Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surprised by Fellowship

gratuitous sunrise photo :)

My follow-up appointment with my new rheumatologist yielded plenty of new action items to keep me out of trouble, or at least busy, until I see her again next month. Some were simple, immediate medication changes. One more I completed a week later. The next was an extra dental cleaning required because of medication side effects. Long-time crumbles know my feelings about dental appointments. Sigh.

A cancellation opened last Tuesday. I may have worked myself into a tizzy before grabbing my calm-myself-down worship music CD and driving across town. After the requisite wait in the quiet, tapestried lobby silently reviewing my memory verses, an unfamiliar woman called me back. My normal hygienist had taken time off, and Lena would be scraping and scouring my teeth this time.

Women's Olympic water polo teams splashed, threw, and paddled on the screen above me. Lena took my blood pressure and asked the usual preliminary questions, and I handed her my updated medication list for the file. As she picked away at the inside of my mouth like a miner, she surprised me with a question in response to the list: "So--how long have you had lupus? I mean, if you don't mind talking about it. If you do, that's okay. We don't have to discuss it."

I didn't mind and told her the significant problems began 12 years ago, with the actual diagnosis a decade back.

One of her loved ones has lupus and has recently had a stroke. Trouble upon trouble. Lena was worried about her relative. Physically, visibly, she had recovered very well, but her personality was "just gone" and she wouldn't leave the house.

Such a hard thing, I commiserated. Life changes forever for the whole family when one member has a stroke. To my limited understanding, radical personality changes from the neurological damage seem entirely feasible, and depression is a common part of the grief response to both acute health trauma and chronic illness.

She pressed on, articulating her concerns. She felt her loved one had given up the emotional fight to press on in recovery.

"What is her belief system?" I asked, asking God silently for wisdom at the same time. "Is she a person of faith?"

Lena replied she was a Christian; they both were. I told her about this blog and how it came to be and offered to give her the link if she thought it might be of any help. That opened the way for discussion of coping mechanisms and specifically how we "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

She shared how she turns her back on "useless and negative thoughts" when her mind defaults to those. I shared an idea first learned (I think) from Elisabeth Elliot, to the effect that we can't control our emotions, but we can to an extent control our thoughts, which in turn alter our emotions. Keeping a gratitude journal, a list of God's blessings, greatly helps me with this, I told her. It doesn't fix the circumstances, but it helps me in them.

She loved that thought, so I went on to tell her about a woman who wrote a book about how gratitude--no, how the specifically Christian practice of gratitude to God--changed her life. This woman, Ann Voskamp, experienced some terribly traumatic events in her childhood that shaped her life from that point on, so that she eventually became an agoraphobic. One day, a friend dared her to count gifts, and she started counting the ways God loves her. That one discipline, a Christian's choice to thank God intentionally and daily for His good gifts, became the means God used to set her free and transform her life.

My new friend loved that idea, so I wrote the title, One Thousand Gifts, on a card for her. She continued her scraping and polishing, checking often to see if she was hurting my sensitive places. After the dentist signed off on the appointment, Lena walked me out and hugged me, saying how excited she was to read Ann's story.

When I left, all I could do was sit in the car with head bowed and hands upheld, my heart singing glory to God. I had so dreaded this unplanned extra dental appointment, to the point I considered temporarily disregarding the doctor's advice and waiting until my November cleaning to change things to every three months.

Once again, God was faithful in my faithlessness and rebellion. Whether my teeth needed the attention or not, He had arranged this appointment between two sisters in Christ who didn't know each other yet. Allen and I talk about medical appointments as my assignment from God right now and medical staff as my mission field, but sometimes I forget or don't really believe it's true. Days like that one remind me that such time is not wasted but can indeed be part of the answer to "Thy kingdom come."

Of course, that exhilaration did not last. At least one day since then has been passed with my thoughts taking me captive, rather than the other way around. As is so often the case, the very area of my confession on Tuesday came under fire on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. We can be most vulnerable on the heels of a victory, when we think we stand and forget to take heed lest we fall.

Today is another appointment-assignment with a new doctor and diagnostics sure to follow. The temptation to anxiety lurks once again, so returning thanks and praise to God must captivate my thoughts:

He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!
celebrating my mother's birthday with her yesterday
providential, unexpected fellowship with the substitute dental hygienist
no cavities
good news from one lab test
lunch with a new friend from the first Bible study of this year
talk of surrender and weights lifted
photo posts and greetings from a crumble friend's travels
an unexpected postcard of an unexpected place from another crumble
listening again to an old favorite, Hinds' Feet on High Places
thoughts about books exchanged with a friend's daughter
joy of good news of provision from a dear friend's family needs
the way one answered prayer revives hope for all the rest of the long waiting
new sun- and mosquito-protective shirts for walking Eb in the early mornings
a new, healthy recipe Allen and I both liked
a few mornings which almost felt cool to us
a splendid sunrise
a little boy wearing a blankie superhero cape around his shoulders to help his mom walk their dog
first successful (i.e., no increased pain) movie date in months
many celebrations still ahead this month
waiting almost over for consult with new doctor this week for GI diagnostics
the Lord's mercies, new every morning
Great is Thy faithfulness!
this week's text to learn by heart:
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."
Eph. 1:4-6

(still counting God's gracious gifts, #7073-7096)



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