Southeast And Toward The Cross

Southeast and Toward the Cross

One night in April, I cried myself asleep for the dumbest reason imaginable: I had accidentally eaten praline pecans.

They were absolutely delicious, and they went surprisingly well with my Very Berry Sorbet at Sweet Frog. But on top of their yumminess, when I checked their nutrition online, I realized they were absolutely riddled with every iteration of dairy imaginable—skim milk, dry milk, whey, milk protein isolate, etc.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “so what?” Prior to April, I wouldn’t have cared, either.

But it was April, and April was my first dairy-free month—my first attempt to cut out all those delicious foods to see if it would help my cystic acne. And two weeks into it, I blew it. I totally blew it.

But I didn’t cry myself to sleep just for that. If you’re a woman, you know we don’t lose it over one thing; we lose it over several things, but all it takes is that one little thing to push you over the edge. That night, it was praline pecans.

[pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]On paper, really, everything looks great. And then I look past the paper and into the mirror, into my red-spotted face riddled with painful cystic acne, and it all collapses.[/pullquote]Praline pecans, on top of my face looking the worst it had looked in months. Praline pecans, on top of not knowing the last name of one of the people I interviewed with the day before. Praline pecans, on top of the stress of not knowing where I’d be living or working in May, and on top of working a ten hour day (on a Saturday, no less). I didn’t know I’d have to work until the previous evening. Praline pecans, on top of the stress of traveling all over creation in April and having to worry about how I’d avoid dairy at all the family get-togethers. Praline pecans, on top of my mother suggesting pizza and cake for my birthday dinner in a couple weeks. (I told her I’d have to eat something else before, and she called me a pain in the butt—though she didn’t say “butt.”)

All of that, and then some, brought on from a few praline pecans. Some dairy-licious, make-Paula-Deen-rejoice, deep-south, Savannah-River-Walk praline pecans.

Green Divider

When I saw that May’s theme was “direction,” I immediately figured I’d write about moving again. But just as I was sick of moving, I was also sick of writing about moving. What more could I say? This move is the fourth in less than a year. It sucks moving so much. I hate not having friends because I keep moving. Wa wa wa. The end.

Life is going in a lot of directions right now. I’m praying for guidance in my career; I’m praying for guidance in my diet; I’m praying for guidance about how best to serve my church. I’m digging deep, trying to get closer to the Father’s heart. On paper, really, everything looks great.

And then I look past the paper and into the mirror, into my red-spotted face riddled with painful cystic acne, and it all collapses.

How did it get to this point? Cystic acne first came into my life during my sophomore year of college, five years ago. I tried a few different washes/regimens, but nothing really worked until my dermatologist prescribed me retin-a and a sulfur wash. My acne was relatively calm and controlled for the next four years, only changing a little bit when I went on birth control leading up to my wedding. Instead of one or two cysts a month, with the pill I had about three that continually bothered me, along with a few normal pimples here and there. Still, it really wasn’t that bad.

It didn’t start getting really, really bad until last summer, when we first moved to Maryland. For reasons I cannot explain, my face kept getting worse and worse. More cysts grew around my chin every month. I very rarely got pimples on my forehead, but all of a sudden, I was getting two or three every week. For the first time in four years, my acne was completely out of control, and I have no idea what caused it.

My diet hadn’t changed. My regimen hadn’t changed. Nothing significant in my life had changed.

Except my face. That changed. And it continued to get worse for the rest of the year. Out of nowhere, my acne started going in the opposite direction. And it was (and has been) an absolute nightmare.

2016 has been a cleanse year so far. I weaned myself off the retin-a in January. It was barely doing anything, so I figured there was no point in using it anymore. My acne was most severe in January and February, and ever since it’s been pretty consistently bad. I started drinking a lot of water every day. It helped a little bit, but not enough that I was satisfied.

Early in the week leading up to Easter, I finally got fed up and decided to try something I had been putting off for obvious reasons: eliminating dairy. I won’t go into the science behind it, but a lot of people with cystic acne have benefitted from eliminating or at least restricting their dairy intake. I’d take a clear, pain-free face over a stuffed crust pizza any day, so it was worth a shot. Time will tell if dairy is indeed the culprit, and oh, am I praying it is!

Green Divider

A part of me has felt guilty for caring so much about my acne. A part of me says, as I write about my acne in my prayer journal, that God doesn’t care about my acne.

But that part of me believes a lie! God does care about my acne. He cares about every single detail of our lives, big or small, and He wants us to surrender control to Him. We know this from Matthew 6. We also know He cares deeply about our bodies because He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139).

But does that mean I shouldn’t be actively trying to fix my acne? Am I trying to play God by trying to figure out what’s causing this condition?

Absolutely not! That’s like trusting God to bring you a job, but not applying to any!

You’re justifying the amount of time you’re spending on your acne.

No, I’m not; I’m supporting my decision with Truth. How easily Satan steals our thoughts!

I love this small passage from A.W. Tozer’s The Attributes of God:

I don’t know how He does it, but I know that when I’m sick, God’s sad, and I know that when I’m miserable, God suffers along with me. And I know that in all my sickness, He’ll make my bed because His name is goodness and His name is mercy.

I hate saying this, but acne is a sickness, albeit not extremely serious. It’s a sign that something isn’t right in my body, whether it’s a slight dairy allergy or a hormonal imbalance. God cares about this seemingly insignificant part of my life, and He’s sad about it right there with me. It’s not insignificant to Him. He cares. He really does! And it’s comforting to know that I can lean on Him when I want to hide my face under a blanket all day, or when I feel like the world’s ugliest wife.

Green Divider

So, “direction”: That’s a big word this month. To summarize, I guess I could say I’m physically moving southeast and I’m spiritually moving closer and closer to the Cross. I’m looking to the future with hope, and I’m taking it one day at a time.

Oh, and I’m taking every detour I can to bypass praline pecans.


Grace & Such strives to advance Christian growth among women. While we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also recognize human interpretations are imperfect. Grace & Such encourages our readers to open their Bibles, pray for wisdom and study for themselves what the Word says. For more about who we are, please visit the About Us page.
Natalie Liounis
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  1. Rebecca Preston on May 5, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    Oh Natalie, I know the pain of having acne. I was in treatment for it most of my young adult years. And still having flareups into my 50’s. Geesch!! give a girl a break. It wasn’t until many decades later that I found out I was PCOS, and my acne was part of the symptoms. Now I’ve gone gluten free and am working on dairy free. I know that my food choices are a pain in the ***, but honestly, I feel better, and my acne is now under control. So I encourage you to do what you know to be the best for you. And be gentle with yourself, it’s a process. I truly believe that God is with you in this struggle and wants the best for you. God bless you!

  2. Julie Steele on May 5, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    I just made myself some hot chocolate with real milk, knowing I can’t have dairy the rest of the day. With wheat and corn allergies eliminating so many foods from my diet. I won’t give you the list…WAY too long, I know about being a pain even when my health issues aren’t visible to the world. So much going on with you. And believe it or not, I had a similar issue with this month’s theme. UGH.

  3. Tara on May 5, 2016 at 9:08 AM

    Natalie, what a raw post that will help so many. My son is 17 and has suffered from cystic acne for 2 years. We have tried everything- everything! We are now focusing on his diet too, starting with lots of water and reducing his sugar intake. I applaud you for listening to your body and for going against the grain (or in this case the dairy). Even our closest loved ones can be the worst food pushers. So frustrating!
    A few years ago, when I was at my worst with chronic neurological pain, crying myself to sleep, depressed- the christian therapist I was seeing shared with me the story of Joni Tada. She became a quadriplegic in her early 20’s yet has the most beautiful inspiring testimony. I love when she says that “splash overs of heaven are finding Jesus in your splash overs of hell.” Jesus is with you Natalie. Hugs and prayers.

  4. Diane on May 5, 2016 at 10:06 AM

    ‘…or when I feel like the world’s ugliest …’ I am so glad that you are pulling closer to him though this. I have not struggled with the same, but I know we all empathize with the crap we deal with this side of heaven.
    Be joyful in hope – that God’s got this, and will give you wisdom to solve it, or will heal it completely…
    patient in affliction – but while we struggle through, to sit in his presence and wait (ugh!)…
    faithful in prayer – no matter what our eyes are seeing or our ears are hearing.
    ~Romans 12.12

  5. Gretchen on May 5, 2016 at 6:50 PM

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, Natalie. I know that in the end, you’ll draw (and as you say, you ARE drawing) closer to Jesus, because He does work all things out for good for those who believe in Him. I don’t know about you, though, but sometimes it seems like a near impossible link to find the good coming out of some of our gross. There are days when, like many of my unbelieving friends, I wonder why/how He allows such hard things to happen. And then I remember that He loves me enough to allow me to suffer to be more like Jesus. And that this suffering in trust does produce fruit. In spite of me. You’re doing the right thing, Natalie, in leaning in. Hugging you from Seattle. Unless you’re not a hugger. Then I’m not.

  6. Natalie on May 5, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    Guys! Your comments have been so encouraging! Thank you!

  7. Diane Tarantini on May 6, 2016 at 4:46 PM

    Oh, Natalie: I hate that you are going through this. Our son-in-law did an INTENSE (at least a year long) elimination cleanse in order to clear his skin before the wedding last May. I think he gave up everything but fruits and vegetables and a little protein. On your behalf a while back, I asked what he thought was the most important thing to eliminate and he said dairy so hopefully that will eventually work for you. What I really want is for God to perform a supernatural NOW healing for you, I really do. But if he doesn’t, I hope he gives you supernatural peace while you wait.

  8. Jen on May 9, 2016 at 9:03 AM

    Love your honest post, Natalie. Thank you for sharing your struggles because your hope shines bright through it all!

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