Breaking and Healing the Hearts of Our Children

It is an insomnia season. A season when all the elements converge and conspire against the coveted commodity called sleep... deep sleep. And in spite of my fondness for Instagram, I  lay tonight's struggle partially at the feet of that glorious time sucker. (As a friend wisely said, I wouldn't have the extra worries if I didn't go seeking them out on social media!) I met a mom there recently whose struggle looked a lot like mine and when she shared a little piece of her grief, my own heart broke. So here I am... awake. 

The grieving woman on Instagram wanted to know if we moms can entertain a reasonable hope of repairing the damage we do to our households over the years. Tell me we can! she begged. Tell me we can go back and reverse what we have done!  

I whispered a tiny and sad no inside my head and in the following seconds, my racing mind was flooded with a torrent of memories; all personal failures I have owned in the last 21 years of motherhood. Some of them stick to me like fly paper and the guilt is so heavy that if I dwell too long, I go down, down, down into the ugly deep. But I didn't dwell this time, I simply let the projector reel of time run out as I held my breath, as if riding out a labor pain. I answered on Instagram then... and I answer now as I lie awake, preoccupied with the gravity of this question...

No. You can't go back. You can't repair all the damage. The hope lies in the possibility of renewal, repentance, and healing - but the scars will probably stay. Some will stay for a little while and some for a lifetime, heedless of our grief and the gripping, aching guilt of regret.

The children forget our mistakes when they are 12 months old but it doesn't take long before the memories stick. They are formed under our love.... and our sin. My first two children have entered adulthood and I know that when they walk out the front door, they take all the hidden heart wounds with them. Perhaps they’ll over spend the rest of his life healing from and forgiving me the consequences of my sins...

My laziness.
My impatience.
My lack of charity.
My selfishness.
My willful ignorance.
All of those things which fall into those categories in big and small ways.

Countless hours of my motherhood have been spent lying awake, grieving over my words and actions and raising my fist against the injustice of the human condition… 

Why must it be that we are destined to leave these marks on the souls of our children when it is our deepest desire to raise them to be whole and healthy and happy? 

There simply is no answer apart from The Fall and The Cross. Jesus is the Savior. And I am not He. In our journey toward sanctity, we eventually realize that either He will be the answer to the heartache of our homes... or no one will. 

For years, I spent much of my motherly frustration on those outside of my home who hurt my children, dwelling on the difficulty of free will. Why, Lord, do You allow people to choose evil? To choose sin? To hurt my children? And then... the day came when raised my hands and yelled: 

WHY? Why, Lord, have You allowed ME to wound?  

I love my large family and take tremendous delight in watching it grow and thrive; however, the process of sanctification in this vocation can be intense. And perhaps that's putting it mildly. The walls that used to get washed... don't.

The attention I used to have for one... I must somehow divide by seven.

The virtues I thought would blossom in my life... have proven to be remarkably weak under pressure.

My plans for holiness and household peace and perfect... skuttled by the reality of human will.

We love and we wound. They adore us and then feel our weakness pierce their hearts. We make them the center of our vocation, and then they remind us that they are not meant to be bent and molded and pressed... but to be mentored and to fly. In my imagination, I saw that I would become better and more competent over time. I never would have believed that I would feel that the opposite was happening.

Motherhood will not be planned. Children will not be controlled. And against every prayer and supplication, God will always allow more struggle than the person can handle. Would we ever turn to Him if He didn't?

For years, I thought it was just me. I thought that I was the lone failure among my friends and my community. I knew others were struggling, but in my self-centered anxiety, I thought that I must be at the bottom of the barrel of incompetent mothers.

Over the years, this belief (coupled with a heavy dose of postpartum hormonal imbalances) brought a period of depression which led into a lingering sorrow and a companion anger that comes with a feeling of cosmic injustice…

If large families are a blessing, then WHY am I suffering under the burden of my inadequacy? If this is the right equation, then I must be the wrong answer. Why would God allow my beautiful children to be placed in the care of such a weak, wounded, and ridiculous mother? 

I couldn't find an answer because I did not understand that His perfection only comes in our weakness. In the cloud of my monumental pride, the grace of God was obscured. All that was visible to me was my failure.

This harsh and deep sorrow softened over time and was eventually companioned by a deep and strengthening faith. I acknowledged my constant failure and recognized that I would always fail. I read adult versions of the lives of the saints and recognized their humanity; their allergies, their tempers, their errors, their conflicts. I began to know them a little better and to forgive in myself what I had previously seen as unforgivable.

At the beginning of my motherhood, I grew in confidence as I led my little army. That great confidence faded as I saw my failures mirrored to me in the lives of my growing kids. My pride lay stretched out and broken on the living room rug every single day. There didn't seem to be a way out of that. Mary, Mother of Sorrows became an ally for the first time. And the Cross of motherhood, once a lovely but distant mystery, became nestled deeply in my heart. My greatest consolation was the abiding love of God. He made Himself very present to me, even as my broken heart bled out into every area of my life.

Why did He allow this kind of stripping of soul? Perhaps because once I knew that I was absolutely nothing without Him, I might finally learn how to pray and truly seek Him.  

The grace of God began to rain down upon me and carried me through what I have privately referred to as my adult childhood. I had to learn how to walk again and to relearn what it meant to be alive as a child of God. Formerly, I thought that faith would make me a shiny flawless saint, like the drawings in my children's picture books. The hard lesson was that the pursuit of perfection did not mean that I could be perfect in myself, but only by allowing Christ to fill my soul entirely. The Refiner's Fire was consuming me. Terrifically painful (and ongoing)... but still a place of Life and unparalleled joy. 

How was I to grow in sanctity and perfection? How was I to learn to stand up straight and tall in the midst of my failures? It really boils down to the annihilation of my pride and the pursuit of only one vision: God's.

I am now in a stage I can only refer to as the fighting stage. I see that I am overwhelmed by losses to my own sinful nature, my kids' free will, and the many obligations of life that I do not feel equipped to meet. And yet... I know that I am fighting for souls. I used to want to build the perfect Catholic dominion... and now I am fighting for each step against many enemies and odds, to simply love all my people into heaven.

I do not count the wins as a general would, I tend the soldiers and the wounded, regardless of whether the battle being waged is won or lost. The larger battle will never be mine to fight. My battle is love and love alone.

We were made for greatness. We were made for everything good He ordains for us, be that with a short obscure life or a lengthy stay in the midst of a large community. My fiat is not my yes to success... it is my yes to faithful obedience and an act of faith with the promise of joy. My failures are like stepping stones to grace. Each time I fall, He lifts me up higher than I could have gone without Him. And if I get to heaven at all, it will be because I have simply let Him carry me the whole way. 

This vocation... It doesn't look at all like I thought it would. The sorrow is still there. The crosses seem to multiply at times. The stakes are higher. It used to be about simply keeping the children alive and clean each day and now it's about their immortal souls. It is hard in a startling way and perhaps that is why God gives us the easy stuff first. Pregnancy, labor, and bloody breastfeeding ain’t got nothin' on teenage/young adult growing and stretching pains and the realization that I've screwed up more small and big things than I can count. My pride has been sorely touched by this new stage in motherhood. 

Eventually, all of the days of humiliation and dying give way to days of rising. You will fall hard. And your children will fall hard. It is on those days that you will know without question where your true priorities lie. You will drop everything and run to tend to their skinned knees and hearts (and sometimes even harder, clean up after the wounds they have inflicted on others) and you will question everything that you do and why you do it. 

Our tendency is to run, fast and hard, away from that pain and discomfort and our culture does this with a will. As Christians, we feel the struggle coming on and are tempted to turn and start running with everyone else. It makes sense…

Leave it, medicate it, drink it away, distract, cover, deny, pretend, and shout it down. But we... those moms who know the heart and hurt is all for Christ... we stop mid stream and do an intentional turning. We see our crosses waiting behind us and we turn and take them up with love. 

I'm not going to leave.
I'm never going to leave.
I give myself in love for you.
I will work until I'm old and gray (and beyond) for you.
My talents are yours.
My treasure is yours. 
My time is yours.
My cheerful, joyful, sunny days are yours.

But my anger, resentfulness, selfishness, and crankiness? Those are mine. And I leave them at the foot of the Cross for Jesus to sweep away. Because His name is Mercy.

To the beautiful Instagram lady who came face to face with her priorities, I just want to let you know that it is a day for rejoicing. God has chosen to gift you with holy vision. And now? He will give you the grace to press on. Thanks be to God.

The Roots of Autoimmune Crisis (My updated story of Lupus and Lyme)

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For those of you following my healing journey, here’s an update. For those of you here for the first time? Welcome to a conversation of HOPE.


A little over a year ago, I asked if it was possible to heal autoimmune disease naturally? I believed then (and believe now) that it IS and that our mainstream institutionalized medical system is largely hampering our efforts. Not only that, but the constant ingestion of damaging pharmaceutical medications are often making us sicker, not better.

An award-winning rheumatologist once patted me on the bum and told me that my suffering was just a lack of sleep. I cried all the way home and paid him $600 out of pocket for his trouble. He was wrong, but that knowledge doesn’t repair the price paid in mind, body, and bank account.

I acknowledge that modern medicine is a great gift and saves countless lives every year. That is not at issue. My problem is with the lives it often needlessly exploits and damages when better resources are readily available but suppressed by a broken system.


THE PROBLEM OF LUPUS

I have Lupus and mainstream medicine tells me that Lupus is an incurable autoimmune disease. The primary care specialist for most Lupus patients is a rheumatologist, and almost all rheumatologists treat Lupus symptoms with drugs that cause short and long term damage to the body in exchange for temporary relief and hope.

Those meds sometimes save a life when an organ is under concentrated attack by friendly fire. But like cancer meds, these life saving protocols do come with a price tag. I often wonder whether the cure is killing Lupus patients faster than their disease.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Lupus sufferers talk about their problems. There comes a point (rather quickly) at which the suffering of the disease becomes almost indistinguishable from the suffering caused by the  medication.

I didn’t want to go down that road and so I asked questions…

  • WHY is my immune system attacking my own organs?

  • How can I get it to stop without shutting down my immune system with meds?

What I learned from daily research is that the body is an awe-inspiring creation and that it does not fire on itself without a reason. I knew that if I could find that root cause, I could find some degree of healing. I will always have the dysfunctional antibodies with me but they don’t always have to be active and triggered. So…

What is triggering my antibodies to attack normal healthy cells?

That’s the million dollar question and I poured a boatload of money into integrative medical professionals and testing in order to find out. Money well spent, I believe.


FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE

I was a model patient walking in the door because I had already laid the foundation for good health over the last 6-7 years which they recommend for every sick person they treat…

  • I eat a diet free of garbage and inflammatory ingredients. (See how I eat HERE)

  • I don’t take OTC or pharma meds without a truly grave reason.

  • I live a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol, tobacco, and other toxic substances.

  • I have a healthy weight and strive to stay active and minimize stress.

  • I use gentle plant-based medicine and supplements to treat symptoms and support my body (More info HERE)

  • I use personal and household products which do not poison my body

I was managing symptoms and disease (multiple autoimmune diseases) through a healthy lifestyle when so many others were becoming dependent on and trapped in a cycle of medication and misery. Some necessarily. Some because they were NEVER OFFERED AN OPTION.

In spite of all of this and in spite of tremendous healing and progress…

My autoimmune flare ups kept coming back, my neurologic issues continued to surface, neuropathy increased, and new problems were added to the mix. When my thyroid numbers went off track for the first time, I got angry…

I am collecting autoimmune diseases. If I don’t get a handle on this, I’m going to die young or become disabled. I’ve got 8 kids… I’m not going to give up the fight.

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LEFT: Me, during a flare. Swelling, hair loss, malar rash, severe pain, numbness, extreme fatigue, nausea, migraines, respiratory problems, heart arrhythmias, sun intolerance, heightened allergic response, food intolerance, joint degeneration, etc.

RIGHT: Also me… walking the line between health and illness.
It’s a dimly lit photo so the light was favorable to my lines but… I usually look somewhere between these two photos. This illustrates the extremes to give a better understanding of the middle ground. My face often indicates (even in small ways) what the rest of my body feels like, although it’s generally invisible to others. Chronic illness always falls somewhere on a range of wellness. It’s generally not as simple as “I am sick today” or “I am not sick today.”


So we started shelling out the money to get tested for root causes of systemic inflammation and antibody production. Those triggers generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Infections (bacterial, fungal, viral, SIBO)

  • Heavy metal toxicity

  • Leaky gut

  • Parasites

  • Toxic mold

  • Chronic stress (which leads to leaky gut and chronic inflammation and dysfunction)

  • Environmental toxins

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Pharma, OTC medications, and Vaccines (Don’t freak out, people. These are actually medically known triggers of Lupus. 10% of all cases, in fact, and I’m going to guess that’s a low number since it’s often impossible to identify a cause.)

(I’m going to mini-rant now about how insurance companies will cover brutally toxic meds that only mask symptoms but will NOT cover tests for most of the above. In my case, it was worth the money but it’s been a painful drain on my family’s resources. Financial concern has often kept me from pursuing care. We need a change in the system…. so that patient care is dictated by true patient needs and evidence-based choices, not pharmaceutical companies. Rant over.)


YOU HAVE LYME DISEASE

One of the happiest days of this journey was when I finally learned that the underlying cause of my lifelong autoimmune cascade is Lyme Disease. It was also one of the most crushing days. I am happy to have identified an enemy. But Lyme Disease, with all of it’s complicated co-infections and dastardly elements… well… it’s not the enemy I would have chosen to fight. The initial news brought relief. The days that followed brought confusion and grief.

Regardless, I now have a target and I’m ready to fight.

My case is what is called “complicated” Lyme. The translation is that the professionals don’t really how to help me. In addition to Lyme, I have CIRS, and hypothyroid (new within the last year). I have a body full of disorder and they don’t know what they are fighting, where it is, and which medical options will help without making my situation worse.

For example, certain antibiotics MIGHT kill certain bacteria but WILL cause other bad actors to flourish. Other medications WILL cause a die off of certain bacteria but will also cause the body to become overloaded with toxins and also harm the immune system. Some antibiotics WILL kill SOME microbes but it will cause others to strengthen their defenses....

I don’t have the time or the money for this. Who does?

Protocols talk about alternating and “pulsing” meds to try to help patients without damaging them. They talk about all kinds of things that cause me to alternately hope and cry.

I am faced with a decision: which path will I choose to attack this enemy which has been setting up camp in my body since I was a child? Every single doc has a different approach (because it’s a bit of guessing game) and I’m left with one more question…


IS THERE ANOTHER WAY?

I often run across research showing how certain natural substances destroy cystic Lyme, eat through biofilm, disrupt the inflammatory process, and do things generally better than antibiotics. I have experienced the direct and measurable impact of plant-based medicine and so it’s easy for me to believe from experience (and the science I’m reading) that these things are true. And I’m not going to complain (too much) about how the system is still handcuffed to what Big Pharma is doing and ignores everything else because…

I’m moving on.

My journey from this point is going to be research-based and pharma-be-darned. I will use them when it makes sense but otherwise, will be using an approach which honors the dignity and design of every single cell in my God-given body.

I’m not giving medical advice here. I’m just fighting for my own life and health. If you follow anything at all that I say, you have to do it based on your own belief that it is best for your body and not because I say so. Be your own advocate. Learn about your body and what it needs. Demand evidence-based care and full disclosure of medical procedures, medications, and all possible risks (informed consent).


THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Lyme infections have been around for longer than recorded history and the human body is designed to handle them. It is not the bacteria itself which has suddenly gone rogue, but cultural practices (nutrition, toxic environments, unnecessary medications) that are systematically undermining our naturally efficient immune response. 

Our bodies are not broken by design, to be overrun by every common tick bite. Something has gone wrong. 


WHERE I GO FROM HERE

My internet dialogue (website and social media) will primarily focus on what lifestyle choices I make in order to keep my body in fighting shape. I earnestly believe that for many of you, those changes will be enough to alter your life for the better in ways you never dreamed possible...

  • Nutrition.

  • Exercise.

  • Managing stress levels.

  • Sleep.

  • Eliminating toxins/poisons in your products, food, environment.

  • Informed self-care.

While I continue to navigate this road, I will continue to share natural wellness, nutrition, and essential oils with everyone I meet. I will also continue to write and share and work on larger products (TBA), and to immerse myself in my family life.

Life is short and I’m not going to lie; during a bad flare, I think about death a lot. What I bring here is a pouring forth of NO-REGRET health care.

“No-regret health care” means that I’m not going to compromise the gift of my bodily health in order to hoard time and grasp at pain-free living. Neither is possible. We are designed to pour out our lives in loving service with joy and holy boldness, keeping in mind always that we are not made for this world.

I have one shot with this body. I have one shot to teach my children about how we are to approach this gift. One chance to do my part to restore proper order to the way we live and care for the body as believers. Because it does matter and is the appropriate response to the gratitude we feel for life itself.

Welcome to my ongoing effort to honor the gift, utilize God’s plan for healing, and lay it down in service.

Thanks be to God!

How Can We Help? Please Reply. A Letter to Catholic Families

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The letter was a stunner. I sat at my desk with tears streaming down my face, reading the words from a friend which seemed to open old wounds and heal them at the same time. He was asking for my thoughts (and the the input of other Catholic families) as he and his wife discern their family's role in living out the Gospel message. And now they have granted my request to share this letter with you. 

My friend is a faithful Catholic man married to a beautiful woman of God, and their marriage is a blessing to those who know them. Like other families, they carry crosses, and have been carrying the heavy cross of infertility for 8 years. I have watched them blossom beautifully, watered by grace, even under that difficult weight; and I have been so blessed by their continuous and fervent effort to discern the will of God for their lives. 

In the midst of their own trials, they have observed the unique crosses of Catholic parents and are wondering how those burdens can be lightened. 

They know that their primary call is to holiness... but they continue to pursue the "what" and "how" of the specific call of their marital vocation... and they are asking for input. In asking "How can we use our vocation to help support other families?" they are also asking "How can we help restore Christendom?"

Will you please take a few minutes to read and to answer his questions? Put your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook, or email them to me and I will send them along. Also, please share this post and get this conversation rolling among the larger community. Perhaps we will all learn something in the process of pondering and sharing. 


Dear Friends, 

I am increasingly convinced that my wife's and my role (and perhaps mission) in this season of life is to serve in some way as support and aid to others attempting to raise their families in an authentically Catholic way. Everyone included here is already doing a wonderful job of raising beautiful families - I'm just wondering if there's some way it could be even better. I've spoken of this to many of you already, and want to pursue the idea to see if and how it might develop. 

Right now, I'm not sure what this means (if it means anything at all) or how it looks; but, the more I think and talk about it, the more beneficial and needed it appears. This may not lead to anything, but not pursuing the idea will certainly lead to nothing. So please take some time to thoughtfully consider together as parents and spouses and respond, which will help both us (in determining if this even a thing for us) and potentially many others.

The question at the heart of my idea is basically this: If you could have help in raising and forming your family, what would that help look like?

I think many parents have become inured to the challenges, struggles, and difficulties of raising a family, and accept them as "normal." And, of course, there will always be those. But how might they be lessened or eased? What would "someone to help" look like?

Would it be someone...

  • ...to help tutor/homeschool/supplement kids' education?
  • ...to help clean?
  • ...to help babysit?
  • ...to have adult conversation with?
  • ...to just come visit and spend some "quantity time"?
  • ...to help arrange real-education related events/trips?
  • (e.g. a trip to a farm to plant vegetables or collect eggs is far more educational than reading a book about gardening. Mom may not be able to take age-appropriate kid because younger kids need attention, but what if a trusted family friend could help chaperone a group of age-appropriate kids from several families? Etc.)
  • ...to help develop a more-enveloping/holistic vision for Catholic culture/community?
  • ...to recommend reading/music/media?
  • ...to help share the good ideas and experience you've already had with others?
  • ...to....? Dare to dream!
  • I've included several friends who represent different stages of family life, demographics, needs, and means. But everyone at least shares a commitment to raising Catholic families in some way. And everyone has something to contribute, no matter where on the family-life spectrum you are. 

I've been developing my own understanding of what Catholic culture (which will only be rebuilt through the family) looks like; most recently based on Anthony Esolen's book Out of the Ashes, and the concepts of Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. In short: real friendship, real community, built on Truth and a pursuit of virtue and true human formation. But I want to hear from you "in the trenches," who have real day-to-day experiences in this thing.

Finally, I anticipate some resistance to your thinking and replying on this. Some of the things you might think:

  • "I don't want to bother anyone."
  • "This is my family and I chose to have the kids, so I don't want to burden anyone else by asking for help."
  • "I don't want anyone to think I'm a bad mom/dad."
  • "I don't want to admit it's hard."
  • "I don't want anyone to see my messy house."
  • "I don't want anyone to judge me."
  • "I don't need help."
  • "Nothing will change anyway, this is just fantasy."
  • "I don't know what I don't know."

Please, please, please do not allow fear, pride, vanity, negativity, or a sense of "bothering someone" prevent you from thinking, replying, and embracing this idea. I don't know where this will lead (if anywhere), but I do know that not asking the question, and not trying will lead exactly no where. The perfect guarantee of nothing changing. I'm not trying to create a "program" or impose obligations - just trying to figure out if there's a way to help serve the needs of good friends raising good families.

The world and secular culture is encroaching and the Enemy is ever seeking to destroy the family. We must take those threats seriously stand firm and do something to help one another in this spiritual battle for the souls of our families and friends. I hope just asking these questions will help foster some ideas as to how we might work together in love, friendship, and virtue to rebuild and re-claim authentic Culture. I look forward to your thoughts!

Oremus pro invicem,
Your brother in Christ

Chasing Sunshine in a Time of Darkness: Sun sensitivity and lupus

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If you've never heard of a "sun allergy" or photosensitivity, I can tell you a little about it. For the last year (and probably more), it has been reminding me how bizarre and all-consuming autoimmune disease can be. I've had to add it my list of silent disease symptoms... and now also to my first experience with an illness that others can actually see. 

I am not just sensitive to the sun, but to everything that emits or reflects UV rays. Fluorescent lights in stores or offices can cause a trigger even if they are windowless. Riding in a car, going on a walk even on an overcast Ohio Winter day, taking my kids to the park, going shopping, sitting near a window.

It's not really an allergic response to the sun but an issue of cell clearance... or rather, the body's inability to remove dead cells that are naturally caused by UV rays. The cells remain too long and the body begins to attack what it thinks are invaders. Healthy organs and body systems become the object of destruction. So it isn't really the sun that the body is targeting... but itself. 

I used to think that it would be better if my sickness was visible so that people would better understand what was happening to me on the inside. Now that I have the limited experience of an occasionally disfiguring disease, I see that it doesn't really help me or others cope. Not really. I don't find it less lonely or confusing... it's just different. 

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

One truth about autoimmune diseases is that they tend to collect and multiply. For example, someone who starts off will celiac disease or hashimotos thyroiditis will, on average, collect another autoimmune disease every ten years. Once the immune system is going wonky and attacking itself, it is only a matter of time before many body systems are involved. The problem is the entire immune system and it only manifests in one area of the body at a time and damages others over time. 

That is my story. And even while I have walked back many of the most severe symptoms, I am still fighting to find ways to continually cool my overactive system and heal the source of the trouble. 

WHAT IS "NORMAL"?

I have had severe body pain ever since I can remember which is back to preschool. In middle school, my stomach and digestive tract became involved. By the time I was a young adult, I had developed symptoms of what would later become diagnosed as Eosinophilic Esophagitis (an autoimmune disease). The only treatment I was offered for that was steroids and so my symptoms continued to compound.

As a child, I didn't know that kind of pain wasn't normal. 

Fatigue.
Nausea.
Digestive issues.
Headaches.
Severe joint pain.
Muscle pain and fatigue.
Skin problems.
Sleep difficulties.
A hundred little things that add up to make you feel crazy. 
A dozen big things that make you feel afraid.

By the time I was in my mid 30's, I was battling chronic pain and illness but being told by doctors that I was in good health. I felt hopeless and depressed and there were many days when even walking across the house felt overwhelming from the pain and exhaustion. 

But it was a silent battle. And I don't think that anyone should be left alone in that silence like I was, which is why I speak it constantly in my personal life and using whatever internet platform I have. 

It's often humbling and a little awkward since I don't know the perfect way to share... but it is important enough to try. 

THE FACE OF LUPUS

It's hard to believe that the woman on the left was me just 2 years ago. So much has changed. I don't usually look like the gal on the right but... I really have not fully recovered. I've aged a lot in a short period of time. Essential oils and plain coconut, almond, or jojoba oils have been a tremendous blessing when my skin won't tolerate anything else. 

My camera washed out much of the red, raw skin in the picture on the right. But I think you get the idea. Before I figured out the connection with UV, the red patches were raw and eventually scabbed over. This is what's going on inside my body finally showing up on the outside, courtesy of a beautiful Spring morning in 2017...

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When I started showing serious signs of lupus, I finally found a doctor who sat with me for an hour and listened to my full history. She took the appropriate tests and we talked.

She said...

"It seems likely that the celiac disease came first and triggered everything else. You've done a marvelous job taking care of yourself for the last few years... now let us help you. What do you want to do about the lupus? You know if you go into _______ that they will put you on prednisone right away and then start with the immune suppressants."

Yep. I know. That's why I'm here and not there. 

Celiac
Allergies
Fibromyalgia
Eosinophilic Espohagitis
Lupus

It doesn't need to be named in order to be real. But to be able to name it is to have a certain measure of control and hope. For those of you still searching, I pray that you get to name the enemy. In the meantime, I can still offer you hope.

THE PATH TO HEALING

Through dietary and lifestyle changes I have made over the past 6 years, I have brought my gluten antibody response to zero, completely reversed my esophageal symptoms (I previously could not eat anything but mushy cereal nor swallow even small pills), my joint pain/ swelling and muscle pain and weakness are occasional instead of constant and debilitating, and I am not afraid of going to gatherings where I might stumble embarrassingly over my words or be too drained afterwards to function for a week.

The healing has been life changing. But it's not over.

I have severe chemical sensitivities to pretty much everything (although pure essential oils have given me a hope in a toxic world) and planning a day trip has now become a challenge.  

How does a person adjust to a change like that? I admit I'm not handling it well. I've always had specific ideas in my mind of what painful loss looks like but never in my wildest dreams did it look like being deprived of the sunshine. 

My last troublesome flare was triggered by sitting under UV emitting fluorescent lights for two days at an aromatherapy conference. I never even went outside. 

SPRING IS COMING

As Winter slowly inches toward Spring, I'm experiencing something that I've never felt before toward the end of a Northeast Winter: dread. I simply don't know how I will traverse another beautiful sunshine season with my 8 kids, 1 husband, full life, and an inability to breathe in the amazing season outside.

I actually do know the answer: One step at a time. But I don't yet know what that looks like. Will it look like weeks of endless illness? I just don't know. 

But Spring also brings hope in the form of a new naturopathic doctor and my belief that yes, this is a mountain that I can climb. I believe that there is a reasonable chance for me to find healing. 

Most people will think I’m crazy... because people don’t reverse lupus. But to be honest with me you, I know very few people who have really tried. 

OPTIONS

The obvious medical options are prednisone and immunosuppressants. The problem with the pharmaceutical option is that it doesn't actually address the underlying cause and adds an additional burden (and potential risks) to my already struggling body. I will take them if my organs and life are at risk. But at this point, there is just as much likelihood that those medications will pose a significant threat to my organs and life expectancy. Lupus and autoimmune internet boards are full of people who are as busy battling the damage from their medications as they are their primary symptoms.

The alternative option is to continue what I have been successfully doing, and that is healing through natural means under the counsel of functional medicine physicians. This approach has already taken me from a kind of death to new life and I am committed to continuing that path.

In the meantime, Spring is coming and I'm bouncing between grumpiness and delight while internet shopping for...

  • Personal UV monitors (Worth the investment?)

  • UPF clothing (Can someone please develop a stylish line that doesn't look like beachwear?)

  • Long sleeved swimwear and swim leggings (and I'm really confused by the purpose of UPF 50 bikinis)

  • Non-toxic sunscreen (I'm trying to reconcile the price of the best mineral sunscreens for full body use or find a DIY that doesn't go on like paste. Still in trial stages!)

  • Nutritious food (I'm good here... thank you local farms and Thrive Market... but I totally need a personal chef)

  • Supportive supplements (Yes! Essential to my healthcare. I use doTERRA for my staples)

  • Healing therapies (So much overwhelm and $$$... )

  • Essential oils (Sweet affordable consolation)

I can’t buy it all but I can window shop... and try to fill the gaping hole where “control” should be. Scratch that. The gaping hole where God should be.

Okay... Deep breath.... Thank you, Lord, for lupus. It keeps bringing me back to the foot of Your glorious cross... where I’m going to keep chasing sunshine. 

UPDATE: The Roots of Autoimmune Crisis {My Updated Story of Lupus and Lyme}

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Crossing the Threshold to Joy in the New Year

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My heavenly Father spoils me when He knows it isn't going to ruin me; and the rest of the time He allows me to grow strong in Him, even when growth requires that I first be broken...

I stepped up to the precipice of the New Year with a burden of sorrow on my heart. It thumped a dull but steady pain, and I stumbled over the exhausting thought that another year was starting... and I had nothing left in the tank to bring. The knowledge of how truly blessed I am sustained me... but the feeling of blessing was gone. 

I knew those truths but still lost courage, slowed to a crawl, and barely inched over the threshold of 2018. 

My Lord loves me passionately, foolishly, endlessly... and knowing that kept me pushing through these last months even though I raised my petulant, childish fists in His direction more than once.   So much like my 1-year old who is all cuddles and peaches until he is sick or tired... and then his tiny frantic clenched hands will swing even at his own mama.

My "Where is God?" sounded pathetic even to me while I swam in a life of absolute treasure and abundant love and goodness. Pathetic little fists of fury.

I am LOVE. Why do you strike at me? 

Because I need you... but I am tired. I am afraid.

When I'm healthy and in control, I don't necessarily feel His absence or His Presence at all since my focus is solely on me. It is so easy to say "I AM BLESSED!" and "I feel God's Presence" when things go my way; but the consequence of that shallow understanding of relationship means that the slightest discomfort can throw me into a mini faith crisis.

I assume that my comfort means that He is present and that my discomfort equals His absence... like a feverish toddler who doesn't understand that the hand of Love is not also the cause of the pain. 

And this year... oh my... this year...

He let me hit bottom hard in so many ways... mentally, physically, spiritually... even while He held my wounded body and soul.  My sufferings are truly so small when held up to the heartache of the world. But I hadn't prepared well to carry even a light cross and my own small heart filled, swelled, and burst.

Am I going to die soon, Lord? Is that what's going on? Why the sacrificial pile-on? If you try to give me that kind of medicine, I'm going to wail and thrash and throw it up. You'll have to hold me down...

So He did.

My faith was rocked. My body was attacked by disease. My heart died and grieved a thousand times and I grew smaller.

You have left me, Lord! Shall I just become a Protestant now? Or maybe just a nothing? Yes, a nothing... Then there will be no expectations and no disappointment.

That tiny and ridiculous threat poured out of my broken soul with a torrent of tears and a weight of sorrow which I could not bear on my own. I felt it and knew it and...

He called my bluff instantly.

He created me, formed me, restored me, awakened me... and He knew that I would not go. He held me down like the petulant toddler that I am, not with force but with irresistible fire... 

Twenty years ago, I would have left you, Lord, because I wouldn't have been sure about you. But I know Who You are. You are irrefutable. You are solid and deep and forever. You are flower, you are ocean, you are Life. If I deny you now, I deny myself and could not just become a nothing but would necessarily become depraved. I cannot choose that.

So I chose joy.

I chose to remain at His feet and let Him be Father. 

From that place, I was safe and free to look around and see how He has woven my joy and my salvation into the very fiber of my enormously beautiful and bountiful life. 

God sends His Holy Spirit endlessly across the wasteland. He pours life into the cracks of our brokenness and whispers the gentle command: TRUST. And He sends us His earthly servants and heavenly brethren to carry us faithfully and tenderly. 

I recently chose my saint of the year... or rather let the saint choose me... St. George.

I thought that was very appropriate since I sought courage and strength for the next leg of the journey. Then I chose my word of the year through a random generator... STRENGTH.

Yes. I'll take it. Not on the false premise that I will grow in strength and power but that God will use the emptying of this last year to fill my life with His Presence. I will still be broken, still be small, still be weak, tempted, stumbling, and humiliated. But I will be strong in His majesty...

... and what a blessed relief. I'm ready to hand over the weight.

New Year's passed along with a birthday party and a feast day celebration. I shut off the parts of my heart that couldn't bear another step and just kept going. And then... joy began to grow again.

I know you, Joy... I have known you all along but I have been battered and torn and tired. But the Spirit buried you deep in my soul many years ago and that is how You return to me...

Not from the outside pouring in... but from the inside blossoming out. 

You are showering me with grace.
You are restoring my faith and my hope.
You are washing my eyes free from the dust.
You are sanctifying the suffering and...
Breathing life into the lifeless.

I open a book and You speak to me about STRENGTH...

Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death... (Revelation 3:2)

And I rise again with Christ.

However...

I didn't rise until I had cried out to God with raging tears.
I didn't rise until I had been physically broken and felt real fear of death for the first time.
I didn't rise until my heart had been broken by loss.
I didn't rise until I suffered humiliation.
I didn't rise until I had failed people I love.
Until I saw that I couldn't shake the cross.
Until I couldn't reconcile the scandal.
Until I lost the sunshine.
Couldn't fill the void.
Couldn't mend my own heart.
Couldn't. Be. God.

Then... THEN He rose in my heart like the gentle morning sunshine and invited me to begin again with the consolation of His hope and joy planted deep in my soul. 

You are not lost, Daughter... You were just sleeping...

Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death... (Revelation 3:2)

2018 is not going to be a cake walk. For all I know, it could surpass the startling 2017. But He makes it all easy and sweet in His time. Thanks be to God.

"...and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:23-25)

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The Simple Path to Healing in a Complicated World

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It sometimes seems that taking care of myself (mind, body, soul) is an impossible task; one that requires the equivalent of a college education to navigate...

I sat at my desk with my head in my arms, bawling like a baby. It had been a tough week. My autoimmune disease had flared and and I was looking for a little relief and distraction on the internet from my favorite healthy lifestyle gurus. My feed was full of natural wellness awesomeness and I had been taking notes for 15 minutes with a frantic sort of energy. And then... I just fell apart. 

Bawled like a baby until my nose ran, completely overwhelmed.

 What I really needed was a good long nap, someone to give me a back rub, a personal chef, a date with my husband, and a cure for lupus. I would have settled for the nap but was instead overcome by the multiplication of digital images of infrared saunas, squatty potties, and 1001 ways to use bone broth. I'm not opposed to those things necessarily, but on that particular day...

I just needed one helpful thing. And I didn't even know which one it was.

Too tired to care and too upset to continue, I closed my laptop and cried it out for a bit; and then lay down on my bed in spite of the fact that it was only Noon and I had 52 urgent obligations weighing on me. 

It turns out that a nap was the one thing I need right then. Because sometimes the simplest path to healing in the moment is truly... the simplest thing.

When I got up again, I forced myself to take other simple actions: I took my supplements and make a quick healthy lunch. I did all the things that mothers do and then sat down here to type out a few thoughts about this exciting/horrible journey of chronic illness. 

Are you overwhelmed, too? 

I want you to know that I understand where you are at (in a general way, not a specific way) and I'm sorry if I've ever overwhelmed you in my enthusiasm and pursuit of healing. We all want to give good and healing things to people so that they can feel well again. And I want to give you every gift and blessing which I have received. 

I want to give you good nutrition.
I want to give you rest.
I want to give you a reprieve from stress, depression, and anxiety.
I want to protect you from toxic overload.
I want to to bless you with natural health care like essential oils.

But I also want to honor your pace and hold the door open for you while you take that badly needed nap. 

I don't want to be anyone's guru. 

I want to be a sister on the journey, who loves you enough to share the good stuff in life and a word of encouragement. 

Whenever I experience an overwhelming day when my body just doesn't seem to care how much effort and resources I'm pouring into it's care, I go back to basics. One thing at a time. One meal at a time. One supplement at a time. One walk, nap, prayer, song at a time.

Here are some snapshots of what simple looks like to me (borrowed from my Instagram and Facebook pages)...

My kids jokingly call my autoimmune face swelling "lupus botox." I sometimes mentally call it other things that I won't print here. But I'm finding the more I share the little daily struggles, the more others are encouraged, and the less frustrated I am by these details. I'm not as shocked and afraid by a puffy face, for example. And somehow... it gives me courage to own it... and recommit to healing...

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When I am overwhelmed by all the health options out there, I fall back on nutrition, supplements, rest, and essential oils. That's pretty much all my body will tolerate. No exercise, no make-up, no pushing through big obligations. Just basics...

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When I pull back from life a bit and go big with saying NO to everything that doesn't heal, I sometimes find a surprise tiny window of creative energy. My time is normally divided (by 8 kids, a husband, a homeschool, and a business) and I have lingering feelings of guilt no matter what I do... because something is always being ignored. But when I am sick... the guilt dissipates because I have no control. I know I can just enter into the ONE thing I'm doing in the moment without guilt or divided attention.

Stress is a health killer... so freaking out about being sick is counterproductive. I am learning to fully let go for that time and I'm finding that the less stressed out I am about it, the shorter the flares are. 

A health crisis is sometimes the permission that I need to slowly make a big batch of my favorite healthy mashed sweet potatoes with bacon, while sitting and chatting with the kids about everything, anything, and nothing. 

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Sometimes, I just do nothing but rest while my obligations pass me by. During times of more severe illness, a hush kind of comes over my mind and soul. After the anger and the fear (which seem to come without fail), the consolation of the "hush" comes. And it is then that I realize how unimportant 90% of everything I busy myself with truly is in the light of eternity... and how God allows illness to be a gift to the soul that desires to be close to Him. 

I recently listened to a fantastic talk recently about autoimmune disease given by Dr. David Perlmutter (I think... my memory is not absolute on that but he's still a great guy). In the talk, he spoke to the slow progress of healing in a body broken by disease. He reassured the listener that healing comes over time and that it is the small steps each day which will add up.

Just like it was the small choices before which put so many of us in a state of inflammation and disease.

It's not necessarily our fault that we are suffering now, but we do have a measure of control over our healing by the ways we choose to support our bodies. And if we have any input at all into the well being of our bodies, minds, and souls, it is going to be in doing the one thing in the moment over a long period of time that makes all the difference...

Slow.
Steady.
Simple. 

At the heart of all good internet guru websites, articles, and programs is this simple way of making small, positive changes one step at a time. When you are feeling overwhelmed, just break it down all over again to the most important elements and then...

Go take a nap. 

P.S. I know you can't always take a nap (am I right, moms?)... it's just a manner of speaking about the simplest thing in the moment. But my advice is to never shun that particular window of opportunity if you can find it!

What is your favorite "simple" way to promote healing? 

Healing Autoimmune Disease Naturally: Is it Possible?

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Whether or not Lupus (or any autoimmune disease) can be healed naturally has become an important question in my life. After suffering for two decades with chronic illness and actively seeking answers for the majority of that time, I finally have a diagnosis of Lupus. Diagnosis is a complicated thing; it is both a relief and a burden. In my case, it brings the undesirable news that I have an incurable disease in which my body attacks its own major organs and joints.

Bummer.

Until the 1950's, prognosis for someone with Lupus was grim, but medical advancements have greatly extended the lifespan of the average person with the condition. The "medical advancements" of which I speak are primarily medications which suppress the immune system; medications such as chemotherapy and steroids. 

I've spent many hours hanging out in the internet Lupus forums, and discussions are as often about how to deal with the negative side effects of the medications as they are how to deal with the original Lupus symptoms. That is the double edged sword of all pharmaceuticals: They are a tremendous blessing when we need an intervention that a natural resource cannot provide; but they can also become a terrible burden, giving us a new set of sufferings in exchange for the old ones. 

MEDICATIONS CAN'T HEAL THE BODY

The truth is that prescription drugs cannot heal us. Healing can only come from the body itself. The body dies when it can no longer protect and restore cells and body systems with or without assistance from pharmaceutical and natural resources. Prescription drugs cannot heal us if the body cannot, at some point, pick up the burden and continue healing and fighting on it's own.

A great example of a complicated pharmaceutical is antibiotics. We have a false notion that these little pills will kill an infection in its entirety and we can just sit back and let it happen to us and life in our body will go on as usual. The reality is that if our immune system doesn't ever engage the infection alongside the antibiotics, we will die. 

Antibiotics are a great example of the non-specific nature of prescription drugs. While they stop infection, they are not discerning and also kill off the good bacteria which live in the gut and comprise the majority (70%) of the body's immunity. It starts to get complicated. And in our desire to heal, we decrease our body's natural ability to do so. 

Our participation in that healing is often passive and even interfering. We proceed with our unhealthy habits and can't understand why the meds don't "work" the first time around... Or why our chronic cough/sinus infections/etc seem to continuously plague us.

THE NATURAL SOLUTION

The natural solution is not necessarily easy but it is a simple concept. It says: "I will focus on strengthening my body systems according to nature's design in order to protect against and battle disease." Even if we must take medications to survive, it is foolishness to ignore the basic needs of the body.

So... While I don't know that I can "cure" my Lupus, I do believe that I can manage my symptoms to some degree by honoring the fundamental biologic needs of my body. I believe it first because I have done it. I believe it also because science and research confirms that experience.

I have been managing quite well for the last 6 years (pre-diagnosis) with nutritional changes alone until recently when I experienced a lengthy flare which I could not fully control. On some level, I knew it was coming. I had been telling myself for months that I needed to stop my increasingly frequent sugar splurges... and I was conscious of carrying a stress load far too heavy for me. I also had stopped supplementing regularly just out of pure laziness. When the flare hit, I immediately cleaned up my diet, decreased my obligations, increased my sleep, expanded my essential oil use, and started my supplements again. I believe those things (along with other natural wellness resources) kept me out of the hospital. 

MOVING FORWARD

I once believed I was headed for life in a wheelchair and in ONE WEEK of dramatic dietary overhaul was able to change that trajectory. If I was able to do that only by eliminating toxic garbage from my diet, I feel confident that I can make further strides with greater application of a healthy lifestyle. 

By "healthy" lifestyle, I mean one in which I am addressing (naturally) the following factors:

  1. Nutrition 
  2. Stress
  3. Toxic Load
  4. Sleep
  5. Physical Movement

An honest assessment of the last 6 years tells me that I was only partially addressing #1 and #3 and yet still experienced what felt like miraculous healing. I have to ask: What more can I do for myself before I add prescription drugs to my lifestyle? There's so much room for improvement.

By the way, all of the five healthy lifestyle categories above are specifically mentioned on mainstream Lupus sites as Lupus triggers:

  1. Poor Nutrition
  2. Stress
  3. Exposure to Toxins
  4. Poor Sleep Habits
  5. Sedentary Lifestyle

It is quite exciting to me to see that each of these categories has a corresponding natural solution! If I cannot eliminate my Lupus, I can surely make giant strides in managing it. 

BUT CAN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE BE CURED?

I don't know. But I've seen plenty of evidence that people have at least been able to fully control their symptoms (meaning they have zero). I have read many accounts of people overcoming life threatening disease with only the changes that I have made. Cancers killed. Diabetes reversed. Rheumatoid Arthritis eliminated. People leaving wheelchairs behind. Very sick children becoming well again. Once I started paying attention, I realized that there is a large body of evidence suggesting that it is possible.

Am I crazy? Well, if I am, I'm certainly in good company...

  • Dr. Amy Myers is one resource I have been turning to lately. She is one of many functional medicine physicians out there who are successfully treating people with autoimmune disease. She says: 

"In conventional medicine, the belief is that once you have an autoimmune condition, there’s nothing you can do to reverse it, only ways to manage the symptoms. Managing the symptoms typically involves harsh medications that are aimed at suppressing your immune system. While these medications can be effective at reducing some of the symptoms of the disease, since they suppress the entire immune system, they are not without many unwanted side effects such as fatigue, weight gain, depression, increased infection rates and even cancer.

In contrast, functional medicine sees the body as a whole and works on the principle that the health of one system impacts the health and function of the others. Instead of focusing on disease symptom management, we focus on supporting and strengthening the immune system by getting to the root of why the immune system went rogue in the first place. While there is no known cure for autoimmune disease, I believe that there are five key elements that are at the root of all autoimmune conditions. In my functional medicine practice I have been able to successfully help hundreds of patients lower and reverse antibodies, get off their harsh medications, and become symptom free."

THIS IS NOT A FAD

Healthy living is not a fad. It is a response to a culture that has been consistently deviating from a biologically appropriate course of overall health care. I am so glad to see a growing body of professionals who are committed to restoring what has been lost and embracing the best of what is new.

For those of you new to this journey, here are some of my favorite resources. There are more... so many more... but diving in to even one of these will keep you occupied and inspired for a long, long time. 

There are so many more resources I want to share but I've already dropped enough links to send you down the wellness rabbit hole for a year!

I will continue to share my journey with you on these pages and on social media. Blogging has always been an amazing source of support and accountability in other areas of my life... and now I know will continue to be that blessing for my short and long term health. 

I am so glad to have you with me! My dream is to be able to enjoy the sunshine again without triggering sickness. What is your dream?

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The Oil Cleansing Method of Washing Your Face

Your skin is your largest organ and the most chemically absorbent part of your body. What are you putting on your face?

I wash my face with oil.. and get a lot of funny looks when I say that! It certainly sounds strange since most people are trying to get the oil off of their faces. But surprisingly enough, it does work, and is a gentle and lovely solution to those with sensitive skin. 

I've been moisturizing my face with plain oil since 2013 after bad experiences with all commercial products I tried; but I still hadn't found a cleanser that I loved. And even though I did like my moisturizer (handmade goodness from Etsy), the price tag was more than I found reasonable over the long term. As I neared the bottom of my final bottle, my stubbornness reared up and I put my foot down:

I need this lotion... BUT... I'm not paying that kind of money again. I'll make it myself.

So I purchased ingredients to make something of my own design and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I ran out of lotion. I needed something to moisturize with because my face would burn and turn red after I washed with soap. I did a quick internet search and discovered that I could just use plain... oil.

I ran to my cabinet and pulled out a bottle of almond oil. This will do, I thought. And it did. I thought I would break out in horrendous acne. But I didn't. Instead, it felt lovely and did the trick. I never did end up making the lotion (although it is still on my to-do list) and I have since discovered the simple art of washing with oil as well.

Washing Your Face With Oil

The how-to of oil cleansing is beautifully simple. You need only two ingredients: castor oil (for cleaning) and a moisturizing oil such as 100% pure olivehazelnutalmond, or grapeseed. A little research and experimentation will help you discover which of these oils is best for your skin.

I made my first batch with equal parts castor and almond oil. It was actually a little drying and I have since decreased the amount of castor oil to 1/3 with happy results. Everyone's skin is different so this really does end up being a bit unique for each person.

The Ingredients

1. Castor Oil - Draws out Dirt (some people with sensitive skin might want to limit this almost entirely if it is too drying)

2. Olive or other moisturizing oil (My preference is almond oil)

3. Experiment with adding your favorite (therapeutic grade) essential oils for scent and skin benefits. My recommendations are frankincense, melaleuca, and lavender. 

It cost me only $5 to make 6 ounces of cleanser, which will probably last me a very long time. It sits on the bathroom counter with a homemade label that reads (in red sharpie):

Mommy's Face Wash... Do Not Touch! 

(Which, of course, made all the children want to touch it asap.)

The Method

1. Pour a small amount of oil (nickel to quarter size) into your palm and using your clean fingertips, massage it into your skin (apply to dry face). Gently rub it in for about a minute. No need to scrub.

2. Wet a washcloth with hot water (please don't burn yourself) and lay it over your face, letting it cool until it is about room temperature. This is where a lot of cleaning action happens. It has been so cold here that my washcloth cools off super fast... so I have been repeating this step with the other side of the cloth.

3. Rinse the washcloth out (or just use the corners) and wipe off the oil. Again, do not scrub... just wipe it off. You'll have some residual oil but you really do want that.

4. I will occasionally need a little extra moisturizer and will use some coconut oil or almond oil in the morning or after a shower. I keep it in a container and add frankincense, melaleuca, and other oils according to need. 

The Results

This stuff cleans extremely well. A pre-wash is unnecessary because the oil is the perfect makeup and dirt remover. Oil removes oil. I find that this method works much better than scrubbing with soap and water.

I have acne-prone skin. I'm a 40-year old woman with just as many problems as I did when I was a teenager! I assumed oil would make it worse but instead, I have experienced a very rapid improvement. Dry patches and oily patches equalize and breakouts have decreased. My skin is softer. I can't do anything about contact sensitivities but I can do my best to have a healthy baseline.

I also have an autoimmune disease called lupus which is brutal to my poor face. This method is extremely gentle and nourishing for my often delicate and wounded skin. 

The Morning After (A Story About Lupus)

Behind my sleepy eyelids, I can see the glow of the sun coming through my window. It is morning and I have a sinking, grieving feeling that in just a moment, I will bear the full consequence of yesterday's indulgence.

I try to blink the heaviness away from my eyes but can not; they are swollen almost shut. My face feels like a plaster mask is affixed to it and a strong cry of mourning builds up in my throat. I have been here before and the sorrow of recognition hits me like a wave. I manage to hold back the sounds of grief so I won't disturb the tiny blonde kiddo sleeping on my shoulder.

His cheeks are sun-kissed from swimming and playing the day before... a gentle rosy kiss which I know will be a stark contrast to what has happened to my own face. I haven't yet seen a mirror but I already know what I'll find there. I won't even be recognizable beneath the swelling. The sun is my enemy... and she had seduced me with her warmth and beauty... and with a touch of poison.

I have lupus and the sun is my enemy. Actually, my own body is my enemy.  When the sun shines on me, it triggers my body to attack itself... organs, skin, joints... and during a flare, there's really nothing I can do to stop it except stay in my cave and manage it. I have a rough idea of my limits, but yesterday... there was a celebration and a meal outdoors and kids to be monitored and life to be lived...

And so I let the beauty of the sun fool me again. Or rather... I knowingly went beyond what I knew my broken immune system could handle and am paying the price. 

The tears won't come until the swelling goes down and so I gently move my little prince off my arm so that he is not startled by my distorted appearance when he wakes. There are worse things than a funny looking face, but I do not want the small sorrow of even a momentary rejection this morning. 

I get out of bed and feel my ankles jiggle with the swelling. My joints are badly jarred by the slight impact on the wood floor. All 115 pounds of me... feeling like 40 years going on 100 and wishing like mad that I could at least have the sweet relief of a good cry.

But those tear ducts aren't working and so my soul cries instead as I touch my face. In confusion, I promise God (again) that I won't care two figs about what I look like as long as he lets me survive this long enough to mother my kiddos into adulthood. Just twenty years (or more), I ask. Please. 

In the emotion of the moment, I don't know if bargaining with God is okay. And I don't know if it works. I only remember the face of the crucified Christ Who loves me and I think it's okay to reach out even if I'm confused. Someone once told me that we shouldn't wait to talk to God perfectly or else we will never muster the courage to talk at all. And so this morning, He hears a lot of mixed up things from me. 

I marvel at how this swollen mask unmasks me and reminds me of how elementary I am in all things. I am nothing but a tiny girl asking her dad question after question and begging for a bit more ice cream.

"Daddy? Why did God make the moon?"
"But why did He make nasty mosquitos?"
"If God is all-powerful, why does He let people get hurt?"
"What if we pray harder? Can we stop the bad things?"

And therein lies the question that keeps people so far from the heart of Jesus Christ. We don't want the cross. And we can't see His love through our pain... we can't understand why He would let it hurt so much.

My inflamed forehead rests on the cool bathroom mirror and I think of life... how much I want to be alive and well. And I think of death... and how much I want to someday be fully alive through death. Somedays it terrifies me and some days it sounds like the relief that I pray for. That desire piggybacks on my emotion of the moment and swells into a deep longing for the Presence of Jesus Christ. 

I shuffle downstairs to grab my water, supplements, essential oils, and to figure out what kind of breakfast will help facilitate a healing day. I poke at my iPad until I find Laura Story's 'Blessings' and I press play. I listen and breathe...

"What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy"

I thank the Lord over and over again for the gift of illness... and then I put on some praise music and gently dance in a way that doesn't hurt. I can't go out in the sun today because my body doesn't work right and the sun is still  somehow my enemy. But someday, I will bask in sunlight forever...

I will not hurt. 
I will not be afraid. 
I will give thanks and dance forever.

I open my email and see an invitation to come play at the park. The sun is shining and I tell the hostess that I cannot make it today. Maybe next week.

And it'll be okay. It's all going to be okay. 

The Myth of Moderation: Learning to Say No in a Culture of Indulgence

Everything in moderation! 

For the past six years, I have heard that maxim more times than I can count from people who do not understand or like my dietary choices. I once politely refused a cookie from an angry woman. She insisted that it "just wasn't healthy" not to eat cookies and believed that I must eat "everything in moderation" in order to live a healthy life. It turned into an uncomfortable standoff and... 

I didn't eat the cookie.

I didn't eat it because the idea that the way to be healthy is "everything in moderation" simply isn't true. 

There are some things which are always harmful to us even in small quantities.
There are some people who are harmed by things that you aren't.
There are some substances which are not harmful in small quantities but are in "moderate" quantities.

And most significantly...

Moderation means different things to different people.

Moderation is a movable line. Let's take ice cream for example. What is a moderate consumption of ice cream?
Here are various definitions....

Me: One scoop every couple years.

My husband: When the mood strikes every couple months.

My friend: One small scoop three times a week.

My neighbor: A giant banana split once a week.

My family member: Whenever the heck I feel like it. YOLO

My kids: "I will eat ice cream at every possible opportunity whether or not I actually want it and even if I am so full that I might vomit upon consuming!"

"Moderation" sounds scientific and authoritative until we look more closely and discover that the term is often a convenient way to justify our excesses and judge the eating habits of others. We know that it is a movable line but continue to wield it as an iron sword of truth.

True moderation is the application of virtue to all areas of our life. But American cultural moderation is pretty much just do whatever you want to do and call it moderate. We have replaced the word "virtue" with moderation and our collective health (mind, body, and soul) has suffered as a result.

"Sweetheart, you need to have a cookie! Everything in moderation!"

Except dirt. And paint chips. And glue. That goes without saying really. But when it comes to food, one person's "moderate" is another's kryptonite. And It's time we call out the lie and speak the truth:

It's okay to say no to things that aren't necessary. Why are we so afraid to lose our little luxuries?

As someone with autoimmune disease, moderation takes on an entirely different meaning for me. Instead of meaning that I can indulge in anything I want as long as it's in small quantities, it means that I can enjoy reasonable quantities of almost any food I like... as long as it's on my approved list. That list is quite a bit smaller than I'd prefer... 

  • I can't drink alcohol because it adds stress to my vital organs.
  • I can't eat gluten because I hate feeling like I'm dying and I like my small intestine.
  • I don't eat sugar because it is an inflammatory food and I'm battling inflammatory disease.
  • I don't drink coffee because caffeine is also a huge inflammatory. 
  • I don't eat food with additives, colorants, or artificial flavors because... see all of the above.

Technically, I could choose to consume those foods and pay the consequences. I know many people who do that in the name of moderation. Or because they feel their quality of life would suffer without their annual Shamrock shake. It's their choice, of course. But I do not choose sickness over health... not for all the moderate enjoyment this world has to offer. My weaknesses lie in many other areas (many many), but it is relatively easy for me to say no to things which prevent me from enjoying life and serving my family.

There are many other things I don't do (and no one should do) in moderation (like eat paint chips). That list is long, self-evident, and destroys the moderation in "everything" myth instantly.

Then there are donuts and coffee and that fuzzy middle ground.

I admit that it's easier for me because those two comfort foods would make me miserable and mess with my body's ability to to heal and to survive. Sickness is HARD for me. Debilitatingly hard. When I put food to my mouth, I am consciously choosing to live. 

On the other hand, I know diabetics who eat donuts and people on anti-depressants who drink caffeine. I understand that our struggles and physical limits vary and I cannot speak to their choices.

But...

If you eat garbage food multiple times a week and have migraines, IBS, thyroid issues, fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and a host of other common plagues, you might want to consider doing something beautiful for yourself and throw "everything in moderation" out the window. You may just be surprised by a miracle; not the least of which might be that you can say no to that extra ice cream splurge and live to tell about it. 

When we discard the moderation myth as a way of life, we learn a beautiful secret about ourselves:

We are capable of self-control.
Our needs are simpler than we previously thought.
We spend less on the unnecessary.
We can be free from our cravings.
We can do heroic things even when no one is watching.

If we are Christians, we also learn a beautiful secret about our faith... 

In any given moment, we might be asked to give up everything for Love. Every time we decline that caramel latte and offer it as a sacrifice of praise, we become a bit more fit for the bigger battles... and more free to be molded for loving service and eternity. 

Thanks be to God!

How Stitch Fix is Healing the Marketplace

{This post contains affiliate links. More info Here.} 

Stitch Fix is an online styling service that delivers a personalized shopping experience where a personal stylist hand picks pieces to fit your tastes, needs and budget—and mails them directly to your door. 

I first turned to Stitch Fix to help me solve the problem of my outdated blue jeans. I stayed with Stitch Fix because they presented me with a valuable solution, a human touchpoint in the marketplace, and service that money can't buy.

As consumers, we are accustomed to being sold to, not cared for. So when one company breaks that mold, we notice... we soften... we hope a little more and trust a little more. We tell our friends about that one grocery bagger who remembers our name and the dentist who wished us a happy birthday. It is a reminder that it is the soul, not the body, that needs the greatest care and has the deepest void to fill. 

The story I'm going to share here is one of business leadership going the extra mile. You could say that it was strategic and helped them retain a customer... and you would be right. You could also say that only an authentic servant leader understands how to heal and serve someone they've never met... and you would be right. 

Perhaps it is the genius of womanhood that trickles down from the founder and touches everything. Regardless, here is my story...


A LITTLE BACKGROUND

After 15 years of actively seeking a diagnosis for my chronic illness, I finally have an answer. It came as a surprise after a lengthy period of "remission" during which I did everything right to heal my broken body. I dramatically changed my diet, lifestyle, and chemically toxic environment and put the unnamed beast into a cage. Until... it broke free.

I'm not really sure what triggered this flare. Probably stress, a little slipping of the diet, hormonal changes... just a complicated soup of little triggers that pushed my body and immune system in hyperdrive. Regardless, the autoimmune animal was uncaged and I entered into one of the most physically and mentally difficult periods of my life.

Thank God for maturity. (There are a lot of great things about being 40.) I came through okay. But it was intense and surprised me with a measure of grief that was wholly unanticipated. 

Months before this, I had placed my first order with Stitch Fix because I was a little desperate to update my one pair of floppy ill-fitting jeans. Walmart and Salvation Army had failed me and with 8 kids, I'm not inclined to leave the house to shop! I knew I would have to spend a little money to get a good fitting pair and so I decided to let a stylist at Stitch Fix be my muse.

My box came and it was absolutely perfect. I kept everything (and yes, my husband approved the splurge) but knew that I had to be more cautious with future spending. So I set the next shipment date to the furthest possible option and marked it in my planner, intending to cancel before the time came.

Well, the time did come... but it came in the middle of my health crisis during which my planner lay useless and untouched. My face was so swollen that I was unrecognizable. The butterfly rash on my cheeks had scabbed over. My body was on fire and I could barely eat. I spent days just crying, researching, and struggling with the difficulties of the flare, loss, and complications which accompanied the diagnosis. 

I always thought I would be relieved when diagnosis finally came. Instead, I was struck with a heavy grief. I didn't want THAT diagnosis. I wanted one I could wholly control. Where I didn't lose anything else. Something not as painful and as ugly. 

I am feeling well again now and reigning in the triggers in my lifestyle, but being in the middle of that flare was an intense suffering that I was not prepared for. 

STITCH FIX SHOWS UP

In the middle of that struggle, my second Stitch Fix box showed up on my doorstep and I gasped in an "oops!" kind of way. I had forgotten to cancel! Well, I can send it all back easily enough, I thought. But first... I'll just try it all on. And I did.

I took off my old t-shirt from college and my worn athletic shorts, and tried on the bounty that my stylist had picked out just for me. She had looked at my Pinterest boards and read my preferences. She understood. And as the pretty fabrics and prints touched my skin, I started to cry. 

Big fat tears fell down my ugly swollen cheeks as I admired those beautiful clothes. There was a lovely necklace, too... and for the first time in a long time, I felt soft and pretty.

Maybe it won't surprise the reader to know that I kept everything. 

Then I wrote a little note to my stylist. I told her that even though I know it is her job to select nice clothes for customers, that her talent and time mean something greater than just "a job." I told her how her work had touched my life. And that night, I thanked God for women in the workplace... who love others with their intuitive genius of service.

Perhaps you're thinking that I'm a big bowl of melodramatic emotional mush. Perhaps you're right. But in those moments when we are isolated with our suffering and pain, the details of life are large... and have the power to inhibit or expand healing.

After I wrote that note, I put away my new clothes, set my next Stitch Fix date for the farthest possible shipment, marked it on my calendar, and let the moment fall into the abyss of my occupied mind.

Until a couple weeks later...

There was a knock at my front door and a box containing the most beautiful lilies and irises from Benchmark Bouquets was placed on my stoop. I looked for the card to see which of my incredible and loving family members or friends sent this to me...

But it wasn't someone who loves me or even knows me. It was from the team at Stitch Fix.

The wording wasn't intimate but anyone who has suffered understands... someone knew that a broken heart needs flowers and made the decision to send them.

The pic below isn't the best quality since it was snapped quickly with the camera on an aging iPad; and my face is hidden intentionally since I wasn't ready to display the outward expression of autoimmune disease (I will share more at some point) and tears. But it was taken shortly after I pulled those flowers out of their box. They reminded me of the sweet dress that my stylist had chosen for me and I wanted to remember and to share. 

What is love? Is it just an emotion? If so, then Stitch Fix people don't really love me. They don't even know me. But if love is what I believe it is - the action of helping a person to achieve their greatest good - then I don't know... maybe there is love in the marketplace after all.

Father Robert Sirico once said:

"That's what the vocation of business is: to look for opportunities to serve."

To the entire Stitch Fix team... Keep serving well with the best of who you are and you will change the marketplace. You will have set the bar high and have, in this one moment, not only touched my life, but taught me how to be a better businesswoman. Never change.

To my readers who would love to give Stitch Fix a try...  I highly recommend it. It is customizable with the benefit of having a real person working with you. Returns and exchanges are free and easy (I returned one thing for a different size and it was a piece of cake).

And for the healing mother who really doesn't have the time or energy to go looking to splurge for something new and pretty, it is honestly a real pleasure and valuable resource. That's really what this blog is about... Finding healing and joy in the midst of the storm... and providing resources for helping us attain that goal.

Do you know a woman (or man) who could use a Stitch Fix gift card pick-me-up? This would be such a unique and special gift for a pregnant or postpartum mom feeling a bit blah. Or someone who has been feeling unwell. Stitch Fix Gift Card

I'm giving thanks today for Stitch Fix in the online marketplace... where it is still possible to buy something pretty with the personal service of a real human being. 

How I Do Mornings Without Coffee

{This post contains affiliate links Thank you for supporting my family! More info Here.} 

I don't drink coffee. I don't even like coffee.

There... I got that out of the way. Can we still be friends? 

Other than the surprising news that I don't share most of the world's love affair with coffee, people are most confounded by how I manage to function without the caffeine. Well, okay, I'm tired... a lot. But I also have 8 kids so expectations of being well rested are reasonably low. 

I suppose the real question is...
How do I function well without that shot of caffeine in my life? 

The overreaching principle of my daily healthcare is that before "self-medicating" (deliberately consuming caffeine to stay awake, etc), I consider if there's a need that can be met by a healthier means. In the case of fatigue, the obvious answer is MORE SLEEP. But since I am a homeschooling-entreprenuerial-mother-of-8... I need a little more help than that. 

I have heard from many people who wish they could kick coffee to the curb or at least limit it to a moderate amount. They are tired of the caffeine crash headaches, insomnia, caffeine-induced anxiety, their financial contribution to the Starbucks empire, caloric excess with specialty coffees, and desire to limit the use of addictive stimulants to keep them going. 

The news is also spreading that caffeine and autoimmune disease to not mix well... and we all know that autoimmune disease is on the rise

Here is my personal plan of action for those of you who are trying to kick (or reduce) a coffee habit...

SLEEP.

Just restating the obvious here. For some of us (moms with babies, toddlers, or teenagers, for example), more sleep is not always an option. God bless you hard working caregivers! Virtual fist bump from a mom who hasn't seen 7 hours in a very, very long time. 

For those of you who have other reasons for not sleeping (overworking, insomnia, stress, evening internet use, pain, etc.), there are other resources for helping with that. But... coffee is not one of them. Coffee does NOT help with sleep.

JUST SAY NO.

Whittle the schedule down to the bare minimum. If your 3-year old is already in ballet and soccer, I promise you that declining another activity will not ruin her life. It's more likely that a tired, cranky mother will mess with her quality of life, to be honest... speaking from experience here.

My unscientific observations tell me that most people use coffee to propel themselves through overbooked schedules of their own design. If you say no to extra obligations, you will not be less busy (something will always fill up your time!) but you will find your activities more manageable. 

I have some very big obligations in my life that keep me busy 100% of the time. That means I have to say no to other opportunities pretty much daily.

NUTRITION

The average American diet is saturated with energy-sapping ingredients. White flour, sugar, chemical additives, empty calories... none of which are going to keep you going beyond an initial burst. In fact, the net effect of a lousy diet is that we force our bodies to run on empty constantly. Calories? Sure... we've got those. Real nutrition at the cellular level?

Epic cultural fail.

Switching to a nutrient dense diet will do more for your body and energy level than a cup a joe ever will. (Read: How to Transform Your Health Through Diet)

WATER

Odds are that you have your fancy water bottle already. Use it. Your body needs water. You already know that water consumption increases energy and body efficiency! Don't make me nag you!

SMOOTHIES

This really should go under "nutrition" but smoothies are my favorite way to get started in the morning so they get their own category. I don't think I ever make the same smoothie twice (who has time to measure?) but I do have some (but not all) favorite ingredients...

ESSENTIAL OILS

Peppermint, lemon, and orange are my happy-wake-up oils. Seriously! I diffuse or apply them in the morning and take them with me when I go. They are particularly helpful on a car ride when my mind is not working quickly and I want to make sure I'm driving safely. More info about these great natural resources HERE.

PRAYER

Stress and anxiety exhaust us. They cause us to lose sleep, they tax the adrenals, they wreak havoc on our mental clarity and relationships. There isn't always a way to eliminate big stressors in our lives but the fact is that those who have a strong faith, have greater interior peace and better health. 

If you don't know how to pray or do pray but aren't sure you're grasping the full benefit, I highly recommend this slim volume called Prayer for Beginners

I read it when I already considered myself a veteran to prayer... and it helped bring a greater simplicity, clarity, and peace to my existing spiritual life. 

EXERCISE

I almost forgot this one (thank you for the kind reader who reminded me!)... probably because I like to sleep a whole lot more than I like to exercise. ha. But studies confirm that exercise increases energy and fights fatigue. People with autoimmune disease or adrenal fatigue have to be a bit more strategic about when, how, and how long they exercise (I'm just going to cite this as my excuse for sleeping in) but physical movement is still a critical part of their energy tool box and long term health.

What else am I missing? Let me know what your tips are!

Start Being Brave About Everything (Pio Prints)

{I received a product in exchange for this honest review. Thank you for supporting my family! My full disclosure Here.}

My daughter is brave. And she is teaching me how to be brave. 

Over 20 years ago, I went through the same surgery she did, wore the same brace she is wearing, and worked my heart out to get back to the activities I enjoyed, just like she is. But I see in her a strength I did not have... because my courage was a superficial show... and hers runs deep.

I endured for the moment while eyes were upon me and then secretly began to give up. I was tired of the hard things. I was tired of the physical and mental stresses of life and didn't want to fight anymore. I was only a kid... but I was already afraid and worn. 

brave3.jpg

When people would tell me "Great job!" and "You inspire me!"... I developed the habit of countering them in my mind...

You're a liar.
I'm worthless.
I can't.
I shouldn't.

I became my own flawed teacher and I daily instructed myself about my failure as a human being. I thought that I was just protecting myself. Hey, if I just admitted the truth from the start, then it wouldn't hurt when other people saw it and said it, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And instead of growing roots strong and true... and vulnerable... I kept them short in fear, and short circuited my ability to experience joy. It took many years to undo those messages of fear.

brave2.jpg

While I know that my daughter has her own fears and insecurities, I also see a depth of passionate courage that I hope to see in all my children; and I thank God that I don't have to pass on the sickness of soul that I carried. That I can raise my children to something better... to the rock and foundation Who is Jesus Christ... and myself find courage and healing through the testimony of their lives.

When I saw this tank top from Pio Prints, my heart shouted a resounding YES! St. Catherine for the win! And I knew my girl had to wear it. 

We all need a St. Catherine to get in our faces and speak the Truth with strong and deep love. Even though I have never met this saint and elder sister in Christ, I cling to her wisdom and let her words ring in my heart:

"Start being brave about everything."

Yes. I will. Thanks be to God.

Pio Prints was founded with "the mission to spread the message of the Saints to encourage, inspire, comfort, and congratulate."

Women need that. Oh, how we need that! And we also love a cute and comfortable tank top to do the courageous things God calls us to, right? Of course, we do! Now go grab one of your own at Pio Prints... for yourself, your daughters, and any beautiful gal in your life who needs a reminder of who she is made to be.  PIO PRINTS

Be sure to also follow them on Facebook and Instagram!

Why You Should Be a Quitter to Regain Your Health

The number one reason that women give me for not taking better care of themselves is:
I DON'T HAVE TIME.

The number two reason that women give me for not taking better care of themselves is:
I DON'T HAVE MONEY.

Now, I'm giving you fair warning that I'm going to knock down your excuses; but first, I will give a slight concession. Ready?

Sometimes we really don't have the time, money, or motivation to take care of ourselves in the way we prefer. There. That's your gimme. And now, I'm going to tell you why most of you DO have the time, money, and courage... but it comes at a price. Let's find out if it's worth it to you...

EXCUSE #1: I DON'T HAVE TIME

I believe you. I don't have time either. Homeschooling, 8 kids, home business... nope. No time. I get it. But...

When you open your eyes in the morning, you have a full 24 hours before you and as you start to step forward, you make decisions about how to use those hours.

The truth is...

You do have the time. You simply choose to give it away to something else. Some of those things need you desperately (hungry children come to mind). But what if I were to tell you that you're neglect of your body over a ONE year period could result in a long term debilitating illness that will make it difficult to care for your kids... would you make time to prioritize your health today? Even if it meant saying no to another priority?

Maybe you don't know your answer to that but I know mine. If you don't know my story, I'll give you the short version...

The poor dietary habits of my early life led to debilitating chronic illness in the prime years of my motherhood. I would absolutely have made changes long, long ago if I had known. It would have saved so much money, many tears, and daily pain over the years.

So... how does the average American women find time in her overstuffed schedule?

Answer: QUIT STUFF.

Stop driving yourself crazy by overfilling your life with busy activities. Start to carve out time where you have absolutely nothing to do so that you can rest and learn to meet your wellness needs.. Quit even if it's hard. Even if it's confusing. Even if it costs you money.

If you serve on three church committees, quit two.
If your kids are in multiple outside activities, quit some of them and let them learn to rest, too.
Get off the crazy train and start to invest in a healthy mind and body.  
Quit Facebook.
Quit Instagram.
Quit watching reruns of Downton Abbey. 

Time is precious. Quit stuff in order to restore your health.
Not for good... not for good... just until you have your healthy mind, body, and soul back.

Excuse #2: I DON'T HAVE MONEY

Let me ask you something...  If you had a life threatening disease, would you turn away medical care because you didn't have enough money? If you are worried about a child's health, do you say "Sorry kid... not in the budget"? 

Health is a priority and we put it right at the top even if it costs us a bunch of cash or puts us in debt... and doesn't it always? Last time I walked into a doctor's office, it cost me $200 just for the privilege of saying hello. 

But if you knew that affordable preventative care could stop disease and poor health in your family (and the need to pay expensive medical bills)... Wouldn't you find the money? If not, you either don't believe that healthy living can prevent poor long term health, or you would rather pay a doctor more later than invest in your health now. 

Believe me... I know very well how much good preventative health care costs and I think it's a shame. (I also know how much good medical care costs and it is substantially more.)

But where do you find the money to pay for good food and healthy living?

Answer: QUIT STUFF.

If you can't afford fresh foods, quality supplements, and time for healthy movement, then you should quit spending money on extras you don't need. 

Quit going on a Disney-sized vacation every single year.
Quit paying thousands of dollars annually for travel sports for the kids when it is robbing your family of time and health.
Quit overspending at Target.
Quit draining your bank account on things that have lesser value than good health.

I know I'm being a little hard core here but it's easy on the internet... I don't have to squirm uncomfortably while you tell me how you are suffering every day but running yourself ragged on too many expensive activities. I am in the excellent position of being able to hide behind a screen while I give your conscience a good prick!

But I feel it with you. I promise. I look back with regret on many activities, habits, and things I purchased that had no real value. I overspend. I breach the budget fences and regret it. I end up selling stuff I want in order to buy something that I need... for a good deal less than I purchased it for. Ever done that to pay a bill? 

Tell you what... don't quit all that stuff for good (unless you should). Just quit for a year. And when you find the extra time, fill it up with wholesome living, real food, good rest, and family. After that year, reassess... you may be surprised to find that restored vitality and good health is a great deal more enjoyable than your former lifestyle. 

Environment {The Forgotten Pillar of Good Health}

It has become so commonplace to hear about the toxins in our food, air, water, shampoos, etc. that most of us either ignore the warnings for the most part.

We are desensitized, tired and busy.

We all get it. We want to do better. We wince when we recognize known (or probable carcinogens) in our personal care or cleaning products . So we buy a "natural" product, don't love it or can't afford it, and decide the greater of two evils is the present difficulty and not the remote possibility of fatal disease. We care but…

We're surrounded by toxic chemicals anyway. Really... how much control can we have?

I'm going to tell you my story as a way of answering that question. And then I'm going to tell you how I take my healthcare plan another easy step forward...

MY BODY SAID "ENOUGH"

I have already written about the decades of chronic pain and illness that drove me to undertake a dramatic dietary overhaul. It changed my life. Brought me back to life. But in addition to the major systemic symptoms that I experienced for most of my life, I also have sensitivities to other environmental factors as well.

Among those challenges are migraines, asthma, allergies, and contact reactions. Annoying and disruptive! Even before I ever thought about changing my diet, I was already changing my environment just to survive my reactive days.

For the past 20 years, I have been unable to use most commercial lotions, moisturizers, or perfumes. I avoid places like Bath and Body Works like the Bubonic Plague and I admit to having a mini panic attack when I have to sit next to a highly synthetically scented person in a public waiting area. My frequent plea: Please God, get me through this without wheezing , hives, or unsightly grimaces.

I never thought this made me a health freak. It was pure survival. When your face breaks out into painful hives after applying a commercial "natural" product, you learn pretty quickly what ingredients to avoid. For me, it was pretty much everything synthetic. But I never thought about it as a "health" issue... only vanity and annoyance.

When I changed my nutrition habits and became a food label reader, the connection between environment and systemic health began to make sense to me for the first time. Here I was scouring labels like the food detective that I needed to be... just like I had been a product label reader for a decade. And the toxic chemical connection began to click…

My body hates this stuff. All of it.

Beyond that, much of it is known to harm the body... so what I am I doing? Why am I using toxic products that are known to cause cancer AND cross the placenta? During my last pregnancy, I read that tests done on newborn cord blood revealed the presence of over 200 chemicals.

Okay then...

I began to make changes.

MAKING CHANGES

Who doesn't want to be toxin free? No one wants cancer or endocrine disease. Most of us do care but…

1) We don't realize the cumulative negative effect toxic chemicals have on our body's ability to thrive. And...

2) We can't afford it.

I know that some of you are going to say: "Look. We live in a toxic world. We can't escape it. I've got things to do... priorities. I don't have the time or money to be a control freak about this stuff."

I hear you. I hear you. In a culture where corporate marketing drives our consumer habits, living simply with healthy ingredients has become a privilege for the wealthy. Bizarre, isn’t it?

We also live in a culture that is plagued with disease because of our dietary choices, sedentary lifestyle, and fixation on pleasure, convenience, and gluttony. Sometimes, we need to just say... I don't want to buy in. God made me for more.


SOLUTIONS

So what now??

I can't pretend that this topic and it's solution don't involve STUFF... because they do. This is about what we use on a daily basis through choice or necessity. But it is pretty much about stuff. We wear makeup, wash our hair, clean our floors, lotion our legs, apply deodorant, wear perfume, burn candles, spray air freshener.... we shop and consume. A lot.

The sad truth is that just because a bottle in the store says "natural" or "green" and has a leaf on it, doesn't mean that it isn't toxic. FDA regulations only cover so much. We have to be smart consumers.

So what I'm going to do here is share my absolute favorite resources for those of you who are ready to prioritize spending (or who, like me, are forced to prioritize spending for health reasons). There are other resources but these are ones that I spend money on and use daily so I have zero hesitation about recommending.


MY FAVORITE 'CLEAN AND HEALTHY' RECOMMENDATIONS


1. ESSENTIAL OILS

I know... It's a fad. But when undertaken with care, it's a pretty amazing fad that I hope never goes away. Give me your ear for an hour or two and I'll tell you how these little brown bottles have improved my days, weeks, and life. Magic? No. But REALLY good.

There are two primary ways that I use essential oils to improve my environment...

1) I diffuse to improve air quality and to derive essential benefits aromatically, and

2) I use them topically and in my homemade products (bath and body, cleaning, immune support) for real benefits and a gorgeous scent (that doesn't set off my asthma).

Read more here: Getting Started With Essential Oils

2. BUY FROM GOOD COMPANIES 

I love to DIY but sometimes I don't have the time or inclination to play chemist. At those times, trustworthy companies are invaluable. Here are some of my favorites...

DR. BRONNER'S

I use Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap for pretty much everything. It's basic, it's versatile, it's safe. I like to buy the larger sizes and use small amounts to fill scrubbing buckets, all-purpose sprayers, and various other needs like laundry or hand soap. My favorites to use are the almond scent and the unscented soap. The unscented allows me to add essential oils for any extra benefits or scents that I like.

I use their cleaning soap (Sals Suds) when a little more safe cleaning power is needed. I like to add Lemongrass, lemon, melaleuca, or orange essential oils to this soap for household cleaning. Use diluted as a laundry pretreatment or add a teaspoon to a quart of water for most surfaces. Available in 16 oz, 32 ounce or Gallon sizes. A little goes a long way!

3. DO IT YOURSELF {It's not that hard}

Laundry detergent
Make-up
Moisturizer
Cleansers
Air fresheners
Toothpaste
Shampoo
Insect repellent
Sunscreen
You name it... there's a recipe for it! 

If nothing else, everyone (at least once in their lives) should make their own lip balm. It's almost fool proof and so lovely. Use your favorite essential oils (mine are orange, grapefruit, and peppermint) and have the satisfaction of just knowing you did it.

Pinterest is a treasure trove of DIY ideas. You can visit my boards to get started.
The Essential Mother on Pinterest

Transform Your Health Through Diet (8 Steps)

Whether I'm talking to someone who is in need of healing or examining my own life, I always put nutrition first because it must be first. Nutrition is the fuel that runs our bodies, our brains, our hormones... everything. Our bodies are incredible.... AMAZING... beautiful... and we were designed to function optimally with nutritious food; but the typical American diet does not take those needs seriously. Consequently…

We live in a first world country that is plagued with disease... much of which is self-inflicted.

It is common knowledge that much disease (and symptoms of unavoidable disease) can be eliminated or reduced by eating a nutrient-dense, garbage-free diet and living a healthy lifestyle. Modern medicine is marvelous... but no doctor or surgery or medication can replace God's plan for normal, healing nutrition.

(Pause for a second and read my disclaimer HERE. I'm not a substitute for your doctor. Consider me an accountability partner in a life of joy and health.)

If you exercise every day but stuff your body full of garbage, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you exercise daily, eliminate garbage, but do not meet your body's fundamental nutritional needs, you are still setting yourself up for future problems.

The following information contains the skeleton of my personal nutrition plan. When someone asks me how I eat (or ideally eat), this is what I tell them...


TRANSFORMING MY HEALTH THROUGH NUTRITION (8 Steps)

  1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

  2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

  3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

  4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

  5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

  6. EMBRACE THE FAT

  7. CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

  8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM}


1. CUT OUT GARBAGE

The human body is incredible! The balance of hormones and systems is finely tuned and designed to function with seasonal, real food. It is extremely resilient and can survive and thrive for a long time on inferior nutrition or periods of fasting, through days, seasons, and even decades. But if we use garbage "food" to fuel the body on a regular basis, we will eventually damage the beautiful machine.

The good news is that the body also has a remarkable ability to heal. If you're like me and have abused your own body nutritionally for most of your life, then it might take a longer period of hard work... but every small step is worth it! I'm on my 6th year of gluten-free, clean eating and I'm not tempted to go back. I cannot overstate the positive effect that those changes have made on my life.

Once upon a time, I told my husband I thought that I would die if I had another baby and I truly believed it because I was THAT sick. But in between that pregnancy and the next, I changed my diet and consequently, my life. And I didn't die. Not even close.

When I was 35, I told him that I would surely be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40. I am now 39... and thriving.

LET'S BE HONEST... The trial of going without chemically enhanced lattes and Oreo cookies is a first world problem. You don't have to have them. And the obligations of your vocation may be calling you to let them go. If you eat junk regularly and also complain about IBS, fatigue, diabetes, joint pain, headaches, etc... then it may be time to start thinking about the stress you've been putting on your body all these years and the investment you want to make for the future.

The good news is that now is a GREAT time to begin to make changes regardless of the challenges you face in life. There is always a small change you can make toward health.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ELIMINATING IMMEDIATELY:

  • CORN SYRUP. This should not even be used in moderation. It has no nutritional value and wreaks havoc on a body. It's also in almost everything modern Americans eat.
  • WHEAT/GLUTEN. Wheat is not inherently evil... but the way that the majority of flour is produced in the last 50 years renders it a nutritionally empty source of calories, and increasing numbers of people are developing sensitivities. If you do not have an intolerance, you will still benefit nutritionally from replacing most or all of your bread and pasta with vegetables and nutritionally dense carbs. You will eliminate an inflammatory food and you will also eliminate a huge source of extra pounds! The elimination of gluten changed my life.

  • PACKAGED FOODS. There are exceptions to the this but in general, if a food is packaged, it needs non-food chemicals to keep it from rotting, breaking, separating, or to enhance its denatured flavor. Added up over the course of a day (and a life), the cumulative impact can be significant. 

  • PACKAGED FOODS LABELED 'GLUTEN FREE'. Make no mistake... The majority of packaged gluten free food is junk food. Completely nutritionally empty. Just eat real food instead or find companies that produce nutritionally, garbage free products. Have you ever heard anyone say "I gained weight on a gluten-free diet"? Yep, me too... all the time! Well, that outcome makes sense if they are simply replacing their empty carbs with more empty carbs.

  • ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. Most simply are not healthy to consume. Use natural sweeteners instead.

  • SUGAR. I know... I know... All things in moderation, right? But the American idea of "moderation" and the body's idea of moderation seem to be at odds. Modern science recognizes that sugar is a source of inflammation in the body, and that inflammation is a common cause of preventable disease. So... consider less damaging alternatives (honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar) and also making even those splurges rare since they tend to increase more sweet cravings. read more here.

  • ALL SODA . This is a no-brainer. We know this. Regular is terrible for you. Diet may be worse.


2. INCREASE REAL NUTRITION

After cutting out garbage, it can initially seem difficult to find nutritious replacements. We are used to eating from boxes and bags and have been desensitized to the long list of ingredients on labels. The following tips will help you navigate...


3. SHOP THE PERIMETER

Most real foods will be found in the produce and refrigerated sections of a grocery store. Avoiding processed, nutrient-deficient foods generally means eliminating many of the middle aisles. Shop fresh.


4. THE FEWER INGREDIENTS, THE BETTER

One-ingredient foods are the best option. If you're buying chicken, you want chicken... not chicken with a list of hard to spell chemicals listed on the label. If you're buying broccoli, you want broccoli... not broccoli, colorants, and preservatives. When buying from a can or a box, go for the one that has the fewest and most recognizable ingredients. For example, a simple can of kidney beans usually contains some form of sugar. Put back the ones that list corn syrup and chemicals... and keep looking until you find the healthiest, fewest ingredients added to your beans.


5. EAT NUTRITIONALLY DENSE FOODS

Long term health does not count calories but weighs nutrition. The best path to weight loss is a body that has the proper fuel when it needs it. If you overeat regularly, calories will add up, but I've got to tell you... it's a lot harder to gain extra weight when you're doubling up on asparagus than if you're doubling up on the pasta. Make the calories count and your appetite will more likely regulate itself. You will remember what it's like to be truly hungry. There won't be bloating to confuse or guilt you. You can just eat.

Also, not all whole foods are created equal. If you are short on nutrients (almost all of us are), then you might want to make your pile of dark leafy greens significantly larger than your pile of rice.


6. EMBRACE THE FAT

It is time to leave the diet fads and pseudo-science of the 1980's behind. Dump the margarine... Embrace the full-fat grass-fed butter. Why? Because margarine is chemically-laden garbage food and your brain and body NEED healthy fats to stay healthy. Every cell in your body is made up of fats... you have a fundamental biologic need for fat.

I have noticed in my own diet that when I eat more healthy fats, my cravings are reduced, I have more energy, less brain fog, and have no trouble with weight gain. When I skimp on the fats, I end up eating more of everything else and struggling with energy.

WHAT FATTY OILS TO GET RID OF COMPLETELY....

vegetable oil
canola oil
cottonseed oil
Trans fats
soybean oil
hydrogenated oil

MY FAVORITE WAYS TO GET MORE HEALTHY FAT IN MY DIET...

avocados
coconut oil
nuts
full fat coconut milk
organic full fat butter
organic bacon... because... bacon.


7. CONSIDER CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING

Before saying another word about supplements, I must reiterate:

A NOURISHING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY SUPPLEMENT.  PILLS WILL NOT SAVE YOU FROM BAD FOOD CHOICES. Supplements only become a need when our diet is inadequate. Having said that…

I am a supplement convert. I never "believed" in the idea and thought that I could just get what I needed through food. I was wrong. Countless years of nutrient deprivation from poor eating, malabsorption, and ignorance left me seriously depleted of nutrients. And unfortunately (due to chronic issues and perhaps age), it isn't just correcting itself by eating a steak and a hearty salad periodically. My age and body abuse have left me struggling, and for the first time, I'm leaning on good supplements to get through my days.

It is VERY important to note that the vitamin and supplement industry is unregulated. That means that your Walmart multi-vitamins could very well contain Chinese sawdust... and mold. When testing has been done on OTC supplements, they have regularly been found to falsely advertise content and quantities and harbor such horrid ingredients as I’ve listed above. Additionally, most supplements provide synthetic nutrients and science is still uncertain about if that even benefits our bodies. What to do?

Do your research. Pay more money for supplements that you can source. Don't pop a pill just because it's cheap. You'll pay out the nose for medications to treat disease... why would you skimp on your preventative care? (And because someone always asks, I buy my supplements from doTERRA. Contact me and I'll be happy to share more info.)


8. NEVER STOP LEARNING {FIND GOOD SUPPORT}

I receive many questions from this post since so many details simply won't fit! I will do my best to get to those as I am able and integrate answers in other posts. In the meantime, I will leave you will some of my favorite resources for recipes and wellness. Wondering how to cook a meal with real food? These recipe resources are a great place to start and have helped me out more times than I can count.

And don't forget...

Listen to your body. This is a journey of wellness NOT perfection. Every good choice is a victory. Remember your purpose... Thanks be to God!

The Slight Edge and The Secret to Healthy Living

What is holding you back from a healthy lifestyle?

The answer is so simple that it surprises me every time I stumble upon it again. It recently jumped out at me from the pages of a great book that I think everyone should read. A good book will take a basic truth and extract it from the superficial complexity of life and just NAIL it to my forehead...

"Here you go," it says. "You've forgotten this." And then it slips quietly back on to the shelf while I sit stunned.

The Slight Edge is one of those books and that is precisely why I recommend it to all who work with me; because it lays out simple steps to a successful life. Not just successful, but happy. Most people are probably prompted to read it in the context of a business endeavor, but the author's approach applies so well to a journey to physical fitness, good health, and even the spiritual life that the applications are almost limitless.

A good Christian friend of mine said that the principles in the book were to her like a secular adaptation of St. Therese of Lesieux's Little Way. Do small things with great love and do them well... trusting that the steady faithfulness will bear great fruit. 

Do you want to be healthy in mind, body, and soul? The Slight Edge makes it clear...

Healthy living is not about amazing and quick transformations, but about one small choice at a time. 

The author puts it bluntly...

"It's easy to eat well. But it's also easy not to, and to go on eating the food that will eventually kill us, because it won't kill us today. It's not the one junk food meal; it's the thousands, over time. Eating the burger is just a simple error in judgment. Not eating it, a simple positive action.

The thing is, eating it won't kill you... today. Compounded over time, it can and will - but not at first. And not eating it won't transform your health and save your life, at least not today. Compounded over time, it can and it will."

He makes a simple but powerful point about why so many in our fast food, click-bait culture don't reach their goals: Because they aren't willing to do the one mundane easy thing, in the moment, without seeing immediate results.

He says...

"Here's how real success is built: by the time you get the feedback, the real work's already done."

One day at a time, one choice at a time... step by step.

I know the path to healing intimately and I know how slow progress can seem at times. But then suddenly, you have turned a corner... and you're standing in the middle of Walmart bawling like a baby and thanking God because there was once a time when you were too sick to go on a short Walmart trip with your husband.

Yes, that happened to me... that day in Walmart when it all made sense. The day I knew that every little choice toward the positive had been worth it. Slowly, steadily, faithfully. That's how lives are transformed.

I know you can do this! I am living proof that you don't have to be a high energy "health nut" to make a change. Be a steady little plodder and you will achieve great things!

And read the book... it's well worth your time. The Slight Edge

Mateo's Story: The Day I Met Jesus (Guest Post)

This story was first shared on Facebook by my friend, Jen. I asked permission to share it here and the words written below are hers. I thank God for the gift of Mateo and his amazing parents. May the testimony of his life and death bring courage, hope, and healing to those reading.


Mateo's Story

by Jennifer Calabretta

I'll be honest, I am hesitant to share this story this morning. It starts out as a real downer, ha... But it has been TEN years today since we said our goodbyes to this sweet baby and began really walking down this crazy road that we never saw coming. And while many think it sounds like entirely too much, I cannot imagine our life any other way (especially without Mateo & later our daughter Sofia, and the 2 other sweet babies we have miscarried).

But I decided it is important to share for 2 reasons.

ONE, so many people go through the pain of a hard diagnosis, or losing a loved one, or just LIFE, and it remains only their cross. It is lonely. But life is never something you should go through alone. Grief and Anger require people to talk and share and reach out and cry; just to get through it still standing up! So many people reached out to us, and it made every difference.

TWO... It serves as a reminder to me that God is good. All the time. He walks through every single storm with us, and continues to do so. I do not know how Andre and I (& our family) would have survived all of this without Him. He sent us answered prayers, beautiful kids, homemade meals, loving friends, concerned family, well time scripture verses and moving song lyrics... all reminders that even the HARDEST situations can be gotten through.

So again, I apologize for the toughness of this. You don't need to read our story throughout the album if you don't want to. But I just felt compelled to share this today; and to share that God is always present, especially in our hardest moments. And with Him ALL things are possible. So keep on working through whatever life has handed you; you're destined to win:)

Mateo was born at 12:00pm on April 21, 2007. I finally figured out that I was in labor around 6 am that morning. I think I actually started earlier than that, but because I was only 35 weeks along, I didn't really think that it would be labor!! But when Andre came out to our Living Room at 6am and saw me taking giant breaths and squatting in the "Fat-Man" chair, he sort of figured it out right away.... 

So there we were, at 8 o'clock in the morning in the Labor & Delivery ER. No nurse really seemed to believe that I was in labor, despite the fact that I was swearing unholy words under my breath between contractions and shared with anyone who would listen that I had no problem giving birth in the wheelchair I was being escorted in if no one wanted to put me in a bed:)

So obviously - it was quickly concluded that I was in labor. 8cm the whole 30 minute ride on the slow and bumpy highway!!! Then my water broke, and we were sure Mateo would just come shooting out (sorry for the graphic imagery:))... but the weird part was that my labor actually stopped then and there. He just decided to slow it down. It would be another 4 hours before Mateo would come; it was really our calm before the storm.

At 12:00pm, the urge to push came and we went for it. 3 good pushed and Mateo was OUT! This whole labor, all we kept saying was, "How is he coming 6 weeks early? My entire pregnancy has been perfect, what's going on?" 

Nothing seemed to make sense. And then Mateo was born... and we realized we were in for so many more questions. Mateo was 5lbs 6oz when he was born, with a full head of black hair (as you can see in the photos!!). He had all 10 fingers, all 10 toes, and he was beautiful. Yes, I know I am partial because I'm his Mom... but he was perfect:)

But there were so many problems as well. When Mateo was first born, we had the NICU staff nearby as a precaution because he was early. Little did we know that they would be angels in our midst. Mateo wasn't breathing when he came out, and it actually took the NICU doctors and nurses 10 minutes to get a tube in to help him breathe. His fingers and toes were stiff and misshapen. And his arms and legs were not straight. 

We would later learn that the medical term for this is arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. It is a congenital condition that forms in the womb. When muscles aren't exercised during development (as Mateo's apparently were not), they become stiff and contracted. So when Mateo was born, all of his major joints were stuck in this manner. Needless to say, he was flown to the Cleveland Clinic NICU within an hour of his birth... and there we were, left with a whole lot of questions... and NO answers. 

But we love(d) him... and that was really all that mattered.

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Over the course of the next 2 weeks, we learned a lot of things about Mateo. We learned that whatever he was "suffering" from was probably a completely random occurrence. However, this randomness left him with very weak and brittle bones (that would fracture very easily), misshappen and underdeveloped external body parts, and no responsiveness to us. At least not externally.

I knew, in my heart, that every song we sang him and every book we read him was heard. I know that he appreciated the Lullaby CD that we played for him all day every day. I know that he hated the girly socks I put on him every time we came to visit. And I knew that he loved us - even at 3 days old - I just knew.

And on the inside...he was perfect. 

His heart, his organs, his blood... Christlike, right? Broken on the outside, but perfect on the inside.

It was amazing that every day we would keep getting these terrible diagnoses from doctors, and our glimmer of hope for a recovery kept moving farther and farther off ... but somehow, Andre and I knew Mateo was bigger than all of this. 

We knew that no matter what happened; that our lives were better having spent it, even a short amount of time, with him.

And a short amount of time it would be.

On a side note - most of my adult Catholic life I have struggled with this image of Mary. Understanding what it is like to be a mother to such a great son; understanding how you just stand by them watching such a great sadness and pain happen to one you love so much... It was always so beyond me... But I will tell you what, my greatest solace - in not only those 2 weeks, but NOW as well - was in Mary. Because it was in those moments that I felt so alone, thinking "who the heck does this stuff happen to?", I knew that there was at least one other person who had... I had a companion. And what greater Mother to learn from...

But May 4, 2007, is not a day we will quickly forget. It is the day we decided to take Mateo off of life support. To some, it might seem impossible to imagine ever making a decision to say good bye to your child. But there was a point, when we realized that the life HE was living was not the one he was meant to live. 

We had spent two weeks with NO answers. No reasons. It seemed that Mateo should have been this perfect baby with this perfect life. But life happened differently.

The evening before, on May 3, Mateo's doctors told us that they had done a biopsy to test his muscle for possible answers, but they, in fact, were not able to find any muscle; ANYWHERE in his body. In essence, while his organs grew, his body stopped growing very early on in the womb. And unfortunately, what you don't grow in the womb, you cannot grow outside of the womb. So we were left with no other choice.

It was such a sad day; the day we made that decision. But we knew that Mateo had a greater Life waiting for him in Heaven.

We made sure that we got our whole family together at least once. Dante, our oldest, got to meet his little brother. We thought it was important, even if it only lasted for a few moments.

Mateo mustered all of his strength to stay with us for a whole 15 minutes on his own. They took Mateo off of all of his machines, they brought him and put him in my arms. It was 12noon on Friday. And I breathed in every bit of him that I could.

This picture here is one of the last we took before taking him off of the machines and saying goodbye - and while it is one of the hardest to relive, it reminds me of the Miracle of Life. It reminds me that God is so much greater than the circumstances He meets us in. 

It reminds me that on THAT DAY - I MET JESUS ...

And I held Him in my arms, and I kissed Him when He died... and I loved Him, the best way I knew how; and I knew that he held together the pieces of my broken heart so that I could remember every piece of love I had for him.

And I will take that memory with me, every day, for the rest of my life.

And that same love, that I had for my son and my God at that moment, is unequivocally the same love that I have today for my husband, for Dante, for Cabrini... and for our other angels, Jeremiah, Sofia & Gabriel. And it is a love that binds and renews and purifies...

He really is our "Gift of God" (Which, in fact, is what Mateo means in Latin... awesome, huh:).

Amen.

Jennifer Calabretta is a wife, mother, and graphic designer from Northeast Ohio. All photos above are her property and permission must be granted for use.The "Courageous" graphic above is her design and you are welcome to share. 

How Essential Oils Helped Me Overcome Chronic Illness

If you would have told me 6 years ago that I would be living today without pain and chronic illness, I'm not sure I would have believed you. After all, 20 years is a long time to suffer. A very long time. I figured it was just my lot in life... my particular cross...

Until the day I learned that it wasn't.

I'll get to the essential oils in a bit but here is the background story...

I had spent thousands of dollars seeking a cause and a cure and had been diagnosed and medicated incorrectly multiple times. I was given antibiotics and steroids and shots and diagnosis that I still can't spell correctly. I was told I had diseases... and then told that I didn't have them. I remember breaking down in tears after one visit where a condescending specialist told me I was the picture of health. He thought I was lying. He told me I was just tired. That was my diagnosis: fatigue.

I was surviving but getting sicker every year... and losing hope. Eating was extremely painful. I stopped playing sports with my family because my inflamed joints were getting injured frequently. I ate mushy cereal for every meal since it was all I could tolerate. In spite of my supportive family, I felt isolated. I struggled with depression. I had forgotten how to dream of thriving.

I accepted my cross and wasn't seeking perfection; I only wanted to be well enough to serve my family with joy. And I was struggling with that. 

Over those years, I had beautiful babies and homeschooled and tried to be an attentive wife. I truly loved my life and could not help but be grateful for every blessing, but there were many days when I would wake up in the morning and my eyes would fill with tears... because I wasn't sure I had the courage to fight through my own limitations all over again.

I woke up to pain and went to bed with pain. I watched the moms in my community run from one activity to the other and I wondered what kind of superhuman powers they had that I didn't. 

One day, I hit bottom... and through my groans and tears, I made a desperate resolution: I would finally take the advice of a good friend and try an elimination diet. You can read that story in more detail elsewhere but I'll skip to the end for you now... 

I cut out every possible inflammatory food and ingredient and replaced it all with real, fresh food...


And my life changed immediately. 

Within three days, I was able to move one  injured and swollen joint in a way that I hadn't been able to for FIFTEEN YEARS. When people tell me that I must have amazing will power to stay on a clean food diet, I know they are wrong. It isn't difficult for me to choose to live pain free. It isn't difficult to pass up a donut in order to wake up and go to bed with hope. To have health and freedom for the first time in two decades and throw it away on a pastry? I don't think it's any superhuman virtue on my part which allows me to answer an emphatic NO. 

My body was nutrient starved and fatigued from years of struggle. So I kept going with the changes, adding supplements and new foods and eliminating anything that would tax or suppress my immune system. 

Essential oils inevitably made their entrance into my life when I sought natural solutions to things for which I would previously just pop a pill. My immune system was compromised by many years of antibiotic use, so I sought natural anti-bacterial solutions. I learned that ibuprofin is an immunosuppressant and hard on the stomach, so I researched alternatives for pain relief and anti-inflammatories. The list goes on. 

If I have to go to the doctor? I go. Natural solutions and modern medicine make a great team. 

My long-term relationship with essential oils started with oregano. I was extremely sick and pregnant and did extensive research about antibiotic alternatives and ways to support my body through this crisis. I call the results a "miracle" but I know that isn't strictly true. A miracle is when the laws of nature are suspended. But in this case, the effectiveness of this oil was not an atypical result; rather it was a natural result designed by God to bless His people. 

I've also been able to replace a number of household toxins with essential oil recipes and to finally (FINALLY!!) use pampering skin products which don't cause burning or hives. 

Once I got over the false idea that essential oils were some kind of snake oil voodoo, I was awed by the way God had designed plant oils for our benefit. For my benefit. Further evidence of His love for me... and a great consolation on my healing journey.

The journey is not over. I have sustained much damage from years of illness and I do have periodic flare-ups of symptoms (particularly during times of stress). I don't come to these pages as a model of success or perfection as much as I come as a friend seeking to support and to be supported.

I have recovered hope. And I want to offer you hope.

Is it dramatic to say that essential oils have helped to give me that hope? Perhaps... but it's true. It's no more dramatic than saying...

There are nights when I lie awake in bed just to marvel at the experience of being pain-free. 

Thank you, Jesus. 

UPDATE: 

I have finally been diagnosed with Lupus... and while that is not the diagnosis I was hoping for and flare ups are difficult, I continue to manage successfully with natural solutions alone. My hope is to continue to stay off chemo, immunosuppressants, and steroids unless necessary to save my life or injury. And if I do ever need them, I will continue to incorporate natural wellness solutions as my primary approach to health and healing. 

I continue to learn new ways to incorporate oils into my healing; to support my body through periods of immune depression and also to help calm through immune hyperactivity of autoimmune flares. 

For more information on what essential oils I buy and where you can purchase them, click here: GETTING STARTED WITH ESSENTIAL OILS.