Observing God’s hand through 11 years with type 1 diabetes

The cover photo is about a month of shots.

Before I begin, I want to start with a disclaimer. When talking about diabetes I usually am very positive. I talk about how thankful I am for the discovery of insulin and for the health I enjoy. I don’t won’t to scare my family and friends. The gravity of this disease for the most part is something I shoulder alone. In this piece though, I am going to be brutally honest about how dangerous type 1 diabetes can be and honest about the sobering fact that in spite of the utmost diligent this disease does claim lives every day. I’m also going to be honest about how much effort it takes to stay alive and healthy every day. I strive to be somewhat discreet about diabetes management because it is not what I want to be defined by but at the same time I want to be real here.

I also want to acknowledge that I know type 1 diabetes is not as bad as it gets in a world of suffering. I realize that there are so many  people suffering so much more than I who if they could would change their diagnoses to the life that I live. I don’t want this to sound like I feel like I’m the poster girl for sickness and or come across as, “woe is me!” This is my story and what God is working in me. I pray it is edifying to you.

“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

This month marks 11 years since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I want to write a testimony of how I see God working in and through my disease but it has been harder to write this than I thought it would be. For one, the big answer to my question is, “I don’t know.” God is so much bigger, infinitely wiser and His perspective so much broader than my own limited knowledge that I can not act like I know what God is doing through my disease. It’s also difficult for me to separate one area of suffering from the other sufferings in my life and try to pick apart what this one thing is doing for my sanctification when we know that God works all things together for our good. My disease does not stand alone in my life but is interwoven with the the other blessings and sufferings I have experienced to work something that only God can see. Also, I realize that I can only see who I am with this disease. I do not know who I would be with out it. My spirit is undoubtably changed in ways that I don’t know and can’t know for having this disease that I’ll only know about if God chooses to reveal it to me in eternity.

I have been given the scripture though that gives me insight and the Holy Spirit Who has been with me every step of this journey. So, in spite of my not knowing everything, there are a few things that God has taught me over the last decade plus of living without the function of a vital organ that I will in humility, knowing I don’t have all the answers attempt to share with you. These are some of the things I have wrestled long and hard with.

I have learned that my flesh does not desire calvary. My lips sing, “lead me to calvary” and “Jesus keep me near the cross” but my flesh which craves comfort does not want to go. My disease like the thousands of needles I’ve put into my flesh, pokes and prods me towards the cross and makes me to say, “Where else can I go?”

“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

“ ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?” C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed

3,650 times and more I besought the Lord for healing. I’m basing that number off of the first ten years I lived with type 1 diabetes when I prayed for healing every day. God has answered me. He has answered no, not in this life. Some are uncomfortable with me saying that. The modern church wants a God who dispenses comfort over holiness and health over sanctification. A name it claim it gospel where God will give me whatever I demand. Joni Eareckson Tada says something that I have grabbed on to in my spirit through out suffering in my life, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” As you know that’s an enormous subject that I’ll let people smarter than me grapple through but it’s something that I have wrestled with intensely through prayer and studying the scripture.

Through type 1 diabetes God has given me a spirit of contentment. By the power of Jesus I am content when God has said, ‘no.’

What does it mean to have God’s grace be sufficient to me? This disease is like a prison made of cement infused with iron bars. I can slam my head against the wall of this prison until I’m knocked silly but I’m not getting out. God’s grace is when I walk in the freedom of Christ in spite of this prison and reckon my entire body dead (not just my pancreas!) with Christ but alive unto God. God’s grace is that He is with me in this body, literally indwelling me. God’s grace is the eternal mind set He gives me and the hunger I have for the world made new. I want it so bad it physically hurts- to hear the trumpet sound and see my Lord return to make everything new and right.

‘God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God’ Steven Curtis Chapman God is God

This disease strips me of pride, self sufficiency and replaces it with humility, as in humiliation. I can not stay alive except for a life support called insulin. I could die if I left the house without candy. How stupid does that feel? To live in the shadow of death walking the tight rope of, not too much insulin, not too little insulin. To log into Facebook and see another ‘diabetes friend’  has died or suffered severe brain damage makes me view my life for the vapor that it is.

At night especially I wrestle with this, my own mortality. I prick my finger several times to try and see which direction my blood sugar is headed and then toss and turn until my spirit surrenders my life into God’s hand knowing that, “it is only the Lord who makes me to dwell in safety” and while I do what I can to stay healthy ultimately my life is in His hand and my last breath as well.

“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache an about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed

Titus 2:12 “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and wordily lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;”

I never really was a “teenager” if you know what I mean. At 13 I became scary sick and was faced with my own mortality and the fragileness of my own life in ways that people usually don’t consider on a daily basis until they are much older. I think having this disease at a young age came with a big spoonful of sobriety shoved down my throat whether I wanted it at the time or not. I had to and have to think about death daily because this complicated disease requires so much work to stay alive.

Psalm 56:3 “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”

If I had nothing to fear in this life, how would I learn to trust God when I am afraid?

Colossians 6:20 “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

I know whether a persons body is sick or healthy it is to be used for the glory of God. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor. 12:19

So I give thanks to God for my weakness for without it I would not know His power upon me in the same way. I also surrender my body to Jesus to be used for the glory of God because this body is His- not mine. The key to being content in sickness is realizing that this body does not belong to me. Christ paid for it. It belongs to Him and He can use it as He sees fit. I may prefer He use it in a more comfortable way, I would choose to have health and comfort but the God who loves me, gave Himself for me and is infinitely wiser than me has given me the honor and the privilege of glorifying His name through what appears to men (including myself) as weakness and foolishness.

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are might;” 1 Cor. 1:27

Philipians 4:13- “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

I want to stop here and say something really obvious- I’m not super Christian. As I am writing this I experienced a really hard diabetes day. While on vacation at the Lodge in Kansas City I was low for about 2 hours. I carefully took just a few bites of food about every 15 minutes trying to avoid going too high from treating the low. I was doing an activity with my kids, my blood sugar stuck in the 60’s, trying to give my kids a good time while feeling shaky, sweaty and faint. Finally by bedtime I had come up to the 80’s and could safely go to sleep. Around 2 a.m I hear, “mama, I need a blankie..” I open my eyes and was hit with a wave of nauseous and the feeling that my bones hurt. (the only way I know to describe the feeling.) I knew I was high. I tucked in my little one and then gathered my blood sugar meter, a syringe and a bottle of insulin and went into the hotel bathroom area so as not to wake up my family. My blood sugar was 296. I drew up insulin in a not so sanitary area and then added another bruise to all the other bruises on my thighs with the needle. There are other things I’d rather be doing at 2 a.m. I then had to go to bed hoping I had chosen the right amount of insulin and that I wouldn’t bottom out by morning.

I didn’t sleep well the rest of the night, my heart racing from the high blood sugar. It took most that next day to come down. I was dehydrated and my muscles hurt. By late that next afternoon when we stopped for lunch at McDonald’s my blood sugar was starting to drop low. I thought I could get a salad with grilled chicken but the ranch dressing had 13 grams of carbohydrate in the form of corn syrup. I thought instead of the corn syrup I would get a piece of grilled chicken on a bun for the same amount of carbs. Bread doesn’t usually work for me but I thought I could get away with it since I was low, had active insulin in my blood stream and was going to take more. I injected twice the amount of insulin I usually take for lunch. By the time we got home my blood sugar was back up to 300. Another injection and pushing throughout the nausea and exhaustion to get the kids settled and everything unpacked.

For dinner we thawed out some hamburger vegetable soup. I stirred around the hamburger in the bowl trying to guess how many ounces it was floating around and how much protein I would have to bolus for and tried to count the vegetables.. would I want a tablespoon of peanut butter for dessert or would I want two table spoons? I have to know 30 minutes in advance how much I will want to eat… How long is this correction bolus going to be active for? Will I go low in my sleep if I eat and stack the insulin? Do you know what I did? I went in the bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub and cried. For one, high blood sugar will turn you into a hopeless emotional basket case. For two, I was just so tired. I still get tired of this disease, I still want to give up at times. And yes, at midnight my Dexcom alarmed me that I was low and I had to get out of bed and I ate less than half a fig newton. And then a couple hours later I got an alarm that I was high…

I believe that if God has called me to walk in sickness rather than health that ‘day by day and with each passing moment’ strength I will find to meet my trials here. God is using this disease to work in my spirit a back bone of self control, long suffering and patience.

Self control. Every day all day I have to deny my flesh if I am to keep my flesh healthy. My fingers are pricked, syringes stuck all over me, I adhere to a very strict diet. No grains, no starches, no fruit, no sugar, no milk. I have to do a lot of math for each meal to figure out insulin dosages. I  usually can’t eat within 5 hours of taking a shot to avoid something called stacking insulin. When I’d rather be sleeping I have to stay awake to make sure I’m going to be okay. And the list goes on of ways I have to say no to this body every day and tell it to do things it doesn’t want to do. In denying my flesh, (for the good of my flesh) my spirit is made stronger.

long suffering– this disease isn’t going away. There is no cure on the horizon. As long as I am in this body, diabetes will be a part of my life

patience– I’m waiting. I don’t know how long I will live. When I was diagnosed I was given a life expectancy of 50 years old but I suspect because I care for myself better than average I will out live that. I’m waiting though. With the rest of creation I am awaiting a new body and for everything to be made new.

joyfulness- I bet this one looks out of place! Colossians 1:10-11 “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;” One of the miracles that God works in the heart of those who trust Him, is the dispensation of His joy amidst trials. The evidence of His glorious power in me is patience and long-suffering that is coupled with, filled with, joy! The power of God enables me to take my mind off me and instead set it on things above. To renew my heart in Him so that I’m rejoicing in Him, and savoring the life He has given instead of wallowing in self pity or despair.

I want so much more than a new pancreas I want a new heart. A heart that is not full of sin. I want to be free not just from disease but from the root of disease- sin. I’m patiently waiting for that new heart that always loves God first and for that new pancreas that’s going to allow me to enjoy the fruits of the new earth. At the marriage feast of the Lamb you’ll want to be sitting next to me- you’ve never seen a person enjoy food like I will! The other saints will be looking at the streets of gold and I’ll be like, “Look people, I’m eating watermelon!!!”

Discernment- When I was first diagnosed with diabetes at 13 my family was attending a charismatic church. I was anointed with a lot of oil. I was told that God promises a lot of things that when I read the Bible for myself I learned were simply not in scripture.
Over the years I was told to stop taking insulin as an act of faith, or that the book of James guarantees healing for all believers so I was going to be healed if I was really a believer and many things like that.
Friends who were into alternative medicine would continually suggest I do another crazy diet or fast for 40 days or drink/ eat whatever the latest popular thing was. I wish you could hear the ways people would use my disease to try and sell me whatever pyramid scheme product they were selling.
Can you imagine how appealing anything could sound to a desperate to be cured teenager being bombarded by all this? I’m thankful that I haven’t had to walk this journey without the guide of God’s Spirit telling me what was right and I’m thankful for the Bible where I could look for myself and see what was true about God and what were people’s inventions.

John 16:32 “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: but I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”

These words of Jesus stuck out to me for the first time after hearing Joni Eareckson Tada sing “Alone Yet Not Alone” for the movie by the same title. I wonder what the disciples response was to Jesus telling them He was going to die and they were going to forsake Him? I wonder if they even responded at all. Maybe a response is recorded in another gospel but I don’t see a response in John. Either way, there’s a point I’m getting at. Even the most sympathetic person can only walk so far with me into my suffering. There is an element to suffering that I have to walk it alone and even those closest to me can’t come with me. It’s lonely. Sometimes the biggest burden of diabetes and suffering in general is how lonely it can be. Knowing people for the most part can’t begin to comprehend the complexity of this disease and also knowing that those who do educate themselves still can’t walk this with me. Diabetes and again suffering in general is a kind of a spiritual cross roads where I leave the world behind and have to walk this alone. Except I’m not alone, for the Father is with me. He walks this lonely path with me and He reminds me He too experienced loneliness. It’s a place where I call on the friend who sticks closer than a brother for it is only Him who knows intimately what I do each day and how hard I work, and what I’m thinking. Suffering is a place of intimacy with God because ultimately only God can be there with me. It’s a sphere that crowds out all others and leaves me alone with Him Who created me for Himself.

And the pain falls like a curtain
On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most
I just don’t know

And the questions without answers
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move
Afraid to fall, oh, but fall I must
On this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

God is God and I am not
I can only see a part of the picture He’s painting
God is God and I am man
So I’ll never understand it all
For only God is God

And the sky begins to thunder
And I’m filled with awe and wonder
‘Til the only burning question that remains
Is who am I

Can I form a single mountain
Take the stars in hand and count them
Can I even take a breath without God giving it to me
He is first and last before all that has been
Beyond all that will pass

Oh, how great are the riches of His wisdom and knowledge
How unsearchable for to Him and through Him and from Him are all things

So let us worship before the throne
Of the One who is worthy of worship alone

Steven Curtis Chapman – God Is God Lyrics

diabetes-photo

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