March 3, 2010

Hungering for Emptiness

It was August, 2000. I had been married only 8 months. It was a restless night. I could not win this wrestle I was having with an itch. I got out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom in the dark, to find light. There on my hip where I had scratched so, I could see a small, red, round welt. It itched like nothing I had ever experienced. It was troubling to me. I called to my husband. He came from his comfortable place in bed to see what was bothering me. He looked at the place on my hip where I looked curiously trying to figure out what it could be. “It’s a hive,” he said so assuredly. He knew without a doubt that it was a hive. I had never seen a hive before much less had one. I had no idea what lurked in my body and what suffering soon would accompany me. I had heard of hives and they seemed harmless enough, but by morning, the hive had multiplied and so with it the itch. Before long I was covered from head to toe with an enemy. My body was betraying me, or so I thought, and I had no idea what to do. Scratching until I bled and begging for help is how my journey with Chronic Urticaria began.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2
Chronic Urticaria is a fancy way of telling you that I was covered with hives from head to toe every day for over a year. And yes, the itching and misery that goes along with that was my ever present companion. Have you ever had hives inside your ears? What about the bottom of your feet, or on your scalp? One might imagine an allergic reaction to a bee sting that covers your body yet doesn’t go away. Part of this condition involved the swelling of my eyes and mouth. I remember one night in particular. I was spending it sleepless as usual so I got up and took my place on the couch as I so often did when sleep escaped me, and the hives would not leave me. My husband, noticing that I wasn’t in my place beside him, ventured to the living room and was both shocked and saddened by what he saw. If he hadn’t known better he would have thought I had just gotten in a fist fight with myself. My eyes were black and puffy, my lips swollen, and yes I was covered in hives. At times the hives were so deep and intense that they left bruises behind when they faded. Other times the hives were as big as teacup saucers.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18
I didn’t realize how much these memories are still a part of me until I began writing this. My eyes are welling up with tears as the memories of intense suffering flood back. The short story of all this is that I spent many hours, dollars, and doctor visits trying to find a cause. There was no cure, so I had to find the cause and eliminate it. If there was a specialist for any specific organ or body part, I went to visit them. I became well versed in the "ologist" language. Although what I was experiencing was not an allergy, I received my greatest medical help from an allergist. I was taking Prednisone to keep the hives down, but it wasn’t strong enough. The hives still broke through. The allergist thought it better not to be on prednisone because of the long term affects of it. He took me off of it and put me on a cocktail of medications that would help me to function. I began a course of taking 21 pills a day. This included 3 prescription antihistamines and 75 milligrams of Benadryl every 4 hours. Yes, I did say 75 milligrams. I also kept an Epi pen with me at all times should my throat close up and keep me from breathing. All of this was needed to keep me functioning so I could work. As I mentioned this was no cure and I still didn’t have a cause.

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.
Job 13:15
It was then Lenten season when I began a fast. It began as a way for me to eliminate foods and find out if I was allergic to something I was eating. It ended with a hunger for God and a peace like I had never known. I studied about fasting and prepared my body for the fast. It was going to be a long one. It lasted 21 days. I took part in a juice fast. I had a juicer and made my fresh juice every morning. I drank about three 6 ounce glasses of juice per day. I was prepared for the initial hunger that would come from lack of food, but I had also prepared, and my research had taught me, that the hunger would cease after about three days. I wasn’t quite sure I believed it, but it kept me hanging in there. And as if a hunger switch in my body were turned off, so the hunger ceased after 3 days. I continued my fast for another 18 days. The last three days of the fast I drank only water, no juice.

I found everything I had studied about an extended fast to be true. Once the physical hunger stopped the spiritual hunger began and it was all quite miraculous. There was a peace that settled over me, and there was a calmness that came from totally suppressing this compulsive desire to eat even when I wasn’t hungry. As I suppressed the compulsion to eat, I slowly realized that all of the things that I fill my life with, which numb me to pain, and insensitive to God’s presence, became less and less. The desire to spend what needn’t be spent disappeared. The need to listen to the radio or have noise in a quiet room also disappeared. There was a quiet, calm serenity that came when all the self I had to suppress was overwhelmed by the presence of God. When we are not. . .He is. It was as if suppressing the compulsive desire to eat for an extended period of time snowballed into a compulsive want to have nothing but Jesus. I cannot explain to you in written word the experience of an extended fast. Fasting for a meal or a few days is a good practice. It serves as a reminder and it does aid us in dying to self, but not in the way an extended fast does. To push beyond that point when physical hunger stops, and self stops, and nothing remains but you and God and the peace that surpasses all understanding, truly changes you. It changed me. It didn’t cleanse me of physical hives, but it cleansed me of spiritual ones and left me knowing God in a new way.

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'
Luke 4:4
I have fasted since that time, but I haven’t completed another extended fast. I plan to though. Writing this helps me to see the need for it again. An extended fast is not something to go into lightly. You have to prepare your body. You can’t just stop eating. Your family has to understand that your meal times will be different, and you have to work around social events. It is worth it though. So, I’ll plan for another season of extended fasting. When I do, I’ll tell you about it, and we can see what new thing God will show me.

I supposed you want to know the rest of the story. (If you're still with me. I know this has been long.) I did eventually find the cause of my Chronic Urticaria. It was caused by a systemic infection from an underlying tooth infection. I had no pain in my tooth, but the infection was there doing its dirty work. Earlier I called the hives my enemy, but they were God’s design for letting me know something was wrong with my body. They also became my catalyst for being filled with God in a new way. They taught me that I will hunger for God when he is my only source of nourishment. The cravings of this world only leave me dim and lethargic. They numb me to my need for him. So now I ponder on these thoughts and ask God to search me and know me, and show me what might be just filler in my life. I don’t want to stuff the empty parts of my life with anything other than the food that comes from my Lord’s Table.  To have room for this food, I must empty myself.

7 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! Those hives sound painful. I had Erythema Multiforme on my hands/arms and a little on my legs/feet, and that was VERY painful and itchy. I can only imagine a year of that.

    Love & Blessings,
    --Hannah

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  2. What an amazing story! I can't imagine gong through all that physical distress as a newly married bride. But your story is also one of triumph and grace. And it is one of the best testimonies to the practice of fasting that I have read. Thanks for sharing it. You have encouraged me.

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  3. Thank you Stephani...incredible post. He is our source of nourishment! This was so transparent and honest.
    Thank you. And I love your labels for this post..."Bestower of Blessings", "Deliverer", "Truth Revealer". This is so powerful!

    Thank you for your visit on my blog...I included the link to the pie crust you asked about!

    You've blessed me today!
    Thank you again, Lilly

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  4. Thank you for sharing the road that led to your extended fast, and the grace gifts that you received from the fast. I am encouraged to seek the Lord in a way that eliminates the distractions of my everyday life.

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  5. Wow, Stephani! What a story! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I have been blessed, as usual, with my visit here today.

    I really needed your second to last sentence. "To have room for this food, I must empty myself." Powerful. Convicting. Encouraging.

    Hope you're having a great day!

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  6. It's so amazing the ways God reveals Himself to us...His mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I wanted to let you know that I moved my blog this week so if you click on my name you should find my new home! I have so enjoyed getting to know you through your thoughtful writing and I appreciate your honesty and transparency. It's such a blessing!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  7. Stephani,
    I read every word and am inspired and encouraged by your post.
    I am so guilty of filling myself up with inconsequential things and not feeding on His word and delighting on what He can teach me.
    Thank you for the reminder and for sharing your experiences with your readers. I can only imagine how difficult that period was for you but as so many of us have learned it is sometimes during those most difficult times that we grow in Him the most.
    I am encouraged by your transparency and your deep desire to honor Him with your life.
    Grace and peace to you
    Annesta

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