Celiac Disease: One Year Later

This week marked a rather dubious anniversary- it has been a year since my diagnosis of Celiac disease. What is Celiac disease? I had the same question when my gastroenterologist asked me if I had ever been tested for it. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a binding protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. My diagnosis was confirmed through blood work and an endoscopy.

People who are allergic to gluten can suffer from a host of health problems- anemia, inflammation, intestinal issues, fatigue, vitamin, mineral, and calcium deficiencies, among others. Celiac disease can also interact with and complicate other autoimmune disorders, which can make diagnosis tricky. For a more in-depth study of Celiac disease, I recommend the book Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic by Peter H.R. Green and Rory Jones.

My diagnosis was an immediate lifestyle changer. After thirty-nine years of eating what I wanted to, I was forced to give up a lot of the food I enjoyed. Eating out became challenging because I could not order any type of pizza, pasta, pancakes, breaded food, soups, deep fried food, no pies with crust or cakes. Celiac disease forces you to read food labels even closer than before. When you read food labels look for such words as “wheat flour,” “barley,” “rye,” “glutamate,” and the phrase “may contain traces of wheat.” Although you may think a certain food is clear of gluten, it may have been made in a facility where gluten products are made. To be on the safe side, look for “certified gluten free” on the label.

Celiac disease not  only affects you, it affects those around you. When my wife and I are trying to decide where to go for dinner (one of the longest discussions a couple can have), she has to ask “What can you eat there?” When work orders pizza for everyone, you may have to explain why you’re not eating pizza. (You ever notice how people look at you if you aren’t eating pizza?). At certain family meals, the gluten-free food is in a separate dish, which is made known to me and those in attendance.  One of the unexpected upsides is that family members specially bake gluten-free desserts for me, even when it’s not my birthday!

My diagnosis is not all gloom and doom. I still enjoy meats, fruit, vegetables, some cereals, coffee, and dairy products. I have learned to cook with gluten-free flour, which means pancakes and waffles. I can enjoy pizza, it just has to be a gluten free crust. Though I may long for a gluten-filled meal, I just think of the consequences and how I will feel later (tried that already). I just have to think back to my struggle with anemia and it deters me from eating gluten. (For more information on my struggle with anemia, I invite you to read my post, “How Blood Loss Lead to New Life.”) https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/how-blood-loss-led-to-new-life/

As I reflect on this past year and learning to live with Celiac disease, I do not mourn over the foods I cannot eat, but rejoice at the foods I can eat. I am thankful to be making good progress in my health and I have educated myself much more. In fact, I would consider Celiac disease to be a mixed blessing of sorts because most of the foods I cannot eat were not good for me in the first place. Though this diagnosis changed my life, it will not stop me from living a full life. In my personal journal on this topic, I came across this quote from my favorite philosopher, Epictetus:

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control. Sickness may challenge your body. But are you merely your body? Lameness may impede your legs. But you are not merely your legs.? Your will is bigger than your legs. Your will needn’t be affected by an incident unless you let it. Remember this with everything that happens to you.”1

God bless you all.

1Epictetus The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue Happiness, and Effectiveness, Translated by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 16.

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The Pursuit of Progress

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes is credited with the statement, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” While Archimedes’ statement applies to the world of math, getting from point A to point B in life is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

One step forward, two steps back. Previous generations pave the way only for the next generation to fight their own battles. The rules change, but no one communicates that to you; well-deserved and earned freedoms and rights can be hindered on the whims of those in power. That is why you must keep going. Wake up every day and put on your battle armor because you will be in for a fight.

In our pursuit of personal progress, whatever that may be, we must manage our perceptions and our perspectives. “There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Bible tells us. Life is cyclical. The trials and tribulations we face have been faced by previous generations. When problems arise, remember that flowing through your veins is the blood and DNA of survivors. Your ancestors lived through threats to their survival, poverty, heartache, disaster, war, famine, and disease- they passed those survival genes onto you.

Though you may not be at the finish line, have you started running? What steps are you taking to make progress? Are you passively waiting for the right circumstances? Are you swimming against the tide of the conventional wisdom of the naysayers? As children, we do not allow dozens of falls deter us from learning how to walk, we go forward despite circumstances. So why as able-bodied and able-minded adults do we shirk back in defeat when we stumble?

If you are progressing closer to your goal, no matter how small, keep going. You must build energy and momentum to overtake your current circumstances and to prepare you for the next circumstances. There will be struggle, rejection, struggle, pain, it will seem as if the universe has conspired against you, but keep moving. If you have to conquer your mountain inch by inch, continue to do so. God bless you all.

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My Vessel, My Life

By Michael W. Raley

I lie adrift in the Ocean of Perpetual Darkness.

Overcast clouds cover the moon.

The North Star has long since burned out.

This compass no longer gives me direction.

The waves bounce me back and forth,

As I try to hold it all down.

All I see is water,

No rescue ships,

No land,

No horizon.

This cannot and will not be my life’s voyage!

I then decide to stage a mutiny

Against the oppression, the passivity, and circumstance.

I am now the Captain.

This is my vessel,

This is my life.

I will set the course.

I will follow my map.

Load the cannons

Because I’m bringing the fight!

Unfocused

By Michael W. Raley

I try to focus on the task at hand,

Yet it feels like trying to count grains of sand.

If I could think solely on the present moment,

I know that I would own it.

I fail once again to gain traction

As I have become weighed down by obligations and distractions.

This, that, and the other-

Time and energy are limited, I must choose one at the expense of another.

Hurry up and wait, they say,

As the clock continues to move forward on this day.

 

 

Embrace Today’s Second Chance

By Michael W. Raley

O how the body aches,

O how the heart breaks,

When you realize

That the dream has died.

All of the work, love, faith, and hope you planted as seeds

Has become a harvest of drought and weeds.

We shrug it off as not meant to be or not part of a plan,

Neither of which bring us comfort nor understanding.

Time will go on and somehow so will we,

Keeping our distance and remaining skeptical and leery.

The sacrifice and pain came at such a high cost

That it will take time to get over this loss.

However, some wounds will never heal

As we may become bitter about our raw deal.

Some things we will never get over, with the burden on our shoulders.

We perceive ourselves to be destined like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder,

Only to have it roll down the hill again.

Or consider Job, who sought an audience with God and an explanation,

Only to be pelted with unanswerable question after unanswerable question.

Yes, Job’s family and fortunes were restored,

But why did he have to go through all of that before?

We must hold on to the loved ones and days which remain,

In spite of the sorrow and pain.

We must embrace today’s second chance,

For as Aurelius said, we are meant to wrestle with this life and not dance.

Of Snakes and Spiritual Growth

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark  

Few creatures on earth can induce such a terror-stricken state of panic as snakes. No matter the size or species of the snake, people can be absolutely terrified of them. I have no particular fear of snakes, but I can understand people who have a fear of snakes, as many, many species are venomous and can kill with a single bite, while others constrict the breath out of their prey.  That sounds like something out of a nightmare.

Snakes have been portrayed in a negative light since time immortal. The Bible describes how the serpent mislead Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Book of Revelation, John refers to Satan as “that old serpent” (Revelation 12:9 and 20:2).  God sent snakes to bite and kill rebellious Israelites. After the surviving Israelites repented, God instructed Moses to make a serpent statue for people to look up at and be healed (Numbers 21).

In Greek mythology, Medusa had a head full of snakes and anyone who looked at her turned to stone. Snakes have also been portrayed as hypnotizing and deceitful, such as Kaa in The Jungle Book.  Snakes have also been portrayed as wise, which gives background to Jesus’ statement of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

Unlike humans and other animals, snakes grow throughout their entire lives. So, it is conceivable in the right environment, a snake can grow to be in excess of twenty-to-thirty feet long. However, a snake’s skin does not grow along with its body and it becomes necessary for the snake to shed its skin (which also helps it remove parasites from its skin). If a snake does not shed its skin properly, it could die.

I know this seems like a rather odd topic, but there is a spiritual principle involved. As snakes are always growing, so should we always be growing in our spiritual lives. As we go about our lives and our relationship with God, we too develop some parasites on ourselves- sin, bad habits, false doctrine, a religious spirit, bitterness, unresolved anger, the traumatic experiences we cannot shake off- whatever it is.  Anything that is not helping us grow is hindering our development and possibly suffocating the life out of us.

From time to time, we have to shed some of our “skin” in order to grow into God has called us to be- bad relationships, forgiving others, asking for forgiveness, etc.   We may have been comfortable in our old skin, i.e. our old life, but we cannot stay there. That clothes no longer fit. Could you imagine a thirty-year-old person trying to fit into pants they wore when they were three? You are not the same person you were yesterday, last year, or twenty years ago- you have come along way and you have a long way to go. Keep growing and God bless you.

Negative Visualization and Faith

What’s the worst that can happen?” If you ever asked this question, you have been greeted more than likely with being shushed, glares, or heard, “Don’t say that.”

As humans, we do not like to contemplate the worst-case scenario. In fact, we develop a kind of superstition about such questions as “What’s the worst that could happen?” because we have tendency to think that asking such a question is going to invite some heartache or tragedy into our lives.

Although we do not like to mention it, we do take precautions against the worst-case scenario. If we are worried someone would break into our home, we lock our doors and windows, we install a security system, or we may purchase a weapon to protect ourselves in the event of a home invasion. We also purchase homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in the event our home is burglarized or damaged by a fire or disaster. We have health insurance in the event we get sick. We have car insurance in the event our car is wrecked or stolen. We buy life insurance to make sure our family is taken care of in the event of our death.

It is only right and commendable that we take precautions to protect our families and everything we have worked for in our lives. However, what if we were able to contemplate the worst case scenario without living a life crippled by fear and anxiety?

The Stoics practiced what is called negative visualization.

Negative visualization does not mean that we live as a “Gloomy Gus” or “Debbie Downer,” finding the negative in everything, but it teaches us to have peace of mind in the midst of challenging circumstances. Thus, negative visualization can mentally prepare us and lessen the impact of the worst case scenario. This in turn will increase the joy in our lives as we embrace our loved ones and this present moment even more.

According to William B. Irvine, “Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. This in turn means that by practicing negative visualization, we can not only increase our chances of experiencing joy but increase the chance that the joy we experience will be durable, that it will survive changes in our circumstances.”[1]

Someone right now may be raising the objection, “Aren’t we as Christians supposed to have faith that God will protect us?” Yes, we are supposed to have faith, but our faith does not prevent us from experiencing hardships in this life.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b, NIV).

“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Thus, by practicing negative visualization, we can still have faith and joy in the midst of circumstances.

Going back to the example of protecting our homes. Let us imagine someone breaks-in to your house and steals your new TV. Naturally, we would be upset about our TV being stolen, but we can take stock of what’s around us. If we were to step back, we could be thankful that we were not physically harmed, our family is safe, our pets are safe, the house is still standing, and the insurance will replace the TV. We have reason to praise God although our TV was stolen.

We can examine terrible situations and still find a reason to rejoice. I have discussed in several posts about my battles with anemia and celiac disease. I was very ill and could have had a fatal heart attack due to the strain the anemia placed on my body. While going through the anemia was difficult, the doctors found out that I have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Patients with celiac disease also experience anemia. I had to make sudden dietary changes, but it worked out for the best because I am no longer anemic. I have my energy back and was blessed with a second chance at life.

I came close to death, but I did not die. I know that one day I will die, but I do not let that stop me from living life. In fact, going through this trial with my health has given the opportunity to be more mindful of the life that is all around me. My faith has been deepened through my experiences because I know that God has allowed me to endure and to overcome these obstacles. If I were to contemplate what would come next, I know I would be able to handle that as well. Maybe you have already experienced a worst-case scenario- whatever that is. You are still standing. You are still here. You have lived through that experience, even though it may be the lowest point of your life. You have the training and strength to get through the next trial. We must not take anyone or anything for granted. Let us be grateful for the present moment. God bless you all.

[1] William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009:83.