Tuesday, December 19, 2023

We Moved to Tennessee!

This has been quite a year for our family! In the spring Will accepted a position as an Assistant Attorney General in the state of Tennessee. We moved to the Nashville area in July, and this fall we have been settling into our new life here. 

Will really likes his new job in the Tennessee Attorney General's office. Adelaide and Stafford are enjoying their new school, and both are thriving. Adelaide is in 8th grade now, and Stafford is in Kindergarten, Gresham is my little buddy at home every day, and we spend our days playing and eating and napping.

The biggest change for us is that William stayed behind in Minnesota. We didn't want to make him move to a new state and a new school right before his senior year, so we gave him the choice to either move with us or stay in Minnesota. He chose to stay and finish up his senior year of high school with the friends he has had since Kindergarten. We didn't expect to launch our oldest so soon, but it has proven to be the best thing for him in this situation. William is thriving and doing well.

Life is very different for us this year. Will's work routine is different. The school routine is different for our children. William doesn't live with us anymore. Gresham and I have very different days at home here than we did at home in Minnesota. We are looking for local friends, and we are getting to know a new church. Our rhythms and routines have been upended, and it has been an adjustment. So much has changed.

But in the midst of the many changes, God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The Advent season began on December 3, and along with that came our family Advent routine and celebration. On Sunday evenings we sit down in the living room with the Christmas tree and Christmas candles lit. We then light the appropriate number of candles on the Advent wreath. We read Scripture and pray. We eat German Christmas cookies. This is one of the few rhythms in our life that has not changed this year. Celebrating Advent is one of my favorite things each December, and this year it has been an especially welcome celebration. Not only is it a familiar routine, but it is a reminder to me of the faithfulness of God.

Long ago God promised to send a Savior, and He kept His promise. Jesus came into our world that is filled with sin and suffering. He suffered and died for us, taking the punishment that we deserve. He conquered death and rose again, and He promised that He would one day return. God keeps every promise He makes, and He will keep His promise to return. When everything around us changes, God remains faithful and unchanging. 

In the midst of our very different rhythms and routines in Tennessee, the God we love and serve remains the same. He is still faithful and true, just as He always has been, and just as He always will be. I am thankful to serve an unchanging God, and I am excited to see what He has in store for our family in Tennessee!

Monday, July 3, 2023

A Conversation with Sara Willoughby

Today I have my friend, Sara Willoughby, joining me on the blog. Sara is a blogger, author, and conference host. We first met through the online Diamonds Conference that she hosts annually. She is a gem, and it has been such a delight to get to know her over the past few years.
I am excited to share Sara with all of you today. After you read here, you are invited to click over to Sara's blog where you will find me chatting with her!

Hello Sara! Welcome to Cranberry Tea Time! I’m so glad to have you here with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself and your chronic illness journey. And please tell us about your book too!

Hi Rachel! I’m so glad to be here. I’ve been stalking Cranberry Tea Time for years now, and it is such a valuable resource for chronic illness warriors.

For those reading — I love dark chocolate, superhero movies, and adventures! I also am recovering from Lyme disease, MCS, and Toxic Mold Poisoning. I first got sick as a teenager, and it has been a long journey for my family and I. We lost friends, material possesions, and I lost my childhood. At fifteen, I was given a month to live, and it completely changed my way of life.

As I was struggling to reconcile my faith with my suffering, I started to look for resources online. I hadn’t found Cranberry Tea Time (or all the other similar resources) yet, and so I started writing my own blog about my experiences. Eventually, people started reading it and told me, “This is crazy, but I have the same battle!”

And from there, my first book was born. It’s called He’s Making Diamonds, and it’s about faith in God in chronic illness. I wrote it out of my questions — and how God met me in the middle of them.

Sara in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Where are you living now and what are you doing these days?

I’m continuing to write — I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t! I have several books in the works for future publication, and of course, as you mentioned the Diamonds Conference takes a lot of my time and focus.

However, one of my long-time dreams has been to serve as a cross-cultural worker. That was a dream that had to die when chronic illness became part of my life. But recenly, God has made it possible for that dream to be resurrected and redeemed, and I just moved to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

What are you learning right now in your walk with the Lord?

Lately, the question that’s been reverberating in my mind is, “What if God loved us as much as He says He does?” Because, friend, if we truly believed that and lived like it, that would change everything.
Reading the Bible, I’ve been noticing anew how His love is mentioned so constantly and described and demonstrated so gigantically beyond my comprehension. And all my life, I’ve just skimmed over it. “Yeah, he loves the little children, now how can I please Him?”

What if every time God’s love is mentioned in the Bible and described as “steadfast” “enduring forever” “abounding” and “perfect” was taken seriously. What if it is really that uncomprehendably wonderful?

If God loves you and me as much as He says He does, it changes everything. It means that we can stop trying to hard. It means that shame, fear, and condemnation have absolutely no power in our lives.

It turns every good deed into an act of worship rather than trying to meet some standard.

I know you’ve heard this a million times before. I grew up in the church, I’d heard it a million times too. But lately, God has been making this real to me in a way that I never understood before. He crazy loves you. He crazy loves me.

It’s turning my life and my heart upside down.

Sara when she was sick as a teenager

What are some Bible verses, books, songs, or other resources that have been especially encouraging and helpful to you in your life with chronic illness?

After I got sick, my favorite Bible verse became 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Sickness and suffering made me weak, but through that, I’ve gotten to see God glorified and experience His power more and more.

Some other resources . . . goodness, there are so many! I’ll share a few.

Books: Suffering Is Never For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot and When Chronic Pain And Illness Take Everything Away: How To Mourn Our Losses by Esther Smith.

Songs: Diamonds by Hawk Nelson, Oh My Soul by Casting Crowns, and One Day by Christa Wells

What are some of the good things have you seen come from the trials and suffering in your

God has worked in so many ways in my life through my suffering. I’ve personally grown in compassion, world view, faith, hope, and boundaries. I’ve also gotten to see God use my story to encourage others and point them to Him. I’ve gotten to meet and love people I never would have otherwise. And God has opened the doors for my suffering to be a springboard to ministry.
But perhaps the most beautiful good thing I’ve seen is how suffering grew my intimacy with God. It allowed me to experience a closeness with Him that I never would have had otherwise. A closeness that came from honestly telling him everything — the good, the bad, the ugly, the angry, and the fearful. In that honesty came intimacy, and it is more beautiful than I can express.

That is beautiful. Thank you for being here today, Sara. It is wonderful to hear about what God has been teaching you over the years as you live and serve Him with chronic illness.

S. G. Willoughby is the author of He’s Making Diamonds: A Teen’s Thoughts on Faith Through Chronic Illness and the host of the Diamonds conference. She loves to write and have adventures. Sara is a TCK, a Lymie, and a dark chocolate lover. You can find her at sgwilloughby.com.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

A Day in the Life

It has been too long since I last wrote a Day in the Life post! They have become a reader favorite, and I haven't written one since 2018. My days look a lot different now than they did five years ago, so I decided I needed to write an updated Day in the Life. I took detailed notes and a few pictures throughout a day in February to show you what an average school day looks like for me right now. I do my best to take care of the little boys while the kids are at school and Will is at work. 

My weekends look much different than what you see here. On the weekends I sleep in late and stay in bed for the majority of the day. It is my time to get caught up on rest so that I can take care of the little boys again come Monday.

A Day in the Life
Wednesday, February 1, 2023

6:00 am - I wake up too early because my legs are cold. I pull out my heating pad and put it on my legs to warm up. I am unable to fall back to sleep quickly, so I spend time praying.

6:30 - Will gets up for the day. The big kids get up, too, and get ready for school. I still haven't fallen back to sleep, so I pull out my phone, and I listen to two chapters in the book of Joshua. Then I switch to the book of 1 John. I fall asleep somewhere in the epistles. I wake up and find that I am in Revelation chapter 10. I turn it off and quickly fall back to sleep.

8:00 - I hear some quiet noises over the baby monitor, and they wake me up. I can tell that Stafford is getting up and going out to the kitchen. Will takes care of him in the morning so that I can sleep in a little longer.

8:15 - I hear some noise from Gresham over the baby monitor. He doesn't usually wake up this early. I am so tired, and my body is not ready to get up yet. I pray for help. I tell God that I am tired and that I feel like I can't do this. I ask for strength. Gresham is silent again, and I think he went back to sleep. I go back to sleep too.

9:00 - Gresham is definitely awake now, so it is time for me to wake up and start moving. It is easier to wake up this time. I am thankful for the extra bit of sleep. God answered my prayer for help and strength! I take my midodrine. It is a medication that helps to prevent blood pooling, and I need to take it and wait for it to take effect before I get out of bed. While waiting for my midodrine to start working I eat my first part of breakfast, a small bunch of grapes waiting in a container by my bed. While I eat breakfast I practice a German lesson on Duolingo.

9:25 - I finally feel well enough to get up. I make the bed, and I get my clothes for the day. I check the temperature on my phone. Today it is chilly. It is 11 degrees below zero outside, so I grab sweatpants and a thermal shirt. 

9:30 - I cross the hall to Gresham's room, and I see his happy, smiling face greeting me. He has been playing contentedly in his bed while waiting for me to come get him. I get Gresham up, change his diaper, and we both get dressed for the day.

9:45 - Gresham asks for music, so I find JJ Heller. I like her soft and soothing music, but Gresham asks for Bruno instead, so we listen to We Don't Talk about Bruno. It is his current favorite song.

9:50 - The windows in the living room and office have moisture on them because it is so cold outside today, so I take a few minutes to wipe the windows off.

10:00 - It is time to make breakfast for Gresham and myself. I need to keep the meal preparation very quick and easy, so I make instant oatmeal for both of us. I pour some milk for Gresham, and I prepare a cup of tea for myself.

10:10 - Breakfast is ready. I put Gresham in his booster seat on the living room floor. I sit on floor in front of him. Sitting on the floor is easier for me than sitting at the kitchen table, so Gresham and I almost always have breakfast on a blanket on the floor. I pray before we eat. I thank God for the food, and I ask Him for strength to take care of the little boys. Then Gresham and I eat together.

10:15 - Will texts me to ask if Stafford can come up. Will is working in his office in the basement, and Stafford has been downstairs with him. But Stafford wants to be upstairs with his brother now.

10:20 - Stafford comes upstairs and asks to listen to Yurgen's Tune. It is a song he has been working on learning.

10:25 - Stafford is hungry, so I make some oatmeal for him too.

10:40 - We have all finished eating. I get breakfast dishes picked up while the boys play.

10:45 - Stafford goes to play music in his bedroom. Gresham and I read books. Gresham is currently enrolled in a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, so we have been counting the books we read to him. He is close to 700 books now. 

10:50 - Stafford comes out with his ukulele. He reads some books with us.

11:05 - Gresham plays with the ukulele and Stafford reads and sings. I get a snack for Stafford because he needs some more food before going to preschool.

11:10 - I get a text from a friend. I pray for her while getting clothes out for Stafford. Then I help Stafford get dressed for school.

11:25 - Gresham and Stafford start tumbling on the floor and playing with the sofa cushions. I let them jump and play while I pick up the books and put them back in the book basket.

11:40 - Will comes upstairs from work. We get Stafford bundled up, and Will takes him to preschool. Gresham climbs on sofa cushions, blankets, and pillows on the floor. I lie down to rest on the portion of the sofa that still has cushions.

11:50 - Gresham comes over to snuggle and talk. 

12:00 - Will comes home. He puts away dishes and makes lunch. Kitchen noise is painful for my ears, so I hide out from the noise in the bedroom. While I am in the bedroom I put away laundry and pray for friends who are going through hard things today.

12:20 - Will comes back to let me know it is safe to go back out to the living room.

12:25 - I get the living room picked up and get the blanket spread out for lunch. We we sit down to eat.

12:45 - We finish eating, and I get Gresham wiped up. Will cleans up the dishes and the kitchen. I lie down on the sofa to rest, and Gresham plays in the Spiderman helmet. The toddler vibes are strong with this one!

12:55 - I trim Gresham's nails while Will gathers his things and gets ready to go to the office for the afternoon. We say goodbye to Will before he heads out the door.

1:05 - Gresham and I get ready for naptime. We brush our teeth. Then we go to his bedroom and read two books. I pray, I sing Jesus Loves Me, and I turn on the lullaby CD. Then I say nighty-night. Gresham is great about going down for a nap. He will talk to himself, or rest quietly in his bed, until he falls asleep.

1:25 - I crawl into my own bed. I take my lunch time vitamins and some ibuprofen for a headache. I'm not up for much reading. I read a few pages in a little book by Randy Alcorn called Seeing the Unseen, and then I go to sleep.

2:15 - I wake up. I didn't have a very long nap, but I am grateful for the sleep. I continue resting in bed while Gresham sleeps. 

3:15 - I get up out of bed. Will brings Stafford home from preschool, and then he goes back to work. Stafford shows me what is in his backpack. He came home with Mr. Bear! We get to have Mr. Bear hang out with us for the rest of the week, and we will write about his adventures in his journal.

3:25 - We snuggle on the sofa for rest time. Stafford watches Wild Kratts, and I read my Bible.

3:30 - William and Adelaide come home from school. We talk for a couple of minutes, and then they go do their homework, and I go back to reading my Bible.

3:45 - I hear Gresham start to stir. I let him wake up and jabber in his bed for a few minutes.

3:55 - Stafford has finished resting. He gets up to play.

4:05 - I get Gresham up from his nap, and I get a snack for the boys.

4:15 - I realize that I never took midodrine after my nap. I take it right away when I remember.

4:25 - The boys have finished their snack. I wipe hands and faces and pick up the dishes.

4:30 - I check the mail. Gresham got a new book from the Imagination Library. He is excited about a new book! We sit down to read together.

4:50 - We finish reading. The boys play, and I rest on the sofa. My legs are tired from the day.

5:00 - Gresham wants to read again. We have read more than 30 books today!

5:05 - Stafford and Mr. Bear draw while Gresham and I read.

5:20 - Gresham is ready to run around and play again. I help Stafford with his drawing.

5:35 - Will comes home. We talk for a few minutes about our days and what we need to do this evening.

5:50 - Will takes care of the little boys and makes supper. I get a shower and go to bed. William and Adelaide leave for play practice at school.

6:20 - I lie down in bed. My legs are tired and uncomfortable from the day's work. I am grateful for rest. And I am thankful for the strength to take care of my Littles for another day. I lie in bed trying to decide what to do. I'm too tired to move or read, so I decide to watch a TV show.

6:40 - I realize that I am too tired for a TV show, so I listen to a podcast instead.

7:05 - Will brings supper to me. He cooked chicken, potatoes, and broccoli for supper tonight. I eat while lying down in bed.

7:25 - I finish eating. And I rest. I don't read or watch TV. I just lie still.

7:50 - I fall asleep.

8:00 - A reminder rings on my phone. I turn my sound off and immediately fall back asleep.

8:10 - I wake up. I text Will and a friend.

8:20 - I practice German on Duolingo.

8:45 - My eyes are tired, so I put down my phone.

8:50 - Will comes in to chat for a few minutes. Adelaide is home from play practice, and she is watching the boys. Will doesn't stay and talk for long because I am so tired.

9:15 - It is a later night than usual. Will has been working in the kitchen prepping meals for the next two days, but now he is ready to get the boys put to bed. Will gets Stafford ready, and Adelaide helps me get Gresham ready for bed. William works on cleaning dishes in the kitchen.

9:30 - Will and I take the little boys into their bedroom. Each boy picks out a book to read, and I read them both. I have lost count of books today, but I think this makes nearly 50 books that I have read to Stafford and/or Gresham! After reading, we tuck the boys into their beds. Will prays. Then he plays his guitar, and we sing Jesus Loves Me and give hugs and kisses good night.

9:50 - I come back to bed. Will and I talk for a few minutes, and then Will goes to tackle more things on his to do list for the night.

9:55 - Adelaide comes in to say good night.

10:00 - I turn on my laptop and work on some email.

10:03 - Stafford comes to tell me he can't find his soft, fuzzy blanket. I get up to help him find it. It is lying on the pillow in his bed. I tuck him back in and tell the boys good night again.

10:05 - I crawl back into bed to work on email again.

11:15 - I finish working on email. Will is ready for bed. We go through our night time routine together. Will helps me get my breakfast for the next morning, and he fills my water bottle. I get my night time ice pack. I will use the ice on my head for my headache, and then I will keep it in bed throughout the night in case my feet start burning and I need to put an ice pack on them. 

We brush our teeth together. We watch a TV show in bed, and then we pray together before saying goodnight and going to sleep. We are grateful for time together at the end of a busy day. It is a late night, but we accomplished the tasks before us. We are thankful to the Lord for this hard and happy life, and we are thankful for the strength to make it through another day.

Monday, January 23, 2023

When Prayers for Healing Hurt

Five years ago I was talking with Will about how painful it is when people say they are praying for my healing. It's something that isn't often spoken of by those with chronic illnesses, but when people pray for our healing, sometimes it just hurts. After I cried and poured out my heart to Will, he told me, "You need to blog about this. Don't post it right now. But someday, you need to post it."

Someday has come. Here is my post from five years ago.

October 16, 2017

I have lived with a chronic illness for 22 years. For the past 13 years this illness has been disabling to the point that I am primarily confined to my home due to extreme fatigue. And even when I am in my home, I have to be in bed resting for 18 hours a day or more.

I have prayed for healing, but so far God’s answer to that request has been, “no.” Over the years of illness I have learned to pray for new things – strength to persevere, a heart of compassion for others, a spirit that is submissive to the Father’s plan, joy in painful circumstances, patience in suffering, a thirst for God’s Word, opportunities to share the gospel with others, that the Lord would use me because of my circumstances.

I fully believe that God could heal me. He is more than able to restore strength and energy to my body. But I have learned to be content with illness, and I rarely pray for healing anymore. 

My hope isn’t in healing. My hope is in Jesus.

My hope isn’t in better days. My hope is in Jesus.

My hope isn’t in having energy. My hope is in Jesus.

If God chooses to heal me someday, I will gratefully and gladly accept that. But it is a choice that I leave up to Him. I don’t spend much energy praying for healing anymore. Once or twice a year, in a moment of desperation, I cry out to the Lord, and I ask for healing. Through tears of sorrow and weariness, I ask for the illness to be taken away and for strength to be restored. I admit my weakness and weariness of the suffering, and I submit to God’s will, whatever that may be.

When Paul was given a thorn in his flesh, he pleaded with God three times for it to be taken away. And God said, “no.” God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” There isn’t any indication that Paul continued to pray for relief. Instead, he accepted the Father’s will.

When someone tells me that they are praying for my healing, and they don’t say they are praying for anything else… it hurts. When healing is the primary focus of someone’s prayers for me, it feels like a rejection of me as a person. Like something is so wrong that it must be fixed before I can have a happy and productive life.

I wish that instead of staying on the outside and praying for my healing that people would step into my life, as it is, and be my friend in the here and now. I wish that people would join me in my limitations, accept me for who I am, and see the value in my life as it is right now.

For more than 20 years people have been praying for my healing, and for 20 years God has said no. I am content with that. I am willing to leave the choice up to Him. I am willing to wait until Heaven for my healing. If God wants to heal me before then, great! I’ll take it! But in the meantime, I want to embrace the life He has given me. I want to live the life I have!

Will you join me? Will you step into my broken life? Will you be my friend in sickness? Will you pray for my spiritual strength and endurance? Will you pray for my peace? Will you pray that God will comfort me in my loneliness? Will you step into my loneliness and be my friend? Will you pray that I will have opportunities to share the gospel? Will you pray that I will suffer well? Will you pray that I will gladly submit to God’s plan for my life? Will you pray for wisdom for me as a wife and mother and friend? Will you pray for me to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer?

And after you have prayed for all of those things, if you are so inclined, you are welcome to pray for my healing too. But please don’t only pray for my healing. There is spiritual help that I need before I need any physical healing.

If you have a friend who is suffering from a chronic illness or disability, ask her what she would like you to pray for. You may be surprised to learn that physical healing isn’t her greatest desire or need.

Do you live with a chronic illness or disability? Do you have a spouse or child with a disability? How do you wish people would pray for you?

Monday, January 16, 2023

Diamonds Winter Conference 2023

Do you ever feel invisible because of your chronic illness? Have you ever felt forgotten, alone, or left out? A life of chronic illness is often an isolating one. It is a daily unseen struggle.

But you are not alone. There are others who walk this road too, and we are coming together at the Diamonds 2023 Conference!

If you live with a chronic illness, this event is for you. We would love to have you join us! The conference January 27-19, and the theme this year is Seeing the Invisible.

I will be speaking at the Diamonds Winter 2023 Conference, and the title of my session is "Serving from the Shadows: Kingdom Faithfulness with Chronic Illness."

There will be speakers from around the world to share messages of hope and encouragement. The conference will feature messages from:

  • Tera Bradham DeNeui
  • Michele Cushatt
  • Charity Freeland Schroer
  • Erica Baldwin
  • Leah Kaiser
  • Michelle Kelso Kafer
  • Linda & Jen Barrick
  • Cassidy Poe
  • Rachel Lundy
  • S.G. Willoughby
  • Nicole O’Meara
  • Katherine French-Ewing
  • Heather M. Dixon
  • Becca Doss
  • Tasha Marie Brown

You will be encouraged by messages on the God who sees being the God who hears, how to gain strength through waiting, how God loves the invisible, how YOU are not alone in your chronic illness, and more!

We understand that many people with chronic illness face burdensome medical bills. Because our goal is to uplift instead of burdening you, Diamonds 2023 is 100% free while it’s live. We offer an all-access pass for purchase, in case you miss anything or you would like to watch the conference later.

Not only is the conference free—it's ALL online!! You can watch the conference from anywhere in the world—or from your bed at home.

You can learn more about the conference, and find a link to register, here. And if you want to get a discount on an All-Access Pass, they are currently on sale with the code EarlyBird.

The paperback study guide is now available on Amazon. It contains notes from all of the conferences speakers, plus suggested resources for further study. The free ebook of the study guide will be available soon.

If you need encouragement, or if you need to find friends for your chronic illness journey, I hope you join us for the conference! It would be great to see you there!

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