A people pleaser of sorts… an insecure young girl who thought personal achievement and pleasing others could offer a life of peace and happiness. Identity…that’s what I was really searching for. Our culture says to build your SELF-image and the image YOU want to portray. That our identity will be accomplished through our rigorous SELF-effort and the sacrifices we make in order that “OUR” kingdom comes and “OUR” will be done. I grew up listening to those messages given in subtle undertones, be it from celebrities, peers, etc. They seemed to assure me that this would bring security, popularity, success and joy. I believed the world. I believed the TV. I believed what I saw in front of me at school, colleges and there after. Surely it works. Everyone is doing it. I did what they said (for years of my life) and sought to attain the skinny figure, the perfect personality, the successful college degree, the successful marriage and don’t forget popularity. Oh! And that’s not all. Because while we seek to do it all and be it all, society demands that we have to make everyone happy at the same time! If you offend anyone in the process, the world will frown at you and remind you of this big failure. Yeah, the pressures are there and the demands are no joke, but that’s okay because I was determined to succeed in gaining the happiness it promised. I worked hard for it. I felt like a puppet, constantly moved by the puppeteers of the world. It spun me right into an eating disorder, a pit of sadness and some serious questions about life and purpose. Was this what God wanted? Is this where we go to find our identity? Is this all there is?
God had begun His work in me at an early age and I never remember a time that I wasn’t seeking to know who He was. As my questions were becoming more frequent, so was my discontent for this kind of life. My angst about it all was becoming more unbearable. Something needed to change. You see, my identity didn’t come from Christ but rather from the idolatry of the world. This will always lead to an exaltation of self instead of a life that exalts Christ. And remember, I attended church growing up. The problem centered mostly around the fact that I was more of a consumer of God rather than wanting to be fully consumed by God. B.I.G. DIFFERENCE!
“Ephraim is oppressed, trampled in judgement, intent on pursuing idols.” Hosea 5:11,13
Fast forward, college years and then Occupational Therapy School. This insecure-young-girl-turned-young-lady was still seeking to please the world and all its false promises of happiness.
Then, I began attending a Bible study offered through a Christian organization at the medical school. The pastor leading it was incredible and it took great courage for me to show up. I didn’t know that much about the Bible, but I wanted to. All the other attendees seemed so mature and strong in their walk. I felt embarrassed and behind, but I wanted God. I wanted more of Him. I wanted to know Him in a deeper way and if that meant sacrificing my pride, I guess I was ready. With shaking knees, I went. I went again. I went again, and then I went faithfully. I learned. I grew.
And then I met a guy! —->Stop the train!! He was a leader and so knowledgable of God. I was smitten! Could this ministry and Bible study get any better?? We went on some dates and before long we were engaged and married!
Insert: To all my young sisters who want to marry, pray for your future husband. I did this from the time I was in eighth grade (not every day, but faithfully). I believe one of the things prayer does is make us more aware of God’s moving so that when He is showing us something or leading us, we pick up on His voice much easier and faster!
This guy, my husband (Marc), was passionate about Christ and challenged me in every way possible. With his challenge was compassion, not arrogance. But it made me realize that I only knew Scripture based on what others had told me versus my own personal study of it.
Marc and I married and had two precious children. The Holy Spirit was about to beautifully invade my life. And I say, invasion because for me it couldn’t have happened any other way.
When my daughter was six, she began showing signs that something was very wrong. We were living in Alabama at the time. My husband was working extremely long hours. We had been married for 7 years and we truly didn’t know how to do marriage. We argued and both of us were just lost as to how to get along….we were so opposite in every way! Though we were committed to God for our marriage, if it hadn’t been for that we would have been in serious trouble!
I had been urging Marc to look for a better job situation because the one he had demanded his time 24/7, with little to no time for family. He didn’t like it either, but didn’t feel like it was time for us to leave. I prayed and prayed and finally had kind of resided that we would be staying there. Around this time, my daughter, Lanie (who was 6) began to have health problems. She had always been the happiest child, smiling and giggling, loved to run and pretend. But lately she was extremely irritable and exhausted. She would fall asleep at different times of the day. At night, she experienced nightmares like I can’t really describe. It was just awful because she couldn’t get any peace while awake or asleep. Tired all day and then unable to stay asleep peacefully at night. Her schoolwork began to suffer and I knew something was about to change for my baby and her life ahead. Everyone told me that I was overreacting and that it was just a growth spurt but I didn’t believe them. I took her to the doctor and he began some very basic tests. He thought she was fine and sent us on our way.
A few weeks passed and she began to show signs of muscular weakness. Because my degree is in Occupational Therapy, I became alarmed, recognizing now that it was possibly neurological. It wasn’t all day long, but randomly. We would walk in the grocery and she would collapse. I called the doctor again and he ran a few more test but concluded that she was okay.
Then, one day she was eating and as she watched a cartoon I noticed her spoon drop from her hand and her body became weak and floppy. I lifted my baby girl from the chair and carried her to the sofa where I lay her weak body. She looked up at me and said “Mommy, what is wrong with my body?” I stared in those big, beautiful eyes and I said “I don’t know but Jesus does.”
I immediately ran outside and burst into tears crying out to God recognizing that our whole world was about to change forever.
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21
I called Children’s Hospital and they urged me to get to the hospital. I knew as a therapist that with all the muscular weakness this could very well be a neurological disorder, at worst a brain tumor. I called Marc to tell him we were leaving and off we went. The neurologist was excellent and said he wanted us to see the Pulmonologist as he thought she may have narcolepsy and cataplexy, a sleep disorder triggered by a hyperactive autoimmune system.
We saw the pulmonologist and went through EEG’s, EKG’s, sleep studies and though he leaned towards narcolepsy and cataplexy, due to her severity, he wanted to make sure we weren’t dealing with a brain tumor. So, we scheduled that. Days past as we waited. Lots of time to reflect and process what was happening. I continued praying and pleading with God.
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chron. 20:12
When returning for the MRI, Lanie declined the advised medication to put her to sleep for the test. It would be a 30 minute scan of which they warned she would have to remain completely still. Y’all have to know I was in full crazy mom mode. When they took her in there, they began to strap her down so she was super still. She seemed fine with it until they put her head in this cage like apparatus. At that point, she was like, “Um, I may take that anesthesia now..”
Anyways, I looked at her and reassured her that I would talk to her the whole time. Though confirming to her that it would be fine, in my own heart was a deep fear that it might not be. They pushed her in and the loud thumping began. Instead of talking, I thought singing to her would be much better. Now, let me assure you… I cannot carry a note but I was singing every stinking song I could think of!! “Jesus Loves Me”; “Go tell it on the Mountain”, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” whatever…. When they completed the scan, they pulled her out, opened the head cage and they panicked because her eyes were closed (they thought she had a seizure). Lanie looked at me and said “Mama, I fell asleep.” I looked at her and inquired, “You mean you didn’t hear my singing?” “Not one bit, mommy.” In harmonious unison the 3 technicians said “Oh, but we did…every… last… word!”We all laughed and relieved some of the incredible tension.
“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive.” BC
After days of waiting, we received the news that she did not have a tumor and proceeded with treating her for Narcolepsy and Cataplexy. Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder where the cells that regulate our sleep/wake cycle are destroyed, therefore preventing the person from ever entering deep sleep again. Due to her severity, she could only stay asleep for 1-2 hours at a time. When she did fall asleep she would plummet into dream state instead of going through the normal sleep stages. Because of this radical drop, she experienced intense nightmares. Falling asleep became something she feared greatly even though she was super exhausted. Because she couldn’t get sleep at night, she had to take naps all through the day and stimulants to keep her awake in 3-4 hour increments before taking another rest. There is just so very little energy for them to draw from.
Cataplexy is a condition that accompanies many with narcolepsy. We all have cataplexy. This is what keeps us from acting out our dreams. It puts us in a brief state of paralysis while we are sleeping. For Lanie, her body thinks it is in cataplexy when she laughs or experiences excitement. So, when she would think about running and get excited she would collapse in paralysis. When she would laugh she would collapse (looks like a seizure but her brain is fully engaged. Her muscles are paralyzed briefly). It was painful to watch and difficult to explain to your six year old. We sought to find other families who had children with this condition and with her severity but couldn’t. It seemed as if we had been given an illness that was not only hard but had so little support.
As days would pass, I continued to beg God for answers.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
One particular day in the shower (which happens to be the only place moms of young ones may find a couple of minutes of solitude), I was crying out to God fully aware that our lives were being turned upside down. I wish I could report that my plea was one of great faith and optimism but it wasn’t! I was in a bad place and terribly discouraged. I had no hopeful thoughts rolling through my brain in this moment. Then, I sensed the Holy Spirit communicating through my thoughts that Lanie would indeed see a miracle. What? I know God’s Word tells us about miracles and seeing God’s glory. What? Was that my thought? No, it couldn’t be. I was in a sea of sadness. Where did that come from? It had to be from Him. What does He mean?
Then everything in the last few months seemed to move across my mind, almost like you hear of people having “flashbacks.” The summer before she got really sick, Lanie had begged for God to show her miracles. She wanted to behold the “parting of the waters” kind of miracles. I tried to explain to her how God absolutely performed miracles, but it sometimes looked differently. This did not satisfy her. Then, when Christmas rolled around, Lanie and I were at Lifeway looking at books. She was 6 and learning to read, but reading artistic fonts was not legible for her. As she scanned all the books in front of her little frame, she pointed to one…and said “That is it, Mama. That is the one I want to get for Daddy.” I pulled it off the shelf and marveled at the name. Lanie immediately inquired as to what the name was. “Miracles,” by CS Lewis. Fast forward back to my moment in the shower. The memories moved in to my moment and I literally jumped out, full of hope. Was God going to heal her? I called Marc elated.
Though the hope was invigorating, days would pass and her symptoms worsened. I struggled to gain my footing. Had I done something wrong? What grave sin had I committed that He would afflict my child? Oh, please forgive me, God. Tell me what I have done. The Lord heard my cry and used this opportunity to speak deep into my heart. Though I know I have plenty of sin, the Lord communicated to my heart that this particular event was not about my sin, but for His glory.
“Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” John 9:3
I knew and believed at that moment that her affliction was not related to my sin; however because of God’s goodness, He did reveal an iniquity that was damaging me greatly. He informed me that I had been living in idolatry. Idolatry doesn’t necessarily mean you are bowing to a statue. Idolatry is anything we exalt in our lives that is more important than God. It is the very thing that is keeping us from experiencing the fullness of Jesus. It prevents us from surrender. It is damaging and dangerous.
You see, I was great at proclaiming that I was living for Him but in actuality I was serving and sacrificing for myself and everyone else. My idol was the image I had in my mind. The image of the “perfect life.” The one that affirmed I had attained the world’s goals all while loving Jesus. Deception at its finest, but I sacrificed and labored to achieve the image of so beautifully cast in my imagination.
God was calling me to live completely for Him. That, from this day on, HE would be my life.
“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:3-4
His Words penetrated, convicted and freed… I knew He was right. I knew I wasn’t growing and I for sure knew that I didn’t feel the power that accompanies a Spirit filled life. Now, I knew why and that was freeing. His kindness truly does lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Indeed, my life of idolatry was crashing down and though I didn’t know it, He was going to rebuild me into a new being with a new dream and a new life.
PUPPET IS SET FREE
Around this same time Lanie was getting increasingly worse and Marc decides it is time for us to move. So we interview in different places and within 3 months have a for sale sign in our yard and were moving to Georgia.
We arrived to a new place with no family, no church and no friends. Things continued to worsen in every area….I will spare you all the details, but I’m sure I will share in the posts to come. But this is what I know…My gracious and very good God was stripping me of all my idols. He was taking His God sized scissors and cutting me free from the puppeteers. My dreams for my future appeared to crumble before my eyes. And yet, I kept praying…..
Marc and I were not strong as a couple at that time (as I mentioned before). We were arguing because we didn’t understand one another. We had a sick child, we were in an unfamiliar place with no support, and no other parents to talk to who had a child with this same condition. All the while, we had another child who was trying to process all the change. It was a hot mess!
One particular time, Marc looked at me in the midst of one of our arguments and said “I don’t know what to do for you anymore” and I replied, “Because that is it!!! You can’t do anything for me!!! Only Jesus can save me now!” And I meant it!!!!! Every! Last! Word! I felt the cutting of from the puppeteer’s control, but I also felt that I was falling! I was!! I was falling right into the Father’s Hands!!!
I returned to my familiar place of prayer on the floor pouring out my heart to God….. and He responded.
“Tanya, do you believe?”
You see that is the real question for us all….When our foundation is trembling and things are crumbling all around us, it forces us to face some hard questions. Trials are not about GOD seeing whether we have faith or not. He knows. They are to show “us” whether we have faith or not. Whether we are truly even saved and/or surrendered.
You see…He revealed to me that I had proclaimed as if He were alive for years but lived as if He were dead. And He was right.
“Do you believe?” Yes, that was a fair question and what that needed to be answered.
“I don’t know Lord. You are taking it all. I have no family, friends or church. My baby is sick and I don’t know what is going to happen? My baby boy is getting neglected because my girl is so sick and my husband is gone all the time. I don’t know if I believe.” Time ticked, silence.
I remained prostrate before Jesus and continued to pray. I ended with this. “Yes, Lord. Yes. I believe.”
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God.” John 11:40
Take it or leave it, depending on what you believe, but this is what I heard communicated through my thoughts from Him. “Then it is time for you to get off your face. GET UP! You have been praying to me in utter defeat and I AM A GOD OF VICTORY!!! RISE UP NOW.”
“The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” Joshua 7:10
You see the enemy had convinced me that what was happening was for my destruction and I believed him. I was praying, but praying in total defeat! God loves when His children pray but we sin when we pray in total unbelief. When it is nothing more than a ritual that we hope has some power. That is where I was and that was what God was addressing. The Lord had allowed this affliction in my baby’s life and it was to and for His glory, if I would believe.
“Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see My glory.” John 11:40
Continue reading part two here.