Planting Our Stories

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I believe there is power in telling our stories.

There are parts of my story I feel passionate about telling: my hard days with chronic illness as well as victories (both big and small) in the midst of it, my wrestling through the deep waters of infertility and the joy of discovering I could arise a mother in different ways, and on social media I enjoy giving glimpses of the quirky side of my marriage with the hashtag, #thisiswhatmarriagelookslike. In different settings, there are other stories I tell. Maybe some will one day make it onto the blog, but some are precious and reserved for trusted relationships and special moments.

As I share my stories, people tell me theirs. And they tell me how my story made them feel seen, or gave them hope in the midst of something hard, or even inspired them to pray a courageous prayer…”because I know you went through this.” My favorite is when someone tells me how a story I shared however many years ago is helping them through something they’re going through now.

Stories are like seeds. When they’re told, they’re buried in minds and hearts. And one day—maybe even years later—they bear fruit.

I’m 38 years old. I’ve been married for 17 years. And I have no children. This is not the story I would’ve chosen for myself, but it’s the one I’m living. And though it’s not an easy story to live, I love it. After all, who wants to read a story where the characters are always happy and never experience anything hard? Give me the stories with adventure, surprises, and conflict, the ones that end with the characters completely transformed.

So here I am in my wonderful, messy story. And as I type these words, I’m sitting on my couch with a heating pad on my belly as I recover from a total hysterectomy.

A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine (who’s only a few years older than me) walked the road of infertility, multiple surgeries, and then ultimately a hysterectomy. She chose to be open about her struggles and anguish. She poured out her heart in the beautiful, dissonant words she typed on social media. I don’t think she had any idea what kind of seed she was planting in my heart as I silently read her posts. Neither of us knew I would live her words several years later. The difference for me is I had less to discover on my own. Her wrestling emboldened my battle. And her hope in God became kindling for mine.

When it was my turn to get a hysterectomy, I knew it was a good thing, that my life would still be abundant and beautiful. I knew because I saw her go through this. And in the moments when I felt afraid or discouraged, her story gave me courage. After my surgery, I texted her, “I remember when you walked this road. Knowing you went through this made it less scary for me!”

The surgery is over, but I’m suddenly in another chapter. My surgery thrust me into menopause, no transition to ease me into it. And I find I’m completely clueless. I grappled with questions about my womanhood when I came to grips with my barrenness, and now I’m asking questions about my womanhood again as I take my first steps in the sea of menopause. I don’t know how to swim in these waters.

Menopause is one of those things in our culture we don’t discuss beyond a few jokes here and there. And because of that, I grew up believing menopause was something to be dreaded, something that carried all sorts of horribleness and no possible good. I don’t quite know what the truth is about menopause or how to discover it. Generations of women have walked this path before me, yet I feel like I’m clearing the path for myself all alone.

The areas we choose to make taboo are the areas where we rob the next generation from flourishing. I wish I could have entered this new phase of life armed with the stories of women who have gone before me. I can’t change what was. But I can change things for those who will come after me.

So here’s my challenge to all of us:

Whatever our stories are, it’s time to bring them to the light. And let’s create a culture that cherishes these stories and celebrates their telling, no matter how mundane or painful or joyous. Let’s plant these seeds so those who come after us can eat of their fruit and flourish!


When I’m embarking on something new, my default is to search for a book. Here’s the first book I got on my new adventure with menopause. I approached each book my Google search yielded with hesitancy and skepticism. What made me decide this book was for me? The endorsements on the back cover from Sarah Bessey and Christine Caine.

***Some words of caution about sharing your story that I added later:

While I believe we could powerfully impact the generations that come after us by giving space to tell stories about things that were once taboo, I’m not advocating we share every detail about everything. We need wisdom and care with the stories we share.

I consider whether or not a story is one I’m willing to be vulnerable about. Being vulnerable means opening ourselves to the possibility of being hurt. So when I’m considering whether or not I’m willing to share something, I ask myself, Can I handle someone saying something mean or insensitive about this right now? I don’t believe we should open up everything in our lives to that, especially areas where we’re still in the process of healing.

When a story involves other people, I consider whether or not a story is completely mine to tell. There are stories I’ll never blog about because even though I feel comfortable sharing my part of the story, it’s not my place to decide when other people will be vulnerable with their part.

One last thing: some stories can be shared openly and publicly. But there are some stories that should be reserved for spaces where we feel safe, whether that’s a small group or a one-on-one conversation with someone we trust.

Holy Ground

I have surpassed the 50-day mark of social distancing at home. Even though I’ve gone out for neighborhood walks, picking up food and groceries, one doctor’s visit, and a birthday parade for a friend, I have cabin fever. The initial excitement I had at the thought of being hidden away in introvert bliss has dissipated into drudgery.

There are things I’m incredibly grateful for and continue to enjoy: hearing birds sing as they come to our feeder, wearing loungewear every day, cooking between Zoom piano lessons, not having to drive to work or church and, as a result, being able to spend a little more time with God in the morning without feeling hurried.

But this season has been emotionally and mentally grueling. Like many, it has been a struggle to stay informed about what’s happening in the world without feeling anxiety/dread/frustration. I had a couple weeks of worry when I saw lupus patients struggling to get their prescriptions for a certain medication—a medication I take to stay alive—refilled because it was being used to treat Covid-19. I’ve cried with students both from work and church who are grieving losses, worrying about unknowns, and dealing with difficult circumstances because of or in addition to the pandemic. And as I’ve cried with others, I’ve had my own set of things to cry about. High on that list was not being able to hug my seniors one last time. And then you throw in Zoom fatigue on top of all of that. (Imagine teaching piano lessons on Zoom! Oof!)

At first, I was overwhelmed as I felt all the feels. But a few days ago, I found that my mind and heart were numb. It wasn’t just a feeling of being stuck in a routine. It was a heavy numbness. Like something inside of me was dead. No joy. No fire. No intention. Just going through the motions like a machine.

I read my Bible. Nothing. I prayed, God, I can’t do this. I sat there. Awkward silence.

The night before, as I was teaching our college small group, I talked about getting comfortable in the awkward silence with God. “The awkward silence, that’s when you know things are about to get good!”

Come on, Esther! I just talked about this last night. I told the college students about being comfortable in the awkward silence. So here I go. I’ll just sit here…

And that’s when it happened. That’s when God whispered, “This is holy ground.”

What if I chose to live as though this place where my feet are is holy ground? Because it is. This place where my feet are, this is holy ground.

Because this is the place where God beckons me to sit with Him, where I get to commune with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

This is the place where He says to me, “Peace, be still,” and my body and soul find rest.

This is the place where God is doing something and He invites me to be a part of it.

This is the place where He gives me clarity and vision for Kingdom dreams.

This is the place where I get to prophesy over and speak life to my husband and the people I meet with on Zoom.

This is the place where He gives me words to write for people who need comfort and hope.

This is the place where He takes my hands and miraculously lets them move at the impulse of His love to make music when words aren’t enough.

This is the place where He teaches me to play and laugh and delight like the sunshine and birds I see through my windows.

This is where my feet are. And this is holy ground.

14 Days of Deep and Slow

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Our lives have been interrupted, but this is a time when we can focus on the things that matter most, a time for growth and beauty. So for each day in the next 2 weeks, I’m giving you something you can read or listen to—a blog post, podcast, recording, book—that can help you slow down and go deep in some way.

 

Day 1 | Blog: A Rule of Life

Something I’ve been cultivating is a rule of life, a rhythm of spiritual disciplines. These next couple of weeks are a great time to lean into it even more! If the idea of a rule of life is new to you, here’s something I wrote a couple months ago to give you some ideas to help you start your own.

 

Day 2 | Podcast: Bridgetown Church Series on Scripture (You can also find this on Spotify.)

This series on the Bible is all the yeses and wows. I’m seriously going to listen to it again and again.

 

Day 3 | Book: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, by John Mark Comer

This book is life changing. And with everything that’s happening, it feels as though this is our moment to fully embrace and live out this message.

 

Day 4 | Music: Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, performed by Yo-Yo Ma

You can never listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites too many times in your lifetime. You just can’t.

 

Day 5 | Blog: God’s Presence in Our Suffering

This is the story of my lupus diagnosis and how God reshaped my faith. (If you’d rather listen to it, you can do that here.)

 

Day 6 | Podcast: Ask NT Wright Anything

N.T. Wright. What more do I need to say? Except that at the end of some episodes, he sings a song and plays the guitar. I mean, how cool is that?

 

Day 7 | Music: Universalis, by Hammock

Hammock is my favorite thing to listen to when I want to read, write, pray, and create.

 

Day 8 | Church: Central Assembly’s YouTube Channel

For such a time as this, technology and the internet are a blessing. If you don’t have a church home (or if your church doesn’t have the capabilities to do online streaming of services), you can check out my church’s YouTube channel. (Bonus: my pastor’s a rocket scientist! I’m not kidding!)

 

Day 9 | Blog: Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

If you’re worried about how current events may affect your five-year plan, this one’s for you!

 

Day 10 | Podcast: Go + Tell Gals

This podcast is for women running on mission. These episodes aren’t your typical “You got this!” messages. They are a beautiful, weekly dose of depth + practicality + encouragement.

 

Day 11 | Book: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I had to put at least one novel on the list! I’m reading through this for the first time and I’m regretting that fact I never read it before!

 

Day 12 | Music: Sleeping At Last Enneagram

A bit of self discovery set to beautiful music? Yes, please!

 

Day 13 | Podcast: The Office Ladies

Laughter and joy are important. Just as I wanted add at least one novel to the list, I also wanted to add something fun.

 

Day 14 | Music: What a Wonderful World, performed by Anderson & Roe

If you need a moment to take your eyes off the darkness and see some light, here you go!

 

My Hair Story

When lupus entered my life, I lost half my hair. At first the hair loss was due to discoid rashes on my scalp that caused my hair to fall out in clumps, leaving behind bald spots. After starting treatment, even more hair felt out. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure if all my hair would grow back. So I asked all my friends to pray for me. It seemed like a silly thing to pray for, but God didn’t think my request was too silly to grant.
Tiny hairs began peeking through the bald patches on my head that were once scarred. (Read that sentence again! Hair grew back where there were scars! That’s not supposed to happen! It was a miracle!) The budding hair throughout my scalp made me brave. And inspired by Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, I went to the salon and asked them to to chop it all off so I could start over.

For the past seven years, I’ve been growing my hair out again. Each new inch has been a sign of grace, a reminder of how God has walked with me through every part of this journey. At the start of this year, I decided I wanted to pay it forward. One of my goals for 2019 is to donate healthy hair. And this weekend, I took the plunge. It was all the feels! I don’t know that I could say I’ve had a worshipful experience during a haircut before, but that’s what this was. Joyful, thankful worship.

The Organization I’m Donating My Hair To:

“Children With Hair Loss is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-related hair loss.  When a child’s hair is lost due to Cancer treatments, Alopecia, Trichotillomania, Burns, etc., the painful effects are far deeper than just cosmetic.” (from Children With Hair Loss website)

Read More »

Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

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“Do you have a five-year plan?” she asked. I had heard this question many times before, but something in her tone and furrowed brow made me feel small in this moment.

“I used to have a five-year plan,” I replied, “but when I was diagnosed with lupus, everything slowed down. That’s okay, though, because things are still moving and there’s so much God has done that wouldn’t have been possible if I had tried to stick to the five-year plan. He’s done more in the seemingly slow than I could’ve imagined!”

This was not the answer she was looking for.

Even though we had just met, she had a lot of opinions about how I needed to conduct my life to get “back on track” with my five-year plan. And as I quietly listened to her well-intentioned words, I found myself feeling sad for her. I had told her of the beautiful miracles God had done in the past six years since my diagnosis and the things He is doing in the here and now, but she couldn’t see any of that. All she saw was someone who couldn’t stick to her five-year plan and was a failure because of it.

When did we decide that success is measured by five-year plans?

And where in the Bible does it say that we must have a-five year plan in order to adequately follow Jesus and obey the Great Commission?

When my husband and I were fresh out of Bible college, we moved to DC to be part of a church plant. It did not go well. Mark Batterson—before he was a bestselling author, but after National Community Church started to get a lot of attention—told his administrative assistant, “If anybody from that church planting team want to meet with me, put them on my schedule.”

We took his offer, and he spoke life into our wounded souls. He showed us the ten-year plan—or was it twenty?—for the first church he planted, a church that never got off the ground. And he told us the lessons he learned from that failure and how they impacted the life of the thriving church he now pastors.

About a decade ago, my husband and I were on staff at a church in the Philippines when we both (separately) felt God calling us to move back to Springfield, MO for the purpose of preparing to one day move to Japan. When we came back to the States, we had a five-year plan. It included both me and my husband getting master’s degrees, Japanese language study, and a slew of other things to accomplish before moving overseas again. When we reached the halfway point of our five-year plan, we were right on schedule and feeling quite accomplished. I had earned my master’s and it was my husband’s turn to start grad school. At the halfway point, we were literally halfway done with our ambitious to-do list.

And then a diagnosis changed everything. Our progress slowed down and our timeline went out the window. And eventually, I decided to give up on my five-year plans.

Please don’t misunderstand: I have given up on five-year plans. I have NOT, however, given up on God’s call on my life.

I daily strive to walk in obedience to what God has called me to do in the now and the ways He wants me to prepare for the not yet. I don’t need a five-year plan to do that. In fact, I’ve grown more and accomplished more without a five-year plan and with a chronic illness than I did when I had a five-year plan and healthy body. After all, God’s call on my life isn’t about a certain country, dream, or timeline; it’s about so much more. It’s about a Kingdom.

Our five years have now become ten. There are things that God has done in and through us that we would have missed if we would have tried to force a five-year plan. God has been in the waiting living. He’s not waiting to do “the good stuff” when I get to a certain destination. He’s doing the good stuff now, and I don’t want to miss it because I was too busy obsessing over a timetable.

Five—or ten or twenty—year plans are helpful tools to get us moving in the right direction, but sometimes the right direction means coming to a point where God asks us to lay down our five-year plan and simply obey His voice. Sometimes, that was all the five year plan was meant for—for getting us where God wants us to be.

I still make plans and goals, but I (try to) hold them loosely because I know that God can interrupt my plans with beautiful opportunities, and I don’t want to miss it.

I don’t want to miss Him.

Overture for the Year

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It took me a long time to decide my goals for this year. For me, year goals are important. I’m the type of person who’s constantly working on improving myself—I’m a 1 on the Enneagram—but having times of reset helps me evaluate my progress and recalibrate. So months before this new year, I spent a lot of time dreaming and asking God for direction.

In an episode of The Office, the Dunder Mifflin employees were watching Andy perform in a musical. As Michael Scott was muttering something at the start of the performance, Darryl said, “Shh. If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come back later.” That’s what this post is: an overture for this year. You’ll see these themes in my writing. And hopefully, as this year progresses, those who do life with me will see these themes become more and more woven into the fabric of my life.

My Goals for 2019

1. Love well. 

I want my life to be marked by love.

I want to love God well. I want to love my husband well. I want to push myself beyond my introvert tendencies and love my friends well over cups of coffee. I want to love my students and the people I minister to well, going beyond requirements and pouring my heart into their lives.

2. Cultivate a prophetic ear.

I want to cultivate a prophetic ear so I can have a prophetic voice. I don’t mean I want to stand on a street corner with a sign warning of the end of the world. I want to be a voice that speaks life and hope and change into my culture and generation. And this starts with something simple: less noise and more prayer.

3. Spend money meaningfully.

I’ve got three subgoals for this one:

  • Live on a budget.
  • Be generous.
  • Slow/ethical fashion. (I know that’s not a complete sentence, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and this is going to be a year of learning.)

4. Write a book proposal.

This one scares me because I had this goal last year and didn’t come close to achieving it. And when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was filled with guilt. But the end of this year, my book proposal doesn’t have to be completely finished, but I want to make significant progress towards being done.

5. Grow into the performer I want to be.

I want to keep refining my craft, to be a more secure performer, to have a stronger vision for what I want each piece to be, and to push my artistry and ask more of the music.

6. Love what I see in the mirror.

My perfectionism makes it tough to look at myself in the mirror. This year, I want to cultivate healthy rhythms of exercise and rest. But more than that, I want to look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of my weight, hair, or makeup.

Also, I want to dress like an adult…because I’m 37 years old and don’t need to wear Hello Kitty and three separate patterns. It’s time to limit my outfits to one cutesy thing at a time. Again, progress.

7. Donate healthy hair.

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I lost about half my hair. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure how much of it would grow back. The long, healthy hair that falls on my back is part of my testimony. It is an Ebenezer reminding me that God has brought me this far. But a few months ago, I realized that I can’t just let my hair grow out forever. So this year, I’m paying it forward.

8. Make the library in our house a place where I want to be.

This is my decluttering goal.

9. Read/listen to 100 books.

How will I do this? I’m an avid reader, but my husband introduced me to a game changer: Hoopla. An app where I can borrow audiobooks for free? Yes, please!

10. Do at least one fun thing every month.

The fact that I made this a goal this year is already a sign of growth. This goal may sound frivolous, but my struggle to intentionally take time to have fun has worn on my mind, emotions, and even my body. And to be perfectly honest, this is the goal I’m scared of the most.

A quick note about goals: As this year began, I didn’t expect sudden change. If I would’ve done that, I would have already felt like a failure and given up. I’m approaching this year looking for progress, not perfection. So if you’ve started this new year feeling like you’ve already messed up your New Year’s resolutions and goals, that’s okay! The year’s not over!

 

Words We Sing on Monday

Update (December 17, 2019): It has been one year since I wrote this blog post. It has also been one year since my last cortisone injections! Hallelujah! (Insert shouting and happy dancing here.) As I look back and read the words I typed a year ago, a different set of challenges weighs on my heart. But these words are still true: “God is with me. And today, when my mind is full of questions, that’s all I need to know.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Yesterday in church, I found myself swept away by a song that spoke of the God’s goodness and repeatedly declared,

“You’re never gonna let,

Never gonna let me down.”

I wasn’t just singing words. I was remembering times when I desperately cried out to God in my pain and He flooded me with His comfort. I was worshipping the God I know, the God I’ve experienced.

I didn’t know that I was preaching truths into my soul I would need to hold onto the next day.

People ask me, “How are your hands?” more often than, “How are you?” Lupus has been unkind to my joints, adding difficulty to my life as a pianist. Every few months, I get multiple cortisone injections in order to continue to use my hands and play the piano. For those of you who are wondering, yes, the injections hurt. But the relief they bring and the music they allow me to produce are enough to keep me coming back for more.

Today, I visited the hand surgeon for my routine injections—one in each thumb and index finger. Four in total. “Do you think they’re working?” he asked. Then he answered his own question: “Well, of course they’re working. You wouldn’t be back here to subject yourself to this if they weren’t working.”

And then he spoke of the best way to proceed, expressing concern about the danger of repeated injections for so long. I told him, “The rheumatologist doubled my dosage of Plaquenil last Friday, and hopefully that’ll help me to not need shots as frequently.”

“Then, let’s see,” he replied. “Let’s see how things go with the new dose of Plaquenil, and then when”—not if—“you come back, let’s do an MRI and consider surgery.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed surgery. In past visits I’ve barraged the poor doctor with a multitude of questions:

  • Will surgery affect my piano playing? (Possibly.)
  • If I get surgery, is it possible I will need surgery again? (Yes.)
  • What is the likelihood that surgery will be effective in my case? (It’s hard to say.)

The prospect of surgery has never sounded attractive to me. But as the doctor spoke today, the prospect of continuing as I have been looked equally unattractive. No option comes with a guarantee; and no option is without dangerous risks.

This is where I’m at. A place where I have no idea what the best way to move forward is. A place of unknown. A place where the mind easily imagines worst case scenarios.

So today I’m facing my worry with quiet trust. I’ve prayed short prayers—anything longer than a few words will bring me to tears. It’s not that I’m afraid of tears and emotion. I’m sure I’ll be ready to cry ugly tears tomorrow. But today, I want to process. To let the words of the doctor sink in. More importantly, to let the words I sang yesterday sink in.

You’re never gonna let,

Never gonna let me down.

You’re never gonna let,

Never gonna let me down…

After all, what’s the point of singing words like this on Sunday if I can’t continue to sing them as I face the darkness on Monday?

I’m not praising God out of naiveté. I can sing to God, “You’re never gonna let me down,” because I’ve been through the unknown and darkness so many times already and He’s never stopped being good or left me to fend for myself. He’s always been with me. He’s always brought me through.

God is with me. And today, when my mind is full of questions, that’s all I need to know.

“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel’
(which means, God with us).”
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God’s Presence in Our Suffering

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This past week, I was invited to speak at a monthly luncheon at Drury University where I’m a piano professor. In front of students, the university president’s wife, the school chaplain, and the dean who hired me, I stood up, took a deep breath, and shared my story…

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be part of something special that our university has to offer and for allowing me to share my story with you today.

Before I begin, I want to let you know that I’m 36 years old and I have a decade’s worth of experience teaching in higher education. I am not—as most freshmen believe upon seeing me the first time—their classmate. I tell you this so you’ll know that as I speak to you today, I’m not speaking from my youth; I’m speaking as one who has experienced life, had my ideals come crashing down, and come through on the other side to know that amid the darkness, there is good to be found in the world and that God truly is who He says He is.

Six years ago, I got a Master’s degree in piano performance—a huge feat considering I had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis in both hands and wrists before I started the program. I was also a music professor at a college and I was performing across the country. I felt like my career as a pianist was beginning to take off. On top of that, my husband and I have felt a call to one day move to Japan to start a church, and everything was happening right on schedule.

But then everything changed.

I first realized something was wrong when I was preparing for a recital and noticed my hands were stiff. “Maybe I’m practicing too much. Maybe I’m stressed,” I thought.

On July 8, 2012, I wrote in my journal:

“My shoulder keeps slipping out of place and the joints in my hands are swelling. I was planning on taking a break from the pain medications [I’ve been taking for carpal tunnel and tendonitis] this summer, but instead I’m taking more pain pills that I’ve ever taken in my whole life just to function. I have some important performances coming up this month. It will take a miracle for my hands to endure the physical requirements of my pieces and make it through from start to finish. At any moment, my hands could stop, ending my music career forever. I go into every performance with a strong awareness that this could be my last one and it will happen only because God will make it happen.”

A few weeks later, on July 25, I wrote:

“Faith isn’t a surface belief but a knowing that God is doing something. I know that God keeps His promises. I know He is my healer. I know He has not sentenced me to a life of arthritis. I know He holds my future in His hands and His plans for me are good.”

Looking back, this entry makes me want to cringe. At the time, I thought these were faith-filled words, but now I see that my faith had a lot of growing to do. I still believe God is my healer, that He holds my future in His hands, and that His plans for me are good. But the prolonged, excruciating pain made me take another look at what the Bible says and reevaluate my definition of faith. Is faith just believing for miracles or can faith be bigger and deeper than that?

Over time, the stiffness turned into pain and spread all over my body to the point that I couldn’t move on my own. My husband, Daniel, had to lift my body out of bed and walk me one step at a time through my morning routine. I couldn’t even squeeze toothpaste onto my toothbrush.

It took every ounce of my strength to make it through each day.

On September 5, 2012, I wrote:

“It’s not that I’m not trusting God to take care of me and my future. I feel secure in Him. I don’t find myself doubting Him. I am full of hope and peace. But it’s the PAIN. The pain is just so much. And the new medicine the doctor gave me makes me feel worse. It makes me feel like I don’t have full control of my mind, like I’m not completely me.”

Keep in mind that I was teaching a full load at the college and this was still the beginning of the school year. On top of that, one of the professors in my department had unexpectedly passed away a couple weeks before the school year began. So not only was I a professor to these students; I was also a counselor to them as I navigated my own grief. And it was crucial that each day I came to work, I was fully present.

And that’s why a couple days later, I wrote:

“I had to make a difficult choice this morning: function in my hands and body or function in my mind. I didn’t take any pain meds last night because it was making me sleepy, dizzy, nauseous, and unable to think clearly. This morning, I woke up in extreme pain. I needed help getting out of bed, turning on the sink, getting in the shower…I didn’t know what to do. I chose to have my mind today. I am in so much pain.”

And September 17:

“The pain is getting worse. Me and Daniel are growing more exhausted. My muscles are disappearing. The doctors still have no answers. But God is sustaining me.”

As I look back, it’s crazy to me that I was able to continue teaching. There’s no way I could have done it if God hadn’t been sustaining me day by day.

It was during this time when I truly understood the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9.

“My grace is sufficient for you,

for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

All the while, I went to numerous doctors, and they did test after test and had no answers. Weeks of waiting turned into months, and the pain was too much for me. My hair started falling out until half of it was gone. And I began to wonder, “Am I dying?”

There was one time when I was laying in bed, and I asked Daniel to come to my side so I could tell him my dying wish: “Promise me that if something happens to me, you’ll still go to Japan.”

This was a scary time. I was scared of what the doctors would say. I was scared for my future. I was scared that I might be dying.

Even though I was in horrific pain, this was a beautiful time in my relationship with God. I was acutely aware of my dependence on Him. And because every movement was excruciating, I spent a lot of time lying in bed and praying to God. Early on, I couldn’t understand why God would allow me to suffer for so long (at least, what seemed long to me at the time), but I needed the wait so God could transform my heart. Looking back, I can see clearly how God was being good and wise in allowing me to wait.

Instead of allowing me to have the diagnosis the moment I wanted it, God waited until the moment I was ready to hear it.

On October 3, 2012, I wrote:

“Still no relief from the pain. I am very dependent on Daniel for a lot of basic things. I have lost almost 20 pounds since the end of July. I am exhausted. I saw 2 doctors today. They are close to having a diagnosis. Right now I’m waiting for test results…[and] I don’t like some of the words the doctors are saying. But I’m too tired to be stubborn.”

Then I wrote in capital letters:

“GOD IS BIGGER THAN ANY DIAGNOSIS.”

I wasn’t afraid anymore of death or bad news. I had hope because I had God.

Several days later, on October 8, I wrote:

“Still in pain. But God has given me a tremendous peace. I feel His presence and the support of His people. When I look around, I can still see God’s goodness in my life. In the midst of extraordinary pain, He has given me extraordinary strength.”

The very next day, the doctor called to tell me that I have lupus, an autoimmune disease where the immune system can’t tell the difference between a good cell and a bad cell, so it attacks anything and everything. That phone call changed my life. The months of waiting for answers were so hard, but because God waited until the perfect moment to let me have them, that phone call did not fill me with despair, but with worship. And as soon as I got off the phone, I cried happy tears and said, “Thank You, God!” I was so relieved that I finally had answers, and I could finally move forward.

That day in my journal, I wrote down a verse from Scripture:

“Because the Lord is at my right hand,

I will not be shaken.”

(Psalm 16:8)

That same day, my husband came home with a couple of trays of food from a friend with a card. On the card was written the same verse.

The past 6 years have been hard. Too often, if something is hard, we equate that with it being bad. Hard doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes hard is bad, but sometimes hard is just hard.

I still wake up in pain every morning and I have to take medication every day just to function and survive. Every few months, I get cortisone injections in my hands so I can continue to use them and to play the piano. In October, I’ll perform a third piano recital here as a faculty member of Drury. It would be so easy to say, “This is too hard. I quit.” And to be honest, on my hardest days, that’s what’s going on in my head. But every practice session and performance is a victory and a declaration of what God has done in my life. And you know what? If the day ever comes when my hands are no longer able to play the piano, that will be hard, but God will still be good and my life will still be abundant.

The reality is my life is hard, but my life isn’t bad. Even with lupus, my life is good and God continues to be good. And with all of the struggles and obstacles I’ve faced the past six years, I can confidently say, “Because the Lord is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

So here’s what I want you to take away from my story:

I want you to know that whatever you’re going through—no matter how dark, or hopeless, or difficult—God is bigger. He’s bigger than your circumstances, bigger than your dreams, bigger than your fears. He’s even bigger than your failures. There’s nothing and no one that is beyond what God can handle or redeem.

I want you to know that God is who He says He is. He is good, He loves you, and He is with You. What we experience in this world doesn’t change that. When we suffer, it becomes more difficult to believe those things. So do the work of theology. That’s not something that’s reserved for “theologians” and pastors; it’s something we are all called to do as Jesus followers. Over and over in Scripture, we are beckoned to know God, not just about Him, but to know Him personally and deeply. So dig into His Word and wrestle with your doubts, questions, and preconceived ideas through study, prayer, and even community. That’s what I was doing as I wrote in my journal. I was wrestling. And as I did that, God gave me what I needed to be able to face my difficult circumstances with hope and peace.

I want you to know that you don’t have to be afraid of the waiting or the silence. Just because we can’t see or hear God doesn’t mean He’s not there. There are things that God can do in the waiting and silence that are more powerful and more beautiful than we can imagine in the moment. So amidst the waiting and silence, cling to God. And when it feels impossible to cling to Him, allow Him to cling to You.

And I want you to know that it’s okay to pray ugly prayers. When I was waiting for a diagnosis, I prayed a lot of ugly prayers. They weren’t always the most reverent or refined. They were raw, and gut wrenching, and tear-soaked. And most importantly, they were honest. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. God wants all of us; not just the pretty, put-together parts of us. The same Jesus who cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading to the Father so intensely that He sweat drops of blood—this same Jesus is not offended or shocked by our ugly prayers. In fact, he’s able to empathize with us and understand our pain. And because it’s in our ugly prayers when we’re most honest with God, those are the moments when He’s most able to speak into our hearts.

I’d like to close with a verse you’ve heard me read a couple times already, but this time from the New Living Translation. Whatever you’re going through today, let this be your anthem:

“I know the Lord is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.”

(Psalm 16:8, NLT)