The season of Lent is upon us once again. This happens to be one of my favorite seasons as it's one that is usually filled with contemplation, reflection, hope, and tends to usher in new rhythms. I also love the fact that the season of Lent starts during the later stages of winter, when most of us have grown weary of the cold, seemingly colorless, throes of the "dead" season, and ends in the early stages of spring, when life and color return as a new season of hope and light is ushered in.
I did not grow up participating in, or even knowing about, Lent. I didn't start observing Lent until about six years ago. For the first few seasons, I'd follow the usual procedure and give something up, but then I decided that it wasn't really bringing me closer to God or serving any purpose in that area, so instead, I decided to start adding habits and rhythms. I've done this for the last few years now and find it much more beneficial to my spiritual life. I plan to do the same for this season.
I’ve decided to work on honing the practice of Sabbath for the Lenten season. I’ve never really “Sabbathed” before, and I recognize that God calls us to do so for a good reason. We all need a day of rest and worship for our own good. I have friends who intentionally practice Sabbath by setting a day out of each week aside for rest, relaxation, and worship. While there is debate on which day should be our Sabbath (most are of the opinion that it should be either Sunday or Saturday), I honestly think that whichever day that you decide on is perfectly fine as long as it works best for you and allows you to Sabbath well. I’ve chosen mine to be Sunday simply because it is the day that works best for me in this current season of life.
A few ways I plan to help myself Sabbath well is to take the day off from social media and try to cut down on technology use in general, spend extra time in my Bible (I read my Bible every day as it is), and just rest my soul. I also have a book I plan to read during the season, John Mark Comer's Garden City, which tackles the subject of Sabbath, along with my daily Bible reading plan. Another habit I want to hone and get better about is that of prayer. I want to be more deliberate and mindful in my approach to prayer. I’m currently using the book Prayers that Avail Much by Germaine Copeland to help me enrich my prayer life and will continue to do so throughout the season. My goal is to be more disciplined about going to God morning and night in order to start and end my days well.
Along with placing my focus on Sabbath and prayer, I also plan to be intentional in taking each Wednesday and making it a “quiet day”. I recently realized that I have been filling my days with noise in order to drown out internal issues and to run away from things I believe God is trying to tell me out of fear that I won’t like it. So I believe that on top of taking a Sabbath day, it would also be beneficial to me to take a day in the middle of the week and deliberately be quieter and still, to actively pursue less noise. For me, that means not listening to podcasts, music, TV, etc.. I want to make myself live in the silence for a bit. That doesn’t mean I won’t go about my usual routine and work, I will, just without a lot of noise. I hope that this will be doubly beneficial, because not only will it make me sit in the quiet and maybe help me hear God more clearly, but it’ll also benefit my overloaded brain (I suffer from migraines and sensory overload).
Less noise, more quiet is the general motto for this Lenten season.
I hope you all have a blessed season of Lent, and hey, let me know what you all are doing to observe this beautiful season!
Writing is all I've ever wanted to do.....
What do you want to be when you grow up? How many times were we asked that as kids? Most children usually give a different answer each time as their interests change and evolve with age, but not me. All I've ever wanted to be was a writer. Ever since my grandmother first told me it was possible, all those years ago, as she handed me a worn copy of Little Women, and I read all about Jo March and her resolve to be a writer herself.
I've spent the last decade pursuing a career as a writer. I covered music, books, conducted interviews, wrote for faith magazines and blogs, anything to get my foot in the door and better myself as a writer. I worked to hone my craft throughout these last ten years. I learned from authors that I admired, many of whom I call friends today. There are several people who have been so incredibly encouraging and helpful to me almost from the start. The ones I would often bounce ideas off of and send them my work to critique. The ones whom I've had the privilege of working with on their own books, watching the process from a front row seat. I'm immeasurably grateful for those authors.
I was finally catching my stride. I felt as though I had a good deal of experience under my belt and was ready to finally attempt what I've always wanted to do... I started writing my first book in late 2018. I was chugging along, chapter after chapter...... You see, I had a passion for this project, yes, but it also meant so much more than making a dream come true. It meant being able to hold an accomplishment in my hands and to show everyone who has ever had doubts about me and my future that I really knew what I was doing.
I know so many people close to me have had major doubts about the decisions I've made for my life so far. They've humored me to my face, but I've heard the whispers and I've seen the doubt in their faces. They watch my siblings lead more practical lives, working more practical jobs, and then they turn to me and I know they see me as a failure they have to explain to other people.
I've always swallowed those doubts and just kept plugging away. I'd tell myself that they'll see one of these days. I'll prove myself and show them that I know what I'm doing, I know what I want in this life, and I'll get it, just you wait and see. One of these days, I'm going to have something tangible that will show them that all the work and time I've put into the last 10 years hasn't been wasted. I would admit, life has dealt me a few hard blows, mainly health-wise, over the last decade, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.... Little did I know the biggest blow had yet to come.
2019 was the year that changed everything for me. I found myself more and more sensitive to light and sound. At first, this symptom was blamed on the Lyme disease that I had for most of the year..... but it wasn't the Lyme. Hypersensitivity/Sensory overload is a symptom of Fibromyalgia. It means that my brain overloads easily. I found myself becoming more and more sensitive to lights and sounds as the months went on, to the point where I couldn't bear to look at a screen. My brain has all it can do to get through the basics of everyday life without overloading these days.
I also noticed difficulty with memory and general cognitive function. I was having increasing difficulty with words and particularly taking what was in my mind and getting it down on paper/typed up on the screen. Obviously this is a rather large part of writing. I found myself growing more frustrated with my deteriorating abilities. I'd read pieces I had written prior to 2018 and I could see a stark contrast to the quality of the writing. It just wasn't there anymore, no matter how hard I tried.
There's nothing scarier for a writer than realizing that your brain is no longer functioning up to par, except realizing that maybe everyone was right after all. Did I just waste the last ten years of my life on something I can longer do? I'm a decade older and what do I have to show for it now? A brain deteriorating? It seems so incredibly cruel of life to give someone a passion and to allow them to pursue that passion for a decade, only to just take it away. I've always said throughout these last seven years that I can deal with the pain, the illnesses, and the fatigue. I can deal with all of it, as long as I have a functioning mind. It's my only strength. But now....
What do you do when the only thing you were ever good at is taken away? What happens when you suddenly find yourself standing on the smoldering ashes of a dream you'd been working towards for the last decade of your life? What do you do when you're staring failure in the face? Will I ever be able to write well again? I have no answers to any of those questions...
They tell me life will get better...... but I'm not sure of that either anymore.
What I am sure of is that I can't continue on this course. I'm taking this year to pursue health, first and foremost. I need to find a way to heal some of the bigger symptoms. I've achieved remission in the past, I hope to do so again. Maybe, just maybe, I'll write again, but I believe at that at this time, I also need to start exploring other options...... You'll have to forgive me, it seems I'm still finding my wings.
Seven years ago my life changed forever. I was seemingly sailing along smoothly, when all of a sudden my ship hit an iceberg, and while I'm still afloat, the sailing isn't near as smooth as it was before. I've had to learn to adapt to a whole different way of living, and believe me, it hasn't been easy. For seven years I suffered an unknown chronic illness, one that doctors didn't seem to be in any hurry to diagnose.
They're not sure how it all came about, there are theories, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure what caused it. Seven years ago, in the month of September, I was working in a barn when one fine day I started feeling lousy. It came on as a general malaise then quickly got worse. That first day, my boss came in, took one look at me, and told me that I "didn't look so good" and to feel free to take the next day off. I nodded as I left, fully intending to be back at work the next day. Surely it would pass...
I ended up bedridden for the better part of three months. I never did go back to that job. I spent those three months in and out of doctors offices and Emergency Rooms. They ran every test imaginable, several times. Bloods tests, scans, numerous doctors..... and it all added up to a big fat, "we have no idea what's wrong with you." Most doctors just sent me on my way, acting like it was all in my head, some more patronizing than the rest. Others admitted that they simply couldn't figure out what was wrong, their tests all came back "normal", so they sent me on my way for lack of answers.
One doctor explained it to me this way: They knew that my organs were in crisis, the problem was that they couldn't figure out why. The muscles in my neck were also severely tight. They had no answers for that either. Eventually, an ER doctor, as a last ditch effort, gave me a cocktail of pills hoping to combat most of the symptoms or at least knock them back. With prescriptions in hand, I went home. I took the pills and rested some more....
Right around the turn of the new year, I started to regain some strength and stamina. I was able to get up and move around, slowly. It took another 6 months to get to a fully functional, semi normal state... but there was nothing normal about what my body had gone through. I soon realized that "getting back to normal" wasn't an option anymore. Life had handed me a "new normal" and I had to learn how to stay afloat in uncharted water.
Ultimately, I had to reassess every aspect of my life and make a lot of changes, from what I put into my body and what I did physically with my body, to my sleep patterns and how I dealt with my emotions. Everything needed to be adjusted. I now had to contend with a load of symptoms that included chronic pain, chronic fatigue, IBS, and migraines. I admit, a beautiful positive that came from this big negative was the fact that I did get healthier, ironically enough. I started treating my body a lot better than I had, I ate better, and I also addressed emotions that had been buried deep within me. This unknown chronic illness forced me to address other issues that I had, like my anxiety, and to learn to listen to my body better.
Fast-forward to about three years into the journey. I still had no answers as to what this illness might be, except that it was chronic. Doctors gave me vague diagnosis's and answers. The word Autoimmune disease was floated around a few times, along with "chronic fatigue syndrome" and "chronic pain syndrome", but nothing solid. While I didn't have the answers I was looking for, I did manage to achieve a "remission" of sorts by following a healthy, strict regiment. I was healthy, active, and felt great for the first time in years. My first remission lasted a glorious five months. The next remission, which came the following year, lasted for seven months.
I had a few setbacks in 2018, probably due to stress, among other things. Then 2019 came. In February of 2019, I started going to a chiropractor at the suggestion of friends. It was there that I learned that I have osteoarthritis in my neck and spine, which can account for some of the pain. In March, I decided that I wanted to start hiking again, something I enjoyed prior to the illness, but stopped in recent years due to mobility issues. I picked an even grade on the mountain in back of my house, hoping to slowly work my way up to harder grades. By April, I was experiencing symptoms that I first attributed to a flare up of the illness...... until they worsened to the point where I was having passing out spells, could barely walk, and felt as though my heart couldn't keep up with the rest of me.
In May of 2019, I tested positive for Lyme Disease. I had Lyme for the majority of 2019, finally being "cleared" in September. I went through four or five rounds of high-powered antibiotics in the process. It took me a lot longer to recover from the Lyme than I had thought it would. On top of causing more damage to my body, it also caused a few setbacks in regards to the chronic illness. I also developed a severe sensitivity to light and sound. It is now very easy for my brain to experience a sensory overload. I'm still learning to deal with this new issue and work around it.*
In the Autumn of 2019, I finally received a breakthrough diagnosis. I have Fibromyalgia. That is the chronic illness that I have been dealing with for the last seven years (on top of arthritis). I now know what I'm up against and can now hone in on it with more specific treatments. Because Western Medicine can't do much for me, except prescribe pills with side-effects, I've turned to a more holistic approach. I'm still early in that journey, but will document it more as I go. This post is to give a fairly full account of the first seven years of the chronic illness journey, one in which I can now build off of with future posts. If by chronicling my chronic illness/Fibro journey, I can help even just one person, I'm glad to do it.
*For more details about my health issues in 2019 with the Lyme and such, you can read my catch-up post, and my "You Look Fine" post. Also, a future post will address the brain issues more fully for anyone interested.
There's a house on the hill
that your life used to fill,
but now it's empty and still.
Much like a broken heart
it's falling apart,
crumbling and shattered
like a sad piece of art.
Through the years, the paint has begun to fade and peel,
but time has yet to cover the loss that I still feel.
It is no longer a home,
and though I should have known,
it's still a bitter pill,
knowing that you no longer live in the house on the hill.
~Liz Austin 2020
My home isn't in the here and now,
but the there and then,
a place I'm unable to go back to again.
My home lives in the past,
but oh the memories last.
They take on a golden haze
as I look back on those past lived days.
I cannot truly go home again it's true,
though the structures are still here,
the time is different and I am too.
My home was in those fun-filled days,
the smell of fresh cut grass and a summer daze,
the tinkling of wind chimes, the creaking of a swing,
and listening to the birds joyously sing.
My home is a time long past,
but I go back through the memories often
as if watching an old movie with a familiar cast,
for not everyone in those golden memories have made it to the present,
and so I find they are both sad and pleasant,
sad for those who are now missing,
and pleasant for they'll always live through my reminiscing.
Yes, my home is not in the here and now,
but in the there and then,
and I visit often through my memories,
again and again.
~Liz Austin 2019.
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She also acts as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.