Kicking and Screaming

“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.'”

This has been my “go to” passage for many years. If I’m asked to speak somewhere new, it’s usually from Isaiah 43 because I believe it portrays the love of God beautifully. Over the last few years as I have experienced tragedy, significant loss and change, I have clung to the promise of God’s faithfulness.  My motto is: God is good. He can be trusted…even when it doesn’t make sense.

God has proven himself faithful time and time again in my life.  But I like to be in control. I like to know the outcome ahead of time. The only kind of spontaneity that I like is if I know ahead of time that I need to be spontaneous. Planned spontaneity. Ha! So, needing to resign from full time ministry was never my plan. I had been in ministry longer than I had been a wife or a mom. Outside of my identity in Christ, it was who I was. I loved being in ministry within the church and in the community. I never dreamed of doing anything else.

Having a chronic illness can be described as having a set amount of energy per day. The amount may be greater on a “good” day (little to no pain). And, it can be significantly less during the days of a flare up. Being two years and two months into living with the effects of the Zika Virus and West Nile Virus, I can determine with fair accuracy how much I can accomplish each day. I’ve also learned what merits my energy and what’s a waste.

Ten months ago I mentioned to my husband that I was afraid I would wake up one day, our boys would be in high school and I had missed it all. On good days, I had the energy for ministry OR for my family but not both. I had to make a choice that I didn’t want to make. Be a stay at home mom? Are you kidding? Those ladies are superheroes. They are kind, compassionate, patient. They enjoy being home. They can care for a home. I am so inadequate. We made the decision that I would resign from ministry so that I could focus on my health and our family. With that decision made, we would need to move. I didn’t think we would ever leave the Lubbock area once we finally moved there. I had prayed for ten years that we could live close to my family.

We had the opportunity to move to my in-laws’ ranch. It’s always been a special place for us. I would be able to rest and our livelihood wouldn’t depend on me working. This opportunity was truly a gift. However, in my heart and in my soul, I left ministry and Lubbock, kicking and screaming.  Why was I once again experiencing such devastating loss? Nine days before we moved, my father-in-law passed away. Seriously?

We’ve been on the ranch for two months now and I do love it. I love the relationship that I have with my mother-in-law. I love the sunsets (to see the sunrises means I’d have to wake up early). I love the peace of this place. I love that my dog’s tail wags higher here. I love that my boys are happy. I love that my husband can drive less than an hour to fly fish. But I miss the old me. I miss the me that had a mom I talked to several times a day. I miss the me who had sisters whose lives were easy and carefree. I miss teenagers. I miss being on staff at a church. I miss going 90 to nothing and not paying for it the next day. I miss life without physical pain and limitations.

A friend of mine blogged on some of Isaiah 43 earlier today. It wasn’t the part that I so often preached. But it’s later in the chapter when God is encouraging his people to come home. He’s telling them that it’s safe to come home. He’s reminding them of his faithfulness.

18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing!     Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

I needed to read those two verses. “Do you not perceive it?” Do you not get it? I think I’ve been kicking and screaming and forgetting that God is making a way for us to come home as well. Yes, it’s ok to grieve the former things. But, I cannot miss the new thing God is doing. None of this was a part of my plan and completely out of my control. But I sure don’t want to miss the new thing. God is good. He can be trusted…even when it doesn’t make sense.

Learning to enjoy the new,

Jenny

My Latest Journey

I have always wanted to write. I have journals that document decades of my life. I took a class in college on fictional writing. I paid money to a company that would teach me how to be a published writer. I have had students (youth) tell me they would follow me if I started a blog. But life happened and busyness took over. In addition, if I’m being honest, the fear of failing was (is) wildly consuming. So here I am, taking a deep breath, and venturing out into the world of blogging.

I have spent the last 11 weeks and 6 days wondering if my world will ever be “normal” again. Those who know me well know that normal is indeed relative! On April 30th, I said goodbye to a country that captured my very being. I only spent a week in Guatemala but I cried from the moment we left the children’s home until somewhere miles high above the ground. It wasn’t the ugly, sobbing cry. It was the silent tears rolling down my face knowing my life had forever been changed. Now I’ve been to countless countries on countless mission trips. Each one played a part in forming who I am today. But Guatemala? Guatemala was unique. I made plans for my family to return with me. I wanted our students to experience the culture, the love, the chicken busses and the Picamas.

Wednesday, May 4th, I started feeling like I had the flu. Who gets the flu in May?? I couldn’t even muster the energy to go out with the students after youth. By Friday I was better and it was a good thing because all of the Davidsons were meeting in Loving, TX on Saturday for the Annual Davidson Derby Races. I woke up with a little rash on my arms but otherwise OK. By  Sunday morning, 3am, I was covered head to toe in a rash. It was in my mouth and in my throat. I also had “stomach issues” but found out all the Davidsons had issues as well. I waited until a walk-in clinic opened and was miserable! I had a fever and my eyes were bloodshot. As soon as the doc heard I had been out of the country, she sent me to the ER. I was in the hospital for 3 days having every imaginable test done. My hands swelled so bad they had to cut off my wedding ring. At one point they took so many vials of blood at one time, I lost count after 20. I left the hospital without a rash, without a fever and without an intact wedding ring. However, I did have pain in every joint of my body and relentless fatigue. 

I wanted to scream, “It’s almost summer! I’m a youth pastor! This is my busiest time of the year. I have plans and they don’t include talking a nap after showering because I’m worn out.” 

Six weeks later all tests but one were back. I was diagnosed with West Nile Virus. I was extactic because it meant I didn’t get sick in Guatemala. A day later, I got the call that the test for the Zika virus was positive as well. WHAT? Could this even be possible? This would mean 2 different mosquitos and 2 different countries…at the same time. I rarely used mosquito repellant in the past because they just never bothered me. I could sit next to my sister who got 15 bites and I would not have one. They just don’t like me. After much research, I discover that the mosquitos that carry WN are not in Guatemala. And, the mosquitos that carry Zika are not currently in the USA. 

I have seen internal medicine docs and infectious disease docs and because neither virus has a cure, I just hurt…and sit a lot. It was time to see a rheumatologist about the joint pain. 

Now, the viruses had not been active since the rash and fever left my body back in early May. But, like a tornado that leaves rubble in its wake, the viruses left a lot of damage that needed repair. My body needed time and rest. 

My gracious church offered me a 3 week health sabbatical. I needed rest like I needed air to breathe. What youth pastor gets 3 weeks off in the summer??!! What profession has leaders that tell you your health is more important than the job?

I decided I needed a 2nd opinion because the dual virus thing seemed crazy even for my world. I have a brilliant, Spirit-filled, loving cousin who is a doctor at MD Anderson in Houston. She spent countless hours searching for a doc who would see me. Internal Medicine docs said I needed to see Infectious Disease docs and vice versa. Some were on vacation and some not taking new patients. FINALLY, she comes across a doctor who is the head of the Infectious Disease Dept who specializes in Tropical Diseases and from Guatemala!!! Yes, she will see me. I even had a family from church offer to pay my airfare to Houston. But, insurance will only cover local doctors. In order to get an out of network doctor CONSIDERED I’d have to get documents from each doc I’ve seen to say they cannot help me. I’m supposed to be resting and not stressing! The Houston doc agreed to collaborate with my rheumatologist here so I could have everything done locally and still get her expertise. What?!!! 

Last week I saw a rheumatologist for the 2nd time. Because the joint pain that tags along with WN can activate arthritis, more blood was drawn. He needed to know if it was arthritis, which kind plagued me, so he would know a plan of treatment. All of the results were negative! No long term, forever arthritis detected.

The doc asked me why I didn’t mention the Salmonella result (in my lab work from the hospital) during my initial visit. I told him everyone in our family had “issues” that night so I didn’t think it was relevant. He just graciously smiled.

When your immune system is weakened (WN and Zika), Salmonella can cause Reactive Arthritis aka joint pain. It’s treatable and in a large amount of cases, not long term. Eleven weeks of pain that on many days brought tears. Eleven weeks of trusting that even in the midst of this hell, God is still good. Eleven weeks of thousands of people praying for relief and a miracle. Eleven weeks of emotional roller coaster rides. Eleven weeks of depending on others for basic things..here I am. There is now renewed hope and a plan!! You know how much I love a plan!

Today is my 5th dose of a medication to freedom. I’m still tired as all get out but I’m relatively pain free.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to return to Guatemala. But, part of my heart is still there and I long to join it.

God didn’t cause me to be sick. God didn’t cause my pain or my fatigue. We live in a broken world full of messy, unexplainable, hard stuff. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t asked God why. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t been angry. The honest truth is this…I am a continual work in progress. Some days I get it right and some days I fail miserably. But God continues to meet me right where I am and loves me the same. I can trust that he is good.