Monday, August 26, 2013

Looking Up

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices and with my song I will praise HIm" Ps 28:7

Three weeks after my last ‘loading dose’ of the infusion, things started looking up. I was praying for remission and although very weak with little stamina, the extreme pain was absent. I was sure I could regain my strength if I could ride again, but I cannot ride alone anymore as I cannot get off to open gates and the likelihood of my having an accident is exponentially higher now, even riding the old gentle horses that have replaced the colts I used to ride.

Still, relief from pain is a big deal and I celebrated hope for the future. I was surprised with a LOT of company, but helpful company. I was grateful for the grace and understanding everyone gave me because of my condition. While it was exhausting to do all the things I wanted to do, it was rewarding as well.

I was totally blessed by an answer to much prayer, as I need someone here to help me now and then. Being alone 90% of my day is hard as I have to motivate myself even when I hurt or am terribly fatigued. Another person is a good distraction from the pain and as I am not one of those who can sit while someone else is working it is a good incentive to keep trying. A friend from long ago came and we found it to be to our mutual benefit for her to move in with us. I’m looking forward to it both as a relief to some of my fears and limitations as well as good companionship. We share many things, a love of animals, a love of riding, and above all, our faith, so it will be a fun adventure.

The benefits of the infusion are slowly wearing off, too soon. Almost two weeks before the next infusion the pain began to return and all the previous symptoms are present, so  remission isn’t here yet, but they are going to bump up the dose so I hope and pray this next round goes the distance in between them.

Meantime, I lean on Him and gratefully so. He is bringing my sons up in October and for the first time in 8 years the entire family will be together. There is nothing I could wish for that could trump that.

How He has given me the desire of my heart.

If you don’t know Him, I encourage you to reach out and meet Him. Life will never be the same again.

"Call to me and I will show you great and unsearchable things that you do not know" Jer 33:3

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

About Suffering...

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths" prov 3:5-6

It has been a summer, indeed a year, of ups and downs as far as my autoimmune condition has gone. I now go to town hours away and spend 4 hours in the hospital having a drug infused slowly into my bloodstream to try and stem the tide of this disease.

It’s hard to say if it is helping or not. I have had some of the worst flares ever, when the barometric pressure drops. I sleep more than I am awake and have no stamina. Walking through the house winds me now. I am weaker than I have ever been in my life and flares are incredibly, unbearably painful, swift and oppressive. I bounce back in between, however, although the weakness and fatigue stays with me. 

Luckily, Randyman walks this valley with me. He understands when I am unable to function and instead of berating or becoming discouraged with me, he supports me and picks up the slack, caring for the animals, yard and our personal needs. I can be practically comatose for 24 hours, then suddenly wake up feeling refreshed and ready to do something. On those days I do laundry, can foods, bake bread, fix a nice dinner or whatever I am able to do. Yesterday was the highlight of my summer so far. Sushimoo, my yearling heifer, jumped the fence and wound up in the pasture with the bull and his harem. Being much too young to be bred still, she had to be captured and separated again. The first time in months, I was strong enough to walk out to the milk pasture where the horses are, not just once, but THREE times. I captured my old Quarterhorse, got him saddled up, rode down and in the space of about half an hour or so managed to bring all the cattle up and separate Sushi and EmmaLouMoo and put them in the corral. The rest of the day I spent recovering, as it triggered a great deal of pain in my shoulders, wrists and hands and I was worn out, but emotionally I was riding a wave of joy that I cannot even describe. For a brief moment in time, I was able to once again do what I most love, with the desired result and uninjured. Life is made up of these kinds of moments.

Pain is relative. Everyone experiences it, be it in the form of disease or injury, failure, betrayal, death of a loved one, loss of a job, insecurity, death of a child... it comes in many forms. Many people who have not met the Savior ask, “How can a loving God allow such suffering in the world?”

It’s a valid question and one I used to ask, myself. The answer can be complex, but simply put, we live in a fallen world. This is not paradise. It is neither Eden nor Heaven. When sin and rebellion entered the world, it separated us from God and His perfect creation was damaged. Disease, death and wickedness took root and grows, still, today. But He is yet in control. He holds back evil, allowing in only what can work toward His purposes. Death is a loathesome enemy, be it the death of a child or adult, wild animal or beloved pet. But He defeated death. Death does not have the final word.

As far as human suffering goes, there are a couple of things someone told me early in my walk that helped me understand suffering’s purpose. The Roman Centurion was not convinced Jesus of Nazareth was who He claimed he was. After observing His crucifixion, in excruciating pain and agony, offering grace and redemption to the very world who tortured and murdered him, the Centurion said “Truly, He must have been the son of God”. It was watching how He handled suffering that opened the Centurion's eyes.

 As my friend said “It is not always how we live, but sometimes how we die, that convinces an unbelieving world”. When others see He sustains us in our suffering, they see the awesome power of God. Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident at the age of 18, says 
“I would rather be in this wheelchair with Jesus, than on my feet without Him.” 
Pretty powerful words coming from a woman who has spent 40 years in that wheelchair, unable to do the things most of us take for granted. 

Unlike the televangelists who promise all manner of wealth and comfort if we only follow their formula, the Bible says, in fact guarantees, we will have tribulations in this life. 


Finally, the best explanation of the true purpose of suffering was given to me by a friend when she explained to me the refiner’s fire. This is a term used over and over in the Bible, referring to the crucible of suffering.

A woman stopped to watch a silversmith at work. He was smelting down silver in a crucible, burning off the dross to purify the precious metal. As she was asking questions of him, he explained it was necessary to pay constant attention, so as not to overheat or damage the silver. It had to be done with great care. She asked him how he knew when the process was finished. His reply was
“When I can see my reflection in it”.

As the silver reflects the image of the silversmith, so we begin to reflect the character of Jesus as we come through the crucible of suffering. Notice, that He never once takes His eyes off as we are being perfected, but stays close, ever watchful, until all the impurities are gone and He can see His own image in us.

Take heart, your suffering has purpose.

"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." phil 1:6

Saturday, June 22, 2013


"The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:17

Pain ebbs and flows. Emotions vacillate between hope and discouragement. Time marches on, with no respect for the days that are lost.

Small accomplishments, doing the morning dishes, shaping a loaf of bread, bending down to turn on a hose, become mighty.

Plans made, lists made up then set aside, there won’t be any chores done today, not when you can’t get up or use your hands. That baby blanket you’ve been meaning to crochet has been on hold for months, it’s almost too late now.

Others pass by the window, talking, laughing, spur rowels making metallic noise along the odd stones on the driveway. The sound of hooves stepping in a trailer, a motor roars to life and you are left behind again. There won’t be anymore trips to the desert or out on the range. A tear escapes and tastes salty on my tongue. Were there really ever better days? Did I really used to ride, run, laugh, play? I am not the person I had dreamed I would be now. This was not even on my radar.

Tiny setbacks take my breath away, there is only so much I can handle. One more sick animal, one more challenge, one more difficulty, one more’s enough to send me into flight mode, but I can no longer flee.

Painfully easing myself down I hear His voice beckoning. I pick up His word and His promises remain. Peace flows over me like water and I am reminded He cares and is in complete control. He has His reasons and I don’t need to understand, just to be, in His presence. Recently someone brought up the point to me that He sings. The Bible says He rejoices over me, with singing. We won’t just be singing to Him, but we sing WITH Him. All things are with Him, if we just stop to look and listen. 

The pain begins to flare and in my minds eye I can see Him, hands nailed to rough wood, arms dislocated, body beaten to a shredded pulp. On a cross His broken form stares down at me in love and says “Join me. I will carry the load, you only need know a little of the price I paid for you, to understand my love”. Pain is diminished and purpose is born.

Gratitude takes up residence in my heart once again and I am changed by His words.

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path." Psalm 119:105

Monday, May 27, 2013


"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not grow faint" Is 40:31

Like weather and everything else in life, pain seems to come in cycles. Last winter was the roughest so far, but a visit to the rheumy to discuss new treatment and the blessing of a last shot of steroids and I have had many good, nearly pain free days. It’s amazing what that can do for your outlook. Being able to function again, even for just a little while, brings hope and a light heart. I got some work done on the yard and garden, repotted many of the little seedlings I had started into bigger pots, waiting until they can go in the ground come June. I’ve not been strong enough to ride, but I did put some new trail boots on my Paint horse to get them broke in so when I’m able, I am ready to go.

The downside is, there have been a lot of barometric changes this spring, with storms coming and going and that brings pain and weakness every time, but the good news is, I am rallying in between.

The good days are so very much appreciated. I did appreciate my health and strength before I became ill so I cannot say that gratitude for the good days is a benefit of my condition. Nevertheless, they are precious and won’t be taken for granted.

I felt good enough that I was too busy to even finish this blog for awhile. The storms have abated for a week or so and the disease was all but silent. I was able to enjoy working outside in the garden, rode my horse a few laps and almost kept up with the housework for a change. I’ve been thrilled to be able to work in the garden, doing some hoeing, planting the seedlings and hauling old hay to throw down as mulch. My back is beginning to complain about the wear and tear and yes, I overdid it. My hands have flared up and blistered again, but I can’t sit still as there is so much to do, so I keep going. Back on the pain killers for now, but there is great satisfaction in a job well done. I can sit on the porch and just smile as I watch the hummingbirds and butterflies and see the grass and flowers grow from my perch.

Sure as shootin’ I went too far and now I’m paying the price and spring weather has caused more flaring. Ugh.

 Round and round we go. As it has been said, 
"I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know the One who holds tomorrow."

Hanging onto Him is the only way I can get through my deepest valleys. We will all walk through our own valley, in pain, poverty, grief or disappointment. It is one of the things we are assured of in this life.
Thankfully, this life is not all there is.

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" Gal 6:9

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? ps 42:5 a

I am so glad I have been canning when I am able. Several days this month, we have had to rely on jars from the pantry as I experience painful flares that just won’t let go. I have been fortunate that some afternoons, the pain eases up for a few hours and I am somewhat functional until bedtime. Then the cycle of pain begins again. This has been a really difficult year to date. Most of it has been spent agonizing and feeling crushed under the heel of this disease. Depression has been a frequent visitor and it gets more and more difficult to evict him from my heart and home.

I have always lived an isolated life. I was raised pretty much apart from my siblings as they were so much older, they were out of the house by the time I really needed them. At the same time, my folks divorced and my grandfather, to whom I was very close, moved to a “retirement village”. I never really knew any other life than being somewhat solitary. That has always been all right with me. I love my family and the few friends I have made. My days have nearly always been spent alone, working horses or down cleaning the barn  until we moved here to the ranch. I finally had someone to ride with and loved what we were doing, moving cows, covering miles of scenic country everyday, learning the things I had always wanted to learn, but it didn’t last long before I lost the ability to do what I most loved and was once again, alone for most of my waking hours. 

I contented myself with a milk cow, goats and sheep and learning new skills, looking forward to the days I'd be strong enough to ride. I committed myself to baking all of our breads and making all of our dairy products,  growing most of our vegetables and canning produce and meals. The best and most important part of my day is  spent with the animals, as I have never been an inside, ‘domestic’ person and even being a loner, I still need affection and companionship.  All my life I have had a need to be outside, doing something. That isn’t possible anymore. I'm relegated to the house more and more. My greatest fear is the day I have to let go of all my animals because I can no longer care for, or interact with them.

I had a serious back injury in 1989 and after surgery, the recovery was long and grueling, but I knew I WOULD recover. I did recover. I fought through the pain and weakness, with sweat and tears and I broke and trained horses for another 15 years and produced some of my best work.
As these autoimmune issues began to manifest themselves, I lost more and more function. I vowed to make another comeback, I fought to get stronger, but mind over matter doesn’t always work out like we hope. Denial has passed and I accept I have a degenerative, incurable disease that is quickly progressing, doing permanent damage and ravaging my body. It’s painful as well as debilitating. I don’t have the incentive of knowing I can beat it, this time. I don’t have the hope that I will ever recover, because I won’t. Not on this side of heaven.
As the barometric pressure has jumped and bounced all this winter I have had the sensation of being beaten, again and again. It becomes very hard to ‘keep my chin up’, as they say.

As the pain and reality become overwhelming, I feel the absence of someone to talk to, someone who could listen, someone to touch. Someone to share the cries of my heart.

I appreciate all of you online who pray for me.  It really does help, knowing there are people who stand in the gap.

I apologize as this is not what I consider an ‘edifying’ entry. Sometimes a person just has to pour out how they feel, even if it isn’t pretty.

 For those who also suffer, know you are not alone. 

For those who know someone suffering, I hope you can understand how much they need your support. Not your suggestions, or the latest ‘miracle cure’. They don't need to be told how they should change their diet, or exercise. We’re doing all we can just to survive. Don’t for one minute assume there isn’t something we haven't tried, or would be doing if we were able. I’ve heard of people being told by friends and family they should stop taking the radical medications prescribed for us, because they are dangerous and don’t seem to do much good. Please understand that the only hope we have in taking these medications is to try and slow down the destruction and hopefully prolong our lives. None of them will cure us. Not taking them will almost surely shorten our life as so many of these diseases, such as this one, attack soft tissue, and organs as well as joints. Sometimes a shortened life seems like a better option, if it wasn’t so much more painful without the medications. Chronic pain is chronic. It's invisible and some days it doesn't wield the power that it can, but it is always ready to rear up and strike us down again. In my experience, every episode is more intensely painful than the last.

Encourage your person. Be there to let them cry. Listen. Love them. Help them. That is all you can do.

Help them hang on until the shadow passes.

"Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of his countenance." ps 42:5 b

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pressure to Simplify

“The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in summer” prov 30:25

The reality of living with incurable autoimmune conditions, is something that is definitely a catalyst for change. Some are good changes, others, not so much. One thing I have learned is that there will be good days and days that are so debilitating, I can do nothing. Lately, there have been more of the latter than the former. So it is against those days for which I must prepare. It isn’t a HUGE departure from things I do anyway, but there is incentive and more of a plan to what I will do. 

Sharing with some of you who experience the same kind of limitations and challenges is what this blog entry is about. But not just for those of us who have limitations, but also those who have limited free time, like working moms even.

Primarily, I am the one who cooks the meals and living as far from town as we do, pretty much everything is made from scratch. That means baking all the breads, making dairy products and canning food. Therefore, that’s what I spend a lot of my time doing on a ‘good’ day. I bake bread ahead of time and slice and freeze it so we can just grab a few slices when we need. I wrap it in plastic wrap then foil and it thaws out like fresh. I always double the recipe when making waffles and freeze the extras for a quick breakfast with a tasty whole wheat waffle as opposed to spending hard earned cash on L’eggo’s which aren’t nearly as good.

I’m a big believer in gadgets and things that simplify my life and save me time. I have large water troughs for the animals that only need filling once a week instead of daily. I have automatic feeder for my chickens and dogs (not all dogs do well on this, but ours do).

Having a garden is something I do, but the garden goes on a drip system which is run by automatic timers (operated by battery and not all that costly). Because I like fresh food and because I don’t like wasting money or buying substandard ingredients, I took up canning.  But now my canning has a purpose beyond just preserving food. I can to ensure that on days I simply cannot feed us, there are meals available. This is pretty easily done, really and I actually enjoy it more than just canning up the regular stuff...tomatoes, jams and fruits. (Let’s not forget making that pie filling so pouring a jar into a crust and baking it gives a quick and tasty dessert!)

I pressure can appropriate foods instead of freezing them, when I am able. That way there is enough room for our beef, lamb, chicken and venison and in the case of freezer failure, less food is going to be lost. There is also something very comforting about seeing jars and jars of food on my pantry shelves.

Lots of people are afraid of pressure canners. There is no need to be. To begin with, there are foods that can be “water bath” canned and others that require a pressure canner. High acid foods like tomatoes and jams/jellies are usually done in a water bath environment. When water bath canning, altitude adjustments are made by lengthening the TIME an item is in the canner.  With pressure canning  the altitude adjustments are usually made in the pounds of pressure. There are charts in most canning books as well as online for how long something needs to remain in the canner and the psi for your altitude. It’s very important to follow the directions about stopping the canning process. When to remove the pot lid, how soon to lift out the jars, allow the internal and external pressure to equalize and make sure your jars seal properly.

The procedure is really pretty easy. Decide what you are going to can and get it prepared. Most things are canned hot. A few can be canned cold or 'raw pack' such as chicken, but you will get that information and the details out of your canning book, which I recommend everyone have. It's been invaluable to me and there is no point in preserving your food unless you are going to make sure it is safe for consumption.

Grab your materials. This would be your:

Pressure canner (and weight, if yours is like mine)
jar grabber
canning funnel
plastic knife thingy for getting air out
white vinegar and a paper towel
lids & rings ( I love the Tattler reusable lids)
and I use a placemat to put everything on once it is sterilized and to set the hot jars on when done so the glass doesn't crack.
  • Sterilize  jars, either in the dishwasher, or boil/steam them in the canner
  • Fill to the recommended level, wipe the rims with papertowel dipped in white vinegar to prevent any food or oil on rim causing a seal failure.
  • Put on your lids and if using 2 piece metal lids, tighten finger tight.
  • *If using the plastic tattler reusable lids, only tighten enough for the ring to catch the threads. These have to be much looser in the canner to seal properly.
  • Set the jars in/on the rack. Never place them directly on the pot bottom or they will shatter from heat induction.
  • Make sure the water is at the proper level per your canner's instructions
  • I put a touch of white vinegar or cream of tartar in the water to prevent the aluminum from discoloring. It also helps remove the blackness if you didn't do it last time.
  • Set the lid on and tighten it so it is sealed.
  • Let it 'vent' for 10 minutes. (It is much, much easier than listening to someone else vent, although nearly as monotonous)
  • Set your weight on it's little jiggly post.
  • Once the weight begins to jiggle, adjust your heat so it is jiggling at a rhythmical there is a strange word to spell. Rhythmical. Honestly, who makes these decisions anyway???
  • Pull yourself together.
  • Set the timer.
  • Once the timer goes off, turn off the heat.
  • When  the pressure plug drops, remove the weight, usually for 2 minutes.*your recipe will tell you*
  • Remove the lid and usually wait another 5 minutes for jars to pressurize properly
  • Remove jars to placemat.
  • Re-tighten lids and be SURE to tighten the tattler lids now.
  • Let sit 24 hours.
  • Remove rings, check for seal
  • Mark jars what they are and put on date. I no longer use the paper labels as they are too much work to remove. Instead I write on the jar with a permanent marker which washes off easily before using again.

Done! Nothing terribly difficult there. I just double or triple a recipe I was going to make anyway, and can what is left over. This way I really only have to make that dish once a year. It frees me up to do other things.

The resource that I use the most is Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving. It has all the information you need on both water bath and pressure canning and 400 recipes to boot. Most of them I have tried are great.

If I were to start over, I would purchase an “All American” pressure canner. In fact, it’s on my wish list. It is definitely an investment. There aren’t going to be problems with getting your canner loaded and finding out your seal is bad and having to wait a week or more for a new one...which is something I have some experience with. Just try eating 7 quarts of the same something in less than a week! Freezing for me, is not usually a favorable option, as we have 3 freezers full. Space is at a premium here. The All American is a higher quality canner. I currently have a different canner which was a thoughtful gift from my step mom. It’s done an excellent job so far with the exception of needing replacement parts now and then. 

You could use your pressure cooker for water bath canning as well, if you have a regular lid that fits it. I just chose to buy one of the inexpensive graniteware canning pots so I don’t confuse myself and pressure process something by accident, which again, I have done, as my brain rarely remains on what I am doing at the moment and tends to wander off to greener pastures a lot, leaving me to do the work all by myself. You are able to cook in your pressure canner, but you can’t can in your pressure cooker. I don’t pressure cook much stuff, and personally, since the canner I have is made of aluminum, I wouldn’t cook in it anyway. Just my thoughts on it.

Some of our favorite soups: (I have put in clickable links to the recipes)

We have made great use of canned French Beef Dip this year. It’s very easy to do. I just put two big cheap roasts in a crock pot after cutting off the fat, add all the seasonings and let it cook down until the meat is tender. Then I fill the sterilized canning jars with meat and the au jus and process it. For a quick meal we have just pulled a jar off the pantry shelf, heated it in the micro wave and stuffed it in french rolls.The au jus from it is amazing. Have a side salad and you are good to go! Another meat I have happily canned this year is pulled pork or kalua pig. It’s delicious heated up on a french roll, or cooked up in a breakfast burrito, or mixed with BBQ sauce for a BBQ get the picture.

We’ve had several chickens that needed to be culled. Typically, older hens or rooster tend to be very tough and stringy, albeit tasty and full of flavor. You can often find chicken quarters on sale. Canning them would save you a lot of money. The easiest way to make use of them is to separate the drumstick and thighs, put them in a jar bone in, fill it with hot broth and can it. Same thing with the breasts. It becomes a tender, deeply flavored shredded chicken that is ready to be used in your casseroles, or taco salads, or whatever you like to do with shredded chicken. There are hundreds of things I can think of. It's just another great thing to have on hand.

This week I canned up a double batch of meatballs. I canned them in spaghetti sauce so we can have meatball sandwiches in a snap. I'll can some more in broth to use in albondigas soup or swedish meatballs. The neat thing is, we don’t have to use any of these for a year or more, but it's there whenever I want something quick and easy. This makes living with RA quite a lot more tolerable for me. I think this would make life a lot easier for many of you, as well. 

I try to can SOMETHING every week or two if I feel good. I always have left over chicken carcases and beef soup bones in the freezer waiting to become stock, if nothing else. Stews, chili, fruit for pies, there is always something that you can jar up and make good use of. I even can potatoes. I buy a big bag whenever we go to the store but with just 2 of us, I rarely can use them all, so into the can they go. It's quick to make fried potatoes then, or roast them with butter and herbs, or heat and mash them. If someone shows up for dinner unexpectedly (which doesn't happen very often here anymore) all you need to do is grab another jar.

I hope all  of us, who suffer or not, are able to look ahead and see how life can be both amplified and simplified with just a few easy steps. I try to do what I can and that which I cannot, I try to leave in the Lord's hands.  "Try", being the key word, as, like most women, I tend to be a bit of a control freak. Yes, I said it. Maybe in my case, that's what this disability is all about. Learning how to trust.

I've been flat on my back most of this week and I can sure appreciate the time I spent earlier doing this.

Do you have things you can share, that make life simpler? 

My kitchen in Christmas past, which is probably the last time it was this clean...just sayin'....

"Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.   Eccl. 2:24

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Of Agony and Ecstasy

“For His anger is but for a moment, but His favor is for life. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” psalm 30:5

Mornings aren’t really my best time of day, but I can sometimes tell if the pain has lessened when I first wake up. It’s just typical of this disease to be unusually stiff and swollen on waking. I hate to get up as it hurts to use my body but that is what it takes to get the swelling to go down and relieve some of the pressure.

It was a roller coaster of a week. The weather was up and down which played havoc with my autoimmune issues, sometimes causing intense pain. One day I would be totally disabled, the next, moderately functional. I’m grateful that the better days coincided with the days Annie and the sheep decided to lamb. It enabled me to be there in case they had trouble and to iodine the navels of the newborns to prevent bacteria from traveling up the cord and causing joint or navel ill which can be fatal. The highlight of my days is to watch the babies skipping and jumping and crawling all over their mamas.

Thursday evening I intensely wanted to ride my horse, because Randyman finally fixed a gate so I could actually open and close it by myself. It's been close to 8 months since I've been able to do what I once spent a lifetime doing all day and loving every minute of it. I had a dream job. 

I awoke Friday morning with less pain, but more weakness and fatigue. I decided to drag myself out and bring Mister in anyway, even if just to brush him. I needed to be around him. 

I was able to groom him without much trouble and took him out back into the sheep pasture with a longe line as it was the least slippery spot I could find. He ran and bucked and jumped and played, slipped and scooted around. Not bad for an old man. I was glad I hadn’t been up to saddling up and riding him because with my balance issues now, it would have been another disaster. The Maremma pups showed up. They laid down where they could still see the lambs but kept a penetrating eye on Mister, challenging him to dare try doing anything they perceived might endanger me. I figured it would take a few days to work the kinks out of my old horse, but didn’t mind as long as I could be in his company. I took him back to the corral and brushed him down good and returned him to his pasture. 

I got back to the house energized and ready to do things. I honestly think the smell of horse sweat must be like crack. I felt better than I have felt in a year. I cleaned house, pruned fruit trees, covered garlic and strawberry plants to protect from the chickens, made sour cream and clabber and put on a leg of lamb for dinner. I still had energy to go play with the lambs and was even able to do dishes that evening. All day my face hurt from smiling, it was so great to feel good again. All day I was joyfully thanking God for the experience.

The next morning I felt tired again, but the pain levels were surprisingly way down still. I assumed I would 'pay' for overdoing it and I went to get Mister and he was moving slowly and stiffly, like myself. I laughed and agreed with him that getting old really does suck. I put him on a line and he had no inclination of bucking, running or even moving. (bwahahahaha!) Deciding it was best for him as well as for me to stretch out the sore muscles, I rode him for about an hour in the corral, mostly walking, just working on lateral movements, foot placement and verbal cues. It felt so good.

Now this morning, the pain is back in full force along with another storm. But I had two fabulous days and I know that more are coming my way. Maybe even tomorrow.

There are a thousand things I used to do daily, that I took for granted. Now they are precious rarities. But when I could take them for granted, I often found myself discontent and dissatisfied because of OTHER things I could not do. Always reaching, always wanting more, I set myself up for a great deal of disappointment and strife. If my condition has brought me suffering, it has also brought me clarity. In the book of Philippians 4:11, Paul said “...I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content...”
Contentedness is not something that happens to us, but something we LEARN. It is often in the fire of affliction that our eyes are opened to what actually surrounds us and is provided for us and we learn to be grateful. A grateful heart is a happy heart because gratitude and discontent cannot occupy the same space.

There are so many examples of people who have walked through this world missing much of the joy of life until they, ie: survived cancer, had an accident, lost a loved one...went into the refiner’s fire and had a epiphany of some kind. After they suffered the pain and loss their eyes were opened to the world around them and the many wonders it contains. Sadly, we don't always chose to let this be the result of our trials, but God's purpose is always redemptive and He does bring beauty out of the ashes.

This disease I would give up in a minute, but the lessons I have learned and the awareness it has brought to me, the depth of life, the awareness of colors, smell, textures, beauty, wonder...never. 
And there will be more glorious days. 
The simple things have become priceless and no longer to be disregarded or taken for granted. All of life, even the difficult side, is richer.

So, for that, I am grateful.

“I come that they may have life,and that they may have it more abundantly”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pain Is Not Permanent

...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and it there is anything praiseworthy, think on these things...”
Phillipians 4:8

I woke up in the morning wracked with pain. Every joint, every muscle in agony as I went from the chair I’ve had to sleep in, to the bathroom. Heading back out, I knew I couldn’t manage the trip back to the living room. I painfully climbed into bed, but was unable to pull the blankets over me, as my hands were unusable. Randy, seeing my plight, tossed them over me on his way out in the morning.

An hour or so later I ventured to get up again. Only slightly stronger, I shuffled to the kitchen for coffee unable to cope with the painful sensation of my feet rising and falling on the floor. As snowflakes fall silently outside the window I sip my coffee and appreciate the heat radiating from my cup to my aching hands. This is not the life I bargained for.

If I look in the mirror, I won’t recognize the woman looking back at me. The puffy, overweight, lumbering mess isn’t the quick moving, athletic over achiever I have always been. These aren’t my hands, puffy, swollen, stiff with papery skin. Those aren’t my clothes in the closet, they are made for someone larger. I don’t want to see anyone, and I don’t want to be seen. I drown in misery, tears falling freely. 

Agitated, I pick up my Bible and start to read. I’m graciously reminded that I didn’t ‘bargain’ for anything. My life is a gift, both the the triumphs on the mountain peaks and the darkest places in the valleys. The journey I have been on is my own, but I am not alone. There are many who take it with me, some competing against me, others cheering me on, and yet others who just share the joys and pains of this place on the path, this space in my life. But there is also One who has walked alongside me the entire way. He’s been this way before and knows the pitfalls and dangers I will face, someone who has been to far more painful depths and knows also the ultimate heights of joy. He doesn’t always carry me, but usually lets me choose my own way, sometimes stumbling, sometimes running freely. When I fall headlong and sputter and spit dirt of failure out of my mouth, sometimes I am overcome with rage, or with sorrow. But soon I push past it and cry out for help, or simply raise my eyes and always, I find He is there, a Holy hand stretched out, ready to help me up again. This has been such a day.

One of the Maremmas pushes his head up under my elbow and gently rests his head on my leg. Often the hands and feet and heart of Jesus come to me wrapped in fur. With eyes full of concern and compassion he looks at me and touches his cold wet nose to my tear dampened cheek. I hug him and it feels better, even hurting. 
I push through the pain and this morning I am rewarded by it. The world awaits outside and there are new baby lambs, baby goats to marvel at. The miracle of life unfolds before me even as mine seems to fade. This day will get better, even if tomorrow does not. Each step of this journey brings me to a new and renewed life, one that will not be full of pain. I will see lost loved ones and best of all I will see HIM face to face. I can do this. I’m not the first, but I am also not the weakest. I can do this. I can keep walking until I too, reach Home.

There is much I can do. Milk to process, cheese to make. It will take some effort but it will be worth it. I have to keep trying and pushing forward.

The sun is breaking through the clouds even now and I can see my way and I am strengthened. I know who I am, because I know who He is. For now, that is enough.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. -2 Cor 12:9

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Joy in the Little Things

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt 5:3

Lately it seems turmeric tabs have really been helping me. I still had a little flare when the last storm hit but nothing like I usually experience and certainly nothing close to what I went through in December and January. I tried backing off of carbs and gluten but not only did it not help the inflammation, I started feeling really lousy. I’m sure it helps some people, but clearly, it isn’t the answer for everybody and definitely not for me. So back to regular eating and staying on the turmeric. Just as well. I hated watching everyone else eat my cinnamon rolls while I had an apple at breakfast.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, there are several things that can trigger a flare. Stress and emotional conflict are usually right at the forefront, outside of barometric changes for me. As many of you know, my father recently passed away. It was devastating to our family. I was closer to dad than I was to my brothers and sisters due to a gap in ages, so I am still trying to adjust to the idea he is not going to be there anymore. I still haven’t gotten used to Mom being gone. Being an orphan sucks, I don’t care how old you are.

The weather has been improving. It’s been above freezing by day but still down in the 20’s at night so it has made for some very icy conditions to walk in. As rough as mornings can be, the rest of the day I have been feeling pretty good and taking full advantage of the fact, multi tasking away and trying to be as constructive as possible.

I have found that on a decent day, there is much I can do. Making cheese is one of those as it takes very little in the way of muscle power to do. It just requires a LOT of sitting and waiting, which is perfect for someone with Ra type limitations. I’ve done a little better than decent lately, so I have also been able to make butter, ghee and today I’ll be making soap and bread...which is another thing I can sometimes even do during a flare, if I can just walk. My stand mixer does most of the kneading for me so pitching ingredients into the bowl is about the height of effort. 

On really good days, I try to cook and can meals so on the days I am in too much pain, we can just grab a jar off the shelf and perhaps a loaf out of the freezer and still have a good, home cooked meal.

Some of those meals would be venison, lamb and beef stews, chili, multiple homemade soups, shredded chicken, pulled pork, beef dip and shredded taco meat. The meats are great in sandwiches and salads and very easy to can up.

I also pre-measure soap and lye water on good days, so I don’t have to worry about those days when I have ‘cognitive’ issues and wander around in a ‘fog’. It guarantees everything will be consistent that way.

Small things tend to bring great joy. The soap and cheese-making, and even the bread baking take up a lot of the space in a very small kitchen. There is a water hookup in the utility room where the freezers are and Randyman found a freestanding sink in the barn so I can do all the soap and cheese making in there, leaving the kitchen free for meals, plus I can safely stop in the middle of something if I need to, without starving everyone until it’s complete. Between the sink and finding 4 more tons of hay we can buy to get the critters through until spring, has made me a happy, happy camper. 

Good days and bad, I find myself leaning harder and harder on Him to get me through things and He has yet to let me down. Here's to grace and better days ahead.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” John 14:18

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. -Psalm 37:3

Randyman’s family is coming to visit this weekend. The house has been an unmitigated disaster, due to my over a month-long flare and what seems an endless  struggle against pain and fatigue. What I do accomplish in a day’s time is done between frequent breaks and bouts of rest as my back begins to spasm or exhaustion threatens to overwhelm me. There isn’t a lot of ‘staying power’ connected with this disease. I often feel like there is a dark cloud over my life because of it.

My niece has long urged me to try taking turmeric. It’s a spice, yellow in color, middle eastern in origin. It has anti inflammatory properties and of course, prior to modern medicine, it was always natural substances that were used to cure and to treat,so although I know it isn’t a cure, I finally remembered to order some gel caps online, as I cannot stand the taste of it in liquid and needed to get enough down each day to see if it helped.

It’s helping a LOT. Although each morning, my hands and feet have been quite swollen and painful to use, it goes away quickly once I push myself and the better part of the day I am fairly pain free and alert. I broke up the house chores I wanted to get done into 7 days. We had a new freezer come in so it added a LOT to the work load, driving the 4 wheeler back and forth from the boss’ folks house where the meat was, organizing it and finding a home for the things that used to be in THAT space...which of course meant EVERYTHING in the house got moved. We live in a house of no cupboards or closets so storage is always a problem.Everything in it is pretty much in plain view (and dusty) which poses a huge challenge for me, having never been the domestic nor artistic type. Not so much that I don’t want to be, I just never was before. A lot of prayer went into this week, because before it ever started, I was over come and overwhelmed with just how I was going to get it all accomplished. Cleaning the house was not the ONLY thing that had to be done. There was a large chunk of suet, and 3 huge leaves of lard that had to be rendered right away as they were not going to fit in a freezer and the outside temps are warming up during the day now, so it would all spoil. So add rendering tallow and big, greasy pots to the equation each day, on top of cleaning, milking, processing milk, and cooking and there is a pretty hefty day’s work for anyone.

So far so good. It is already Thursday and I only have the bathrooms, our bedroom and a bit left in the living room to finish. I think it is actually doable.

During my breaks, I ponder the above referenced verse, about God giving us the desires of our heart. I discovered this truth several years ago and found that like many things to do with the Lord, it was not as we might think. (His thoughts really ARE higher than our thoughts) To the unacquainted human heart, these words would seem to suggest that merely for the gift of your affections, God would become a cosmic Santa and grant you all the things you might want.
Even in our most flawed and reprobate state, we know that would not be a good thing. Just as allowing children to gorge themselves on a diet of straight soda and candy would be foolish and unloving, so would God be amiss to grant our every wish, greedy and undiscerning as we tend to be.

Nevertheless, the verse is true. We put the emphasis on the “give” but he put the emphasis on the “desires”.  While He does not grant us every wish, He does give us the DESIRE for the things He wants to give us. A huge difference in theory but in practice it works perfectly. Even more than perfectly. Better than perfect, even. 
Realize that whatever you have a passion for, whatever things draw your heart, those are the things that inspire you. Inspire, literally means “God breathed”. So, God breathed those desires into your heart and He will lead you to them if you are willing to follow.

Whereby I wanted to ride forever, have big horse barns, nice trailers and trucks, breed and raise expensive horses and all that goes with it. I’d already had a pretty successful run of training and teaching and competing for a couple of decades. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t totally satisfying me and it was stressful a lot of the time, dealing with colts and the public.

His desire was to bring us here, to this ranch, among this ranch family who treats us as their own, provide a ‘backyard’ that is hundreds of square miles, a milk cow, chickens, goats and sheep and my incredible Maremma dogs. While I have been ‘indisposed’ by this disease, I have learned to make all my own dairy products, provide all our food from scratch ingredients, garden, sew, crochet...He gave me an endless number of things to do that I love doing and the means by which to learn  and practice it. If I had a choice now, between what I wanted and what He wanted to give me, there is no doubt, I am excited about His choice. He knows better than I do what I want as well as what I really need. We don’t always agree, but He is always right. 

For the better part of this past week I was able to be insanely busy and get a lot done. Today, there is another snow storm coming in and the barometer change has caused the pain to return. It’s in my hands, feet and back, which are what I have used so much this week. It’s not as deep and widespread as it can get, so I feel fortunate that there is still improvement in the amount of inflammation I usually have. 

Instead of finishing, as I had planned, I will submit and enjoy the affection freely given by my big ‘polar bears’, (Our Maremma Livestock Guardian dogs). 

Cletus oozes (yes, oozes not eases...he is so fluid and slithery when he sneaks up onto the couch) his 120 lb frame up next to me and tenderly presses his head against my chest. He can tell I am a little down today. As I bury my fingers in his thick fur I can feel myself relax and a smile finally comes, in spite of the pain, as I think about how wonderful it is, to have the love of a small child, or a dog. They love without condition or forethought. It always makes me feel better when they are around. 

I won’t be able to complete the list of things I really wanted to get finished before our family comes, but there is still one more day. He may yet help me do it...and if not, the world is still turning and no one in heaven is wringing their hands over it and this storm too, shall pass. If it’s something I really need to get done, He’ll help me.

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter.” -Francis Chan

Are there things on your want-to-do list that you have had to just let go? How did you feel about it?

Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to passPsalm 37:5