He is All that I Need

The Lord is my Shepherd. I will have everything I need. -Psalm 23:1

Last week, something odd happened. I awoke with this Bible verse turning over and over in my mind. This has never happened to me before, nor can I ever recall having God speak to me through my dreams. Maybe this is a first?

As I lay there dozing in and out, I remember rattling off these words again and again: The Lord is my shepherd. He is all that I need. For awhile now, I’ve felt like He has been telling me this and apparently, this particular morning, God was really trying to pound it into me.

What I find even more interesting is that I will often start drafts of posts, to later come back and write more. I had forgotten about this post until I came across it tonight trying to figure out what I wanted to blog about. In His most impeccable timing, I saw the title I had written and once again, knew it was His way of reminding me of this after a most trying weekend.

This past weekend was one of those-can-I-please-just-pull-the-covers-over-my-head-and-keep-dreaming-so-I-don’t-have-to-get-up kinda weekends. This, along with the last three years of our lives, made me question life itself. It can be difficult to not understand what God’s plans are and yet, keep running the race. Without going into every detail, we have had to move several times in the past three years due to toxic mold exposure and environmental sensitivities. We are in another temporary living situation and were supposed to move into a different cabin this weekend, however, after moving nearly all of our stuff, we were not able to stay there. The entire cabin had been freshly varnished recently and although it had been aired out, it smelled so strongly, our belongings even smelled like varnish. So, after moving everything, it all had to go back to the cabin we came from. It felt like such a waste of time, energy and hard work. I know that there are different seasons in each of our lives, and then the seasons change, but this season we have been in the past few years has been extremely challenging, to say the least. Yes, there have been many adventures that I am so very grateful for, but there has also been a lot of hard.

I can’t help but wonder, after losing nearly everything we owned to toxic mold almost three years ago, when we will have a more permanent home. It’s all just wordly “stuff”, I know, and we are not of this world. Maybe though, I’m still grieving our losses-our health, our home, our belongings, my social work career, and private school for our girls. That’s a lot to lose in one shot. And it doesn’t include the more recent loss of seeing family due to Covid and our big move to Alaska. It’s tough not to compare our life before toxic mold, to the hardships we have endured since, or to others lives, but I know He’s refining us. There are definitely lessons in all of this. We are learning to trust God more and choose faith over fear. And we are being taught to wait patiently.

Today, I’m weary, but I’m going to choose faith. I’m going to keep my eyes on Him and remind myself that my prize isn’t this side of heaven. He’s telling me that He’s all I need, and maybe until I really, truly comprehend that on a heart-level, He won’t give me any more.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:18

Fresh Juice on Squeezin’ Lyme

*Fresh Juice on Squeezin’ Lyme will consist of post updates I will write on occasion regarding what I’m learning while battling persistent Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, -Psalm 103:2-4

Having health is an incredible blessing. As someone who lives with persistent Lyme disease along with other chronic illnesses that go hand in hand, I have my good days and I have my really, really terrible ones. (In a previous blog post here I shared my backstory and my journey of motherhood battling persistent Lyme disease) My quality of life has improved in the past few months, due to some new treatments. It has been such a long time coming-twenty-seven years long, and recently I’ve had more good days than bad, which I am so very thankful for. I still have to pace myself throughout each day, but I’m able to do much more than I was. When I am feeling well, I need to remember though, not to take those precious present moments for granted, because they aren’t guaranteed.

The other day, was a stark reminder that I am still living with these insidious illnesses. Not only are Lyme disease and these other conditions complex, Lyme is especially stealthy and symptoms will hit when I least expect them. Feeling like I had the full-blown flu and bedridden the majority of the day, I could hardly stand to be in my own body. It’s days such as these, that I can’t forget how truly blessed I am when the fatigue has subsided and hasn’t sucked everything from me and my joints aren’t aching constantly, when I can smile and laugh because I am able to live somewhat, rather than just survive. These aren’t illnesses for the faint of heart. Fighting persistent Lyme disease, along with other chronic conditions requires the endurance of a warrior, but more importantly, it requires God’s strength. Lyme disease is tricky to treat and often needs a multi-faceted approach.

Trying to describe life with Lyme to others who haven’t gone through it themselves, is an extremely difficult task. Just touching the surface of this illness, it would best be described as “pure suffering and misery”. To say the very least, it can be unbearable. It’s a kind of bodily torture where thoughts arise as to whether continuing to exist with these symptoms is even possible. The fatigue and weakness is incomprehensible to those who haven’t experienced it. The I-don’t-know-if-I-can-even-crawl-out-of-bed-the-few-feet-to-the-bathroom-and-back-to-bed, kind of fatigue and weakness, could be mentioned, but is an understatement. There have been days in the past, where help was needed and it seemed like death was sitting on my doorstep waiting to devour me. And on more than one occasion, I have actually thought I was dying. Those were the times I couldn’t fathom how anyone could continue to endure that amount of agony day after day and still be alive. While there are many other symptoms, fatigue and weakness are two of the biggest I’ve fought on a daily basis for as long as I can remember, until more recently.

I thank God for the new treatment regimen that has made my life and those around me a little easier. And while I don’t ever want to experience the debilitating symptoms I’ve gone through for years with these chronic illnesses, the really awful days do help me to remember that the present moment is just that-a present from My Father. Health is easy to overlook and not think twice about, until it’s gone. It’s those days though, when my symptoms let up and I feel healthier that I can see just how rich I am. To have health, is to live, not just survive. And that is a huge gift.

So let’s remind ourselves to live wisely and cherish each moment we do have, thanking Him for the present, because we will never have those same moments again.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. -Ephesians 5:15-16

Illuminate Me, Lord

Here’s a not so pretty poem I wrote about chronic illness in July of this year. I was really struggling, y’all. Having persistent Lyme disease, I don’t always know what each day will bring. It’s the nature of this beast. Thankfully, the past few months have been significantly better than the day I wrote this. This last summer, I was hanging by a thread of hope.

Waves of hope ebb and flow
as thoughts of death come and go

Held hostage to weakness
Pushing to merely exist

Fatigue the enemy 
Sucking life from this body

Beaten-slammed to the ground
No energy to rebound

A system waging war
No fight left here anymore

Pain shoved so far deep down
No longer can I be found

This illness has battered
My life long gone and shattered

Broken pieces of me
Shards of who I used to be

Nothing left but a shell
from days lived in brutal hell

Black as dark as the night
Alone, in bed, out of sight

Too frail to stop these thoughts
Into the abyss I drop

Undertows drowning me
A hope-filled heart now empty

Illuminate me, Lord
Fill me with Truth from your Sword
Copyright © 2020 Aimee Phillippi

Life with Lyme

*I wrote this back in May of 2019 for Lyme Disease Awareness Month. This is a big piece of my story, so I thought I would share it again on my blog in hopes that it might help those living with similar struggles. I still have my good and bad days, like many surviving chronic illness, however, the past few months my health has been slowly improving.

Being chronically ill requires a strength that I can’t explain. Although our bodies may be weak, those fighting this battle are among some of the strongest souls I know because each day we are at war with our bodies. Pushing just to exist, let alone parent our children, we climb mountains everyday.

I’ve been climbing mountains for 27 years and this is my story. It’s a story of surrender and acceptance, survival and perseverance. It’s a story about living with persistent Lyme Disease.

Prior to my diagnosis a year and a half ago, I was working as a Social Worker with Child Protective Services. My plate was extremely full, I was under a ton of stress and drinking up to 12 shots of espresso per day to combat the neverending chronic fatigue. 

Profound fatigue was something I have struggled with since I was thirteen years old. Before having our two daughters, I dealt with numerous “crashes” over the years. My body would give out and I would be bedridden for 18-24 hours a day, up to three months at a time. Doctor after doctor left me with no answers though, so I would eventually peel myself out of bed again and push through the fatigue in order to live life the best I could. That’s when caffeine became my best friend. But caffeine only masked my symptoms. The underlying fatigue remained. And as my tolerance grew, I had to increase my intake. I knew I had to stop, but wasn’t sure how I would function.

It wasn’t until I got off of the copious amounts of caffeine I consumed each day, that I could see how truly dire my condition was. Continuing my search for answers, I fought harder, yet still there were no concrete answers. I left each doctors’ office with a little less hope than when I walked in. 

Two years ago, I saw a Naturopathic Doctor who took the time to dig into my medical history and test me for Lyme Disease. The standard test which is often inaccurate, came back negative. Showing little improvement, she looked over my tests again and referred me to a Lyme Literate Naturopathic Doctor who encouraged further testing.

It was at this point that I finally had an answer: persistent Lyme Disease. As I sat in her office, my ND asked me how I felt about the diagnosis. I had a lot of mixed feelings. Having known in my heart that there was something very wrong, I was so relieved to finally have an answer. After the relief, came anger-towards the 20+ doctors I saw who missed this. Then, fear set in when I began researching Lyme Disease, learning just how complex and difficult it is to treat, that medical insurance covers little to no treatment, and that the few doctors knowledgeable in Lyme Disease are usually not covered by medical insurance. 

It’s been a year and a half since my diagnosis and the fear still comes in waves, intensifying on my worst days, days when I am so weak that I can hardly move my limbs or even my mouth to speak, when just brushing my teeth or taking a shower feels like I’m climbing Mt. Everest, when my joints are aching like I have the flu, and I feel like my brain is out to lunch because the thoughts I had the second before, have completely vanished, when existing feels like it’s stealing more energy than my body can produce.  

One of the hardest parts of this journey is the treatment. As treatment works to kill the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, there is a die-off reaction in the body, called a “Herxheimer Reaction” or  a “Herx”. A “Herx” can make a person much sicker, before there is improvement. “Herxes” happen often for me during treatment and intensify my already debilitating fatigue and weakness.

But, it’s not just the physical symptoms and fear that take its toll. It’s other emotions too. There is the grieving of dreams I once had for myself and my family. There is the depression that settles upon me when I’m at my sickest, wondering if the unbearable fatigue and weakness will ever end. There is the guilt I carry from not being able to meet my own or my husband’s expectations for our family. 

Yet, despite the roller coaster of physical symptoms and emotions, I have learned to manage as a mother and wife. Some of the tools that I use on a daily basis are:

  1. Surrendering and leaning into God, first and foremost, by reading His word, Bible journaling and memorizing scripture. I’m not strong enough on my own to survive this illness. I need Him every moment of every day. 
  2. Pacing and prioritizing-Because the fatigue is often so severe, I must constantly pace myself, prioritizing and choosing between daily tasks that most people take for granted. On my worst days. I may have to decide between a shower or making my kiddos lunch. Of course, my shower is what waits because my kids always come first.  
  3. Patience-One of my toughest lessons has been patience with myself and with my family. When my symptoms flare, it’s easy to become grumpy with the ones I love most. I am still learning to have patience with my husband when he’s struggling because the weight of my illness and extra household tasks are wearing on him, patience because he will never be able to fully comprehend the relentless fatigue, patience with my kids because they’re being kids and patience with myself and the recovery process, because despite doing all I can to heal, I still feel awful much of the time.
  4. Gratitude-I count my blessings each day in order to stay positive. 
  5. Acceptance-This is ongoing. I’m learning to accept where I am and that what I’m doing is enough-even though it’s nowhere near what I want for myself and my family. 
  6. Setting alarms multiple times per day. I do this because my short-term memory has been affected and I forget things often. 
  7. Acting-I sometimes feel like my own puppeteer, forcing my arms and legs to move when by body is telling them not to, or laughing and smiling, when inside I feel like I’m dying. I “act as if” because my will to live is stronger than my will to die. I “act” and push because I want my family to have some sort of normalcy. I don’t want to be sick and I don’t want to wallow in my illness and pain-I want to live, not just survive, so I “act as if”, hoping that one day I won’t feel the way I feel. I “act” because being vulnerable and letting people see the real pain and struggle is sometimes just too much. I “act as if” because accepting that this is my life and my life for my family is really, really hard. And I “act” because on the outside I look fine, even though on the inside, I feel so far from it and people just don’t understand this. 

So if you know someone with an invisible illness, be that person who takes the time to really listen. Show kindness and compassion always. We are fighting battles you may not be aware of and you likely may never fully comprehend. Try to see the mountain we are climbing every day. 

A Missing Piece

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

I never could have imagined how my life would turn out. Does anyone ever, really though? When we got married, my husband and I held onto this picturesque vision of raising a family in a rustic farmhouse on 10 acres. Thoughts of my husband penning his book in our study, peering out the upstairs window while our sweet girls ran barefoot freely, and I hung the laundry outside on our homestead, swirled in my mind often. It was THE dream for our family. Just as easily as a dream is formed though, it can be shattered. Life is like that. Loved ones die, sickness is battled, houses are burned down, mistakes are made and jobs are lost. And although we can’t rely on our dreams, we can rely on the One who is our refuge and strength-the One who is always there for us-the One who allows us to soar like eagles-the One who is rock solid and immovable.

Yet, life is not rock solid. It’s fluid and it’s forever changing. We hope and plan and dream, but our real hope lies in Jesus, because at some point, life may sideswipe us and what we thought we wanted, may never have really been the important stuff at all-the stuff He wanted us to have or who He wanted us to be. See, in the end, His purpose will always prevail and we can either ride the waves and anchor ourselves to Him or we can swim against the current and nearly drown. The beauty of it is that the choice is ours. He’s left that part up to us and when we choose Him, that’s where the real joy is.

I made my choice. I chose Jesus-even in the hard stuff, even when I sat in the doctor’s office four years ago and heard the words “you have two weeks to get out”. As difficult as that moment was, He was my anchor. And He got us through it all as we weathered the storm. With just fourteen days to leave everything behind and find a new place to live, this storm raged on. Our current home was infested with toxic mold and our family was bleeding internally. Not only were we bleeding internally though, a whole host of other symptoms gripped us. I would have moments that would come and go, where I felt as though my body was paralyzed and I couldn’t move my mouth to even talk. The mold had wreaked havoc on our guts too, and had caused everyone in our household to suddenly become sensitive to numerous foods. Mold infiltrated our lives. The mold spores, made up of toxic mycotoxins, were in every nook and cranny, on every surface, in every fiber of our belongings. 

Nearly all of our “stuff” was destroyed. When we temporarily left, before fully walking away, we attempted to go back inside our home to get a few sentimental items, such as my engagement ring, but this proved to be a terrible idea. None of us could go back in without immediately experiencing symptoms. And if we wanted a real shot at healing, the “stuff” had to stay. The blessing was in there though. 

See, His hand was in all of this, even in the shocking news we got. Because, aside from our lives being turned upside down, the blessing was an answer to prayer. After searching for years for answers into my chronic illness, we finally had a huge missing piece of the puzzle: toxic mold. And His timing was impeccable, as usual. Had I known earlier, I don’t know that I would have been prepared to handle what was to follow, for the crazy journey that we were about to embark on, was unfathomable to me. It is a ride I wouldn’t have been prepared for prior. This journey was not what I would have chosen for my life or my family, but it’s the journey we are on. And only He knows why and for what purpose.

He knows. That is the key. Toxic mold cost me my home, my career, my dreams, the “stuff” I had accumulated over the years, and the life I once knew and thought I loved. It also challenged every idea I had about how I was “supposed to” raise our family. Yet through it all, He was moving the pieces into just the right places, pruning me along the way and teaching me that I can trust Him in the darkest of times. Before mold, I thought I knew what I wanted and how to run my life, however, I didn’t. He taught me what was truly important-that “stuff” is just that and that our real treasure is in Heaven. He taught me to slow down and got me out of the rat race I was living, and He taught me to raise our children the way He wants us to raise them.

It’s easy to think we know best, to think we know what we want in life, but in all honesty, do we? He knows though, and we can trust that. We can trust that if our dreams are taken out to sea, that He’ll plant new ones in our hearts-dreams far better than what we can imagine, dreams that will bring true joy because they were what were meant for us all along. Anchor yourself to Him and watch Him work.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:8