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!

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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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 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. 

How Motherhood Can Heal the Jaded Woman

New motherhood is a golden moment in a woman's life where the opportunity to be permanently changed is tangible, powerful, and immediate. No, I'm not talking about whether or not YOU feel or see any difference. The change happens regardless; because the child is placed into your arms and instantly, you are loved... by a brand new person who doesn't know anything about your failures. And frankly, doesn't care.

Doesn't care if your hair is all messy from labor.
Doesn't care if you've got dark circles under your eyes.
Doesn't care if you are struggling to find words.
Doesn't care if you aren't sure about this whole motherhood thing. 

His love is yours. Period. 

It is an exquisite moment of renewal. There is no history. No memory of wrongs done. A clean slate. 

Those eyes and tiny fingers... they seek you out as often as possible. To connect with you and to love and be loved. Special talent is not required... simply your presence. 

We tend to think of ourselves as being in a role of power over our little ones, but perhaps the greatest potential power is that of the child over a mother's heart. We think we are the lovers and the healers. But I don't know... seems to me that the greater power lies in the helpless devotion of the child.

I was just 21 years old when I held my firstborn; and those initial moments were not ones in which I felt dominant or in control, but ones in which I felt smaller and more humbled than I ever had in my life.

My arrogance fell away.
My selfishness fell away.
My knowledge fell away.
My self-importance fell away.

I held a tiny human in my arms and felt as though I held the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in my soft baby. Aware of my complete insignificance, I let the awe and fear wash over me in giant waves as the nurses showed me how to care for my son. Those waves crashed upon me again and again as he cried in hunger and turned toward me for nourishment and comfort. And again as I changed him for the first time. Imperfectly.

And still he loved me. 

As those waves of emotion rolled over me, I felt the sharp edges of my womanhood softening, smoothed by the tiny majestic moments. My memories now forever included this child and were filled by him. And no pain or bitterness that I had felt in my life would ever again be felt as sharply simply because he was there. No wound that I had received could hurt as much as the love of this child could heal. 

When I tell people that I've had 8 children, they often stare in astonishment. You must be crazy! Life must be very hard! But I have a secret that they don't know...

The births and the love and the precious lives of my children have continuously washed over me for the last twenty years... and my bitterness doesn't stand a chance. My heart hardens and then it softens; washed over time and again by the smiles and tears of the most precious people on earth.

I am sometimes envious of the beautiful professional women I see around town with their pretty shoes and manicures. I wonder if I will ever be without a little one on my hip or a baby nursing at my breast. And then I remember...

I am happy. I am softened. I am loved. 

As the children have grown, that hard edge sometimes threatens to creep back into my soul again alongside the sufferings and sorrows of life. Shut the door! It cries. You can't be hurt if you keep it closed. And I shout back...

It is a lie.

Let your love wash over me, Jesus... let your love wash me soft. That even when the bitterness rises in my memory, it can never stand against the rolling power of your merciful love. 

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