Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rehab By Lecrae

I believe one of the most genuine and committed Christian rap artists today is Lecrae. He brings a fresh sound with rich, honest lyrics that hit straight to the heart and point directly to Jesus. His newly released album, Rehab, speaks to me both musically and lyrically. It's what hot on my iPod right now.

Living in a culture where addiction has become commonplace and recovery is a hot buzzword, and with the popularity of reality TV shows such as Intervention and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, I think the title of Lecrae's album is quite interesting as well as timely. Truthfully, there are many of us who need the kind of "rehab" that only Jesus can give. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians. 

One of my favorite song off the album is, "Background." It speaks of how we can get in God's way when we try to take our own center stage. I love these lyrics:

If you need me I'll be stage right 
Praying the whole world will start embracing stage fright 
So let me fall back and stop giving my suggestions 
'Cause when I follow my obsessions I end up confessing 
That I'm not that impressive
Matter of fact I'm who I are
A trail of stardust leading to the Super Star.

I could play the background. 
Cause I know sometimes I get in the way. 
So won't You take, lead, lead, lead. 
And I could play background and You could take the lead.

I love Lecrae and his music. Most of all, I love his message; it's all about Him.

Yeshua Ha Mashiach - Jesus the Christ

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Living Real

Surrendering to the realness of one’s life is not quite as simple as it might sound. Do we allow others to see us as we really are or do we keep the facade going? As Christians, we walk in witness yet where do we draw the realness line? We’re ambassadors of Jesus Christ and we are also human beings with very human problems. So how real do we get?

I don’t know about you but I’ve deeply pondered this many times, especially since my life has been so greatly changed by illness. It can be challenging to be transparent with others. So let me say this comes from my broken state by way of Christ in me.

As Believers, our job is to be obedient and keep it real. But unmasking the realness of our lives can be frightening and intimidating. I'm not saying we throw every detail out into the open and I'm not saying we use it as a dumping ground, but I am saying we have a responsibility to be authentic about our faith. Christians don't have a perfect life, but we know the One who is perfect. Christians don't have all the answers, but we know the One who does. Christianity is not about living a flawless, problem-free life. If we portray that to the world then we are being false because the truth is; none of us have a flawless, problem-free life. None of us.

Jesus was very real with people when He walked this earth. He didn't belittle or dismiss their problems or pain. Instead, He met them right where they were at physically, emotionally and spiritually. He still does. And He called it like it was but showed people the more excellent way because He didn't want them to stay there. He still does that too.

Personally, the more I am drawn into the realness of my relationship with Him, the more I long for total realness in my life. This long, difficult journey I am on is responsible for transforming me into a more real being, a more authentic Christian. It's where God has revealed some of the unexpected to me; it's where He's taken Himself out of the neat little box I put Him in; it's where I've been stretched in my faith. It is the very place where I have learned to surrender.

So the question still remains - how real do we get? That question becomes even more demanding in the face of suffering and nothing can grab our attention for realness like suffering can. It yanks us out of our comfort zones. It shoves us into unwanted pain. It reveals false securities. It challenges our personal theologies. It is truly a crash course in realness.

As I’ve been dealing with my own suffering for many years now, I openly admit I wouldn’t be surviving any part of it without God. Yet I still struggle at times; pain still comes and hard days still happen. The truth is there is a lot of bad and ugly that goes along with the good and we all know it. Sometimes I just don't understand. And sometimes I have more questions than answers.

However, I have found a central key – surrendering to the sovereignty of Almighty God. I know this hardship is producing something within me that cannot be produced anywhere else. I know God has placed a divine destiny within me to be fulfilled. I know He is orchestrating this entire process. So I surrender to it; all of it. But it isn't always easy or appealing. In fact, it's the most difficult and heartwrenching experience I have ever faced!

But Jesus knows a thing or two about difficult and heart-wrenching experiences. Hebrews 5:7-9 says, “While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears to the One who could deliver him out of death. And God heard his prayers because of his reverence for Him. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

I must look to Jesus in my suffering, as we all must, for He understands the totality of it. He understands better than anyone the impact that suffering has on human lives. And He also understands the impact of obedience. Jesus surrendered to the realness of His life on this earth when He picked up that Cross and carried it to Calvary. It wasn’t for His personal benefit; it was for ours. He fully surrendered to His suffering with us, the whole world, in mind.

By learning to surrender to the realness of my own life, I am ultimately reminded that I can’t begin to live fully real apart from my Creator. Paul said it best when he said, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Yet learning to live real does not mean we subsist and flourish in the good, happy pleasant times while we live down and sugar coat the painful, difficult and unpleasant ones. It means we learn how to be in both by the foundation of our faith in Christ; that we learn, as Paul said, to live, move and have our being in Him through it all.

There will never be a time when we only exist in either the highs or the lows. Rather we learn to walk through both and oftentimes simultaneously. Usually we oscillate in between and in so doing; we learn how to interrelate with God in every facet of our lives. And by this we can show others who sustains us through it all; no matter what our circumstances. It's really all about our knowing Jesus and allowing Him to be seen and known through us.

I truly believe the Christian faith calls and screams out for genuine realness. I believe it's what many people are looking for now more than ever. I have since come to see that my own realness dilemma is conquered through the very act of surrender. And I think there's something very beautiful about surrendering to God’s sovereignty as it operates in our lives.

I believe living real for the Glory of God is pleasing to Him. And I want to live real. Real enough to express the truth of my struggle through the hope of my faith. And real enough to let Him and His strength shine brightly and beautifully through every step of my life's journey.

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30 Things About My Illness You May Not Know

I'm joining in a wonderful blogging campaign for National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, sponsored by Rest Ministries. I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. If you'd like to know more please check out:

1. The illness I live with is Chronic Lyme Disease, but this answer did not come easily. Can anybody say diagnosis nightmare?! Like many others, I've been through the gamut of diagnoses over the years. For a better understanding of my personal story, you might consider reading the post preceding this one entitled, Journeying Through Chronic Illness. 

2. I've actually had symptoms since 1992. But everything escalated after having oral surgery in 1994.

3. I was 24 when I first became ill. I'm now 40.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is in learning how to live with physical limitations.

5. Most people assume if I'm out I must be doing fine. That's not true. I do have some days I feel fairly good but it can change in a matter of hours or from day to day. Most days I don't feel well at all and a lot of days are just plain bad. I'm hoping this will change as we work through a new treatment protocol I'm on; especially since we now know what's really been going on all this time!

6. If I'm not feeling well when I first wake up; I know it's going to be a bad day. If I am feeling fairly good, however, mornings can be the time of day when I have more energy as compared to afternoons. I tend to get more fatigued and run a fever as the day goes on.

7. My favorite medical TV shows are ER, China Beach, Emergency and Hawthorne.

8. An electronic gadget I couldn’t live without is my iPhone. I especially like it when I'm not feeling well. I can listen to my music and access email, FB, Twitter and other apps; all from bed. Even though I use my laptop regularly, it's just too big to deal with when I'm feeling bad. That's when my iPod really makes the difference for me.

9. Sometimes people just don't understand. And sometimes people say the wrong things. These are two things I've had to both accept and make peace with. And while this is true of life in general, it is amplified in chronic illness. This was much more difficult early on in my illness but there are still those occasions when it stings a bit. I truly believe most people mean well; they just don't understand the complexity of living with chronic illness, pain and/or disability. 

10. The number of pills I take daily varies. I use homeopathic medicines, which are liquid, so I add so many drops to my water and drink or take straight by mouth. My herbal and nutritional supplements vary. Some are liquid also. Presently, I'm taking 4 pills a day.

11. I like and benefit very much from using alternative medicine and therapies. I spent several years using prescription medications but have since found a great deal of help through natural and alternative means. I believe everyone has to find what they feel is best for themselves and certainly what works. My physician is a Naturopathic Doctor. I have Massage Therapy and other bodywork regularly. I find Epsom Salt and aromatherapy baths can help ease muscle and joint pain and greatly help with detoxification. I've also found eating whole nutrition is extremely important. So I eat a very healthy diet, which actually first stemmed out of necessity but I truly feel better when I eat whole, healthy foods.

12. My wheelchair is the most tangible, visible part of my illness and that's what people always go to. But it certainly isn't the only part. Clearly, not being able to walk is a very big deal! However, it is one very visible reflection of many invisible aspects of this illness. I pray for the day, and this is my faith speaking, when I am well and will no longer need to use this wheelchair. I'll be very happy to become totally invisible in that sense!

13. I haven't been able to work in my chosen profession for many years now. It took me quite awhile to accept that. You know - one more thing I had to give up. But I truly believe God has other plans for me.

14. People would probably be surprised to know that I play the drums :)

15. Some of the hardest things to accept about this new reality have been the many losses and limitations that have come with chronic illness and disability.

16. My illness actually opened the door for me to speak to nursing and radiology students at a local college about my perspective as both a health care professional and a patient. I created scenarios, based on my own experiences, for the students to assess how they would potentially respond. We then had open discussions about it and many of them began to share their own personal stories. It was a really great experience for me and I hope it was for them as well!

17. I am thankful for the good days or moments that I do have; even if they are few and far between. Living with a chronic illness and disability has certainly brought a whole new and unique perspective of life; it has been a teacher to me in many ways.

18. Some of the things I really miss doing since being chronically ill is having the stamina and energy to go out shopping with my mom and run around all day i.e. shopping, having lunch, shopping some more, having coffee, etc. I miss going on vacations too, which require energy and money. Mostly its the simpler things I miss like taking a walk in the woods, especially in the fall. Being able to walk and run with my nephews. Or being able to indulge in something sweet without repercussions.

19. It's difficult to fully express the deep struggles of living life with a chronic illness. One not only mourns for the physical losses that accompany illness but also the loss of friends, jobs, lifestyles, etc. One thing that was really hard for me to give up was my total independence. Thankfully, I'm still independent in some ways. This has come through making our home more accessible and also by my investing a great deal of hard work into physical therapy and in being devoted to working with my doctor and sticking to my diet and treatment regiment. It's certainly not been easy and it's certainly not been fun but through it all; I've learned a lot about trusting God and how to depend on Him and others.

20. A new and serious hobby I have taken up since my illness is photography. And interestingly, I've found the view of the world around me is literally different because of my being forced to slow down and sit down. I catch things around me that others can sometimes miss.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would want to spend it with my family enjoying copious amounts of carefree fun at the beach. I want to run with my nephews into the ocean! If not at the beach then at home grilling out, riding four-wheelers, walking in the woods, running and playing with my nephews, building a bon-fire and roasting marshmallows to make smores, etc. I would truly savor having an abundance of energy, feeling good, and being able to move around freely without limitation.

22. My illness has taught me much about patience and perseverance. I've learned a great deal about God, trusting Him and truly learning to walk by faith and not sight. Not an easy lesson. I've learned a lot about myself and about health and nutrition. I've learned to recognize and appreciate small joys in life; they really do keep you going. I've learned carrying a dream in your heart is essential to survival. And I've also learned the one thing this illness cannot take away from me is my identity in Christ.

23. One thing that's frustrating are the many pat responses I've gotten from people."But you look good!" or "It can always be worse can't it?" or "If anybody could do this, it's you." I realize others cannot automatically know the ins and outs of living daily with a chronic illness and disability, but it can be frustrating to be told how good I look when I've just come out of a 3 week period of feeling my absolute worst. And clearly, I know things can always be worse but it doesn't change my present circumstances. As for the last one, what choice do I have? I find those who have understanding usually do so because of dealing with an illness themselves or having experienced it through someone they love.

24. I like when people will address my illness and disability and not talk around it. I find children are refreshingly open and honest about such things. I welcome their curiosity and questions. My nephews have asked me a lot of questions about why I can't walk and why I have to rest. They're cetainly not intimated by a wheelchair. I also like when people will look me in the eye and acknowledge me. There have been many times over the years when I've been out in public and had someone turn away from me or direct conversation to my mother or whoever I was with. I now realize that has more to do with them than me. Still, it doesn't feel very good. Conversely, there have been those who have gone out of their way to hold open a door, say hello, offer a smile or strike up a conversation. So there really are some kind, thoughtful people in the world and they far outweigh those who are not.

25. Some of my favorite scriptures and/or quotes that get me through tough times are: 

Psalm 34:18 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (I find a lot of solace in reading the Book of Psalms).

"...Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don't lean unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path." Proverbs 3:5-6

"So do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

"Hope knows that if great trials are avoided, great deeds remain undone and the possibility of growth into greatness is aborted." - Brennan Manning

"Never, never, never give up." - Winston Churchill

"Sometimes God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves." - Joni Eareckson Tada

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up that matters." - Vince Lombardi

26. If someone has been diagnosed with a chronic illness I’d like to tell them to not compare where they are and how they feel with someone else; we all deal with this differently. I'd say it's alright to feel those roller coaster emotions - scream, have a good cry, talk to a trusted friend, rip the newspaper to shreds or blast the music really loud; whatever helps. I would tell them to look to God for strength and hope. I'd also add that questions or struggles with faith are common in chronic illness but they do not necessarily equal a loss of faith; it's okay to work through that. I'd say don't be afraid or embarrassed to reach out and seek help when you need it. And I'd also say find a great online support system or resource like Rest Ministries; it can make a huge difference to connect with others who relate to what you're going through.

27. One surprising thing I've learned is that chronic illness is not simply black or white, but many shades of gray in diagnosing, treating and living with it. And it affects the whole family; emotionally and financially. My brother once said to me, "Michelle, while this is physically taking place in your body; it's happening to all of us." I've never forgotten that. And it's true.

28. Someone doing something nice for you means a lot anytime but  that's certainly true when you're chronically ill. My Mom, who is my caregiver, does nice things for me on a regular basis; they're just too numerous to mention.

Several years ago, before having to quit work, a close friend of mine came to my house and wrapped ALL of my Christmas presents for me because I was not feeling well enough to do it. Very nice.

A sweet friend of my grandmother's would send me notes and cards every week. She did this for a number of years before she passed away. She would often just write something very simple but meaningful. Very nice. And speaking of my grandmother, she like my mother, did so many nice things for me while she was alive. She would often make me homemade meals and goodies that only she could. Mostly, she and my grandfather would come to visit me every Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed spending that time with them. I love and miss her very much!

29. I’m involved with Invisible Chronic Illness Week because I want to put a face to what living life chronically ill is really like and to help others understand that a lot of the suffering of chronic illness and pain is not often visible to others. I also want to share hope and support with those who are living with chronic illness and/or pain. Even though many days are hard, and even though some days are beyond difficult, you can get through it with God's help and the love and support of family and friends.

30. The fact that you took time to read this list makes me feel you're interested and care. And for that I say a deep heartfelt thank you!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Journeying Through Chronic Illness

This is going to be a very different kind of post for me because I don't often write in much detail about my illness. I'm going to share some significant news about something I have been seeking out for many years now and ironically; I'm doing it preceding the national campaign for Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week (September 13-19, 2010). I truly had no idea it was going to unfold like this but it's just like God to set things up in this way. Can I get a witness?

Most of my family and friends know I've been chronically ill for the past sixteen years. What some might not know is how debilitating this illness has been and how difficult it has been to find an accurate diagnosis. I've been told a lot of things through the years. I've been a lot of places. I've been through a lot of testing. And I've been through a lot of trial and error. It's been extremely complicating, frustrating, draining and disheartening.

Throughout the years, I've actively searched for the true cause of my illness; even up until this present time. I've encountered some of the best and some of the worst that our health care system has to offer. That in itself forced me to change my thinking and make subsequent adjustments. And I thank God for it! For the past year, my doctor and I have pursued what we now believe to be at the root of this illness that has so changed my life and the life of my family.

It is with a mixture of relief and reservation that I share this with you. I mean this is the past sixteen years of my life briefly stuffed into this one little blog post. So it's a tad disconcerting. And it's bittersweet (if you're chronically ill and in search of answers, you know exactly what I mean). Honestly, I've wrestled with writing this. It is a stretch for me. But I have earnestly felt the Lord nudging me in this direction. So here it is.

I have chronic Lyme disease.

This implies I have had Lyme disease for a long time and it's true. Longer than anyone really knew. I was misdiagnosed many years with MS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. But before that, a couple of my docs found that I had several chronic viral and bacterial infections (EBV, CMV, VZV, Strep etc). Before that I had been diagnosed with Post-Viral Deymelinating Syndrome, Transverse Myelitis, Primary Lateral Sclerosis, Vestibular Neuronitis, Optic Neuritis, and Migraine Variant secondary to MS.

It's really been Lyme and co-infections all along.

Uh huh. It's left my head spinning too.

Lyme disease is often called, "The Great Imitator" because it can mimic so many other diseases, which can lead to improper and delayed diagnosis. This is what has happened to me and to many others as well. It is a very complex, multi-systemic infectious disease that is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. When Lyme is left untreated, it will disseminate throughout the body and cause big problems. So it's been with me.

As many of you living with chronic illness also surely know, my story isn't a simple one. I couldn't possibly address the myriad struggles that have occurred through years. What I do want is to share some of the invisible aspects of my illness, which is what Invisible Illness Week is really all about - bringing awareness to the fact that much of the suffering of chronic illness and/or pain isn't always visible to others.

Let me first say the most tangible and visible aspect of this illness is clearly my wheelchair. But what a lot of people don't really know is why I am in a wheelchair. And that brings me to some of the not-so-visible parts of this illness. Chronic Lyme disease has greatly affected me neurologically, commonly referred to as Neuro-Lyme or Late Stage Lyme Disease. I have weakness in my legs, which really stems from inflammation and damage in my nervous system. But you can't "see" that. I've experienced a great deal of numbness and paresthesias and have had many problems with balance, disequilibrium and gait. These are the primary reasons I've been in a wheelchair for thirteen years.

But there's more to this illness. Deeply profound chronic fatigue. Recurrent low grade fevers. Muscle and joint pain. Chronic sore throats. Headaches. On and on it goes. Much is involved. I really can't express how debilitating the fatigue and fevers are on many days; it's very draining. My immune system has been damaged as well. Co-infections and secondary infections are common in chronic Lyme and so it is for me. The bacteria that causes Lyme has also affected my heart, liver, and spleen. You can't tangibly see much of that either.

What can be seen are the effects of it but they're not always recognized. And while this might all seem random in how my physical body has been affected, it is the very essence of chronic Lyme disease. And it has answered many of the plaguing questions we've had about the complexity of my illness throughout these many years.

For me, the good news is in finally knowing what I'm dealing with. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to not know what's really going on when something clearly is. And after so long, you just want answers; no matter what they are.

I recently began a treatment protocol for chronic Lyme disease. So this is all very fresh. And it is emotional for me because I didn't just settle for the possible or probable. Rather, I prayed and fought long and hard for true answers. It's still an ongoing battle but I know better where I stand now. I will say that living with chronic illness is something like experiencing four seasons in one day; it's that overwhelming at times.

As I close, I must say that my faith in Christ plays a huge role in my life and therefore also in this illness. I cannot separate my faith from any aspect of living, including Lyme disease. My relationship with Jesus is what has ultimately sustained and preserved me. And I must also tell you that I've come to know Him in a much deeper and more personal way through all of this crazy, beautiful mess.

The love and support of my family, friends, doctors and therapists have been a tremendous blessing. My mother has been my caregiver throughout all of these years and I can't possibly articulate all she has done for me. I don't know where I'd be without her. Mom, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Although this is a very difficult and lonely journey that is often misunderstood, and although physical healing has not yet come for me, I truly believe great beauty will be birthed from out of this pain and suffering (that's why I refer to it as a "beautiful mess"). In some small way it already has. But I believe there's much more to come.

I hope you'll follow along with me in this Lyme journey. And I hope you'll celebrate with me one day when it all culminates in healing and wellness. Stay tuned.

~ Michelle

Immune Recovery Clinic - Atlanta 

Copyright ©2010 Michelle Holderman

Monday, September 6, 2010

Break Every Chain

Break Every Chain - by Will Reagan and United Pursuit Band

This impacted me deeply! It's not so much this particular video as it is this anointed song. The first time I heard it, I wept. I couldn't stop. It was that profound. It touched a place within my heart that I cannot fully articulate. Jesus has a way of affecting people in that way. He has me. Do you know Him?

All sufficient sacrifice
So freely given
Such a price bought
Our redemption
Heaven’s gates swing wide

There is power in the Name of break every chain