Jungle Life and Leaky Gut

I get nostalgic thinking about the light of kerosene lanterns, rain pinging off a tin roof, and sitting inside a thatched hut watching the smoke from a coal-fire curl upward and blacken the underside of the thatch.

My beautiful picture
Rain in my village in Papua New Guinea

These were a normal part of life growing up in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  Rainy days now remind me of watching the torrential downpours of monsoon season, with the banana and coconut tree leaves whipping wildly in the wind. And I love when the cicadas come out in force, because their shrill screeching makes me feel like I’m back in the jungle at dusk. Growing up running barefoot down jungle trails, climbing trees, eating grubs just to prove I was as brave as my brothers, and standing at the oceanside listening to the quiet lapping of the waves on the beach… all of these things shaped who I am today. And I am so extremely thankful for the beautiful memories I have of that place filled with beauty and adventure.

If you ask my parents, who served over 20 years in that jungle as Bible Translator missionaries, their picture may be a little more realistic and a little less idealistic. Life is hard in the jungle. And while a kid may love kerosene lanterns and catching fireflies at night, those same lanterns pose a problem when you have no access to get kerosene for another month, and a plague of those firefly bugs invade the house each night. All the same, my parents taught me to embrace the adventure, acknowledge the pain we encounter, and look to a loving God who is in control of everything. The foundation of faith that my parents gave me has shaped who I am, and I cannot thank them enough for not only teaching me, but also living out their faith and giving me an example to look to.

My beautiful picture
My family in my village, when I was a kid

Sometimes I wish I could stop time, and leave my story there… catching fireflies under palm trees, without a care in the world. But God, in His wisdom, has carried me farther down this road that He has planned for me. In her wonderful book “Tramp for the Lord” Corrie TenBaum wrote: “God has plans, not problems, for our lives.” And while I look back down this road and see all the ups and downs, it’s easy for me to focus on the problems I’ve encountered. But I also see the ways that I have changed and my faith has been deepened in unexpected ways. And that fire-tested faith is something that God says is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:6-7)  So I am thankful that my story does not stop when I left the jungle to return to America.

That transition to America at the start of college was extremely difficult. But that’s a story for another time. The pain of leaving “home” in the jungle was tempered a few years later by meeting the most amazing man in the world, and then marrying him 5 years after that.

wedding photo

Fast forward 3 years into being married, and through a variety of circumstances, I found myself suddenly dealing with severe undiagnosed autoimmune issues. 6 specialists later, I was tired of always being referred onto another doctor, with no one who could give me answers.

I finally found a doctor who specialized in treating hard-to-treat allergy issues, and for the first time I felt understood and had hope for healing. I also got a name for this disease that had taken over my world. (Currently, I’m not so sure what I have anymore, but I still think it is something akin to Leaky Gut. My self-diagnosis varies every few months, depending on which avenue of research I’m digging into.)

Unfortunately, the standard treatments by this doctor only made me worse, and around the same time I also found myself having reactions to foods that I previously was not allergic to. That season was difficult, mostly due to my lack of hope that I would ever improve. And because I already was eating such a limited diet, the thought of removing more foods from my diet seemed unbearable. As it was, I was working less hours at my physical therapy job, simply trying to deal with the fatigue, pain, food restrictions, and random new symptoms that continued to show up.

And then one evening, as my husband and I were visiting a church we had previously attended, the pastor and his wife offered to pray for me. Without knowing the full scenario (other than “I have severe food allergies… wait a moment while I break down crying…”) my pastor prayed a very Spirit-led prayer, part of which included that I would be able to eat more and more food instead of less and less food. (I was standing there wondering if he could read my mind!)

That was a turning point for me. And yes, I had dozens of people pray for me in the 2 and a half years before then. But despite waking up the following morning feeling terrible, over the course of the next 6 months my symptom improved instead of getting worse. My doctor found a treatment that helped, and I started incorporating fruit and whole grains back into my diet, ever so slowly.

blackberries smaller

It wasn’t easy, because past experience had shown me that eating more variety of foods made my symptoms worse. But I also knew that my severely restricted diet was only making me worse too. And by God’s grace, my stomach started accepting food that it previously rejected, and I found hope again for being able to have my life revolve around more than worrying over salad dressings and barbecue sauce.

As I found myself improving in health, the hope of being able to have children also gained in strength. It felt like a huge gift, knowing everything I had been through, to become pregnant 3 years after my food allergy journey started. But it was also devastating and completely unexpected when I lost that baby to miscarriage a month later. I’ll write more about my miscarriages in other blog posts, but for here I’ll say that while dealing with my food allergies grew my faith deeper in God in ways that were obvious to me, I have found that my miscarriages shook me to the core of who I am and what I believe about God. I used to think that this shaking is a bad thing. Especially because I no longer feel as emotionally close to God as I once did.

I have found that my miscarriages shook me to the core of who I am and what I believe about God.

But now I see that this shaking is also part of the growing and purifying process of faith, and I can also see that my faith is is now rooted in more than my emotions and not in how close I feel to God. I don’t like this shaking, and I look forward to when I can feel like I am standing on more stable ground. But even though right now it feels as if I am walking on a tightrope of faith, wobbling along with much uncertainty, battling daily to see God and His Goodness in the pain surrounding me, I know that one day I’ll understand it all. And then I’ll see how close and lovingly my Father has been carrying me, even as I pound my fists against Him in my hurt.

That is one of the things I love about God- His unending Love and Grace toward us, especially in the midst of our brokenness and failure.

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