The Wonders of His Love, Part 5

31 Days of Reflection

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

(27/31) - It’s the moment a light turns on; a sudden inhaled breath; understanding; fresh eyes. Discovery. Surprise. Illumination. The moment when the immaterial becomes tangible and alive. This is what has happened to my faith over the past two years.

I have long been a follower of Jesus and faithful church-attender. I have been a student of the Bible, and a seeker of Truth. I had answers to all the big questions, but faith wasn’t alive in me quite the way it is now.

When life goes sideways, things don’t seem to add up quite as easily anymore. Scary thoughts, big emotions, and painful limitations enter. 

One thing I have discovered in my roller coaster years: Jesus adds up. He is the substantial enfleshing of God’s kindness, and His word is true. He draws near to those who draw near to Him. Instead of asking, “God, where are you?” I now ask, “God, where are we? What are we doing today?” I know in every cell of my body: I am held. I am loved. I am being sanctified and strengthened.

Ask anyone on the front end of training for an athletic event: the process of being strengthened is not always pleasant. Its resistance, exertion, resistance, exertion…planned rest, meaningful nourishment…resistance, exertion, and so on—repetitively, intentionally putting muscles under duress to build endurance. And endurance is worth its cost.

What does it mean to count it all joy when we encounter various trials? It means we recognize that even in discomfort and uncertainty, something good is taking shape within us as we believe God for what He offers.

Faith becomes alive and dynamic. Trust in God takes the place of doubt and fear…kicks them out, really. A profound sense of purpose eclipses the troubles of the day. Comfort comes in unexpected ways.

The Lord is trustworthy—even with our biggest fears. When the light flips on, it’s like a toddler who discovers they’re able to push a chair to the edge of the counter and suddenly there is a whole new world to explore.

So it is with Jesus when we walk with Him through difficult things. It’s really hard for a while, and then, as grace strengthens us through testing, we surprise-discover beautiful things we didn't know before.

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“For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

(28/31) - Over the next few days, I will be wrapping up this series. I have heard from some it’s been hard to learn all the details of my story. I have heard from others they’ve been really encouraged to read this testimony. Honestly, I needed to write this for myself. It has been incredibly healing to revisit all the hard and holy moments, to remember just how bad it was, to celebrate and publicly share my private breakthroughs and God’s care for me through all of it. I am sincerely grateful you’ve read along.

As I bring this series to a close, I wish to say: I have not shared anything I am not comfortable discussing further, personally or in my wrap-up posts to come. I’m aware this isn’t typical social media content, and I know it’s been uncomfortable for some of my real-life friends and family to learn of these details post-crisis, when there’s not a thing you can do about it. If there is anything you’d like me to revisit, resolve, or answer for you, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best. If you want to talk about health stuff, I’m here for it. If you want to talk about anxiety, I’m here for it. If you want to talk about disappointment, discouragement, and recalibrating expectations, I’m here for it. If you want to talk about Jesus, the Bible, or navigating faith/church/matters of suffering or counseling, I am here for it all day.

I really mean it, I’m open. So if there is something you’d like to know, ask in the comments or a DM. If there’s something you’d like to share from your own story, I’m here for that too.

Thanks for giving me virtual hearts and hugs and notes of encouragement the whole way through writing this story. I’m grateful for you.

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“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

(29/31) - In January 2020, I lost my hearing in one ear following a low-key upper respiratory illness. It was a sudden loss with extreme tinnitus involved and the experience was distressing. I went straight in to an ENT to check things out, having a friend once tell me hearing loss events can sometimes be successfully treated with prompt care. I wasted no time.

The doc prescribed some stuff, and wanted me back for a repeat hearing test a few weeks later. The audiologist reported I regained some hearing in the affected ear, but that I did have measurable long-term hearing loss. It was a bit of an emotional blow. I have since made my peace with it, but continue to live with intermittent tinnitus. It is not constant, but it is daily.

If I can compare tinnitus to other long term conditions for a moment, I’ve observed a few things.

Returning again and again to an emotional wound, physical injury, ongoing disappointment, deep sorrow, or—as it were—tinnitus can feel like the worst kind of Groundhog’s Day. When facing the same challenges over and over and over, it’s easy to become discouraged. Discouragement wears ruts into the road which (reasonably) pull us toward negativity. I doubt I need to preach to anyone about how hard it is to “stay strong” through prolonged tough times. You know what I’m saying.

To this day, the ringing in my ear comes and goes. Sometimes it’s mellow. Sometimes it’s so “loud” I can’t think of anything else. Always, I wish it wasn’t there. After some months of frustration and self-pity, God invited me to cope with it a new way.

This condition has robbed me of both joy and sleep at different times, and it has been tough to stay cool about it. The ringing is there whether I like it or not—but whenever it starts, I pray quietly to myself, “Thank you, God, for this ringing as a reminder of Your presence. Please bring me comfort and clarity about what I need to be doing at this moment.” I might stop rinsing dishes for the moment and lie down to rest. I might call a friend or put on music or read a book to my kids. Does it change the ringing? No. Does it change the way I experience the ringing? Yes, considerably.

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“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37b, 38

(30/31) - It wasn’t until we were through the doors of our new home—boxes unpacked and kids spread out across a home twice as large as our former—that I released my held breath, tense shoulders, and a deep reservoir of tears. As you’ve read, the past two years have been layers of hard I pray I never have to repeat in the future. I am prepared for whatever comes, with the care and companionship of Jesus, but chronic survival mode is not supposed to be a lifelong condition.

We arrived in at the end of October to a new home and neighborhood, and the start of a new season of healing. I’ll spare you the many profound details about how we ended up in this specific home, but in every way, this place was prepared for us. It is God’s provision, and has already been an extravagant blessing. I’ve been unwinding years of stress in the walls of this sanctuary, learning how to laugh and play, rest and retreat, connect and care in ways I never have in my life. Every breath is gratitude.

Things are not perfect, but things are very good. I do cry a lot; I am a river of grief, gratitude, and empathy for the suffering of others. Tears fuel my intercession.

If my experience is any indication, aftershocks come after crisis. I tell you this, because I think as a society, we’re on the front end of a crushing swell of grief from the fallout of 2020. We do not yet know the scope or scale of how this year has marked us all for a lifetime. I suspect all kinds of latent grief will hit, hit again, and revisit often in the coming years—for the disorienting ride this has been, the unspeakable losses suffered; for the bruised and misshapen condition of our country.

With love, I want to ask you to prepare for the swell. Find Jesus and get close to Him. Read the Bible…the words in it are life and hope of a kind that cannot be matched. Do everything you can to be well—substantially well, not the fake kind. Sleep. Eat foods that nourish your body. Move. Worship, pray, and study Scripture. Connect with others. Be kind and let your offenses fall into the ditch. Speak up if you need help. Don’t let fear push you around.

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“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

(31/31) - We’ve come to the end of the series, but not the end of the story. I honestly do have a million more things to share about what I’ve learned, but they can’t all be squeezed into December. As the calendar turns, I will more than likely be writing an email newsletter periodically over on Substack. I say more than likely, because last January I started up a newsletter there and abandoned it after one issue because I wasn’t ready and the world fell apart. I’ve learned it’s ok to start, quit, and start again. I’ve already started moving this series over, and if you want to share it with a friend, it’ll be an easier format than Facebook and Instagram. Thank you for reading along, for your words of encouragement and private messages. Happy New Year, friends.

The Wonders of His Love, Part 4

31 Days of Reflection

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” Psalm 30:11-12

(20/31) - In the next moments after her question, my counselor was quiet. I still had my eyes closed, was crying, with tissues in hand, and yet another wakeful vision took shape in my mind.

I saw myself coming out of the CT scan—when I was too weak to sit up, and in too much pain to stay lying down. As I rolled out of the machine (like had happened in real life), I rolled out of the machine into the hand of God. My head was at His fingertip, and my feet at His wrist, and I was held. Secure. Not alone. The room was filled with brilliant, blinding light; angels everywhere, and the warmest comfort I have ever experienced.

The truth was: I had not been alone in that room. The real time, in the flesh experience had been loneliness to the max, but I was held.

The most profound thing about it is that truly ALL those months I’d struggled afterward, deeply hurting—the pain of loneliness from ALL of it was gone. It was as if loneliness had been erased. In an instant, rectified.

Presently, I continue to feel the extreme comfort of knowing God is with me every minute of every day. Truly with me. Immanuel.

Since that day, I have not had even one more anxiety attack of that nature or severity. Do I still experience some anxiety on occasion? Yes. Does it terrorize me to the same degree or keep me from moving forward? Not even close.

Loneliness—something that has truly been a lifelong theme—no longer casts the shadow it once did.

I went home that evening with such a light spirit, I was smiling, laughing—something my kids hadn’t seen me do for a while. I truly felt like dancing, and told my kids to put on some tunes so we could have a dance party in the living room. I was up, twirling kids, playfully tickling them, and dancing like a total fool, completely floored by the joy…by the freedom I felt.

My 3.5 year old son looked up with me, bewildered with wide, innocent eyes and exclaimed, “Mama! I didn’t know you could DANCE!”

In his 3.5 years of life, he had no memory of me dancing.

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“For all things are for your sakes, so that grace, having spread to more and more people, will cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:15-16

(21/31) - All my life, I’ve had a soul hunger that gnawed at me from the inside. Sometimes it was physical. Pangs and emptiness followed by a compulsion to fill, fill, fill; an unruly desire to satiate the ache with the most comforting foods I could find, regardless of the consequences. Other times hunger was a hollow hurt somewhere less discernible in the center of me…the place where longing, loneliness, and grief were the most familiar residents. I wasn’t aware of it at all times, but it was a hunger that drove some of my behaviors—co-dependence in relationships, a high need for validation, overcommitment to high-achievement/perfectionism, productivity at the expense of rest—and the list goes on.

I wasn’t aware I’d buried my deep needs with impressive coping skills of every kind.

For six months, I went to counseling every week. I explored the ins and outs of many life experiences, the conclusions I’d drawn from them, and the ways those conclusions have shaped my understanding—for good or for bad. In the process, I gained freedom, clarity, and remarkable healing in multiple areas of my life. Some were miraculous types, others were worked out in wrestling through memories, recognizing patterns, and exploring a new posture toward life and toward God. Pride and productivity were deposed from their thrones, and I started seeking a new, gentler way of life.

I have grown to believe all of what I’ve experienced since the embolism has served to bring me gifts from God I may not have discovered any other way. Incredibly valuable gifts. The pain had purpose. It was not a twisted, punitive message of God’s displeasure. My pain was an open door to connect with God and receive (abundantly) all that He supplies for those who seek Him.

This heavy season has not been my favorite, but it has set me in a secure place and helped me in far greater ways than it has harmed me. I say that as someone who nearly died. I have gained a profound appreciation for many things I once overlooked, breath first of all.

I don’t buy the lies pain tells me anymore. It tells me death is inevitable, but the spirit within me knows better. I am alive, on my way toward complete renewal.

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“We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” James 5:11

(22/31) - My husband was a heroic presence through all my unraveling. When things fell apart and I could not equitably contribute to our family system the way I once did, he patiently rolled with the punches. He absorbed the shock waves. He remained a safe and soft place to land, even when I was every kind of broken. He believed me when I was barely able to articulate my symptoms and the details of my anxiety episodes. As I learned how to speak out loud what I needed, he responded with love. When I couldn’t explain why I was crying, he held my hand and comforted me. When I had physical symptoms, he listened with compassion and helped me discern whether trauma was talking or whether I needed to actually see a doc. When bills arrived in the mail, he paid them quietly, not burdening me with the sums. He was careful to hold back the tide of any additional stress from my field of view, and soldiered on, doing what needed to be done to keep us afloat.

Stress took its toll on him. He had gained a considerable amount of weight and his energy levels were low. He’d fall asleep in the afternoons, snagging involuntary naps on the couch while kids were all around. At night, when I heard him breathing, I felt uneasy about his health, but I didn’t know how to help him regain vision for his own wellness while I was struggling so hard with mine. I started praying for him every night while he slept—that God would help us both get our feet under us, help us out of survival mode. I didn’t know how that was going to happen.

Not long after, he announced he was going to start tracking his water intake in an app on his phone. He set a goal for how much water he’d drink each day, and the challenge was set. Every ounce of water he drank, accounted for in the app. Ok, I thought. Good, nerdy step forward. He stopped drinking soda, and stopped counting coffee toward his daily goal. Influenced by his excitement about it, I tried tracking my own water intake for exactly two days before I gave up. He kept up with it. It was the only change he made at the time, but within four months, he lost 40lbs.

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“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

(23/31) - “That was the one that broke you,” my husband said of the arrival of our sixth baby, five years ago. “It’s true. Nothing was the same after that,” I replied. 

In terms of charted outcomes, it was a success; healthy home birth and a 10lb chubby love of a baby. But the four years following it were their own kind of trauma. After that birth, I had significant problems with my pelvis, an interior thigh muscle, and chronic lower back pain. I was able to walk enough for basic everyday tasks—to and from my car, through a grocery store, to supervise kids at the park while leaning on a stroller—but I couldn’t carry my son in a carrier against my body, and I couldn’t walk for exercise. Whenever I tried, even just a mile or two at a gentle pace, my pelvis and lower back would hurt for days. I didn’t know what to do about it. I hobbled along the best I could. The baby went in a stroller til he was mobile, and I kept all walking to a minimum. 

Fast forward to the embolism, birth seven, and the fallout of my multiple medical challenges. Counseling brought spiritual breakthrough and relief from anxiety, but it also brought the beginning of physical healing from this four-year-old chronic pain problem due to the previous birth. In fall 2019, I started walking once or twice a week to stave off anxiety when it started to rise. I was easily winded. My distance was not impressive.

I started with the block I lived on, and went around it once or twice. Later, I would stretch it out to a full ten or fifteen minutes of movement. By December 2019, I was walking every couple of days for 15 or 20 minutes—mostly for the calm it brought me. I started to recognize even a small amount of movement made a difference…every step taken, a step out of helplessness and a step toward agency in my healing journey. 

I stopped seeing myself as irreparably broken. I was weak, yes. I felt a little lost. Where to start? But I started doing what I could, making the choice to move forward, rather than remain resigned. It was the first sign of progress—I was building endurance…very humble amounts of it, but I was on the move.

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“Hear, My son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; Do not let go; guard her for she is your life.” Proverbs 4:10-13

(24/31) - On January 1, 2020, I laced up my shoes with the intention of walking a mile. I don’t know if it was a wind of New Years optimism that sent me down the street on a mission, but I ended up walking nearly 3 miles. The next day, I laced up and walked again. Curiously, I had no back or pelvis pain afterward. This was new. I was jazzed about it.

Within a few days, I officially made it my goal to walk—any distance—on purpose, every day. My husband joined me. Sometimes we walked together. Sometimes we walked independently. I walked every day in January and wound up with 110 miles logged for the month. Sunny, rainy—it didn’t matter, I went.

This habit was well established by the end of February.

March brought the beginning of Covid lockdowns, this walking practice became a lifeline. My husband started working from home, kids were out of school, and suddenly our 1500 square foot home felt painfully small for 9 people who were home 100% of the time.

So we walked. We got bikes and scooters for the kids. Some days we went out two or three times. We walked for sanity. We walked for space. We walked for something to keep us moving in the midst of global pandemic confusion. Some days it was 3 miles. Sometimes it was 5, 7, or 9.

My husband got serious about rowing (a rowing machine was our first quarantine purchase), kettle bell workouts, and partway through the year, started rucking. We ate healthfully, and both of us lost a significant amount of weight and incrementally gained strength. I’m not telling you this to brag, but to share just how profoundly our lives have changed in the span of a year. Has it been a crap year in lots of ways? Yes. It has also been a year of remarkable physical restoration for both of us. By the time the calendar turns, I’ll have logged over 1600 walking miles, and my husband even more than that.

Grief has been present. Health anxiety remains. I just keep walking. I continue to have deep and honest conversations with God about hurts, heartaches, and how to live after having been through such a deep valley. But He keeps nudging me forward.

“Just walk, Emily. I am with you.”

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“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10

(25/31) - Where the trail splits, we take the narrow path along the water’s edge. My husband leads the way, our children between us. I am the rear guard to make sure no one falls behind. The air is crisp and icicles hang from the large mossy rock along the trail. I take careful steps over fallen branches, grateful for the gentle pace I am learning to walk in all things. How much easier it is to notice the beauty and account for each blessing when I am not rushing past, rushing through. To be here, now—in this time—is a gift. To have traveled through a horrendous season of uncertainty and unraveling was also a gift, although it took me some time to see it that way. It brought me understanding; how unimaginable beauty can be tucked curiously inside of brokenness. It brought me to Jesus, the one and only rescue from every kind of hardship.

Hardship changes us whether we want to be changed or not. Some people get tougher. I don’t mean admirably strong and resilient. I mean stiff, leathery, and harder to reach. Pain demands a response, and the options are to become callous or become tender. One deadens our senses—and our spirits—to the extraordinary significance of ordinary moments. The other makes us alive, deeply-feeling, and receptive to heavenly nourishment that strengthens us in spirit, mind, and body.  

I once was blind. Then I went to the valley of the shadow and found Jesus was there. In the valley. Waiting for me. Inviting me to slow my pace where my eyes might be opened to the goodness of His love. The wonders. And now I see: I do not have to be afraid. There is good news of great joy: Jesus. The Savior. Christ, my Lord.

I walk the path, the sun ahead and low in the winter sky. Shadows are everywhere, long and leaning my way. I see the silhouette of a small pine tree ahead; a mostly dark outline, intricate tufts of needles grouped together and topped with glittery light. I have seen darkness and discovered the glow of a hope that cannot be taken.

Surround us in Your Light, Lord. Help us recognize we are in the current of Your grace, no matter what troubles are in view. Bring comfort, bring joy. In Jesus’ name.

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“Be strong and courageous...The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:7a, 8

(26/31) - One year ago, I stood beside my husband, my arm tucked in under his as he leaned on a podium to share his memories of Grandpa Mac, a man who—well into his 80’s—sparked wonder and delight in kids of all ages. I wanted to be there, present and close, as the shaky words and endearing personal stories tumbled out to the friends and family gathered to honor the life of Paul E. McMains.

A month later, I stood at a podium inside the church my grandparents attended long before I was born. I shared stories about my mother’s father—my Grandpa Bill, also passed on—to wooden pews full of friends and family.

This was our start to 2020; solemn gatherings of both sides of our families to grieve the losses of two patriarchs gone to be with the Lord. I am grateful we were able to gather, and grieved for the widows, our grandmothers, left to figure out how to survive a pandemic without their spouses of six decades, respectively. 

It was the start of a season marked by perplexing and complex grief for everyone.

I closed up my regular life a week before the rest of Seattle. An early, confirmed Covid case in my husband’s office building sent everyone to work from home until further notice. I’d read a few things about the virus, and—not that I claim any significant foreknowledge of what it would become—somehow I sensed it was going to be more than a momentary disruption. Even though schools were still open that week, we skipped classes, opting to stay home. 

Thus began a string of shifty-feeling months as we entered the pandemic landscape.

In a weird way, I was ready for this year. I mean, I wouldn’t have chosen it—but even as 2020 slid into the ditch, I was not unprepared for the kind of endurance it would require. All 9 of us under one roof, figuring out the puzzle of things; learning to deep breathe and dance in new ways.

A catastrophic health event provided me blueprints for navigating unexpected challenges and unruly emotions. What had been my most harrowing life experience served to supply me with wisdom and anchor points to handle the weirdest year yet.

The Wonders of His Love, Part 3

31 Days of Reflection

“My days are disappearing like smoke. My body burns like glowing coals. My strength has dried up like grass. I even forget to eat my food. I groan out loud because of my suffering. I am nothing but skin and bones.” Psalm 102:3-5

(13/31) - The next two months were shades of challenging I don’t have the skill to put succinctly into words. “Squirrely” is the word that comes to mind.

Sleeplessness was a given. Newborn feeding and our always-energetic household. Normal stuff.

I was still giving injections in my newly-deflated, multicolored belly skin. As a PE survivor, I was at higher risk for developing clots for six weeks following the birth, and had to be especially diligent to continue blood-thinning until doctors cleared me to stop.

A week after delivery, a patch of skin on my abdomen was firm, red, and tender to the touch—presumably an infected injection site. It wasn’t normal and antibiotics were needed.

At a separate follow-up, I had a repeat glucose tolerance test, aftercare of having had gestational diabetes. A nurse called to tell me I’d failed the test, that this likely meant I was facing full-fledged diabetes and would need to see an endocrinologist. She hung up with a click, leaving many questions unanswered. It felt like another devastating blow.

I couldn’t get an appointment with the referred endocrinologist for 5 months. (Say what?) When I was on the phone trying to schedule it, they said even though they couldn’t (wouldn’t?) see me, I needed medication to manage sugars in the meantime.

I started the medication. I scrutinized every bite I ate. I recorded my blood sugar values religiously.

My sleep, appetite, and emotions were all over the place. If I had been pushed to my limit before, this was several steps further. I started having an assortment of weird and distressing physical symptoms. A same-day visit at my general doc revealed a UTI (which was a surprise, the symptoms hadn’t pointed that direction), and required more antibiotics.

In short, I was in bad shape. My GI system was not good. I felt shaky, and weepy, and lost. Anxiety attacks started up. I couldn’t pin down the symptoms I was having, and found it really difficult to explain how I was feeling even though words have always been my forte.

I also still had seven children at home, plus a husband who—after trucking through a long season as the primary caregiver for all of us—was worn down.

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“I lift my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

(14/31) - Up until this point, most of my troubles were physical ones: ailments, practical circumstances, personal limitations, the complex pregnancy, and fragile postpartum season. Things were hard, but largely in ways one could expect, or at least imagine. I felt lonely, tired, sad. I was weak, weary of appointments, ready to be done with injections forever. I’m sure there were happy moments, but it’s hard to remember them. The experience was more or less as I have described, although I’ve been selective about what parts to share because no one needs the long version of this story. We’d be here a while.

Have you ever heard the phrase: The thing is not the thing? If you’d told me any earlier in this story that the embolism, injections, and pregnancy complications were not the main things that needed attention—needed healing—I would have given you some serious side-eye. My “problems” appeared to be straightforward. I thought I knew exactly why things were sideways and what most needed repair.

I’d been crying out to God during lonely, quiet nights when everyone else in my house was asleep. And by crying out, I mean actually crying hysterically, choking out undignified prayers on my knees in the middle of my living room. I begged God for supernatural help. I was in over my head. Way over. I now know that was the point. I needed to see where I really was. I needed to stop trying to hobble myself together, acting like I could handle this business. I couldn't handle it. I needed God. Not just to “stop the bleeding,” but to transform my whole life and my perspective about almost everything. This is the entire reason I’m dumping out this long story for you all. I’ve shared the heavy stuff so you’d have context for the resurrection. The renewal.

When I was at my weakest, I didn’t know God was interested in a much deeper, more consuming kind of healing for me—not just physical, and not only what had happened since the embolism. I didn’t know there would be a zig-zag journey, like switchbacks up a mountain, that although hard and horrible in some ways, ultimately led me to unbelievable breakthrough.

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“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:29, 31

(15/31) - From this point forward, things became less straightforward and more spiritual. I don’t expect it to make perfect sense. It was definitely outside of normal for me. But truly, this is an account of what happened, and it was unmistakably real.

June 2019 brought the first debilitating anxiety attacks. **(See note in comments.) The first one happened at night, before my husband turned off the lights in our room. I didn’t sleep at all for hours. I could not calm down. It felt like hell tearing into me, screaming in my ears that I was surely going to die. I sobbed. I tried deep breathing. It took me hours to regain any sense of centeredness or safety.

Attacks like these began coming every 2-4 days at unexpected times. Sometimes in Costco. Sometimes while my kids were watching cartoons. Sometimes when I was trying to fall asleep. They were crushing. Punishing. Unbearable. Often, I’d feel a weird (benign) pain in a random part of my body, and immediately after, a thick sense of dread shot through me, quickly escalating to a sustained anxiety attack. It wasn’t just physical symptoms, it was spiritual—like the black abyss during the CT scan. Hell, death, terror. These episodes were coming on randomly, every few days, far too often to endure.

I went to see my general doc to talk about my disjointed symptoms, the anxiety episodes, and I brought my blood sugar log. He didn’t seem to hear my anxiety concerns, but took one look at the log and determined the values were not in diabetic range. I was not diabetic. He wanted me off the medication. I was floored. I drove home with my first glimmer of renewed hope for life, but nothing for anxiety. A blood test later confirmed I was not diabetic.

Finding out I did not have diabetes felt like someone had cut loose a pronouncement of death from me. I know diabetes does not mean certain death and can be successfully managed, but when I had received the diagnosis, I somehow also felt condemned, like death was inevitable, and all the ailments I’d accumulated were evidence indicating thriving was not for me; that my best days were behind me. A pile of lies.

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“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

(16/31) - My husband went out of town for a few days on a work trip. The kids were asleep and the house, quiet. I had been in my room nursing the baby to sleep by light from the laundry room across the hall. As soon as he fell asleep, I wrapped and moved the baby to his bassinet. Loneliness and melancholy were hanging around, and I could feel anxiety flapping around, trying to land.

I turned worship music on in my ear buds and curled up in fetal position on my bed, attempting slow, deep breaths and the silent prayers of a still-tender postpartum mama. Tears slid down my face to my pillow, and I turned my attention to each word of the song playing in my ears, longing for breakthrough, longing for peace. The lyrics of the song referenced the name of Jesus causing darkness to tremble, how Jesus has the power to silence fear. I had known both things to be true in theory, but wanted so much to be free of fear and these sideways anxiety attacks.

As I listened, I imagined myself walking through a ruined city. It was a wakeful vision; like a dream but not. I passed buildings toppled in heaps and ruin, piles of rubble lining a straight and narrow path. My arms stretched out wide and I took slow, steady steps forward. The voice in my ears sang, “Breathe, call these bones to live, call these lungs to sing, once again I will praise.”

It’s difficult to describe what happened next. I was very much awake, but with my eyes closed; experiencing a holy moment in a humble place. I was still curled up in fetal position, still dripping tears to the lower side of my face. Still seeing the vision of ruins and me walking through them, I started speaking out loud, “I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive.”

For the first time since I was diagnosed with the embolism, I felt like the truth reached my soul: even if I had been near death, I had not died.

God had not allowed it. He called me to live.

It was the beginning of my belief that God spared my life for a purpose. The beginning of my understanding that He truly is unfathomably good, even if circumstances all around seem to say something else.

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“For it is You who light my lamp; The Lord my God lightens my darkness…This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:28, 30

(17/31) - One would think a wakeful vision of resurrection might be a cure-all for the troubles and trials of the season, but that is not what happened. The experience was—to be certain— powerful. But it was less a reprieve from my struggles and was instead, an injection of hope. I was reminded God is for me. It was a call to have faith for what God had for me next.

Faith is putting our eyes where the true power lies.

Anxiety attacks did not stop. I coped as well as I could with my limited bag of tricks, but a month in, my husband expressed concern I might need real, substantial help. He was out of ideas and out of steam. He’d been very compassionate all along, but this was beyond both of us. After a minor argument about it on an extra-weary day, I knew he was right. I needed help. I could not live like this.

I didn’t know where to start. I didn't really want to see a counselor which would mean really owning the level of my need. I was tired of “needing” so much, but I was at an impasse. I called a friend that afternoon and sobbed out my problems. She texted me a number. I called. Didn’t leave a message. The counselor called me back and said she’d see me next-day. I went.

My first visit was basics. Prayer, breathing techniques, coping strategies, and me unloading the highlights of my troubles. It was a fine visit, but didn’t rock my world. I was struggling to see how this was going to help me, but I agreed to return the next week. She wanted me to understand sessions built on each other, and if I wanted to get the most out of it, a steady week-by-week schedule would serve me best.

In practical terms, she said I needed to recover margin. I had to find a way to honor my real, personal limitations. I thought I had been doing that (against my will) for 9 months, but she could see the truth: I was still muscling through. Not resting. I was resisting rest, resisting God, and resisting an honest look at what was in my soul. 

I wasn’t convinced, but I was desperate for a way out of the terrible spot I was in, so I kept listening.

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“Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

(18/31) - I’ve tried to give an honest account of the condition I was in mid-summer of 2019, but words really do fall short of the full breadth of confusion, terror, and vulnerability I felt through those months. There were ongoing physical symptoms that failed to yield a specific diagnosis, but kept me in a state of alarm at all times. I was a revved engine, idling high, and couldn’t come down no matter how hard I tried. I saw half a dozen doctors—pulmonology, cardiology, neurology, a needless ER visit—but I always left with nothing firm to go on. As far as they could tell, I was healthy—and yet, symptoms persisted.

There were also spiritual things—wild, way-out-of-normal encounters with God (hello, vision of resurrection) and also the flip side; nights when the presence of darkness was so thick and suffocating, I’d sprint out of bed desperate to escape it, dripping snot and tears into my hands as I prayed. I dared not share the full story with anyone. I could not bear well-meaning friends reducing it to something with a label, or something with a simple solution when I, myself, was exhausting all my typically-capable faculties to figure out what the hell was going on.

The episodes were brutal, confusing, and elusive; worse than anything I’d experienced through the active recovery from the embolism. To me, it was extreme kindness that God supplied me with a unique counselor who could lead me forward through the ruins of my toppled life with wisdom and compassion.

I cannot stress enough, God is the only one who can heal. But make no mistake, He can and does heal people, and He does it in all kinds of different ways. I do not claim to know why some are healed and some are not, nor do I ever want to step above my pay grade to make claims that don’t hold up, but He has done truly great things for me. He has won my deepest trust. It has not been instantaneous healing. It has been slow; in stages.

Stage one had me in counseling, prayerfully seeking to understand why loneliness had been the most constant thread through everything that had surfaced since my hospitalization…that time I had asked, “God, where are you?” and hadn’t received an immediate answer.

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"Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

(19/31) - The first few weeks of counseling were “intake” sessions, where I basically spilled out all the things I had to spill—the “quick” overview. She asked good questions, I gave long answers. She took notes and spent time helping me plan practical steps toward reasonable and necessary self-care measures at home; basic stuff like what I was eating, when I was going to bed, cutting out all non-essential commitments so I could carve out an adequate level of respite despite many home responsibilities.

She explained her take on how spiritual things affect our physical bodies and mental space, and how my spiritual wellbeing was every bit as important as physical wellness.

By week five, I was eager to get a move on this get-better train and dig into deeper stuff. She suggested we talk about the day I was in the hospital, specifically when I had the CT scan. I told her every detail of the experience. She took notes and asked if I was willing to close my eyes and allow her to guide me through the memory of what had happened there. She said I should grab the tissue box on the table and keep it beside me.

I consented, grabbed the box, feeling certain I wouldn’t need it, and closed my eyes. I was alert and calm as she narrated me through the memory of entering the scan room and getting into the machine. She said, “When you feel elevated anxiety, let me know.” 

She revisited what I’d said about not being able to breathe, and how much pain I’d been in. She said again, “When you feel anxiety rising up, let me know.” 

I was waiting to feel anxiety, but I didn’t, so I said, “I don’t feel anxious.” 

“What do you feel?”

I didn’t know for a moment, and then I opened my mouth and said, “I feel…sad.”

At that moment—like floodgates opening—I began sobbing uncontrollably. 

“Why are you sad?” she asked.

“I feel….so…..alone,” was all I could get out between the heavy sobs.

“I’d like to pray and ask God to answer a question for you. Heavenly Father, what is the truth about Emily being alone in the CT scan?”

I had no idea what would come next.

The Wonders of His Love, Part 2

31 Days of Reflection

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf.” Hebrews 6:19

(6/31) - I shuffled out of the hospital in sandals to a warm and breezy September afternoon. My husband carried my belongings beside me as I hobbled along to the car. I focused my eyes on the ground, carefully placing each step in front of me with hope a slow pace and short, shallow breaths might keep intense pain in my right lung to a minimum. Unfortunately, every third breath necessitated a deeper draw to keep me adequately oxygenated, even if I had to wince through it. I was on blood thinners and pain meds, but I still felt like I had been hit by a truck, and then a train, and then a bulldozer.

The three-minute walk from the hospital doors to our dusty, white minivan winded me and prompted a relieved fall-sit into the front seat. I buckled my seat belt for the ride home, and simultaneously, for a crash course in the aftermath of a catastrophic health event.

Five minutes and a few traffic turns brought us to the front of our house, where I re-entered the life I knew before hospitalization, but as a new person—one who could no longer do anything I used to do in the same way I used to do it. Not only was I in excruciating pain, I was unprepared for the emotions that came with the sudden shift from having been an able-bodied mama to the limitations of a seriously compromised convalescent.

No one offered up a manual about how to put on a brave face for my six wide-eyed children, or how to talk to them about my health without scaring them. They approached me timidly, their faces full of questions. I could not throw my arms wide and scoop them close. All I could do was gingerly take my seat in the corner of our living room where I would sleep, sob, and surrender my plans again and again for months (years?). I held their hands and stroked their faces one by one, saving the heaviest of my tears for when they were down to bed.

Life was instantly different for all of us. I wanted to bounce back quickly, but my arrival home was just the beginning of many months of slow unraveling, deep excavation of the soul, and mercifully—eventually—restoration like nothing I could have ever anticipated.

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“I wait for the Lord. My whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5

(7/31) - I could not do anything but sit and watch my family carry on without me. It turns out when your lungs are compromised, so is the rest of your body. Oxygen is required to run all the things, and laboring to breathe means everything slows down. I could not lie down without pain for five months. I slept upright on the couch, propped by a collection of pillows stacked just so. I was not able to stand for more than five minutes at a time without becoming what I can only describe as “winded” but a little different. Lifting my arms in the shower to wash soap out of my own hair was hard. I couldn’t stand to do dishes. I couldn’t flip laundry loads because those tasks required bending and lifting—two things I also couldn’t do.

A hundred percent of my energy was required to do the most basic things. I had no reserves, and my limitations were maddening. I mothered from a place of total weakness—literally always sitting, straining to give exceptionally clear, detailed, gentle instructions to my children for things I might have previously done on my own. My kids were 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12—not yet independent ages. I wept often for the hole created in our family by my inability to physically serve them the way I used to.

I had to learn how to receive care. From God, from everyone. My husband did double parenting duty, and tended my every need even though I was not able to reciprocate. I had to look in the mirror and accept that this was where I was at. Broken, barely able to function, and still beloved.

It has been a painful, but powerful lesson regarding a line that previously felt like an empty platitude: “You are loved just the way you are”. That’s easy to accept when “the way you are” isn’t a burden on a lot of other people. It’s much more difficult to accept when you are in a season of deep need.

I still feel needy…or tender, at least. I’m physically “recovered” from the clot, but some of my lung tissue is scarred for life. I feel the unique, particular pain where the clot was sometimes when I breathe—a reminder of a messy season when love became real to me in new ways.

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“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

(8/31) - It was day-to-day. One step at a time. I had a baby to grow. A lung to heal. Kids to teach and love. A whole bunch of kids. And I had no physical strength to offer. None of the typical ways a mama loves her babies were available to me, so I had to find other ways of mothering.

I was stationary most hours of the day, and I observed them closely. I could see exactly when an interaction turned slightly sour; when a misunderstanding took place. I connected dots I probably missed when I was busier and more on-the-go.

Words became more important than ever before. What I said. How I said it. I started to understand how whispers reach the heart more effectively than a raised voice. How a child’s cup can be filled with simple time close by my side. How responsive my kids could be to gentle explanations, curiosity-driven investigation of the happenings between siblings, and creative solutions to problems. I realized I was able to be a committed, intentional mama even from a limited and compromised place.

It was a gift to realize that, truly, God fills in the gaps. I bring what I have with open hands, and I offer it. He makes it enough.

I started seeing from-the-heart compliance in my children, which had not always been a thing prior to the hospitalization. Servanthood and cooperation, tenderness and understanding.

I cried literally all the time. Long sessions of ugly, snotty sobs. I can’t say this happens less often, even now. But they’re not always tears of sorrow or pain. Sometimes they’re tears of gratitude I simply can’t contain for what I’ve been given.

My weakness was at first frustrating for me, but I learned a valuable lesson for life: weakness is an advantage. Weakness is not failure. Weakness is the most direct route to Jesus and the fullness of His love.

Tears are part of healing; part of dealing with the inertia of a life-altering experience. I’ve welcomed weakness into a place it might always be…at the forefront of things. I’m beginning to think God designed it this way, so my heart and my family might be soft and pliable in His hands, able to be artfully shaped just the way He wants us to be.

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“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

(9/31) - Recovering from the embolism was as much a mental task as a physical one. Every twelve hours, I had to muster a hefty show of willpower to best the part of me that wanted to skip the next injection. It was not exactly enjoyable to stab myself with a one-inch needle designed to deliver a pre-loaded dose of blood thinner into the soft skin around my abdomen, but there were no alternatives. This is what continuous blood-thinning during pregnancy looks like.

A new injection site was needed for every dose, and doses happened twice a day, so I quickly developed a strategy to alternate sides—left in the morning, right in the evening. Sometimes more toward the center, sometimes closer to the hip. Each injection produced a dark purple bruise that slowly turned various shades of lighter purple and green as it healed over a week. With fourteen shots every seven days, I sported an alarmingly colorful midsection throughout the pregnancy and for six weeks beyond.

It felt uncomfortable and unnatural, but these injections were 100% necessary for survival and healing. To maintain therapeutic blood-thinning levels that would protect from the formation of new clots, the medicine had to get under the surface of my skin so it could enter my bloodstream and do it’s job.

Some of the things we need for healing are counterintuitive.

It was counterintuitive for me to go to the ER; to give myself daily injections; to gratefully receive the care and generosity of others. It was counterintuitive to embrace a new, humbled existence. Still, all of these things made way for God to begin teaching me what it looks like to live deeply nourished in my spirit, mind, and body—something I did not know I was not doing so well before all this crazy stuff went down. I’m still learning, but I’ve tasted it. I know God is good. I know peace is available. I know He is in the business of restoration and is the giver of good gifts. I know the very best thing I can do is inject His Word into every part of my day. The big challenge is recognizing what is from Him and opening my hands for all of it, even while still in a season of suffering. I guess that’s counterintuitive, too.

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“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17

(10/31) - I felt alone in every possible way, even though many people offered various measures of support after the hospitalization. I felt alone at night, alone in my painfully slow recovery, alone in an increasingly complicated pregnancy, alone even in social interactions with friends.

It’s not that I was actually alone…I wasn’t. But there was a chasm between what I experienced and what I was able to articulate about it. Case and point: most people outside of my immediate circle of support are hearing this story for the very first time—two years later.

My soul felt like a cavernous pit—with needs bigger than I could see ever being filled and a desperation to look like anything but a total wreck when I was around other people. More than once, I showed up to a ladies’ event at church, desiring the simple joy of managing a whole evening of smiles and laugher in light-hearted conversation. Inevitably, I’d squeak out a few words about how I was doing before buckets of tears (and snot) would start falling out of my face. I knew others wanted to help, to take just a little bit of the heavy stuff from me, but there was no way to offload the work God was doing in my soul while I was in the thick of things. The thin places of my soul were there precisely so God might break through—to punch a hole in the self-protective layers I’d piled on so He could pour the good stuff in. Not saying it didn’t hurt, just saying it was well worth what I gained.

As an aside, I’d like to say: If someone is privately suffering, they may not be able to tell you so. If they do share a sliver of it, they may not have the words or the heart to ask for what they need. Those who helped me most in those months made it easy to accept their help. One friend sent me an email with a detailed list of everything she’d be glad to help me with on short notice if I needed. It was a gift to know what she was up for without me having to ask out of the blue, and as a result, she became my first-call person. Always kindness, never pity. It’s the only reason I could accept her help.

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“All my longings lie open before You, Lord; My sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pounds. My strength fails me: even the light has gone from my eyes.” Psalm 38:9-10

(11/31) - My husband wasn’t able to be with me at doctor’s appointments. Someone had to be the adult supervision for our six little rascals at home, and he was it. Super dad. I had appointments weekly—or sometimes every other week—which meant he had to work from home to be with the kids so I could get to appointments on time, by myself. Blood draws, pulmonologist follow up, maternal fetal medicine, ultrasounds, and later on, non-stress tests. I am a person who tries to be as low-maintenance as possible at all times. This was not my favorite situation.

At 28 weeks, I went in for a routine glucose tolerance test and walked out with a gestational diabetes diagnosis on top of the other high-risk pregnancy considerations. Sucker. Punch. With it came another layer of stuff I would have to stay on top of. Added to my already twice-daily injections: finger sticks, tracking blood sugar values, logging food and making stringent food choices. Despite my best efforts over a few weeks, I was not able to get or keep my sugars down, and ultimately added insulin injections to the equation. Even following the strictest eating plan, my doc kept bumping the insulin doses up until I was on 90 units daily (10 units is the starting point). Discouragement frosting on discouragement cake.

I cried while driving home from nearly every appointment. My doctor wanted me to come in for non-stress tests twice a week, induce a week early, told me I could expect a highly managed delivery due to possible complications. Aside from the good news that my baby was developing well, most visits were full of angst, question marks, and the aforementioned crushing and constant loneliness. I was looking ahead to the birth, hoping with all my might that it would be some kind of finish line. That everything would be better after that. I’d be on my way back to my “normal” life again. That’s not how it went.

It was true survival mode for months. We hobbled things together at home. The kids carried on with resilience that would make anyone cry (or maybe just me), and my husband was as steady and selfless as I have ever seen a man. Bless him. By some miracle, we finally made it to induction day.

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“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

(12/31) - I hadn’t wanted an induction at first, but having a marked date helped me see light at the end of the tunnel. After Saturday, there would be no more insulin injections. After Saturday, there would be a baby in my arms. After Saturday, I would be able to start a new, different season—whatever that might look like.

In the week leading up to the induction, no fewer than 20 people reached out to me with prayers and meaningful messages of support. I was large and in charge. I felt ready, excited even, highly motivated to put this pregnancy behind me. The peaceful runway ahead of childbirth felt like extravagant grace.

My care team was great. There were a dozen small details that needed to gel (getting blood thinners out of my system so I could get an epidural) which I’d stressed over for weeks, but mostly went smoothly until a twice-failed epidural had me white-knuckling the side of the hospital bed. My L & D nurse was a mom of 6 kids herself, and she advocated for my needs all through the night, compassionately comforting me through the worst of it. Even when attending docs acted quite casual about the epidural problems, she persistently spoke up for me. I was grateful.

By early morning, my little guy arrived. The moments of delivery (with a third, finally working epidural) were blissfully peaceful. Like. Weirdly. He didn’t cry and neither did I (this is not commensurate with my childbirth history). It was a sacred pause. A breath. A miracle this baby and I had survived many dark and heavy months. Peace is what I had prayed for. Peace is what I received. I needed the breath, because a whole lot more hard stuff was on the horizon.

This is an excerpt from my journal a week later:

“It has been a slog, and even now, on the other side of the birth, I am coming to terms with just how hard the whole pregnancy has been. I am more physically broken than I’ve ever been in my life. Humbled. Weary. Worn. My midsection and thighs are minefields of bruises and scars from almost 1500 injections since September. I am tender and vulnerable—aware of my weakness and the many ways I cannot do what I want to. I may not be able to for a long while.”

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