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.