Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ebenezer (Update)

I've been struggling to write because I have been surrounded over the past month with so many amazing articles, blogposts, sermons, emails, etc. from other people who are going through trials that I am afraid I may accidentally copy their words here. What that says to me is this: My God is consistent and His truths stand. From literally across the globe I have seen sentences written out that word for word match sentences I have had in my blogposts - both from this current trial and from others. It's been encouraging and also overwhelming at times, to see how much He cares for me and how He is working in the lives of others.

As for Ebenezer...not the Scrooge one (although we did watch both Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Muppets Christmas Carol in the last week, so my mind may have been influenced slightly :-). The Ebenezer I am talking about is the one that's mentioned in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 7:12). Samuel uses a stone (referred to as 'Ebenezer') to mark a spot to remember that the Lord helped them.

Jim and I have talked about how very much we don't want to forget all that God has been doing during this time - all the time he has used our village to encourage and help us, the times we have seen His hand move to bless us and to lead us in the direction that He wants us to go. We're going to make a list of Ebenezers. And the most recent one is what I want to tell you about.

We are still waiting. The third chemo treatment was a bit of a dud. I didn't notice any changes in my symptoms unfortunately. We will be increasing the dosage of the chemo drug during round 4. The good news is we are continuing to decrease my steroid dose. This is important for many reasons 1) steroids aren't good for you long term 2) the steroids are currently acting as both a pain med and anti-inflammatory. We want to see how I am doing on just the other pain meds so we can start tweaking those - you just can't change too many variables at once, otherwise you have no idea what was helping/hurting you.

I am still waiting to get in to see another rheumatologist. He's been out of the country all of December. I've been told he's agreed to "take my case" so here's hoping January holds some answers/new treatment options.

Thankfully, I have been able to continue getting out of the house more on outings - friends took me to  stores so I could get Christmas shopping done and Jim and I were able to go on a few dates to restaurants and then to look at Christmas lights (we've found a few restaurants in our neighborhood don't get loud and busy until later in the evening, so we slip in when we are almost the only customers and my head has been able to handle the ambient noise pretty well). I've also been able to start walking the dog by myself and we're up to almost a mile for walking. Slowly trying to build back muscle mass and stamina.

The two most challenging symptoms for me to deal with have been the head/brain fog confusion and the weight gain from the meds and water retention. We've found that I can converse and process conversation better at home, where I am in a familiar environment and the other inputs coming in (like background noise from the dishwasher or Maizie barking) don't affect my concentration since my brain interprets them as white noise. When I get outside of the house, that's where things get tricky. I struggle at the cash register if they start asking me questions about my day or my purchases. And by struggle, I mean, it takes me longer than average to think of my response and get it out of my mouth (and sometimes it comes out of mouth a bit mixed up) - it usually results in the person talking over me or just moving on to another question (and that confuses me even more!). As we reduce meds and as the inflammation hopefully continues to be reduced, this should get better (i.e. completely go away).

The weight gain has been a struggle because I look so different and I feel different. My face is very swollen and so is my torso. Steroid weight is different than normal weight, it's a different type of fat. It doesn't meld with your body like normal weight gain fat would - so this means it feels like my face is filling up with water and the pressure is going to make my eyeballs pop out. If you touch my face, you can actually feel the difference between the steroid fat tissue and my normal muscle/fat tissue. It's pretty weird. It also means it feels like I have a tight band around my torso and it makes it difficult to breath. I have a lot of water being retained in my legs too, so walking and bending my knees is a struggle. The constant fight against these "additions" to my body makeup  are quite honestly, exhausting, disheartening, and painful. I just hurt all the time and that is wearing on me.

But even in this, I see Him working. We had friends over for dinner (I can converse in small groups now (3-4 people - yay progress!) and one of them asked me why I thought I was able to get out more - was it the inflammation getting better or something else? I started to answer him and in that moment, I discovered an Ebenezer.

What came out of my mouth is this "I am able to get out more because I am becoming more comfortable with my weaknesses."

I am getting less self-conscious about how I handle spontaneous conversation and with how I look. This might sound minor, but reader, I promise you, this is HUGE. God is allowing me to see His power and sovereignty through my weaknesses. It encourages me that He is in control, that He knows what's going on, that He is not surprised by the length of this trial. I feel like I am learning to fight Him less and trust Him more.

"Some times the detour is the new path" - Vaneetha Risner

I've counseled myself and others that the other side of a trial doesn't result in your familiar "normal" but a new normal. And the old normal can look a lot better than the new, because the new is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and can still taste like the trial you've walked through. As Mrs. Risner  points out in her book, "The Scars that Have Shaped Me," we forget that the Old Normal wasn't all puppies and kittens, that it too was hard and a struggle at times. But we long for the familiarity, just as the Israelites longed for the Egyptian food when God was providing them manna in the desert (Exodus 16)

I still hope for complete healing. I still want this trial to be over with. But I am seeing the blessings in this trial, and I can't just sit on the couch and wait. I can be about His business even in this trial, Do I believe He heal me now? Yes. Do I want to know why this is taking so long? Yes. Do I want to, on the other side of this trial be able to say, "I saw God move and work even in the trial and I would go through it again to learn what I've learned about His character and my relationship with Him? Yes.

So, I wait expectantly, ready to be about whatever business He places before me - whether that looks like resting my eyes so my brain can get a break from processing, or praying with a friend who comes to visit, or date night including taking our dinner over to a nearby park and having a spontaneous picnic.

His power is made perfect in my weaknesses.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness..."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am weak. 

"...therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor 12:9)

So, I will raise my Ebenezer here. To remember that God allowed me to see that His power is in my weaknesses and that boasting in my weaknesses reveals Him to others, points to Him, glorifies Him.

"Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home" (Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing)