Have you ever wrestled with God? I mean really fought Him, knock-down, drag-out style? I’ve been doing this for about a year now. It began in January of 2013, when Joel went in for a routine physical and we discovered he was in stage 4 liver failure. His levels were so severe, we were immediately sent for CT scans & referrals to specialists. This was our ‘Damascus moment’, we just didn’t know it yet.
Our doctor ran so many tests to find the “why”, but nothing came back conclusive – only more abnormal levels. The day Joel went in for his CT scan, I waited in the car and cried out to God. I braced myself for what was to come. I imagined telling our kids the doctor had found cancer and then having to endure rounds & rounds of chemo and surgeries. I imagined life as a widow with 3 children. Joel had already lost one of his best friends to cancer, so we knew the impact days like these can have on families. I told God whatever the outcome of the CT, He had my attention. I was ALL IN. We’d follow Him through whatever path he led us on. I was desperate for healing but also told God that Joel was His. God could use our story for His glory. I’d support Joel, unconditionally, and savor any time we had together.
I’ll never forget the ‘come to Jesus’ talk we had in our doctor’s office hallway after the CT scan. The test had showed his organs were ‘unremarkable’ (I guess that’s good?) but they were still searching for the cause of the elevated numbers. Our doc said, “We can throw a bunch of pills at this, or you can go on a plant-based diet. And, I am NOT just throwing pills at this.” Well, there you have it. As we walked to the parking lot, I told God, “I’m still ALL IN”. We went home, cleaned out our pantry and fridge and combed the Internet for resources. We had no idea what we were doing but we were desperate for his healing and had everything to lose. Some people commented with: “poor Joel, no meat, how terrible”, but we were elated! No cancer, no chemo? Choosing better foods to eat was a vacation compared to all that!
In those first few days, Satan really attacked my faith! He planted seeds of doubt that really made me question IF we could actually do “this”. I had bold arguments with God. He was patient and kind and reminded me of the work He was doing in us. One specific journal entry I noted, nearly a year later, was this one:
I told God, “It’s expensive”. He replied, “So is cancer”.
I told God, “It’s not convenient”. He replied, “Neither is following me”.
I argued with God, “I don’t know how to cook (this way)”. He smiled and said, “You’ll learn”.
I cried out to Him, “What if our family doesn’t support us?!??” He shook His head and answered, “Be an example to them”.
In tears, I pleaded, “What if our friends don’t understand?”
He quietly replied, “I’m healing your friendships.”
Exhausted from arguing, I threw my last protest at Him. “What if our kids don’t like eating this way?!?!” He gently whispered in my ear, “I’m healing them, too.”
Ugh! My focus had been on me and my comforts, not the transformational work God was trying to do IN our lives. And so, with each passing day, we had more peace. We only shared our journey with a handful of people. Those who showed concern, focused primarily on what we were giving up.
Three and a half weeks in, we went in for a lab check. His levels were significantly improving and among them, his cholesterol dropped from 240 to 160 – with no meds. It was like a big ol’ high five from God!! So we pressed on, and didn’t share what was going on with too many more people. Joel went in for another CT scan and it showed no malignancies, though his liver and kidneys were still in distress. We pressed on. Each month, another lab draw, a little more progress.
The amazing thing in all of this was the amount of weight loss! Joel was not permitted to exercise because it could mess up his levels more. All he could do was eat right. He lost 30 lbs and looked and felt incredible. Our whole family felt better. We had already discovered our severe gluten allergies 2 years prior (and had completely eliminated it), but this was taking our health to a whole new level!! People began commenting and asking what we were doing. We still only shared some of our story and then spent the summer months traveling in our motorhome. It was a precious time for our family. We made incredible memories and had laser focus on our new lifestyle. I also found security in this separation from family and friends because trying to eat this way was no small task and explaining, justifying it, and looking for resources to guide us was also challenging! Joel was doing really well and we grew even closer as a couple.
In October, we settled back in to our routine at home and never veered from our new normal. Then, December rolled around and it was time for another lab check. That’s when we hit another road block. Joel’s level were back up again! We were SO discouraged! We had worked really hard! I will never forget the Christmas Eve Eve meal at our house. We were gathered around our dining table and Joel’s dad, grandpa, and the rest of us prayed over Joel. They anointed him with oil and we prayed specifically for wisdom. It was a a beautiful time for our children to see the power of generational prayer. I specifically prayed for God to continually use this platform for His glory.
Our doc was just as baffled and continued to research other possibilities. To our relief, there was a possible explanation and we adjusted our treatment plan, accordingly. We suspected the frequent blood draws were actually lowering his iron levels and since we had traveled all summer, he wasn’t getting regular labs done. We collectively decided to treat his symptoms as hemochromatosis and Joel would ‘donate’ a pint of blood every 57 days.
While all of this was happening, I reminded God we were introverts and didn’t need to broadcast this journey to the world. Food is such a touchy subject already, so if people asked us, we would share. So God opened the flood gates! We got calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages from friends and complete strangers. It came up in regular conversations, even when I tried not to discuss it. I felt so unqualified to even give advise, but people begged us to start a blog, write a book, or something! They were desperate for their own healing and needed resources, too.
God reminded me that he was healing Joel with food and we needed to share this journey with others. The other thing all of this revealed was my own sickness! I’d been sick my whole life. My childhood was spent dealing with chronic abdominal pain, my college years led to trips to the ER, and I had accepted this as my normal. Things improved slightly after discovering my severe gluten allergy, but when I went plant-based to support Joel, my health was also transformed! I can look back now on the life I lived before and finally see just how sick I was! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that celiac disease and hereditary hemochromatosis symptoms are both significantly diminished with a change in diet. I also marvel that God would see fit to bless both of us with stories of healing. What started out as a “cute little blog about recipes”, will now be a full-blown website of resources, stories of healing, and community.
I would NEVER have picked health as our platform! I would never have thought my husband; the quiet, serving “behind-the-scenes” guy, lover of technology, would be so passionate about something else. That’s the power of God. He takes introverts, like Moses, and gives them a help-mate to cheer them on and help them live out their calling. He transforms our lives and then we (hopefully) tell lots and lots of people about it. Joel and I can’t wait to share more of the work God is doing IN us and hear how He’s changing your life, too!!