A One Talent Life

Recently I heard a sermon about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, and although I’d read this passage numerous times, the pastor said some things that helped me see this in a new and very practical way, a way that I can relate to my current health situation.

Jesus tells a parable of a master who was going to travel, so before he left, he entrusted his money to each of his servants. To one servant he gave 5 talents, the currency of the day. One talent is estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so he trusted this servant with a pretty healthy amount of money! The next servant received two talents, and the last servant received one. Then the master went on his journey.

While he was away, the servant who had five talents invested it and doubled his money. The servant who had two talents also did the same. But the servant who had one talent buried his money in the ground.

When the master returned, each servant told the master what he had done with his money. Of course he was delighted with the servants who had invested the money. They had been wise with his money and made him a richer man. And they had shown him that he could trust them with even more next time. But then there was the last servant who had buried the money instead of investing it. In explanation, he told his master, “I know you are a hard master, so I was afraid and buried the money.” Because of his foolishness, the master took away the one talent and gave it to the servant who had invested the five talents.

I had always thought that the master was angry at the servant in the end because he had not invested his one talent. Although that is partly true, the servant’s actions and words (“You are a hard master”) were self-condemning. He was saying what he believed about his master. He was afraid of his master. By hiding the money away, he showed that he didn’t trust his master. If he had invested the money, it would have shown that he believed his master was a good man and his possessions should be cared for. And it would have shown that he delighted in serving his master. But his words and actions made what he believed about his master obvious.

Jesus didn’t tell this parable for entertainment purposes. He wanted to make a point to His Jewish audience then, and to us today. How we use our time, money, and possessions tells how we feel about God. If I feel that God isn’t giving me enough, that what He gives me isn’t very good, and that He isn’t a trustworthy God who will supply all my needs just when I need it, that will probably be shown through my actions. I’ll hoard my money because I don’t think God will help me in my need. I’ll be embarrassed of my living situation, my old car, and my other meager possessions and I won’t share with others who I could really bless. I won’t look for ways to use my time better because I’m too busy resenting the fact that God hasn’t given me enough.

God chooses to give differently to each person. To some people He gives a lot, and to other, just a little. It’s always enough, though. Right now as I’m recovering from a long chronic illness, I think I’ve been given the one talent. It’s enough, but it’s not what I’d like it to be. I’m living with my parents instead of on my own. I don’t have a job, and I don’t have the health to hold down a full-time job. I look back to what I’ve lost and I grieve over it. But what I do have is good and has been given to me by a good God.

As I’ve reflected over this parable the last few days, it’s reminded me how I can invest my “one talent” life for God. My health sometimes limits me from being involved in a lot of activities, but I can still write and encourage people who God puts in my path. And currently, I know a lot of people who are discouraged and struggling with health problems. I don’t have tons of energy, but the energy that I do have can be used to do things I’m good at and things that will benefit others. The times that I have enough energy to get out, I can use to visit the people in my life that mean a lot to me.

The little bit I have is from a good, trustworthy God, a God who deserves to be honored by the way I use my “one talent” life.

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Food Stress

A while back, one of my doctors suggested that I start eating Paleo because I was having some gastrointestinal issues and he felt that I might see some improvement. There weren’t any tests to prove that I needed to eat that way, but he sure believed in eating Paleo. I know that some people feel great eating Paleo or even just gluten free. I’ve had friends say to me, “I just feel so much better when I eat this way” or “My energy is so much better.” I wish I felt that way, too, but I don’t. In fact, I saw my energy slightly decrease eating that way. Between energy loss and struggling to know what to eat, I stressed out a lot. I think my heart rate increased every time I walked into the kitchen just from worrying if I was eating the right things. Trying to figure out a good Paleo snack was the worst. And I began to wonder if the lower energy and higher stress were really worth it when I saw no benefits to this diet.

It took a while, but I began to realize that the person who knows what my body feels like, what my body is saying, and what my body does and doesn’t respond well to is…me! So I started eating everything that makes me feel good, including gluten, dairy, and beans. I cut down on meat and eggs, because that sometimes makes me feel sluggish and at times it doesn’t even taste good to me. I eat things in moderation and eat healthy with lots of veggies. I eat cookies and chocolate, too. Even ice cream once and while. And in a pinch, I might even eat a microwave burrito.

I don’t follow a diet. It took a while to convince my doctors that this was the right plan, but in the end they agreed that listening to my body and eating that way was a good thing. And you know what? It sure took a load of stress away from me. I don’t need extra stress while healing.

Many people do need to follow a doctor-advised diet plan, cutting out foods that stress their system. But for some of us who have no tests to prove food issues, a diet may stress us too much. For me, I listened to my doctor but let my body be the ultimate decider on whether or not a health plan was working for me.

When I Can’t

I’ve done a lot this Christmas. To the normal, healthy American, it probably looks like I’ve had a pretty relaxed and laid back holiday, but to me, this is a whole lot more activity than I’m used to. And I’ve realized how tired it’s made me. Still, I’m healthier than I’ve been for a while, so I’ve been cramming in as much life as I can do. The closer it got to Christmas, though, the more I felt the familiar symptoms creeping back. By Christmas Eve evening, I felt like collapsing. I was struggling to remember simple things. I’d been stumbling over words all day, feeling like my brain was turning into pea soup. Even though other people tell me that I sound just fine and they can’t tell I’m struggling to think, I can tell. I’m not reaching my normal thinking capacity. Not at all.

As I laid on the couch listening to Christmas carols with my parents, I wanted to cry. All I wanted to do was to drink in the loveliness of the true meaning of Christmas- Jesus. I wanted to think about Him and enjoy what these songs said about the Christmas story, but I could hardly think at all. I couldn’t process. Why was this all happening all over again to me? Why couldn’t I get better? Why couldn’t I just enjoy this moment?

Then it dawned on me. All this last year, God has impressed me to just rest in Him and trust Him for each moment. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, but He was holding on to me. And right now, all He wanted me to do was rest in Him. I couldn’t think like I wanted to. But I could grab on to one simple Christmas truth: Jesus came to earth as a baby so that one day He could die for my sins. Because He loves me. And because He loves me, He’s taking care of me right now. I can grab on to that truth and hold on to it like my life depends on it. I don’t have to be smart or eloquent or grasp all the deep things about Christmas. All He wants is for me to hang on to Him. He’s got me. And I could rest in that.

Christmastime is Here

Last Christmas, I basically laid in bed in all Christmas season and watched my Facebook account as all my friends went to Christmas parties and concerts, made cookies, went shopping, and did all the things my body wouldn’t tolerate. I’m just thankful I could get out of bed on Christmas day, dress myself, and spend all day sitting up. It gave me a completely different perspective of Christmas.

This year is very different. I’m feeling a lot better (not all better- still far from all better) and can actually do some of those things. I’ve realized that after missing so much, I’m anxious to stuff as much life in these moments as I can. So I’ve attended my fair share of Christmas desserts and parties, gone shopping, and visited friends. Today I built a snowman. A small one. My body quickly reminded me of the months of inactivity and that I’m so ridiculously out of shape that I better be satisfied with my “baby” snowman and just go back inside and warm up my aching muscles. I’ve paid the price with all the things I’ve done this Christmas. I’m very tired. I’m sleeping 10 hours a night (which is actually really great after years of terrible sleep!). But I’m overjoyed with the idea of being active again. It feels like a gift. It is a gift.

 

Catching Up

Ack! I see that I haven’t written anything on here since July! Life and illness got the better of me for a while, but after that I had the reoccurring thought, “What am I going to write on my blog? I haven’t written anything for so long. How embarrassing!” Guilt and procrastination are a powerful combination. Anyway, since July, I’ve faced a lot of health ups and downs, as well as a lot of encouragement and disappointment. It’s always hard to write in that ever-changing state. But trying to catch people up isn’t always easy either, since a lot happened over those months.

It makes me realize once again the tricky nature of chronic illness. Managing my illness, doctor appointments, treatment, and my own emotions over the whole ordeal can consume all my time. Even catching up with a friend on the phone seems impossible some days because I’m emotionally spent. And whenever I consider going out with friends, my first thought is, “I’m feeling fine now, but how will I be in an hour?” Keeping up with others, even good friends, is sometimes so frustratingly impossible. And then I feel like a terrible friend, like a terrible person, for just randomly disappearing. Many times people will ask me what I do all day. You know what? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just trying to ride out the wave of exhaustion, crazy emotions, and weird symptoms. And when I don’t use all that time to call or write friends, I feel guilty. Then I have to catch up… again. I think this is something that others with chronic illness struggle with. What do you think?

 

Click Your Heels Together Three Times and Say “I’m All Better Now!”

I have a few people in my life who have expected me to suddenly get better. Their inquiries about my health go beyond a nice “How are you feeling? Any progress?”. If I tell them I’m just the same as I was a few months ago, they react with crushed disappointment, anger at my doctors, and a list of things that they think I should be doing. Their reactions almost seem like a personal attack. From the person who believes God will heal me because illness is never part of a blessed life (so they say), to the person who as acts as if I’ve done all the wrong things and seen all the wrong doctors, they leave me feeling worse about my situation than before, even if they had good intentions. I’m disappointed, too, but I can’t instantly make my body do something that it’s not ready to do. I can’t click my heels together and immediately go back to where I started. This isn’t a cold or the flu. There’s unfortunately no quick remedy. In the wake of those interactions, I have to remind myself of some important things.

First, like so many chronically ill people, I’ve done all that I can do for myself. I eat a very healthy diet, take supplements, have gotten counseling, see doctors regularly, get physical exercise when I can (which basically means taking a slow walk through the grocery store), do my own research on my symptoms, and do many other things to help both my physical and mental health. I also pray about my illness all the time. To allow myself to be devastatingly disappointed every time those things don’t work (which is most of the time) would be terrible for my mental health. I’d just give up, plain and simple. And I can’t do that. In time, with persistence from my doctors and myself, I believe that either my body will start to heal or we will find something that will finally work. Even when people treat me like I haven’t done enough, it’s not true. I’ve done enough, probably more than enough. The rest is in God’s hands, and I have to find peace in that without being upset by someone’s thoughtless words.

Second, illness is a sad and hard thing in and of itself. I remind myself of that often. When I have a hard day, I tell myself “It’s okay to cry. This is hard.” I don’t try to pretend this isn’t happening. But life with an illness doesn’t have to be all sadness and distress. There are many people throughout history who have had a disability or serious illness their whole life, and they have lived fulfilling, wonderful lives. Lives with the burden of illness, yes, but fulfilling nonetheless. God doesn’t always choose to heal everyone. I can still find joy and wonder in the unusual circumstances of my illness. I see things from a different perspective than I used to and have both the time and inclination to do things I didn’t do before I was sick. I’ve become a stronger, more empathetic person, and have learned a deeper trust in God. So even though this illness is bad, I’ve found good lessons in it. Getting better instantly just won’t happen, and getting better at all may not happen, though I hope and pray it will. Even if I don’t get better, it doesn’t mean my life is ruined and not worth living. It doesn’t mean God has left me. My life can still be fulfilling, just in a way I never imagined it would.

Moving Trauma

In early 2013, I was living in a city in Africa that had a lot of unrest and violence. In March of that year, a major terrorist group sent a car bomb into a crowded bus park a few blocks away from my apartment. I remember hearing the blast and knowing it was a bomb. Over 150 people died that day. Also, there was a general threat against Westerners in that area, and I was constantly told to be careful. Not to leave, but just be careful. Then in April, 2013, I got a phone call from the administrative office of the organization I was with telling me I had three weeks to leave the city and move five hours away, where the office was located. Three weeks to pack my entire house and put everything in storage, finish up the college English course I was teaching, pack the children’s library I ran, end the after-school program I taught, and say goodbye to all my friends, all while dealing with health issues and the frustration and despair that comes when it feels like your life is falling apart. Being a procrastinator, I waited until the very last moment to pack, hoping secretly that this was a nightmare and I’d just wake up. Thankfully, a very patient friend came to help me pack and in three days, I went from a cluttered, full house to an empty one. But when I went to bed the night before I left my house finally, I was nearly shaking with all the panic and grief involved in such a manic packing situation. I packed about three outfits, some food, and a few toiletries, and I moved to another city for five weeks before flying back to the U.S. I nearly burst into tears on the plane from the pent up emotions that I had tucked away all those weeks.

When I moved home, I house-sat for several months for an older couple who were travelling around the U.S. The owners gave me an estimate of when they’d return, but one afternoon, weeks before their estimated return date, they called to say they had a problem and were returning that evening. In a panic, I packed up all my things, cleaned, and did laundry in about an hour and a half. All the emotions of leaving my home in Africa came rolling back in that moment. I drove into my parents’ driveway shaking.

After that, I moved into an apartment, but in late 2014, I had to return to my parents’ house to live for while because my illness had gotten so bad. I hung onto the apartment, though, paying the rent, believing that I’d get better any day now and be able to move back in. I didn’t want to loose that independence. I was terrified of losing it, really.

Today, after a very disturbing phone call with my landlord, I had to make the decision to move in permanently with my parents. I have an apartment full of beautiful things that I now have to pack away. The panic, the grief, the anxiety from leaving Africa once again returned. I know that God is in control, but quite frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this week. After the tone of the conversation with my landlord, I think I need to leave fairly quickly. I’m grieving over the loss of my independence. It feels final, even though I’m believing that it’s not. I have no idea how I’m going to have the energy to pack. I’m trusting the Lord, but I’m going through a series of awful emotions about this move. My parents have been amazing about all this, and I’m sure we’ll survive. But seriously, I never want to move again. Never.

I Feel the Love

I’m sure most people who suffer from chronic illness will agree that many people (and often people who truly mean well) say things to us that come across the wrong way. Instead of conveying love, compassion, and concern (the feelings that they often feel towards us), their words convey pity, frustration, pushiness, or shock that we haven’t instantly recovered. Most of the time, they don’t mean it. It just comes out that way. And it leaves us feeling awful.

The other day, I got a phone call from a group of people who often pray for me. I hadn’t heard from them in a while, and there was some sort of miscommunication with them via e-mail that had me stressed out. However, when I got the phone call, the guy who represented the group said something to me that I wish I heard more often. He didn’t say the common things I hear from well-meaning friends: “Have you tried___? Why not? I think it will really work for you!” “Don’t you think you should be getting a ____ test? Hasn’t your doctor considered___?” “Well, you must be going to the wrong doctor.” “I just don’t understand why you can’t get better.”

No, he didn’t say any of those things. He said, “We love you, we’re praying for you, and we’ll be here with you as long as this takes.” No questions. No hints at frustration that this is taking too long. Just love and willingness to stick by me for however long it takes for me to recover. That’s what I love to hear. I think that’s what every person who is chronically ill needs to hear.

The God Who Sees

Years ago, when I was living in West Africa as a missionary, I went through a really difficult time. I was living in a city of over 5 million people, but I was terribly lonely. It was hard to form deep friendships there, and because of safety issues, I couldn’t go out by myself. I was struggling with my health, having gone through several bouts of malaria. I was a young single woman living alone in a culture where young single women lived with their family and waited for marriage. I was also involved in some leadership positions, and it seemed as though nobody took me seriously or listened to me. In that culture, young single women generally did not assume leadership positions and their opinions weren’t given much value. I learned that lesson only after being in leadership for some time and getting a lot of disrespectful behavior directed at me. I began to feel unseen. Unvalued. Misunderstood. Unwanted. Even by God. It seemed as though my health, my career, and my life were failing.

One day, I was preparing to teach a group of kids I taught at a weekly program. That week’s Bible story was about Hagar, the Egyptian slave owned by Abraham in Genesis 16. In the culture Abraham lived in, if a husband and wife could not have children, the husband took his wife’s slave as a concubine, and she had a child in her mistress’s stead. Because Sarah, Abraham’s wife was old, Hagar became Abraham’s concubine and conceived in order that he could have an heir. However, when she became pregnant, the Bible says she treated Sarah with contempt. Sarah, angry at Hagar’s behavior, treated her harshly. The Bible doesn’t say what that harsh treatment was, but it was so bad that Hagar ran away into the desert. I’m sure that even though she was pregnant with Abraham’s child, Hagar felt unvalued and unwanted at that moment.

The angel of the Lord came to Hagar and told her to return to Sarah and Abraham because the son she would give birth to would become great and he would have many descendants. After that, the Bible says, Hagar began to call God by a different name. El-Roi. The God who sees me. Not the God who found me or saved me. The God who sees me. He saw her value as a human and as a part of history. He saw her feelings about the situation. He saw her past and future. He was right there with her, even though her situation was less than ideal. And He gave her hope of a future.

Even though I was teaching that story, I probably learned more from it than the kids I taught. I felt like Hagar, unwanted in the ministry I was doing. Unvalued in the place I was living. Misunderstood in my loneliness and poor health. Unseen.

But He saw me. God saw me, all my frustrations, loneliness, and heartache. Even though He didn’t sweep me out of the situations I was in, He was right there beside me, loving me and valuing me and understanding me more than any other person could. He saw me. I clung to that lesson through the rest of the time I lived there.

Now, going through this chronic illness, I often feel like my life has stopped. Everyone else is moving forward, enjoying friends, going to work, getting married, having children. I sometimes feel very alone. Unseen. I’ve had to relearn that lesson I learned in Africa. God sees me. He sees all my hurts and feelings, and He understands them. He sees my future. And although He’s not instantly healing me, He is right beside me, understanding and loving me like no one else could. I am once again holding tightly to that truth, and finding great comfort in the God who sees me.

“Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:7-8

Red Shoes and The Blues

Ugh.

That’s probably the best word to describe how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks. It seems like I’ve been fighting an uphill battle. During my last doctor appointment, my doctor told me that I should be taking coconut oil. It’s good for the brain, and since I’ve been having a lot of memory and concentration problems, she felt it would be good for me. I actually had already been incorporating it into my diet over the last month. At first, it was fine. Then suddenly, every time I had some, I’d immediately get nauseated. Each time it got a little worse. I decided to take a few days off from taking it, then take only a very small amount. That day, the nausea and stomach cramps were so bad I almost lost my dinner. I stopped taking the coconut oil, but the nausea lasted for days. I had to lie very still to keep from vomiting. I couldn’t eat much. I was worried I’d lose more weight, and I don’t have much weight to spare. I developed a fever on a day that was 106 F outside and 95 F in my bedroom. Talk about a bad day to fight a fever! I got over the fever in a few hours, and the nausea and cramps a day or two later. But needless to say, coconut oil and I are over. And now I feel much better. Well, maybe just back to normal. My normal.

Right after that, I had a couple of good days, and then a bunch of days when my fatigue was so bad that I felt like I couldn’t walk in a straight line. I wake up in the morning, thinking I can get up and go out with my family, and in a matter of minutes after being at the store, I’m done. Completely, utterly “let’s go back to bed and start over tomorrow” done.

That’s how these last couple of weeks have been. Also, it’s been hot. Not as hot as it got when I lived in Africa, but hot enough that it gets a little uncomfortable at times. So, ugh. That’s how I feel.

On a bright note, I just got a pair of really cute red shoes. I love pretty shoes. Because I don’t go out very much and can’t wear them, I put some of my prettiest shoes by my bed and look at them, and that makes me happy. It might sound a little crazy, but hey, it works for me. Honestly, I think God brings these little happy things into my life just when I need them. They may seem insignificant to others, but they remind me that there’s life beyond chronic illness.