusers you can imagine.

But maybe, just maybe, admitting that "when I am weak, he is strong" today will break chains and together we can walk forward, liberated to tell everyone about what Christ has done. There will be laughter and joy, relief and release, instead of incessant managing and trying and keeping and solemn introspective.

And others will want to know Jesus, because they'll see his love flowing to one another through our weakness instead of his law slammed onto one another through our own perceived strength of what we've learned from him. They'll ask us about why we're free and we'll tell them about the One who has done it. And they'll never once describe how they met Jesus as the time where we shoved him down their throats and they finally didn't vomit it back up. Gatherings of the Bride would be a joyous wedding reception of uniting to our Groom, growing larger and larger because people outside hear the party and want to come in, and we actually let them.

It won't be a sober funeral of our sin, akin to seeing the hearse-led procession wherein people driving by think, "Oh no, someone died. But thank God I don't know who it was."

No. It will be something where people want to know, want to come, want to be in it, and we accept them just like we were accepted.

Joy. Laughter. Merriment. Freedom.

Lord, let it be so!