Have you ever been appalled at yourself?
I don’t mean being appalled by your own stench after four days without a shower, or your reflection in the mirror when you wake up from a deep sleep (I can’t be the only one, right?). Not anything like that.
Rather, appalled by something you thought, or did, or believed. Something that makes you think, “How could I ever have done that?” or “How could I have believed that?”. Something that you know better now – thankfully.
There have been several of those times in my life so far. One happened just this week, as I’ve been contemplating Thanksgiving, and how the overwhelming, overflowing gratefulness I want to characterize my life is not there. Instead, I spend far too much time complaining and sulking, and, in doing so, missing the many blessings God is weaving through my life.
For almost five years now, I’ve struggled with feeling poorly. To be specific, nauseous. And not just a little queasy, but sick. Never intense enough to be sick, but bad enough that, in a way, I wish I could be. My stomach churns, my abdomen swells and hurts, my throat tightens, my vision won’t focus and makes me motion-sick… It’s not fun.
In general, the later in the day, the worse I feel. My family has long since grown accustomed to me being utterly useless after 9 pm. If I do anything, it’s with a heat pack over my stomach and a quart of sparkling water in hand.
After meals is always worse, too. Earlier in the day is typically better, but it seems to depend on the week. Some weeks I’ll feel pretty good most the day; almost normal. Some weeks I wake up feeling miserable; worse than usual, and it continues the entire day.
I’ve never been able to figure out why I feel this way. Over the years, I’ve tried just about everything I can think of to improve it. Dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, more exercise, less exercise, chiropractic adjustments, sea bands, sparkling water, heat packs, peppermint oil, supplements, probiotics, more sleep, less sleep… If it could possibly help, I’ve tried it.
Some things haven’t made any difference, a lot of things have made some difference – but nothing has made a huge difference. Nothing’s made me feel normal again. This year I decided that nothing would.
I’ve prayed for years that I’d stop feeling so awful.
I’ve wanted to be able to dance and hike and play sports with family without ruining the fun when I can’t take the nausea anymore and stop. I’ve wanted to be able to sleepover with a friend without being too miserable to enjoy it and without having to take a backpack full of special ‘supplies’. I’ve wanted to be able to be a fun big sister and stay up late with siblings without feeling like a listless sack of yuck.
But this hasn’t been the case for me the last few years.
And this year in particular, God has shown me how He’s used my limitations for His good.
Because I haven’t been able to keep up with the ‘popular’, more energetic crowd of kids, my dearest friends are those who have also had to sit on the sidelines for one reason or another. The ones that, like me, just don’t feel like they fit in. Because I know what it’s like to feel poorly, I’m good at noticing when others aren’t doing well. And because I’m always prepared for those times for myself, I’ve been able to help them feel better with my own stash of supplies.
Looking back, there are so many things I feel like I’ve missed. So many things I wish I could have been part of. But there are so many more things that I’ve been able to experience, so many people I’ve been able to meet and befriend and help, and so many things that I’ve learned about life and friendship and reliance on God…. If I had the chance, I don’t think I would change them.
And it was with those things in mind that I finally surrendered my health to the Lord this spring. At the start of 2020, I made a goal to focus on trusting Him better (a goal that has turned out to be especially appropriate this year!). Several months later, after trying yet more unsuccessful things to feel better, and being shown more and more ways that God was using my sickliness for His purposes, I decided to give up.
Five years is a long time for no progress. I thought I had every reason not to expect any going forward. I told God that if that was how He wanted to use me, then so be it. I’d let Him, and I’d stop stressing over finding a way to ‘fix’ myself.
To be entirely honest, it was one of the hardest prayers I’d ever prayed. I felt like I was signing over all my hopes and dreams.
But the amazing thing? Within moments, my dread and fear and sadness were replaced by peace. Contentedness. It felt like God was looking down at me, with sad but proud eyes and a comforting smile on his face.
I’ve never heard God speak audibly, or felt specific words or phrases pressed into my heart, but I didn’t need to. The image I had of Him then was enough.
Fast forward to about two months ago, when I stumbled across a diet I recognized as one a family member had done years before, to ease similar issues. 1 I’d forgotten about it, but something told me I should look into it. And I’m glad I did because the more I read, the more everything fit with what I’ve been experiencing. Even things I thought I’d never find an explanation for, such as why I feel so much worse at the end of the day, has a logical reason.
The third day of following the diet, I spent an hour dancing with my sister. After supper. After dark. With no sickness, and no repercussions of any sort.
Praise the Lord!
I just finished the first phase of this healing diet, and its been incredible. When I follow it, I feel good. Normal – and someone else’s normal, not mine. When I don’t follow it, I notice. I feel poorly again. My normal.
The first phase has involved stripping my diet of anything and everything that could be causing me to feel poorly, to let my digestive system heal and clear out the offenders. I won’t go into the details of the plan, but I’ve been eating a lot of eggs, oats, and chicken – and not much else. It’s extremely restrictive, and a challenge to stick to.
However, I was so thrilled at the change that I hardly noticed the first couple weeks (“Who cares if I live off omelets – I can do this forever if it lets me feel good.”). As the weeks have progressed, its grown harder to ignore all the things I can’t have right now. I’ve been missing the meals I used to make, and the – healthy – foods I used to enjoy, that just aren’t good for me right now. I’ve even started to crave things I never even liked before; junk food and candy and things I shouldn’t have any time.
This past week, I discovered that, when I jumped into the first phase, I didn’t pay as much attention to the second phase of the diet as I thought. Instead of a couple weeks continuing to eat this way and testing out different foods strategically, I have at least a couple more months. More than that before I will come close to eating normally again.
And – finally – I reach the point where I am appalled at myself.
Because after finding that out, I forgot the five years of yucky-ness. I forgot all the hours I spent praying to feel better. I forgot how much I wanted a life without nausea and pain and heat packs.
Instead, I wanted those foods I couldn’t have. I didn’t want to be restricted to eggs and oats and chicken – all foods which I love and choose to eat almost every day, even when I don’t have to. I wanted to feel better, but on my own terms. I wanted to feel better now.
And then it hit me. I’ve been complaining about an answered prayer.
Five years of praying and longing to feel better, and when God answers those prayers, when He shows me how to feel good again, I thank Him by complaining, being discontent, and longing for ‘the good old days’ when I wasn’t restricted in food choices (and felt miserable).
If I were my parents, I would have sent myself straight to bed. With no supper.
Thankfulness and contentedness go hand-in-hand, and lately I’ve been completely missing one of them. I’m very thankful for the countless blessings God’s showered upon me. But I’ve allowed myself to feel too entitled. Too greedy. Too prone to wanting more; such as escalating from just wanting to feel good, to wanting to feel good now – on my own terms.
I haven’t been content with the many ways God has already blessed me.
That is what I’m striving for right now. God has blessed me in too many ways to count, including answering a prayer for something I’d finally surrendered asking for. Not only has He given me the tools and the knowledge to feel good again, but He’s left me with so many options for foods that I can eat right now. So many things that I enjoy and am glad to have these next few months. So many people around the world would give anything to have those things, and I have plenty of them. I’m blessed beyond measure.
And not just in this area, but I’m striving to be content in all areas of my life. I’m striving to focus on the blessings I already have, rather than focusing on the ones I’d like to have in the future. I don’t need anything more. I shouldn’t plead for anything more. And if I had so much less, I would still be immeasurably blessed simply because I have my Savior. These are the truths I’m clinging to right now.
As time moves away from Thanksgiving and into the next part of the holiday season, I am thankful. For so many things. I’m going to do my very best to focus on them. And though I am far from perfect at it, I’m going to work to be content, just as I am.
I pray my realization will speak to you as well. If you’re struggling in any of the same ways as I am, I pray you’ll find hope and encouragement here. I pray your eyes would be opened to the many, many ways God has blessed you, and that your hearts would be content with them.
And now, if you’ll excuse me…
I’m going to go make myself an omelet.
…for I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances.
(Philippians 4:11 NIV)
1. The diet I’m referring to is the Low FODMAP diet. There’s a lot of information available online, but a helpful overview can be found here.