Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dem Bones (The Finale): Getting Back on Track

I am coining a new term: “Sarah’s Law”. While Murphy’s Law says “anything that can go wrong will”, Sarah’s Law says, “If you try to give other people advice about something, you will struggle with that same thing next week!” It is God’s way of keeping me very, very humble. Case in point: As soon as I started writing my “Dem Bones” series, my whole family got the flu. One by one, we all succumbed to the illness. This was not a bug we could “push through”. It landed us on the couch…for three weeks. What happened to the gym? Skipped it. What happened to eating healthy? Forget about it. If it sounded good, I ate it. It’s no big deal to take a break from life for a while, but, for me, getting out of my routine sends me down a slippery slope. Even though I am no longer sick with the flu, the beginning of this week has been rough. My body is tired and weak. I want to bake a lot of brownies…which only make me feel weaker. And, I have been praying myself out of bed in the morning…again.

So, today I trudged into the OB/GYN’s office for my annual exam and announced, “I want to feel strong and healthy! Some things with my metabolism are still off. When I get sick, it knocks me down more than it should. I have to eat perfectly in order to feel good. I had a cup of coffee yesterday and my left hand shook violently until 3 p.m. Let’s explore my hormones to see if things are just right.” I’ll be honest. I really don’t want to see a bunch of doctors again. I don’t want to take medicine. But, I want to do what God is calling me to do. I want to be good at my life. I want to enjoy it. And, it is still really hard for me to feel healthy. Perhaps I will discover that one of my hormone or vitamin levels is off a bit. If not, then I will decide it is my lot to avoid certain foods permanently and exercise religiously. I can accept that. But, there is one thing I will not do ever again: give up the fight!

I have determined through all of my various stresses and losses that maintaining a healthy physical body is like pushing the “easy button”. You’ve seen the advertisements for Staples office supplies, right? Their tag line is “Staples. That was easy.” Their “easy button” ad campaign features situations when it would really rock if you could just push a button to make things simpler. Isn’t life like that? In the last 10 years I have often wished that I could push the easy button. Sometimes things can be so complicated. In my temporal life on this earth, the closest thing I have found to the easy button is prioritizing my physical health. When I am healthy, it seems I have just pushed the easy button. I have more energy, I have more motivation, I am more easily inspired, I have more patience, I have more mental clarity, I can make better decisions, I am less apt to become irritable, I feel more hopeful, I can forgive more, I can love more, I can sacrifice more, I can more easily act on my faith, and I have more of a desire to live the victorious, adventurous, joyful Christian life I was MEANT TO LIVE!

Don’t you want those things, too? As Christians, don’t we want a way to make doing what God is calling us to do a little bit more effortless? Then, take care of your body! Listen, I know we are not 100% in charge of our health. My mother-in-law died of brain cancer, and she lived a physically healthy and spirit-filled life. We don’t know why she got cancer. She couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. And, she couldn’t have done anything more to fight it. She had three brain surgeries and endured rounds of chemotherapy. She prayed and truly believed God would heal her. And, she died. I am not under the illusion that if we just do things right and try a little harder then we will be unscathed. My point is that many of us are making choices on a daily basis that hurt our physical health. I am concentrating here on what we DO have some influence over. Maybe not control, per se, but influence. If you could influence your health for the better and could essentially push the easy button on your life, wouldn’t you want to do that? You may have to make some sacrifices. But, I challenge you to think about what you have to gain. What would your spouse have to gain? How about your children? Even more importantly, I challenge you, Christian brothers and sisters, to think about what the kingdom of God has to gain.

Consider the apostle Paul’s words:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:19, 24-27

Why, then, do we discipline our bodies and care for them? Of course, to honor God’s Holy Spirit who lives in us, but, also to bring our own spirits into a place where we can be better used of God. When we take care of our bodies, our blinders are removed and we can see more clearly what God’s will is for our lives. We are also better equipped to win others to Christ and to “get a crown that will last forever”.

I know God wants me to be in tune with Him. He wants me to start seeing the world from His eyes. He wants me to use the gifts He gave me to show others who He is. And, He has given me lots of day to day responsibilities—not to mention lots of junk to heal and recover from! He knows I need to be healthy (body and spirit) to do this well. Again, not just to survive it all, but to be victorious.

In the past, my physical health was the one area of my life I would let slide when I got stressed out or busy. This is still my default mode of operation if I am not vigilant. I used to think that eating unhealthy foods or leaving exercise off of my to-do list was “cutting myself some slack”, when, in actuality, it was abusing my body. Now, when I need to cut myself some slack, I try to leave laundry unfolded (or unwashed!), to cook scrambled eggs for dinner instead of a gourmet meal, to send a birthday present a week late, to opt out of a planned social engagement, or to (horrors!) skip the kids’ homework until we all feel like we can accomplish it with a good attitude. Not much really has to be done in a given day. We are tempted to live under the tyranny of the urgent. But, that is a choice. And, to the best of my ability, I choose to do whatever it takes to cut other things out so that I can care for my body and the bodies of those I love. By the time I have attended to that and to the spiritual well-being of my household, there is little time left over. I have to be choosy these days. So do you.

I have by no means got this all figured out. For me, it’s about not falling off the truck permanently. When I lose my way, I find it again. This time, I don’t have a goal except to keep going. God knows there are a lot of things we cannot influence, like genetics and certain kinds of disease. But, with God’s help, we can quit putting apple juice in our gas tank. We can do the regular maintenance that makes it more likely our engine will keep running throughout the fullness of God’s plan for us—all the days he planned for us before any of them yet existed (Psalm 139:16).

Do you need to make a change to get back on track? If you have fallen off the truck, don’t give up! With God’s help, you can prioritize your body again.

I pray God will give YOU all you need to take care of dem bones and live victoriously today!

Lord, please help us to honor you with our bodies. Help us to see them as important to you. We admit we are helpless to change ourselves. We need you to order our steps. Take each part of us into your perfect will so that we may please you and also enjoy the adventurous, exciting, purposeful life you have planned for us to live. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dem Bones (Part 4): Plato, Pop Culture, and You

Does it bother anyone else that Victoria’s Secret parades half-naked girls with angel wings down a runway on primetime television? There’s nothing wrong with lingerie, but these ads sell more than pretty things to wear in private. And, can’t we be our own models in the bedroom? Why do we need to see it on a 20-year-old waif first? Rephrase: Why does my husband need to see it on a 20-year-old waif first? And, don’t get me started about the angel thing. Angels are real, but I bet they don’t wear push-up bras. Say I’m overreacting, but I am finally using my head to think about things like this instead of just accepting everything that comes shooting out of my television screen. Hooray for Victoria’s Secret for blurring the lines between mainstream values, Christianity, and soft pornography.

How about the new commercial for It pokes fun at $100,000 wage-earners in an ad where nerdy execs pose in “provocative” positions. I use that term lightly. There is intentionally nothing really provocative about these folks. In the ad, promises to make job-seekers “more attractive” to companies. I will give it to them: it IS pretty funny. My first reaction was a giggle. But, then I felt kind of icky inside. It took me a while to sort out why it rubs me the wrong way. I have a sense of humor, and I really appreciate creativity. This ad inspires both, but it still bugs me. Maybe it is because a company that says it exists to help professionals attain high-paying jobs has stooped to the same low-brow tactics as everyone else in America. This isn’t a moral judgment, but it is social commentary. As they say, sex sells. If marketers aren’t using sex to get your attention, then they are appealing to your desire for beauty, strength, and health. Everything today is guaranteed to satisfy your cravings, make you look younger, and help you live longer. Look around you. What is for sale now that doesn’t have anything to do with your physical body in some way? You won’t find much. There is no doubt about the message of the world: your body matters.

It is striking to me that the message of the world is also the message of the Bible…but with a twist. Make no mistake, your body matters to God, too. Remember? You are nephesh—spirit joined with body. God made you in His image and even chooses for His Holy Spirit to dwell within the bodies of those who believe in Jesus. But, all you have to do is open a magazine or turn on the TV to see that Satan has taken something God made and called “good” and perverted it.

The world says that your value lies primarily in the physical. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are often seduced by this message. We feel the pull to be prettier, sexier, younger looking. But deep down, as Christians, I think we know that the emphasis on the physical in our culture is unbalanced. And, as we should, we want to counter that emphasis. We often do that by championing the “spiritual”. After all, it is the inside that counts, right? Truth, indeed…but not the whole truth. I think our disdain for the all-out worship of things like beauty, health, and sex in our culture can cause us as Christians to proverbially “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. We figure we need to show the world that we operate on a “higher” plane. So, we go out of our way to prove that physical things are beneath us and are unimportant. But, are we really presented with such a black and white choice? Do we really have to choose between worship of the physical and the renunciation of it? I don’t think so. There is a healthy, biblical middle ground. But, we have trouble seeing it because of a Greek guy named Plato.

Over time, theological doctrine has been influenced by culture. We would do well to be on our guard and be aware of the ways in which our culture subtly and not-so-subtly shapes our understanding of Scripture. While the Bible and its truth are unchanging, the interpretation of them is not. The influence of the green movement on current-day theological thought proves my point. While stewardship of the earth is a biblical value, the secular green movement has begun to target churches in propagandizing its message. And, some of that message is decidedly unbiblical. The same thing is taking place with the concept of social justice and with the issue of abortion. Legitimate Christian denominations are currently divided over these topics. If we are not careful, we can twist biblical truth just a little bit in order to make it fit into the popular thinking of the day, and this can have a profound impact on generations that follow…

…Such is the case with the concept that the physical realm is inherently evil and the spiritual realm is inherently good. It is an old idea with insidious and long-standing influence in the church, even today. Consider these excerpts from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven:

“In Plato’s statement, ‘Soma sema’ (‘a body, a tomb’), he asserts that the spirit’s highest destiny is to be forever free from the body.” (p.476)

“Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that material things, including the human body and the earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism through the teachings of Philo (ca. 20 BC-AD 50) and Origen (AD 185-254), among others, came to embrace the “spiritual” view that human spirits are better off without bodies…” (p. 52)

Mr. Alcorn uses this information to explain why we have devised the unbiblical notion that Heaven is a non-physical place where we float around in a disembodied state and hop from cloud to cloud (you know, playing the harp and having one endless church service!). Whoever wants to go there, raise your hand… What?! No takers?! Can you believe that Plato is the one that inspired such nonsense? You may be thinking, “Come on! I know that isn’t how Heaven is!” But, do you have another notion of Heaven that is well-developed? You may not believe you will be hopping from cloud to cloud, but you may not be able to imagine what else it could be like either. We don’t know what to attribute it to, but for some reason we haven’t really been taught to think of Heaven as a physical place, much less an earthly one. But, that is exactly the way the Bible describes Heaven as it will be after Jesus comes back (on the New Earth). Mr. Alcorn would suggest that our inability to ascribe physical characteristics to Heaven and to our eternal bodies is because of the subconscious influence of Platonism.

When I first read about this, I was floored. It may not mean a hill of beans to you, but I was shocked that the church had been and continues to be so profoundly influenced by the secular teachings of a Greek philosopher. (Makes me wonder what else I am being duped about…) When I learned about Platonism, I immediately felt free to dump all of my old notions about eternal things in favor of a more accurate biblical viewpoint. And, let me tell you, the truth makes Heaven a LOT more appealing. No wonder we are all so unexcited about it!

Like last week, you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with taking care of my body?” Again, I assert: Everything! I think that the same philosophy that robs us of our joy of Heaven steals our ability to properly view our physical bodies as important in life on earth now. The idea that material things (including our bodies) are evil and that spiritual things are good makes us feel like we have to choose between two undesirable options: joining the world in the worship of the physical or renouncing the physical as inconsequential. Neither of these options reveals God’s heart toward his human creation.

Here is the bottom line: We don’t have to choose between Plato and pop culture. I choose door #3! My body matters to God. My value is not wrapped up in whether or not I am the most beautiful, sexiest, or youngest looking person alive. Beauty and sex are not inherently bad things. God made them! In their rightful place, they are (as God said) “good”. But, they are not to be the pursuit of my life. Above all else, I need to pursue Christ. And, in so doing, I will learn the discipline of being a good steward of my body. My body is inextricably tied to my spirit. And, the Bible encourages me to use it well as I engage in my life’s mission. Let’s look at how we do that next week.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dem Bones (Part 3): The Dust of the Ground and the Breath of Life

The first funeral I ever attended was that of my paternal grandmother. I was nine years old. I can remember walking into the visitation at the funeral home like it was yesterday. It was so disturbing to me. Organ music, dim lighting, and the sickly sweet smell of lilies. As I stood over the casket and hesitantly peeked in, I remember my parents comforting me with these words: “Grandma is not in there, honey. It is just her shell.” I suppose, for children, this suffices as one of the most concrete ways to explain death. The spirit leaves the body, and all that is left is a shell. (Think hermit crabs and other sea creatures.)

Have you noticed that our childhood experiences have an uncanny way of silently creeping into our grown-up perceptions of things? How many of us, if we are honest, still perceive death as we did when we were 9? Don’t many of us still get that queasy feeling when we hear organ music or take a whiff of lilies? And, when we stand over a casket, isn’t there something inside of us that is still unsatisfied with the “shell” explanation? Don’t we want more now that we are adults? Yet, many of us still don’t know what that “more” is. And, so when we meet with that fateful day when we take our own children along for their first funeral, we tell them, “Don’t worry, honey. It is just a shell.” We don’t know what else to say.

I had to know what God said about the physical body once and for all when I was forced to bury my two-year-old. Nothing is more counter-intuitive than putting the growing, soft, sweet body of your little girl in the hard, cold ground. This is especially true when you are the one whose very own body housed that other little body as it formed from two single cells into a living, breathing human being with thoughts and feelings and a God-given purpose to fulfill. In that case, the physical body seems pretty important. It is the part that nurses at your breast and snuggles in your lap as you sing lullabies. It is the part that gives sloppy kisses and forms the “hook ‘em horns” sign with chubby fingers. It wears the dress-up clothes and produces the adorable grin and cute voice that belts the word ‘FAB-U-LOOOUUUS!’ from the soundtrack of High School Musical. In short, the physical body is a big part of the way we know someone—and care for someone. Ask your mother. It is why she still wants you to eat good food. It is why she still wants to comfort you when you are sick. And, it is why she still winces at the idea of you getting a tattoo.

On the surface, the “shell” metaphor seems to work. But, in actuality, it falls far short of the truth, and it can lead to some false beliefs about the relationship between the physical and the spiritual in God’s human creation. Bodies and spirits were never meant to be separated. Death is not, like we have been told, “a natural part of life.” It is a perversion of God’s perfect design, a result of the fall. A day is coming when all bodies will be reunited with their spirits. Jesus says that one day all who have died will rise from their graves (believers and non) to face judgment (John 5:28-29). Bodies are not just shells that can be discarded when the spirit finds a better (or another…) home.

By now you may be wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with the topic of physical health?” I contend that it has a LOT to do with it. It is my opinion that the way we view the body in death speaks volumes about our view of the body in life. I would argue that if we still think that it is natural and normal for the spirit to leave the body in death that we are probably not placing the proper import on the physical body while we still breathe! Are our bodies really just shells for our spirits after all? Or, are they more?

Want the truth? Your body matters in this world…and in the next. Good thing the Bible reassures us that it is so much more than a shell.

Read this excerpt from Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven:

“Genesis 2:7 says, ‘The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ The Hebrew word for ‘living being’ is nephesh, often translated ‘soul’. The point at which Adam became nephesh is when God joined his body (dust) and spirit (breath) together. Adam was not a living human being until he had both material (physical) and immaterial (spiritual) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not just spirit, but spirit joined with body. Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.”(p.112)

Did you catch that? “Your body does not merely house the real you—it is as much a part of who you are as your spirit is.” Doesn’t that change the way you view your body? It profoundly changes the way I view mine. You see, we have been trained as Christians to nurture our spirits. But, we can’t start to do a better job of taking care of our bodies until we recognize that they actually count. And, we can see from Genesis 2:7 that the essence of who we are is spirit joined with body. No other part of creation has this distinction. Neither the earth, the sea, the sky, the stars, nor even the animals are spirit joined with body. For humans--and humans alone--body and spirit are inextricably linked. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation. And, this link between our bodies and spirits is what makes us unique.

Let’s look at some Scriptures that show the effect your spirit has on your body (SPIRIT→BODY). I have written before about the way our bodies respond to emotional stress in my blog post “The Physical Toll of Grief” (February, 2010). Grief, I rationalized, can certainly affect your physical body. The Bible says so. Take these verses as examples:

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
and my bones grow weak. Psalm 31:9-10

My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones. Psalm 102:4-5

We know from these verses that negative influences on our spirit affect our bodies negatively. But, Scripture teaches us that there is a positive correlation between spirit and body, too. It says that when good things happen in our spirits, our bodies benefit. Look at these examples:

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. Proverbs 3:7-8

Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
A heart at peace gives life to the body… Proverbs 14:29-30a

What about looking at the connection from the other direction? In other words, what does the Bible say about how the body affects the spirit? (BODY→SPIRIT) Let’s look at the example in Proverbs 6:32. Solomon has gone on and on warning his son not to get involved with the adulteress. In a nutshell, he is telling his son that if you get your body involved in sin, it will devastate your spirit. “The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself.” Mistreating the body leads to the destruction of the whole self—which includes the spirit.

Yes, Scripture is clear. In so many places, it reinforces that undeniable relationship between body and spirit and, in the process, the undeniable import of both. To me, the Bible screams, “Respect both! Honor both! Nurture both! Please God with both!”

No, my body is not just a shell that houses the “real” me. It is a vital part of the humanity God created to worship Him and have fellowship with Him. I must not ignore it! It might take 5 in the grave for a while, but it will eventually be restored and last forever.

If you have heard all of what I have said so far and are still tempted to think your body doesn’t really matter, consider this Scripture (the most significant reason for giving your body some attention):

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Wow. My body is God’s house? We can see here that what we choose to do with our bodies affects not just our own spirits, but God’s Holy Spirit. Ups the ante, doesn’t it? (YOUR BODY→GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT)

You see, when I realize that my body is God’s dwelling place, my motivation to care for it increases. As I begin to accept God’s call to follow Him more closely, the care of my body goes way beyond avoiding that which is expressly forbidden in Scripture and moves toward lovingly submitting my whole self to God, doesn’t it? I am constantly challenged by what this means in my life. But, I am excited about what following God around that corner promises! I am slowly, but surely, moving away from merely selfish reasons for being physically healthy (like looking good or even feeling good) and moving toward a longer-lasting, Christ-centered motivation.

Let me ask you this: What is holding you back? How much more impact could you have on the kingdom of God if you recognized that you are not just a spirit inhabiting a shell for a time? Do you not know that you are dust of the earth (body) and breath of life (spirit) joined together? You are unlike any other of God’s creations. You are special. Everything that makes you YOU is important to God. He cares about you—inside and out! Yes, dear one, you are nephesh—a living being (a soul) whose purpose is to glorify God with ALL that you are. Don’t you forget it!

(Join me next week as we look at some interesting history that may shed some light on why we in the church have elevated the spiritual realm above the physical realm. Part of the process of shifting our paradigm is discovering where our thinking originates and bringing it back to the truth of Scripture. I hope you will be intrigued by what I have discovered and challenged to bring all of your beliefs in line with God’s Word. For me, this study has been a big part of finally properly prioritizing my health.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dem Bones (Part 2): Falling Off the Truck

The bench in the parking lot of Chili’s became a familiar meeting spot for my friend Viki and me—a beacon of comfort and commiseration during a challenging season of life. It was there, in the fall of 2006, that we would meet weekly and chat for hours. We were trying to convince each other that we would feel better someday. The truth, though, was that both of us feared that our children may soon be visiting us in a nursing home wiping drool off of our chins. I’m not exaggerating. We were both physically sick, seeking a solution to our health woes. We were like sleuths putting together a 1500-piece puzzle and trying to solve the mystery. What had happened to us? We were scared. We were both barely 30, and we felt 80. It was a season that today we affectionately call, “falling off the truck”. It was as if some unknown force just dumped us off of a moving vehicle. The fall was a hard one.

Maybe as you are reading this today, you can identify. You feel as if you’ve “fallen off the truck”. You once were a healthy person, but now your body is in open rebellion. You feel older than you are, and you aren’t sure if you will ever feel good again. Maybe you have just been through a season of life where taking care of yourself was not the primary focus. Someone else’s needs came first. As women, we can hardly avoid going through at least one season of life just like this. It’s not just women, though. I know my husband temporarily abandoned caring for himself. He was just as knee-deep in kiddos as I was. We were in survival mode. Many, I think, can sympathize in one way or another. If, however, you haven’t yet fallen off the truck, you probably know someone who has. That person probably really needs a friend about now. Maybe you can be that friend.

When Viki and I held our meetings in 2006, both of us acknowledged that getting out of the house was a “narrow escape”. We often left crying babies, tired husbands, and a heck-of-a mess in our wake. But, we both really needed a friend! We each had three small children at the time. I had birthed three little girls in three years. Viki had a two-year-old son when she added fraternal twins to her family. We had spent the better part of five years completely given over to the needs of producing, nursing, and caring for the round-the-clock needs of helpless human beings. We had not slept much. We had not taken much time for our own needs. We were totally in love with our babies. But, we were totally wiped out. It seemed like no matter how hard we tried to get on top of things, we just couldn’t.

I wondered, “What am I doing wrong?” I kept trying to come at the problem from a practical standpoint. What if I just adjusted our schedule? What if I did things a different way? Still, I felt overwhelmed. Over time, that feeling of being overwhelmed morphed into strange physical symptoms. I had numbness and tingling in my limbs, migraine headaches, tremors in my hands, flu-like achiness, stomach ailments, and terrible fatigue. Alarmed doctors sent me for a battery of tests including brain MRI’s and blood tests. I saw a neurologist, a gastroenterologist, and a rheumatologist. None of them could find anything. I was relieved and frustrated all at the same time. Thank God, I did not have some of the problems the doctors were looking for…but I still felt very sick. This went on for 6 months. During that time, I began to experience panic attacks. Once, I was at the grocery store and suddenly my heart began to race. I felt like I could not breathe. The world seemed to swirl around me, and I had to have a friend pick me up and drive me home. Another time, I had the same experience in a bouncy place while watching all three of my kids. I was terrified and wondered if I was still competent to care for my own children.

This trend finally landed me in the emergency room twice in two days. I literally woke up one night from a dead sleep with my heart beating out of my chest. There was no logical precursor. I had not been worrying or thinking about anything specific. It was physiological. I felt like I was having a heart attack. I thought I was going to die. What was up?! This time, my mother happened to be in town to help me. When they finally called my name in the ER, they informed me that I could only take one person back with me. I looked at my husband and my mother. I was torn. I wanted my husband, but I needed my mommy! My mother followed me back, and I prayed Bryan would forgive me later. My mom practically yelled at the doctors (which was what I felt I needed), “There is something wrong with my daughter, and we are not leaving until you find out what it is!” The ER doctor looked at me and said, “Have you consulted with a psychiatrist?” I wanted to punch him in the face. “I am NOT CRAZY!” I shouted at him.

Despite our best efforts to assert ourselves, my mother and I, escorted by my sweet, patient husband, walked out of the ER still without a diagnosis. As we sat on the couch at home, my mother fed me canned peaches. I was too weak to feed myself. At the end of my rope, I decided to try the psychiatrist. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

To my surprise, the psychiatrist had the answers I needed. She kept helping me pursue other diagnostic tests to make sure there was not another organic cause for my symptoms while she addressed what she could. I will admit her methods seemed a bit experimental, but in hind sight, I wouldn’t change a thing. What I discovered during that time was very valuable: brain chemistry messes with your whole body. Here I was, a trained social worker who was supposed to offer every individual dignity, and I still thought going to a psychiatrist meant you were “crazy”. I had a good “book knowledge” of mental health issues, but I clearly did not understand the impact of brain chemistry on overall well-being. What I experienced had little to do with what I thought about things. I didn’t think myself into this place. And, I couldn’t pray myself out. In fact, I couldn’t even access my coping skills. I was physically sick. Sure, my emotional health was affected. My spiritual health was affected. It was all haywire because my body was sick.

For me, medicine was a big part of the cure. I know that is not the case for everyone. I was skeptical as they come. I didn’t want to become dependent on medicine for the rest of my life. And, by the grace of God, I do not need the medicine today. That is not everyone’s story, but it is mine. As I was beginning my medicine, a rheumatologist I saw gave me this advice that still rings in my ears: “You don’t have an autoimmune disorder. Don’t ever let a doctor tell you that you do. Your symptoms are similar, though. Make sure you are breathing deeply. Get lots of sleep. Drink more water. Eat right. And, exercise. Most of my patients don’t feel like exercising, but they will feel better if they do.” Though I thought he must be over-simplifying things, I followed his advice. And, he was dead on. I had forgotten how to breathe (silly as it sounds). And, even when I felt achy, I got moving. It was counter-intuitive. I was tired. Wouldn’t exercise make me more tired? Nope. Instead, it gave me energy. In combination with medicine, these few things “the doctor ordered” steadily improved my health.

When Audrey died a year later, I was devastated. But, I was equipped to handle things mentally, emotionally, and spiritually because I was no longer physically sick. My friends were worried it would send me over the edge. But, by then I knew better. It was clear to me then, and only then, how much of my problem in 2006 was physiological. And, I was keenly aware of how it all tied together—body, mind, and spirit.

Viki’s story is similar, but not the same. After having her twins, she did not recover the way she thought she would. She kept trying to blame her health issues on the mounting responsibilities of motherhood and her workload. And, so did many around her. In fact, some key people in her life even blamed her for her declining health. She began sleeping 14 hours a day. She gained a lot of weight, which was uncharacteristic of her. She felt horrible. And, she was very discouraged. As she got sicker, she missed more and more of what was going on with her children. Her loving husband stepped in to help. What neither of them knew was that her thyroid had quit on her. Kaput. By the time she figured it out, she was near death’s door, really. You need your thyroid to live.

Like me, Viki visited a barrage of doctors.  She finally ended up in the excellent care of a skilled endocrinologist. It was a long, hard road, though. She had to fire a few docs along the way. She had to advocate for herself (even defend herself)—in the medical arena and in her own circle of family and friends. She lost a lot of time with her children along the way. She still grieves what “might have been” during those years. It wasn’t what she bargained for during their baby and toddler years. But, by God’s grace, good medical intervention, and support from her husband and a few loyal friends, she has emerged on the other side of this crisis a much happier, healthier person.

In January of last year, Viki and I switched our meeting place from the bench at Chili’s to the treadmill at the gym. We have been meeting each other on weekdays at 8 a.m. sharp ever since. I lost 20 pounds and got stronger as I cried out, punched out, and ran out my troubles. Once Viki’s thyroid worked again, she was able to drop about 40 pounds in a few short months, too. And, we didn’t have to starve ourselves. We helped each other find healthy recipes. Sometimes we fed our families together. And, we kept moving, even when we didn’t feel like it. Viki got so healthy again that she unexpectedly got pregnant with number four! We are confident that it was God’s plan, after healing her body, to use this tiny one (due in May) to heal her heart as well. God’s just good like that.

You see, sometimes we “fall off of the truck” through no fault of our own. Maybe we are doing our best to take care of ourselves, and we still get sick. Sometimes, we neglect our own care because we are focusing on other people or other pursuits. Those pursuits might be noble ones. Yet, our bodies suffer—and thus our spirits. And, sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, we get a little bit sedentary and overindulge in foods that aren’t good for us. Bad habits form over time without our even noticing. We wake up one day and feel really sluggish and discouraged about life, and we didn’t even see it coming. I think that, for most of us, we can attribute our waning health to a combination of these things.

No matter the cause, those of us who find ourselves dumped off on the side of the road need some triage! We need some support. And, we need some hope that someday we might feel stronger again. I shared my story and my friend Viki’s story because I think some of you need to know you are not alone. I believe that having a health crisis in your child-bearing years is common because I have countless other friends who have been through something very similar. No one warned us!! It’s not just the child-bearing years, though. There are many other stages of life when a health crisis is likely to rear its ugly head. As I watch other people around me tumbling over like dominoes, I can’t help but want to offer some cheerleading to get them to the other side.

Some of you need to be encouraged to keep pursuing a solution to your personal health crisis. Some of you who have devoted all of your energy toward the care of others need to be inspired to turn some of your energy toward yourself again and begin healing what has been neglected. And, some of you need to know you don’t have to feel this way forever. You are, in fact, 30 (40, 50, or 60), for example, and not 100!

In short, if you are still breathing, God is not done with you yet! Your health matters to Him. It was part of His perfect plan that your body be in working order. He made your body and spirit to work in harmony with one another. We live, of course, in a world that is fallen. And, until we get to Heaven, we will contend with health issues. We might fall off the truck every once and a while. But, we can understand how God made us, know that He wants us to do our best to take care of ourselves, and work toward restoration of our health as long as He gives us breath. There is hope for YOU today if you have fallen off of the truck.

Read along next week as we shift our focus from ourselves to God’s Word as we learn how God made our bodies and our spirits to work together. I think you will be challenged and encouraged--for yourself and for the friends you support.