Thorns in My Flesh: Foot Pain and Anxiety

“Foot pain Sucks!” There I said it. As a person who has suffered with foot issues and pain all my life, it kind of feels relieving just letting that out. My earliest memories of heading to the big city from my very small rural hometown was for the very purpose of visiting a foot specialist. My parents saw my need and did their best to provide the best they could for their flat footed child. Which meant orthopedic shoes. They were kind of special when you are 7 or 8, but by the time I hit my teen years I was fairly certain I would rather hurt than wear anything so ugly, bring on the Nikes and Adidas! But as time went on and the pain increased, my willingness to see pediatrist or orthopedic surgeons that specialize in feet increased. It gets old trying to decide if you would rather stay seated or stand on up and work on through the pain. So began my love for Birkenstock anything, Feet Fleet Shoe stores, orthopedic shoe inserts, ankle stretches, an overnight foot splint to help with plantar fasciitis (takes a little getting used to), etc. It’s amazing the lengths I go to so I don’t have to slow down, sit down, and live with a ton of pain… All this being said, The battle against foot pain still goes on and due to pain in both of my feet, I’ve got an appointment with a specialist this week to see if there are any other tricks up his sleeve that can help…

Being a person of faith, and one who believes that God does answer prayers, and that He still heals today, I’ve brought this issue up to God more than once. I’ve asked for the elders of the church to lay hands on me, anoint me with oil, and pray for me more than once as the Bible talks about in James 5:14. I know God can heal my feet, but for now I tend to view them as Paul did his affliction he mentions as his “Thorn in His Flesh”. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Paul asked for God to take it away from him three times and God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” and there is no record of Paul’s thorn ever being removed.

This all came to mind this morning as I have contemplated another couple of “Thorns in my flesh” That seem to stick around, Anxiety and depression. Once again I have found myself going to great lengths to try to keep up with my “self care” regimen of exercise, eating right, prayer, meditation, medication, rest, fresh air, daily confessions of who I am in Christ, etc. Plus the appointments with a counselor… It’s uncanny the parallel between my foot pain and my struggle with anxiety and depression. Probably the thing that sticks out the most is to what lengths I would go to get some relief for both of them. Because whether it’s pain in every step you take or pain in a majority of the thoughts you think, both are uncomfortable and therefore worth being treated the best way you can, self care, spiritually, and with help from the professionals. And just as I have taken my physical foot pain to God and asked for healing, I have done the same with my mind, but I believe part of the reason my struggle has not been totally relieved isn’t because I am doing something wrong. It’s more a matter of God helping me to get a perspective I never had before.

My youngest son has some of the same issues with his feet that I have, sorry son… If he complains of his feet aching, I automatically empathize with him deeply. I’ve been there, as a matter of fact, I’m there now… I can also say that my accepting where I am in my struggles with anxiety and depression, has given me compassion for those who struggle in their mind. I can tell you what little I know that works the best for me to get relief and I can point you to the One who ultimately makes sense out of all the ins and outs of life- Jesus. I know that looking back through the years and seeing the path I’ve walked that His presence and His help is what has made the difference for me, and although I haven’t seen Him come in and zap my mind into always thinking happy thoughts, I have found Him more than enough when I was unable to see straight or find the will to keep getting up and keep going on. In fact, it is in my growing in knowing Him more that I can take the time to stop and appreciate the little things like the changing leaves, my grandson’s smile, laughter with my kids, or the embrace of my husband. All of these are gifts He has given me to show me that it is true, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Whether the weakness be the aching of my feet or the struggles in my head, I can confidently say, “God and His grace is enough for me.” and “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:13. Because the Evidence of God’s goodness is there, even in our struggles. It’s whether or not we chose to open our eyes to see it.

Orphan No More

Back in the early 90’s the world became aware of the Romanian orphan crisis. I remember, as a college student, surfing channels late at night on my parents TV and stumbling across a news report about it. In 1989 communism fell. Things hidden in the darkness came to light as the world watched news reports of hundreds of abandoned children left in orphanages that were poorly staffed. The bare minimum was done to keep these babies and children alive. I was captured by images of one year old infants in institutionalized baby beds rocking themselves back and forth. There was no one to hold them, no one to comfort them, no one to sing to them, tell them stories, or even call them by name. They had adapted to such cruel circumstances by soothing themselves the only way they knew how. Rocking back and forth with a blank stare on their face.

This morning as I spent my quiet time with Jesus, the image of these children came to my mind. So I open my YouTube app and did a quick search of the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. The first link that caught my eye was a short BBC report of a young man who survived the Romanian orphanage. He was adopted at the age of 11 by an American couple from California. What struck me about his interview was a quote that he said, “I could not adapt to a family environment. My mind was just so used to living in an institution. I was desperate to go back to Romania…” Institution, abuse, neglect… that was all he had ever known. A loving family with his needs being met was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. He talked about how easy it is to spot those who had survived the orphanages. “When you see a grown adult, sitting or standing rocking back and forth or doing something only an institutionalized person would do, you can instantly recognize that person grew up in an orphanage.” The final phrase that stuck with me, “I miss the orphanage. It was my home.” The young man in the report went back to Romania to visit his birth family and he had found that his mother wasn’t able to be the mom he was looking for and he went back to the United States.

Everyone has a past. Everyone has things they wished had never happened or that they had never done. We all are very much like the Romanian orphans of the 90’s. Due to the condition of our hearts, before Jesus, we have become used to the methods to self soothe that we developed through the years (addictions and coping mechanisms), and unfortunately we have let the conditions we came out of become our home, where we feel we belong, deep inside of our hearts. The labels we were given, engrained in us, are what we believe we are. So much so that we find ourselves searching back in where we came from trying to find the missing piece instead of embracing the “New” that Jesus died to give us.

I’ve spent the last week reflecting about my own identity, who I am. It’s not an easy task. Because just as that Romanian man looks at himself as an orphan, at times I tend to view myself as a spiritual orphan, left to my own devices. God speaks to me in His word about how I am to renew my mind, my thoughts, by thinking about the truth of the Word. I am not what I’ve felt like I was. I am who He, God, says I am. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people…God’s special possession…” or as the Passion Translation puts it “But you are God’s chosen treasure…” When God came to my Spiritual orphanage and found me in deplorable conditions, rocking back and forth trying to feel some kind of comfort for my broken and lost soul, God picked me. He took me out, He cleaned me up and put medicine on my wounds, changed my filthy, sin stained, rags out with His beautiful, righteous garments, and in that very moment Zephaniah 3:17 says the One who Delights in me, God, my Heavenly Father “sings” over me, His chosen treasure. God sings…

It is at this point, the truth of us being His treasure, that you and I have to make a choice. Will we accept the gift we have been given, new life, new identity in Christ, or will we wander about unable to take it all in because we cannot shake the image of ourselves that we have seen for so long? Only to find that what we thought was our “home”, our lives without Jesus, was nothing more than a cold and lonely place far from where God, the one who loves us, wants us to be, with Him, held closely by Him.

“There Was Jesus”

July 2nd 1984, 36 years ago at a small church camp, Camp Sharon, was where I had my awakening. It was where I suddenly became aware of God’s desire, not just for me to give my life to Him, but my awakening to His desire for me to be close to Him. It all started when He began calling to me to let Him have everything, my plans, my life, my hurts, etc.

For an 8th grade girl, I’m sure I had become quite a surprise to those around me. I wanted to do this relationship right, and I wasn’t sure how to get there. I went to the local Christian Bookstore and bought a book that talked about how to have a relationship with God. It covered praying and reading the Bible. It said I should read 10 chapters of the Bible a day. So that is what I did. I wanted to experience God. Not just know about Him. I would spend hours in my room reading the Bible and praying. It was such a surprising response that my mom, a faithful Christian, was worried about just how much I was reading and pursuing. She was afraid that I would burn out on it. I was just HUNGRY. Hungry to know more of that feeling of peace and love I felt kneeling and uncontrollably sobbing in the sawdust near the altars of an outdoor church camp tabernacle. I remember telling God, “If you really want me you can have me.” It’s funny how much I didn’t understand. “really want me”?!?! He wanted me so much He walked the lonely road of Calvary and died on a cross to make a relationship with me possible. He tugged at my heart so heavily that night at camp that no matter how hard I tried to walk away, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I’m so glad I didn’t! I left that time of prayer new and free and filled with joy!

Through the years I’ve had my “hot on fire, so close to you” relationship with God, and others I’ve had my “It’s getting cold, where are you at God?” relationship. I’ve had my times of feeling like I had it all together and understood it. I’ve had times when I understood that I will never have it together and I won’t ever understand life. 36 years that Jesus was right there. His Holy Spirit living inside of me gently speaking to me which way I should go even when on my own I couldn’t figure out the way.

Lately I’ve been listening to Zac William’s album “Rescue Story”. I kind of have a tendency to get stuck on a song that speaks to me. Surprisingly to me, the song that sticks out to me the most off that album is a duet with Dolly Parton. “There Was Jesus”.

It hits where I find myself as of late. I’ve been looking at where I am in my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. The thing about the lyrics of that song that sticks out to me is that no matter where we’ve been, no matter where we are, no matter where we go, “There Was Jesus”. So the days of blessing that I laugh and smile through, He’s there enjoying the times of joy with me. The days that I struggle to understand and see, He’s there holding me up showing me the next step to take. He’s there with me when I feel nothing. He’s there with me when I feel it all.

I’ve been pretty open on this blog about my struggles and questions. It’s kind of the outlet I’ve chosen to let what I’m think about on the inside come out. You all get a little picture of what I’ve been contemplating as you take the time to read my thoughts. Most of the time I am able to lay out “the good, the bad, and the ugly”, but somehow take the turn back to the only answer I’ve found that resonates inside of me, Jesus. Struggles that we all face, whether they be depression, anxiety, addictions, PTSD, abuse, disappointment, etc. only find meaning and healing when looked at in the light of the presence of the only one who has been there for it all, Jesus, the love of our souls. The only One who is able to speak peace into storms of life, bring the dead things that we’ve given up on back to life, take a broken, wrecked life and make it a masterpiece is Jesus.

I can analyze my hurts, categorize my issues- give them names, and get understanding. These aren’t altogether bad things to do, but I shouldn’t stop there. I need to take the tools I learn to deal with the things I struggle with, and go to Jesus asking Him to heal what only He can heal. Do my part and let Him do the rest.

He has proven Himself faithful. I can trust Him where I’m going, even when I cannot see.

“There was Jesus”.

Jesus is there. Jesus was there, Jesus will be there.

Reset 2- New Beginnings

This Sunday morning, just like every Sunday morning, my husband and I got up and ventured off to our local Church congregation for the weekly service. It’s something I appreciate all the more since the Covid 19 outbreak. I sorely missed being “in the house” for a time of worship with the worship band and time in the word. The message today has been percolating in my heart. Probably since it reinforced my ponderings on “The Reset” I’ve been pursuing as of late. The ending of the service was a time of reflection on the times God has stepped in. You know when life appeared to be going one directions with a certain expectation of a bad outcome, and then God changed things. It may have been a time of financial uncertainty, emotional unrest, relationship turmoil, etc. Most certainly it has been a time of great darkness, sadness, pain, etc. The kind of time when there really was no way out. That’s the time the “reset button” of “New Beginnings” is pushed. God has a promise that has brought much comfort to me through the years. His promise is that He “makes all things new”. Revelation 21:5. That is a promise that I have had to dig my fingernails into and hold on with all my might at times. Because as one who has struggled with the monsters of the past lurking in the closet of my mind, that promise assures me the closet they have occupied has it’s light turned on, monsters evicted, and the New Beginning begun.

A few years ago I went in for my first session with a Christian Counselor to aid in my fight against anxiety and depression. The first thing she was quick to point out was how the battle in the mind has it’s rubber hit the road in the thoughts we think. It’s hard, but totally possible to change our focus from all the fear, pain, sadness, etc. to the things that are “True…Noble… Right… Pure… Lovely…Admirable…Excellent… or Praiseworthy.” and for us to “Think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 Then with a reassuring smile, she handed me a sheet of confessions of who I am in Christ, and assigned me with the task of speaking these truths out loud every morning. It has been a daily reminder of the “Reset Button of New Beginnings” I pushed so many years ago as a teenager at a Christian youth camp. When I asked God to take what little I had to offer, my life, and do whatever He wanted with it. The New Beginnings began. Looking back I can see that the hard times were the times that pushed me closer to Him, and the reminder of all that I wasn’t, brought the truth of all that He is and wants to be for me.

The “Reset Button of New Beginnings” starts with the first push “Salvation”. It’s the time when we see just how much what we are doing isn’t working, and just how much What He can do in us we need. It starts with an honest talk with God, an offer to give Him all of you, and watching Him do what only He can do, “Reset” your life.

Psalm 40 has been one of my favorite Psalms in the Bible. Verses 1-5 stand out the most to me. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.” The New Beginning I have found has been when God saw where I was, heard my cries, and pulled me out. But He didn’t stop there. He set me in a good secure place and gave me a new song to sing about Him and His Goodness! I Am Not There Anymore!! That is the Philippians 4:8 stuff I am to think about. The Truth is I am His! The Noble thing Is I am the Kings Daughter! The Right thing is I have been made right with Him- righteous! The Pure thing is Me after He cleansed me from my wrong doings and sin and made Pure. The Lovely thing is Me, His master piece! The Admirable thing is the Miracle of New Beginnings He gives! The Excellent thing is His work in me! And the Praiseworthy thing is that He has done all this because He loves me, period.

That is the “Reset Button” He has given to me. That is the “Reset Button” He has given to you! Hit activate! He longs to bless you with “New Beginnings”!

Manasseh and Ephriam- The Goodness of God

My husband and I have taken up a new reading plan on the Bible App as of late called “Reading the Bible in Historical Sequence Part 1”. It’s one of those read the Bible in a year deals, but this time it’s arranged everything according to the Chronological order of events. We’ve hit the story of Joseph. One of my favorite characters in the Bible. He’s one of those people that I can look at and say “Look at all he went through. He had it a lot worse than I ever have and yet he remained true to God.” His story of abuse, false accusations against him, unjust judgements and unwarranted punishments, yet God’s continued favor towards him in the midst of his suffering speaks volumes to anyone, which I would imagine it would be everyone, who has ever walked through some hardships.

As I was reading this morning these verses jumped off the page/screen at me. I’m sure I’ve breezed by them time after time when I’ve read this story, but today it struck home.

https://www.bible.com/app

(Check it out! It’s a life changer!!)

“Joseph had two sons born to him before the years of famine came. Asenath, daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, was their mother. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh (Forget), saying, “God made me forget all my hardships and my parental home.” He named his second son Ephraim (Double Prosperity), saying, “God has prospered me in the land of my sorrow.”” Genesis 41:50-52 The Message

Joseph had endured all the things I listed above, but when God had finally brought him to the place that unbeknownst to him, would be his defining moment as a hero of Bible history- the man second in command to Pharaoh and the rescuer of God’s people (his family) from a famine, he was blessed with a couple of sons. Joseph named his sons “Forget” and “Double Prosperity”. Kind of odd names if you think about it, but names that made a statement. “God has made me forget all my hardships and my parental home.” and “God has prospered me in the land of my sorrow.” Joseph looked at his newborn baby sons with the awe and love that any new father would have and reflected on where he had been and where he was now.

I wonder how often Joseph thought of how unfair his situations were and how much had been taken from him as he worked as a slave in Potipher’s house. I wonder how many restless nights he may have spent remembering being thrown into a pit, sold to strangers, accused by his master’s wife, thrown into prison, on and on. Could he have had moments waking from nightmares of the ordeal he suffered? Or flashbacks of the horror? Yet in all that God had brought him out into a place of great blessing. He could “forget”/ leave behind the hurt and enjoy the “double prosperity” of his new life.

High school years were not among my favorite. I can remember a night that I broke down into tears over a broken car horn on my car. I told my dad how much I hated school, honors society tree planting (another story), etc. He told me, “I hated my teen years too, I don’t know why people always say these are the best years of your life. Mine have been since I married your mother and had you kids.” That stuck with me. I’ve even quoted that to my own kids as they have walked through that awkward time. There are some time periods of life that are just hard, maybe even traumatic, but I’ve found as Joseph and my dad did that better days truly were ahead.

Last night my son, his wife, and our grandbaby came over for dinner. We have 22 acres for roaming on, so my daughter in love asked if I would mind watching my grandson for a little while as she and my son went out to explore it. “Are you kidding? I’d love too!! When are you all heading out?” I sat in my rocker/recliner holding the sleepy 3 month old as he squeezed my finger, staring in his face. Then it occurred to me once again, just like Joseph did looking at his sons, “I have been blessed far beyond anything I could have imagined. Here I sit holding my son’s son. He’s beautiful. I can forget the long struggle it took to get here, because I am blessed with double prosperity where I am.”

Every once in awhile I feel like I almost need to pinch myself. I have a nice home, nice car, my needs met, sweet kids, a beautiful grandbaby, and a smoking hot husband (no exaggeration there). It’s not exactly where I’ve pictured myself being when I walked through the hard times of life and lived in the struggle. But I have been blessed. God has been good to me.

Understanding this and remembering it when the winds of adversity blow is a key to remaining in joy. I guess that’s why remembering the good and being thankful is so important. A practice that I would do good to diligently attend to.

Pain into Pulpit

 

Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick.  We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma.  Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.”  In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her.  Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.

Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good.  She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared.  You’d have to know my Mother in Love.  She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit.  She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all.  She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.  Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”

I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life.  Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message.  It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus.  Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ.  Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.

For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry.  Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground.  People from many different denominations of the Church come.  There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled.  I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives.  Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.

I’m certain that life in Jesus  is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face.  I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life.  I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain.  I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today.  Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?”  My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain.  My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.”  Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.

I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late.  It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”.  The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing.  You give beauty for ashes.  You turn shame into glory.  You’re the only one who can.”  This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us.  He’s the only one who can!