On June 8, 2018, after months of headaches and vision issues, I walked into an ophthalmologist’s office expecting a simple appointment that would end with a new prescription. I have worn glasses for as long as I can remember. I knew what to expect and walked in worry free. The appointment started as all the other eye appointments had my entire life – a puff of air in my eyes and a few pictures. Things took a very unexpected turn after those tests.
When the ophthalmologist walked into the room to start my exam, she seemed a little extra clinical. She also seemed to be asking questions I had never remembered answering in an eye exam before. Even crazier than the questions she was asking, I found myself answering “yes” to many of the questions. I had been experiencing many of the symptoms she was bringing up, but I honestly had not connected the symptoms. Finally, the exam ended and the doctor flipped on the light. Without missing a beat, as if she was talking about something incredibly mundane she said “Well, I don’t think you have a tumor, but it appears your optic nerve is very swollen. I think you need some additional testing.”
I left her office in a complete daze and entered a wild medical world that felt insane – I really thought I just needed new glasses. I soon found myself getting an MRI of my brain and a lumber puncture to test my spinal fluid. All these tests led to the diagnosis of a rare condition, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (or IIH). These long words describe a condition in which for some unknown reason my body creates too much spinal fluid. That fluid builds, putting pressure on my optic nerve causing it to swell. Symptoms of the condition mimic a brain tumor, but no tumor is present. I know this girl can be dramatic, but my body acting like it has a brain tumor is next level DRAMATIC!
If you have been around awhile, you know the diagnosis of IIH has been a journey. It’s included specialists here in town and across the state, many medical tests and so many medications. It’s been full of twists and turns and ups and downs. I have learned so much on this journey. As I write today, I am excited to share that I have been completely symptom free for over a year. In fact, I am days away from celebrating being medication free for an entire year. It feels absolutely unreal. I do still occasionally get headaches, however they are always from “normal” causes. Not enough water, not enough sleep and too much stress are my biggest triggers!
Anyways, around this time last year, I was supposed to go for a check up with a specialist across the state. Around that time, the pandemic was really starting to hit the world, and so much felt unknown. Since I wasn’t experiencing symptoms, we choose to reschedule the appointment. At first, we pushed the appointment back a few weeks thinking that after a few weeks of lockdown things would look better. Well, I am sure you can guess what happened. We kept rescheduling the appointment and before we knew it, we had rescheduled the appointment so many times, that I didn’t actually have an appointment in 2020.
This week, we will finally drive across the state for my annual checkup. I have been thinking about this appointment for awhile now. While I have zero symptoms, I find myself getting in my head a bit. What if there is swelling? What if that swelling had done damage? Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped the medicine. Maybe I shouldn’t have rescheduled so many times. I find myself reminding myself of truth and taking my thoughts captive, but then I slowly find wander back into the land of the “what ifs”.
I have been listening to the Bible in the Message translation and sometimes scriptures catch me a little off guard. At the end of Mark 4, the disciples and Jesus get into a boat to travel to a new place. While on the boat, a huge storm comes and the disciples panic. Jesus had fallen asleep, and the disciples ran to him, woke up him and in their most dramatic voices screamed “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?” (Mark 4:38) Jesus woke up and calmed the storm, but you have to read how this goes down in the Message translation:
Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
Mark 4:39-40 (the Message translation)
Okay, don’t judge me for what I am about to type… but the first time I listened to these verses I actually thought “Wow, Jesus is really mean here!” I actually skipped a few verses back and listened again because I just couldn’t wrap my mind around Jesus reacting with so much anger. I mean, we are talking about the savior of the world here, and in my mind the tone of these chapters are just dripping with sass! Let me pause here for a second – first, I truly believe Jesus cannot be mean. It’s not in His character. With that said, I do believe Jesus has a little snark in Him. There are too many times in the gospel that Jesus gets a little extra sassy! Anyways, after wrestling with the Message translation for a few days, I pulled out my ESV translation and started reading Mark again. I thought maybe another translation would help shed some light on this for me.
To me, the book of Mark has always felt like the cliff notes version of what Jesus did when he was on the earth. The book moves very quickly, jumping from one thing Jesus did to the next. Sometimes I feel like the book of Mark is like an excited little kid trying to breathlessly tell someone that they have good news. While other gospels tell the story of Jesus’s birth and a bit more history, Mark jumps right in when Jesus started his ministry. In Mark 1:16-20, the disciples start following Jesus and next thing we know Jesus is gathering crowds, teaching and performing miracles.
In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue when a man started yelling at Jesus. Immediately, Jesus rebuked an unclean spirit and cast it out of the man it was tormenting. In Mark 1:40-45, Jesus heals a man who had leprosy. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus heals a man who was paralyzed. The friends of this paralyzed man literally took the roof of the place Jesus was teaching so they could get their friend to Jesus, because they had heard about Him. In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus heals a man who had a withered hand. The disciples were on the front lines for every miracle and witnessed every time Jesus moved. By the time we get to Mark 4, Jesus had preformed four miracles, however I imagine there was WAY more than four that were never recorded in history!
In Mark 4, Jesus teaches through parables. In verse, 34 we find this gem:
He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
The disciples were the closest to Jesus. They knew him. They saw every miracle he preformed. They listened to every word He taught. More than that, when the crowds left He explained everything He meant when He taught. However, even though the disciples had walked that closely with Jesus, when the storm came – literally three verses later – they were waking up Jesus asking if even cared. Jesus response in March 4:40 seems like such a human response after re-reading Mark again from the beginning:
He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Some scholars believe that maybe the disciples reacted this way because they hadn’t seen Jesus do anything for them personally. I mean, they had watched all these miracles happen around them, but maybe they were a little jaded because nothing had happened to them as individuals. Goodness I can relate to that. There are so many times that I have encouraged friends to walk in truth, but struggled to hold onto the same truth for myself. I mean if you had a big annual appointment this week, it would be easy for me to believe in full faith for a good report, but here I am sure my upcoming appointment will hold terrible news. While I can relate to what the disciples may have been feeling, I find myself still frustrated with the disciples. Jesus was literally in their midst. He was tangibly preforming miracles everywhere they went. He was teaching them nonstop. Why didn’t they trust Him?
This question has rattled around in my head for days. I would wonder why the disciples reacted to Jesus the way they did, and then I would judge them for their small faith. Then I would relate to their small faith, and judge myself. It was a vicious circle. So, I started to ask the Father to show me why I don’t believe the truth for myself. I was driving to work and I felt God whisper to my heart “Do you know who you are?”
This stopped my in my tracks. What kind of question is “Do you know who you are?”, of course I know who I am. I started to get a little snarky with God, until He said “If you know who you are, you wouldn’t doubt my love for you”. Ouch. Even typing these words hurts my heart.
I am a huge Marvel movie fan. I have seen all the movies multiple times and continue to watch them over and over again. In 2019, Capital Marvel was released. In the movie, Carol Danvers finds herself in the middle of a huge battle. Carol can’t remember much about her past, but she trusts those around her. She believes she is on the correct side of the battle, but after a chain of events she learns about her past and she learns the truth – she is fighting for the wrong side. The enemy has been lying to her and telling her who she is, but the reality is she was so much more. On the path to learning truth, she finds her best friend, Monica Rambeau. In an epic scene (that seriously makes me cry every time), our hero knows she has to go to battle. Frozen in fear, Carol looks at Monica, and tells her that she isn’t sure that she is supposed to be the hero in this story. Monica stops in her tracks, looks Carol directly in the eye and responds with one of my all time favorite quotes:
“You are Carol Danvers. You were the woman on that black box risking her life to do the right thing. My best friend. Who supported me as a mother and a pilot when no one else did. You were smart, and funny, and a huge pain in the ass. And you were the most powerful person I knew, way before you could shoot fire through your fists.”
When Monica is done with her pep talk, Carol holds the truth spoken over her and is suddenly is ready to fight the battle. Spoiler alert – she wins and saves a world. Now, I am not encouraging anyone to watch Marvel movies looking for spiritual truths, but the reason this part always makes me cry is because it’s a beautiful reminder to me. My best and snarkiest friend will text me on my hardest days and tell say “You are Melissa Freaking Forster”, and then she will go on to tell me truth about myself. Why? Because she knows that when I know who I am, it changes everything. Knowing who I am doesn’t just change me, it changes everything for those around me too.
Can you imagine what would have happened if one of the disciples would have truly understood who they were when they were on that boat in the middle of the storm? Eleven of the disciples running around like chickens with their heads cut off, sure they were going to die, but one of them stands up and says “Guys, we are freaking disciples. The teacher who is sleeping over there isn’t going to let us drown on this boat. We need to calm down.” I know I am re-writing scripture, but stay with me. The other eleven would look at the disciple who spoke up and say “You’re right” and then they would pray together for the storm to calm. One disciple holding onto truth would have changed that entire story! Don’t miss this – my choice to remember who I am and walk in truth changes history.
The disciples didn’t actually learn that they have the authority of Jesus until Mark 10, so I have to give them some grace here. However, I hope you can see my point. If I remembered who I am in Jesus, I would have nothing to fear about my appointment this week. I am Melissa Freaking Forster. Before my parents dreamed of me, God called me by name. (Jeremiah 1:5). I am fearfully and wonderfully made with an ordained purpose (Psalm 139). I am chosen, royal and holy. (1 Peter 2:9). God finds delight in me and He is singing over me. (Zephaniah 3:17). My healing was paid for on the cross 2,000 years ago (Isaiah 53:5) and He promises to restore health to those who are sick. (Psalm 41:3) I have nothing to fear, because the creator of the universe is with me, holding my hand, and giving me strength. (Isiah 41:10). The God who is holding my hand, cares for every bird in the air, and I know He values me even more then a bird. (Matthew 6:26) He has promised me that I will SEE the goodness in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13). Armed with all of this truth, I can walk in peace, because I have learned I can trust Him.
There was a time in my life that I thought when someone said “I am Melissa Freaking Forster” it was prideful. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be humble? Friends, hear me right now – when I believed that about myself I was believing a lie. Remembering who I am and walking in truth is NOT prideful. Being confident is very different than pride. In fact, being confident in ourselves is a beautiful God given trait. I am who I am, because the Father is who He is. Choosing to walk in confidence of who I am is really just a reflection the Father, because I am made in His image (Genesis 1:27). My Father is my rock and safe place. (Nahum 1:7) He is so good (Psalm 34:8) and He gives good gifts (James 1:17). He is faithful and keeps His covenant with His people (Deuteronomy 7:9). He promises again and again that He will restore double. (Zechariah 9:12). He does what He says He will do, and He cannot lie (Numbers 23:19) He does not grow faint or weary. (Isiah 40:28-29). He sent his son to earth to die for me so that I can have salvation (John 3:16-17) and nothing is impossible with Him. (Luke 18:27).
When we follow Jesus, our minds are were the biggest wars will rage. However, we have a choice. We have a choice to tell the enemy “I am Melissa Freaking Forster, God is on my side, and you cannot win!” or we can choose to throw ourselves a pity party. So today, as I prepare for this appointment, I am refusing to walk into the land of the “what ifs”. When the thoughts try to creep in, I am choosing to speak this over my heart:
For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
Are you sitting there reading and thinking “Yeah, that Melissa sure has it together. This is for her, but not for me.” I just want you to stop that thought right now. You are FIRST NAME FREAKING LAST NAME (yeah, read it again with your first and last name). Every truth that I wrote about myself is true about you, because the Father doesn’t show favoritism. (Romans 2:11). He loves you just as deeply as He loves me. You can walk confidently in your identity in Him without fear. He is a good God that can be trusted. You can walk in confidence believing these words are true for you or you can throw a pity party believing that they are for everyone else but you. The choice is yours.