What I’ve Learned Living with Gastroparesis

hungryWhen I was diagnosed with gastroparesis several years ago, I confess not much in my life initially seemed to change. I had been dealing with severe reflux issues for several years and became full quickly when I ate. Nothing more. My husband had always accused me of having an eating disorder, mistakenly thinking I was starving myself to maintain a slimmer physique. Not so. When my gastroenterologist discovered the source of my problems, everything suddenly made sense. Gastroparesis.

That not-so-bad issue has changed significantly in the past year.

For those of you who have never heard of this problem, let me explain. Gastroparesis is basically paralysis of the stomach, caused by damage to the vagus nerve. The stomach doesn’t pump. It’s a nerve and muscle problem that leaves the stomach unable to do its job.

stomach ache

Food will sit inside for hours, sometimes even a day or longer. This leads to nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, bloating, reflux, esophagus spasms and a host of other less pleasant problems that I’ll not go into here. Most gastroparesis patients live on motility drugs to try to stimulate the vagus nerve, along with intense reflux meds, anti nausea meds and the like. Some benefit from gastric stimulators. Others are required to receive their nutrition through feeding tubes.

Gastroparesis basically feels like you’ve got the stomach bug every single day.

I initially hesitated on writing this blog because here’s the thing: I don’t want to become the poster girl for gastroparesis. Why? Because my illness does not define me.

Superhero kid against blue sky background. Girl power concept

I am not Gastroparesis Girl or Gastroparesis Mom or anything else. I’m Tara. Yes, I live in a broken body, just like you. I’m dealing with the effects of the sin curse on earth just like you. But I am not a victim of my illness. I’m the redeemed, adopted daughter of God.

There are hundreds of blogs out there addressing this topic and other chronic illnesses. Some are written to bring greater awareness to medical issues. Some are a detailed journal of every aching misery involved with a particular condition. Understandable. Living with any kind of ongoing pain builds up a pressure that needs some kind of release. But wallowing in my aches and pains is not the purpose of this blog.

We all go through difficult things. For some of us, it’s physical. For some it’s emotional, mental or spiritual. Dissecting it further, I would daresay we all struggle with a combination of all four on a regular basis. Despite whether we are barely holding it together or dancing in victory, whether we are trying to escape the reality of our issues or are ecstatic from surviving the storm, there are significant things we can learn.

1. Dependency on God. I have good days and bad days. Rapid fluctuations in how I feel don’t matter so much when my days consist of teaching home school or writing from the comfort of my recliner, but I’m also a speaker and singer. That complicates things.

When I’m booking speaking engagements, I have no idea if I’ll be dealing with painful esophagus or larynx spasms that will steal my voice from me or not. I have no idea if I’ll be sick to my stomach or on top of the world. In the past, not being able to control those kinds of things would have sent me over the proverbial edge. No longer. God has turned up time and time again. He gives me exactly what I need for the opportunities He places before me. No more and no less. It’s been a faith building exercise, to say the least but I’ve learned much.

More than anything else, I know that I know that I know He is faithful.

2. Replacing the ‘good’ for something better. Eating out is difficult these days. When your diet consists mainly of applesauce, smoothies and soup, looking over a menu at TGIFridays can be daunting. Discouraging. Especially when you’re out with friends and family happily shoving in their bacon cheddar fries and cheeseburgers.

On days when the very thought of food makes me queasy, I decline the invite to go out for dinner with friends. However, I don’t want to become a social recluse either, especially since I’m usually happiest at home tucked in my pjs and typing away on my computer anyways. So what’s a girl to do?

I’ve learned that when I do go out to dinner with friends, I must replace that something good (food) with something better (building relationships). Food is a necessity but its satisfaction is temporary. I’ve discovered that when my focus is not on stuffing my face but digging deeper into the lives of my loved ones, I leave that time more fulfilled than I ever did before my illness.

Yes, it’s a huge mental shift but it’s been a rewarding one.

3. What I need is so different from what I want. Yep, this is a first world problem. We’ve been spoiled to death in the states by an abundance of too many choices. Too many options. We’ve been lied to and pampered and, somewhere along the way, we bought into the lie that life is all about us.

Most days I want a greasy cheeseburger, or better yet a huge salad filled with cheese and naughty goodies (something I can no longer enjoy). But most days I have applesauce and cottage cheese instead. That’s okay. It’s no different than wanting a huge house or a big, fat bank account. But what I actually need is just enough to get through today.

Have you ever wondered why God gave the children of Israel manna on a daily basis and not a weekly or monthly? If they tried to gather extra for the next day, it would spoil. Why? I think God was trying to teach them dependence on Him.

A recent conversation between my girls made this concept startlingly clear. One of my girls said, “Mom, do you know that our needs are different than our wants?”

Smiling, I nodded. “Yes, I’ve heard that. So what are our needs?”

“Food, water, shelter and God.”

My other daughter chimed in. “And a mailbox.”

I frowned, unsure where her little mind was heading. “A mailbox? Why a mailbox?”

She shrugged. “For Netflix.”

netflix

Indeed, our needs and wants are two very different things. We save ourselves much distress when we learn the difference and find contentment in either condition.

4. Life goes on. I have, and will continue to have, good days and bad days. As much as we all think time should stop when we walk through our valleys, it doesn’t. Babies are born. Children grow. Opportunities come. Dreams are pursued. God changes lives. No matter how I’m feeling each day, the time will pass either way. I want to live life to its fullest, with all the joy and beauty God intended it to be. Knowing He is my ultimate destiny just makes the journey sweeter…and more bearable, especially when my Fridays feel more like unconquerable Mondays. He is with me. He sees. He knows.

All this being said, when someone notices a recent change in my weight, or witnesses the tell-tale signs of pain and asks, “How are you feeling these days?”, I smile and usually say the same thing.

“I’m good. God sustains me.” sustains

He sustains me and will continue to sustain me.

And that’s a pretty great place to be.

I would love to hear from you. Have you battled any kind of chronic problem? What have you learned? 

Advertisements

Unchained: Breaking Free From the Slavery Mindset, Part Two

 chained

In part one, we looked at the very real possibility that many of us, although we accepted the freedom Jesus bought for us, continue to have our minds and emotions stuck in the ‘slavery mindset’.

To review from part one, here is the definition of a slave mentality:

It conditions a person to accept harmful circumstances to themselves as the natural order of things. They view their own worth through their master’s eyes. They believe about themselves what they have been told to believe, whether it’s true or not.

The dichotomy between our freedom and the slavery mindset is like longing for a certain gift, yearning for it, building our hope upon it, only to have our hands chained behind us so we are unable to enjoy the gift once it’s been placed before us.

gift 2

I don’t know about you, but when I give a gift to someone, it’s because I love them and want them to enjoy it. When Jesus gave up Himself to redeem us from the land of darkness, He wanted us to enjoy our freedom…to relish and delight in our new found joy and love. Yet some of us are sitting in a land of freedom with our minds still stuck in the land of darkness. Our spirits have been set free but our minds and emotions remained locked on our past mistakes or the lies we’ve always believed about ourselves. What a tragedy!

So how do we snap off the chains of that pesky slavery mindset?

1. Forgive those who have wronged you. Sometimes that involves forgiving yourself. corrie ten boom forgiveness

Forgiveness is like strapping someone to your back and dragging them around. Who suffers more…the one tied or the one doing the dragging?

It’s hard to walk in freedom with a chip the size of a boulder weighing you down. And that’s what unforgiveness is—a burden, a weight that darkens the light and leaves oppression in its shadow. Yes, that includes refusing to forgive yourself.

Not long ago, my two year old son fell outside on the driveway and scraped up his hand. At the sound of his wailing, his sisters and I ran to his side. When the girls tried to convince him to let them see, he covered the scrape with his chubby fingers and jerked away from them with a teary scowl. Why? Because he didn’t trust them with his boo-boo. He’d been victim of their teasing enough to wonder if they were trust worthy. Would they tease him? Laugh at him for being melodramatic? Unintentionally make the hurt worse by poking and probing? No, letting them see was too risky.

What do we do with a wound? Usually we try to hide it.

Boy hiding his eyes

But when I walked up and knelt down in front of him with sympathy, he finally uncovered his injured hand to let me examine the damage. He trusted me not to hurt him anymore than he’d already been wounded.

And here’s the thing…there was no way for me to give him the help he needed until I could understand how severe his injury was. Once he was brave enough to lift his chubby fingers away from his wound, I could begin to treat it. Because he trusted me, I was able to wash it, clean it with hydrogen peroxide, bandage it and kiss it until his tears subsided and he was playing once more.

This is a beautiful parallel to what happens in our own lives. Some of us have lived with the crippling shame of sexual, verbal or physical abuse. Some of us have been told we’re unwanted or unloved. Some of us can’t seem to shake depression or are mourning the loss of a loved one. Some of us have a childhood that we barely survived or an adulthood that has left us disillusioned and depressed. Some of us are victims of our own horrible mistakes.

And just like Nate covering his scraped palm, or dealing with a throbbing finger that has faced the fury of a wayward hammer strike, we cover our hurt, wrapping our fingers around the searing pain, keeping it concealed, restrained and locked away from prying eyes. We don’t want anyone to see, anyone to know. The pain is too deep, the vulnerability too precarious.

But here’s the thing…God can’t heal what we are unwilling to expose to him.

When we are brave enough to come to Him with all of our shame and broken pieces, His light and love can start to heal those nasty wounds and help us forgive those who have wronged us—even when it’s ourselves.

2. We can’t dance in the freedom of Christ if we continue to conform our lives to the pattern of the world around us.

The world is a deceptive illusion of prosperity that ultimately offers death and decay. As God’s redeemed, we have been set free from that decay. So why do we continue to value what the world says is valuable? And why do we pattern our lives and priorities after an illusion we know won’t satisfy?

Our culture is obsessed with beauty and perfection. It values intelligence but not wisdom. It says to ‘make your mark on the world’ by scraping up more stuff, more gadgets, more money, more degrees and more power. The focus of our culture’s obsession is, “Look at me, because it’s what I want and it’s all about me. My wants. My needs. My desires.”

conform to culture

What we value determines how we live. Make no mistake, if we aren’t fighting the pull of our culture’s influence, we are being sucked into it. The battle is for our minds.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~Romans 12:2

The world says I’m only as beautiful as I am sensual, but God says beauty is a life devoted to Him.

The world says it’s all about me, but God says joy is found in laying down my wants to serve others.

The world says happiness is found in what I’ve acquired, but God says happiness and joy are only found in Him.

The world says to conform, but God says He made you for a unique purpose. Embrace your individuality.

The world says, “It’s my life. I can do what I want.” But God says, “You were bought with a price. Honor me.”

The world says my worth is determined by my accomplishments, but God says my worth is found in Jesus.

The world says I must be flawless to be accepted, but God says though I’m flawed, I am loved.

Don’t pattern your life after an illusion that is meant to destroy you.

3. Refuse to let anyone or anything become more important to you than Jesus. A person is a slave to whatever has mastered him. (2 Peter 2:19)  How many of us try to pinpoint our happiness in things that are temporary and, ultimately, unsatisfying? empty heart

Here are some of our most common ‘gods’:

  1. Possessions
  2. Food
  3. Relationships
  4. Busyness
  5. Our children
  6. Alcohol
  7. Financial ‘security’
  8. Power
  9. Accomplishments
  10. Fame
  11. Approval

Anytime we place something other than Jesus as the focal point of our lives, we are setting ourselves up for heartache. He is the One who died to free us. He is the only One who never changes. He is our security. He should be the focus of our obsession.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~ Galatians 5:1

freedom keysI pray these ‘slavery’ busters will be a help for you. They are keys, tools made to help you realize God has so much more in store for you than feeling stuck or defeated. Freedom is there. Grasp it. Cling to Him with all your might. When we do, we look down to realize those chains have fallen away in the process.

“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  ~John 8:32

freedom truth will set you free

Unchained: Breaking Free from the Mindset of Slavery, Part 1

 chains

I recently finished writing my first Civil War novel about the bravery and courage of those who aided the Underground Railroad. It’s been inspiring, heartbreaking and challenging, to say the least, but so incredibly rewarding to examine the lives of some of our country’s rawest freedom fighters.

In gathering research, I found this quote by Harriet Tubman and it left a deep impression in my spirit. “I freed a thousand slaves. I would’ve freed a thousand more, if they only knew they were slaves.” harriet tubman

If they only knew they were slaves…

After all my research and delving into the world of American slavery, I think it’s safe to say there is often a mindset associated with it. After all, ‘normal’ is whatever you grew up with. ‘Normal’ is what you’ve always known.

Frederick Douglass put it this way: “I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right…

Just think about the children of Israel. For four hundred years, they had been born as slaves in Egypt, raised as slaves, told what to think, what to do, how to act, how to dress, how to perceive themselves and their own place in the world. That was their norm, ingrained in the fiber of their being since birth.

Then along comes Moses in a God-sent mission and, for the first time in over four hundred years, they were free.

Kind of.

Oh, physically, they were free to march out of Egypt but mentally, they still retained the mindset of a slave. God knew this and carried them to Mt. Sinai where He could give them a new standard of living, of thinking, of being. God wanted not only to free them physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. He wanted them to shed that oppressive slave mentality so they could enjoy all He had planned for them.

freedom horse A slave mentality conditions a person to accept harmful circumstances to themselves as the natural order of things. They view their own worth through their master’s eyes. They believe about themselves what they have been told to believe, whether it’s true or not.

So what am I trying to say? Simply this: how many of us have grasped hold of the freedom offered to us by Jesus, how many of us have asked Him to be Lord of our lives, yet still feel trapped, stuck or chained?

Oh, we’re spiritually free yet too many of us have retained the old slave mentality. The enemy of our souls have told us for far too long that we’re worthless, unwanted and unloved. He brings up our past mistakes and screams those accusations like echoes through mountain passes, always taunting, always accusing, always lying.

You’ll never be good enough…God can’t use you…You’re too messy…You’re a failure…God couldn’t truly love you after all you’ve done…If others knew the real you, they couldn’t possibly love you…

Here’s the thing about a lie: it only harms us if we believe it. slavery

Jesus paid an awfully high price to purchase our freedom. What a tragedy that far too many of us remain mentally and emotionally locked up in the chains of slavery. Most of the time, we want God to transform us spiritually but don’t realize that we need to let Him transform our minds, thoughts and beliefs about ourselves as well.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

We will be exploring how to break free of the slavery mindset more in part two, but here is your teaser and food for thought in the meantime.

How do we snap those chains off for good?

  1. Forgive those who have wronged you…even if that means forgiving yourself.
  2. We can’t dance in the freedom of Christ if we continue to pattern our lives after the broken world around us.
  3. Refuse to let anyone or anything be more important to you than Jesus.

Stay tuned for Part Two…coming soon!

What about you? What lies have you believed about yourself? In what ways do you feel stuck in your walk with God?

When The Makeup Runs

by Tara Johnson

I watched the performers dancing down Main Street of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, spinning in their glittering, satin costumes, smiling with those perfectly lined white teeth and painted lips, and I couldn’t help it. I felt a pang of pity. rapunzel

Oh, they were beautiful and mesmerizing as they sang and danced under the swelling rush of orchestra music and glitter. Every little girl wanted to be like those singing princesses. Every boy wanted to be as courageous as those muscled, grinning heroes. Their exuberant performances drew everyone’s attention as the crush of people applauded and whistled their approval. Oh, but I forgot to mention that this day was hot. Very hot.

To a casual observer, these performers were having a ball…unless you got a glimpse of them up close. I did.

One particular princess danced by, grinning and waving. I was on the edge of the street with a particularly good view as she pranced towards the children at my side. That’s when I saw it: her make up was running in streams down her face. Her mascara was melting, leaving shadowy puddles under her eyes. Even her wig has become askew from the sweat soaking her head. Why, she wasn’t a blonde at all! She was a brunette. Neither was her skin flawlessly smooth, but freckled and splotched from the heat. Her eyes met mine and I saw a flicker of something akin to exhaustion. Weariness. But as soon as the glimmer appeared, it was snuffed out, safely tucked back into hiding beneath the mask of a carefree princess. lottie

I instantly felt a tug of sympathy. Memories of my time in college working for my performance degree assaulted me…the fatigue, the demands. Performance after performance, hour after hour, day after day. No room for mistakes despite weather, illness or circumstances.

As I watched a tiny glimmer of her mask crack, what truly hurt my heart was the knowledge that I’ve been there on a deeper level as well, and it’s far more devastating than dancing in the scorching Florida sun. It’s the charade of trying to be a perfect Christian.

Always smile. Hide the pain. Do what anyone asks of you. Win their approval. If they are happy with you, they’ll never see what a mess you are inside. They’ll never know about that addiction or secret shame. Do more. Be more. You can’t mess up. If you do, you’ll lose their respect, approval and, worst of all, their love.

happy maskSo instead of letting folks see us and know us in all our mess, we cover up our flaws and our need to be loved with a cloak of Christianity. Just serve. Smile. Pretend. Sing and dance. Yet too many of us are miserable inside, desperate to shed our costumes and pretense.

It’s all about making people think we are something other than we truly are. At best, it’s play acting. A charade. At worst, it’s nothing less than living a lie. Hypocrisy. Deception.

Ouch.

How many of us are play-acting our walk with God, trying to pretend like we have it together but are a trembling, resentful bundle of brokenness inside? How many of us think that if people saw who we truly are, they could never love us? How many of us are exhausted from trying to get people’s approval to fill that aching void inside? masquerade

Sometimes our busyness and perfectly executed activities, our lying smiles and the furor of pretending generates a heat so hot, our masterful application of thick make up runs in rivets of sweat, stripping away the rosy cheeks to reveal the pale flesh beneath. The mask melts and runs.

Stated another way, there are only two options with perfectionism—constantly do more, spinning like an exhausted hamster on the proverbial wheel, or crack from the strain of being something you’re not.

I get it. I really do. I’ve always known God loves me unconditionally, but people? That’s a whole other issue. People are fickle, mean, wishy-washy, demanding and unfair. Which begs the question…why are so many of us killing ourselves to be perfect, in order to win the conditional approval of people who are just as messy as we are?

I think many of us confuse approval with love. Approval is a stamp given by someone else that says, “You meet my expectations.” Love says, “You’re a broken mess but I love you anyways.” They are polar opposites. approval vs love

When we finally stop trying to be something we’re not and focus on pleasing the only One who matters (Jesus Christ), He comes and gently wipes away all that makeup we’ve tried so desperately to hide behind. Those crushing, suffocating demands fall away and we finally taste freedom for the first time. No more masks. No more pretending.

The acceptance of One who loves you exactly as you are is like being cut free from dragging around two hundred pounds of iron chains. The burden is light. Trying to be perfect to win man’s approval snaps those chains right back onto your body. Anytime we replace God in our lives for a poor substitute, we suffer. Period.

Don’t be afraid to wipe off your make-up. There’s a pretty awesome person underneath. Jesus must have thought so as well. After all, He came to redeem you and has a distinct plan for your life…a plan that didn’t include you trying to be something or someone you’re not. little girl lipstick

He loves you, imperfections and all.

Do you feel like you often wear a mask? In what areas do you think people pretend that they ‘have it all together’? What do you think is the worst thing about perfectionism?