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Grace & Grounding: The Gospel of Healing

I Told the Storm

By Shereá Denise

I know It's all for a purpose

I know it will all be worth it

I just gotta keep on believing

And I have to know it's in his plan…

Song - All In His Plan by PJ Morton & Le’Andria Johnson

I will be the first to admit that my hope was to write four or five parts to this series and then be able to call myself healed. I have hesitated about writing more posts because I did not enjoy the idea that things were not operating on the timeline that I had given them. As I mentioned in the last post, I sought to plan and control my healing in the same way that I plan and control so many other things in my life. I am recognizing that most things are not actually in my control and that most things - as it pertains to my healing - are not on my timeline.

 

The month of March (2024) was a particularly rough one. My already limited diet became even more restricted. The supplements that I was using to address some deficiencies seemed to be making me sicker. I spent most of the month battling inflammation in my hip, my gut, my legs, and my feet. No matter what I tried, the inflammation was not budging and my food was rarely digesting appropriately. I also started losing weight again. I was being forced to cancel plans left and right to spend time in bed, but rarely comfortably resting. I was staying at home because the idea of being in different places without consistent access to chairs or restrooms added to my stress and anxiety levels.

 

Making Changes

I was scheduled to attend a women’s summit in early March and I was very reluctant to go. As I mentioned, I did not feel well and I found myself extremely uncomfortable being in public settings when I was not feeling my best. The rounds of mental gymnastics that it took to determine my proximity to restrooms, to prepare to engage in any activities that required movement, and to navigate whatever meal was provided was enough to remove the excitement from most events for me. Despite my hesitance and the dreary weather that day, I still made my way to the event. I arrived late, but just in time to hear wonderful remarks from the keynote speaker, Jennifer Pharr Davis. I had to leave early, but was able to stay long enough to hear a presentation on improving your gut health. For the first time I heard a Gastroenterologist (Dr. Shabana Shahid) speak publicly about SIBO and about why probiotics are not always beneficial. After reviewing the information provided and completing some of my own research, I chose to schedule an appointment with the presenter in hopes of getting a diagnosis, answers, and a treatment plan. I was pacing myself, not expecting everything to be resolved at the first visit, but I was hoping that a different, more informed set of eyes would be more beneficial at this point in my journey.

 

My consultation appointment was pretty standard, but Dr. Shahid made several remarks that let me know that switching providers was likely my best decision at that time. She talked about the importance of complementary treatment (Western medicine and more holistic practices), highlighting acupuncture and hypnotherapy. She also immediately requested some testing of my pancreas, as she felt that there needed to be a closer look at how it was functioning. Dr. Shahid mentioned thinking outside the box for diagnosis and treatment. She also told me that - based on the experience of one of her relatives - she knew that my symptoms were not all in my head. She confirmed that tests do not always show everything, but that foods can - in fact - increase inflammation in the body. She advised that this would be a journey, but said that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Prior to making the appointment to see Dr. Shahid, I had an appointment with my Primary Care Physician to discuss my dissatisfaction with my bariatric follow-up care. Based on my concerns she completed orders for blood work and made a referral to an alternate provider. She cautioned me that many bariatric providers are hesitant about providing follow-up care for patients when they did not perform that patient’s surgery. She also said that my concerns were justified and that she was surprised that some labs and vitamins were not being tested for me.

 

The lab work highlighted some areas of concern and my bariatric referral was accepted, at least for an initial appointment.

 

In early April I met with a different bariatric surgeon to discuss transferring my follow-up care to their bariatric program. During our initial visit, the surgeon spoke to me about being mindful of specialists and physicians who are “reaching” for diagnoses and/or who are commenting on things that are “outside of their toolbox” or area of expertise. He explained that my stomach was quite sensitive and that it seemed that gastric bypass had just made the sensitivity more noticeable. He recommended me for their program for follow-up care. I left the appointment feeling hopeful (there’s that word again), but still cautious. A few days later a $300+ medical bill arrived and I promptly canceled my follow-up appointments with this provider. That is something else I was tired of, asking all of the questions about billing and insurance only to receive yet another medical bill where I was being charged hundreds of dollars for 20 minutes, some words of advice, and no real answers.

 

I was nervous about trusting new providers, but was also taken aback by the response that the holistic practitioner had to my plans to change medical providers. She became - for lack of a better word - territorial about my treatment, which made me rather uncomfortable. The interaction was enough to make me question whether I should continue with her as my provider, especially since I was not feeling any better nor were any of my issues being resolved. Though I wanted to believe that these providers had my best interests at heart, I also recognized that people wanted to make money and healing me at the first session would prevent additional money from being made. I did my best not to read too much into the doubts that I was having and asked God for signs to confirm my next steps. 

 

Faith Revisited

Yes, God. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, my beliefs circled back to God. Not in the traditionally religious sense, moreso from a place of accepting God on my terms and in my way, which looks more like relationship than religion. The month of March brought many of my thoughts about hopefulness, despair, and grief to the forefront. I mentioned recalibrating in a prior post. March was definitely a season of recalibrating. On the most debilitating days,  there was a part of me that started to wander, that started to falter, that truly started to question what all of these challenges were for and why they were happening to me. I feared that some diagnosis was coming that would involve words like “terminal,” those words that tell you that death is imminent. I wondered if all of these appointments and tests, all of this practice and writing had been for nothing. My mortality also got put front and center. There was a part of me - a louder, more persistent part - that either has unwavering faith or is somewhat delusional because it kept telling me that my healing was coming, that this was all part of a greater plan. The louder part told me that there were lessons that I could only learn through the stillness that these challenges brought and required.

 

I found myself searching for reprieve and relief in different ways - some familiar, some new. My thoughts drifted back to the scriptures that had always given me hope and some that I had never read but stumbled upon. I also found myself thinking about the book The Shack by William P. Young. The sections of the book that reference God taking different forms based on what we need him/her/them for in the moment seemed to coincide with those religious chants about God being a lawyer in a courtroom, a father to the fatherless, and a doctor in the sickroom. It was in these moments of reflection that I realized that - no matter what turned me away from religion - I had never truly stopped praying. They were not the traditional prayers that I grew up hearing in church, prayers that seemed to have a tone of begging and pleading. Though at times I felt that I was right on the edge of begging for healing, my prayers seemed more like conversations, statements, or just repetitive “thank you’s.” 

 

I considered how the traditional Christian idea of being subservient or unworthy did not resonate with me. I was unsure of how so many churchgoers could say they were created in God’s image only to act as if they were not existing in greatness or meant to be great. It seemed odd to me that so many older folks took issue with my generation because of our own unwillingness to act as if we were less than. The fact that we embraced the idea of being living excellence earned us labels like self-centered and egotistical. It occurred to me (again) that much of my issue with religion was how it was carried out by people, how it was made to be performative and disingenuous. These same feelings were very telling as it pertained to maintaining relationships. Anything that felt performative, inauthentic, or unsettled in my spirit was indicative of a space and/or relationship that I no longer wanted to be in. I did not enjoy the idea of a transactional God that we had to give all credit, praise, and power to as if we were not equipped to be a co-creator of our life with the Higher Power that was leading the cheering section that was ushering us through life. I am not someone who can say that there is only one God guiding me. I believe that my ancestors are just as present and are part of the team huddles that are often called on my behalf. I cannot accept that God wants me to suffer in order to learn to praise, but I can accept that Team Shereá may be using this season to get my attention about some things, like my priorities, my self-talk, and my incomplete ideas and beliefs.

 

During a particular rough week, I was scrolling on social media to distract myself from my pain. I learned that Jessica Pettway had passed away after being misdiagnosed and ultimately failed by the healthcare system. This was not the first Black woman that we had lost at the hands of those who are supposed to provide us with appropriate care. In light of all that was happening with my body, this news hit differently. It caused my feelings to oscillate between caution, hesitance, and fear. The only relief I found was not thinking about my health, but being able to disassociate was far from easy with the amount of pain and discomfort that I was experiencing.

 

I started asking myself some hard questions that I hoped would assist me in determining my next steps and managing my expectations. These questions came forward with the help of Abstract Thoughts’ Shadow Work Journal and Workbook for Beginners, a book on shadow work that was recommended by my Therapist. I have worked through many of the questions in the workbook and I am left considering a few questions that I do not have answers for just yet:

 

  • Do I believe that healing is possible for me?

  • What am I offering myself and my body?

  • What am I prioritizing? What no longer serves me?

 

I am also still finding the words for the roles that prioritization, gratitude, and internal validation play in the answers to these questions. As I sit with much of what I have learned during this journey towards healing, I can say that religion and the church may only be symbols for a bigger issue in my upbringing, the expectation of perfection that is only achieved through external validation. The church is just one place where perfection was expected and one of the more obvious spaces that emphasized how we should value the approval of others. Early-on in this series I talked about not looking like what you have been through. That expression - in and of itself - demonstrates how we have learned or been taught to value how others see us. It implies that it is better to fool people into thinking that we are okay based on our appearance. Such expectations communicate that other people’s gaze is most important and that our objective should be to appear well, not to actually be well.

 

Pastors advise us to read the Bible for instructions on how to live our lives, yet the Bible is full of much of this same hypocrisy - the judgment of others for being their honest selves, the persecution of others who do not meet whatever standard was set by the rest of society. Must we present as healthy in order to make it to spaces where we can ask for help?

 

I am continuing to sort through these questions and lessons while wondering why it took such a dramatic revolt from my body to get my attention and to provoke these thoughts. Part of me thinks that I missed the whispers. Part of me thinks that I would have ignored anything that was not this loud. We (Black women, Indigenous women) have the tendency to ignore the things that do not sharply grab our attention, often because we are too busy sorting through stressors at work and constantly battling Superwoman Syndrome. As I said in a blog post several years ago, this cape is heavy.

 

My thoughts returned to what had been said by Suleika Jaouad about priorities and what you allow to have your attention when you do not feel well. I recognized that my priorities had to change, that I was spending a lot of time with people that I did not enjoy, in spaces that made me uncomfortable, and doing things that I did not like. Despite being honest about my health challenges in different spaces, there was very little consideration shown. That speaks volumes to me now. It also made me reflect on the ways that I had not considered others and how I could do better in that regard. I felt challenged to get to the root of so much, to reconsider my habits, and to reevaluate what I thought were necessary parts of my life. I started stepping away from a lot of organizations, groups, and people. I started questioning whether some of my participation and relationships were actually built on external validation and acceptance rather than on genuine enjoyment.

 

Shadow Work

 

While doing my shadow work exercises and processing thoughts around external validation, I also had to consider whether there was a connection between my “issues” with external validation and my desire to have a diagnosis that could be treated to resolve all of these health challenges. Did a diagnosis better justify my experience? Did a diagnosis make me feel like this was treatable? Did a diagnosis prove to someone else that I was not making this up?

 

The obvious desire for external validation is increasing in our society. I started to notice the randomest of things, like the number of people (especially musical artists) who we see constantly reinventing themselves or changing things about themselves - their names, their appearance, their style of music - to be accepted, appreciated, and celebrated. I cannot help but wonder if there is some aspect of external validation that they are seeking when they make these changes. Is this the change that will make more people notice you? Is this the change that will lead others to believe that your talent is undeniable? Is this the change that will get you to the stature or the spot that will make you feel worthy (because others have now agreed that you are worthy)?

 

Boundaries

 

When I emailed my Therapist about external validation resources, she recommended Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. Luckily this book was already on my shelf, where it had lived for months (or years) after I read the first chapter or two. I picked the book back up, committing to finishing it before I started any additional books. Surprisingly, this book helped me to further dissect some of what the Shadow Work Journal and Workbook brought to the surface. It also gave me reassurance that I did not realize I needed regarding my priorities and my boundaries, particularly the ones that involved keeping my distance from some people. Nedra Tawwab does an excellent job of providing action steps for recognizing that a boundary is needed and implementing it. She covers several different spaces where boundaries can be useful, including with your friends, with your family, at work, online, and with yourself. The latter - with yourself - was somewhat surprising to me, but it made perfect sense in the book. So often we think about boundaries as being about other people when - in all actuality - they are about protecting and prioritizing ourselves. Boundaries allow us to focus less on how people see us and more on how people treat us… and, even more importantly, how we allow ourselves to be treated.

 

“Make a promise to yourself to set boundaries with regard to how you respond to situations… You can decide how you want to deal with uncomfortable feelings and experiences.” 

-Nedra Glover Tawwab

 

“Another way to uphold your boundaries is to say no more often. Recognize that saying no to others is saying yes to yourself. Set a limit by saying no when you can’t honor a request , don’t want to honor it, or doing so will infringe on the time you have for what you enjoy.” 

-Nedra Glover Tawwab

 

Power

 

Another resource that my Therapist suggested was a podcast by Dr. Anita Phillips, in particular an episode featuring Sarah Jakes Roberts. I had some knowledge of who Sarah Jakes Roberts was, being familiar with her voice from sound bites on TikTok and from one of my favorite songs, Higher by Madison Ryann Ward (Higher is referenced in the third post in the Grace and Grounding series.)

 

The podcast episode was transformative and timely, as Sarah Jakes Roberts was in the process of releasing a new book, Power Moves. (A book worm never needs a reason to buy a new book, but - if I did need one - this interview was it. I pre-ordered the book, but promised myself that I would finish Set Boundaries, Find Peace before opening it.) I listened to the podcast episode at least three times, each time taking something different from it. Some of the high points for me were:

 

  • We allow fear to have more power than who we could be if we release that power. We have to trust our voice. “But when we don't let power move in us, we don't trust that power can move outside of us. What is keeping you from moving in power? How did it get that much power? How do you reclaim that power and throw it in the direction of who God has called you to be and that knowing within you that says like, hey, I could do something better, different, that is more authentically aligned with who I am?”

  • “What is your definition of power? And what do you want to affect strongly? What has affected you strongly? And how do we move forward from here?” Do you need to redefine what power means to you?

  • “We're not making power moves, but power itself moves.”

  • “So the goal then is if I am going to be powerful in every area of my life, then I have to align myself consistently with power. That's mindfulness that is breaking up with my past and no longer being tormented by the shame of who I was. It's removing the filter of some of our family dynamics and systems and saying "I only want to see what God sees in this moment.””

  • “[Remember that the power is] just shifting, it's not gone, but something had to flow out for something else to flow in.”

  • “Sometimes in order for us to move with power, we have to surrender what we thought power would look like. We have to surrender what we thought our lives would look like. We have to embrace the reality of what is.”

 

I also started listening to various sermons by Sarah Jakes Roberts and sharing them with those closest to me. Regardless of what was being said aloud, I knew I was not the only person in my circle that was struggling in some way. We all needed uplifting, confirmation, and encouragement.

 

”I’m just a girl looking for an answer in a Book that has proven to be a salve for generations.” 

–Sarah Jakes Roberts

 

Since each of you are also part of my community, I want to be sure to share a few more helpful tools with each of you before concluding this post. These tools have assisted me in processing many of the things that I believe my health challenges are trying to teach me. They have also helped me to further explore the concepts of giving grace to myself and remaining grounded despite all that is happening to/for/around me. In keeping with the last section of this post, I am starting off with Sarah Jakes Roberts and Dr. Anita Phillips:

 


 

“Lord, you know that I'm your child and I'm doing the best that I can.

Why my way gets so dark, you know I just don't understand.

Oh Lord, I need you to hold my hand.”

Song – I Need You to Hold My Hand by The Jackson Southernaires

 

 

Read Part Five: Good, Intentional Care

Read Part Seven: Coming Soon

Find additional posts and resources here.

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