Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast

Better Together: The Power of Community Amid Isolating Health Struggles – Danika Deva

Episode Summary

Danika Deva returns to talk about her journey with multiple chemical sensitivities. She shares how God has given her empathy for others through her hardships, and how she has learned to connect with Christian community and serve others while living with a condition that makes her allergic to people, places, and things.

Episode Notes

Danika Deva knows isolation. Living with multiple chemical sensitivities, which can cause life-threatening allergic reactions to everyday things, she must be intentional about her relationships. Through seasons of severe sickness and physical isolation, she has found strategies for connection and invites others to walk the trails she has blazed.

With God’s help, Danika has learned to serve and minister to others, even from a place of suffering. She urges everyone facing difficulty to seek ways to bless others, pointing to the fact that human beings were not made for isolated, independent lives, but for interdependence and mutual service. She urges Christians to encourage and remind one another of the great hope we have in Christ—whatever our circumstances.

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Joni and Friends envisions a world where every person with a disability finds hope, dignity, and their place in the body of Christ. Founded by international disability advocate Joni Eareckson Tada, we provide Christ-centered care through  Joni's House, Wheels for the World, and Retreats and Getaways, and offer disability ministry training and higher education through the Christian Institute on Disability

Episode Transcription

Crystal Keating:

I’m Crystal Keating and you’re listening to the Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast. Each week we’re bringing you encouraging conversations about finding hope through hardship… and sharing practical ways that you can include people with disability in your church and community. 

Danika Deva is joining us on the podcast again to talk about her health journey, the empathy God has given to her for others who are struggling with the hardships of life, and how she's remained connected with Christians while living with a condition which made her allergic to people, places, and things. 

Welcome back to the podcast, Danika. 

Danika Deva: 

Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here. 

Crystal Keating:

Oh, we're so glad to have you back. You know, at the end of our last conversation, you talked about how community literally saved your life spiritually, emotionally, and physically. So, I wanted to spend this conversation really focusing on how to stay connected in Christian fellowship when you live with a severe illness or a disability. So, let's talk again, just starting off. How have your allergies impacted your precious relationships through the years?

Danika Deva:

I think the first relationship is with God and it's actually improved because that's the most precious relationship. And just knowing that I've had some deeper time with God; I've tuned in. I've heard him deeper. I've learned to trust in a whole different level, those intimate moments, like those moments, like when Mary just knew that this was God speaking to her about Jesus, they're, they're unbelievable.

So that has been a positive about the hyper reactions, but of course, I think everybody can relate after the pandemic and how it's impacted our relationships. And, and that's very difficult. But, when you're avoiding and you're hyper-sensitive, it's a greater scale, you know? So, with friends, for example, a friend would come to my house.

I didn't realize she had mold. We were sitting six feet away. I start going into respiratory distress, grab my rescue meds, ask her to leave. Right? Keeping your home constantly reaction free is very difficult or hugging someone, even outside. And then you realize, oh, they just cross-contaminated me.

I didn't think anything of it until I couldn't breathe, or I had some reaction. I'm like, oh, I have to shower. Just cause I hugged that person. You know, the things that you have to do. I have three sets of tables and chairs outside, so I can move from my deck to under a tree, whatever. So, I can be outside and not react. 

Sometimes I might react to a tree or some mold on my deck, but those things that being like hyper-sensitive to things, but it's also the people have that in their home or on their clothes. I wasn't able to go into my children's homes or two of my siblings’ homes, actually, no homes in town. So, you can't come over to watch a movie or eat dinner, celebrate a birthday.

Is it going to be outside? Maybe I can go. Right? So, you lose a lot of that relationship time. You just, you can't do it physically because it will make you very, very ill. 

Crystal Keating: 

You know, I'm curious. How did your family and friends respond when you started, you call it avoiding, when you started stepping back and being more vigilant about who you were with and what you were around?

Danika Deva:

Yeah. Great question. I think at first, they're kind of like what, you know, you can't come, but then as they saw me, they took me to the hospital or whatever they saw it, they realized, wow. She can't even answer a question. Brain fog set in, or she can't walk. Once they saw the physical and real reactions, I think it was easier.

I mean, it was still difficult because it's sad, you know, you want to go to Easter dinner or whatever. They also know oh, I didn't wear deodorant today so I can see you, you know, because of the chemical could trigger or I didn't wash my hair. I washed my clothes in non-scented laundry soap so I could come see you. Things like that have been a blessing, but it's just kind of funny, right? Yeah. 

Crystal Keating:

That's good. And I think there's a place too, for those of us who don't have multiple chemical sensitivities or allergies, how do we learn to stay connected with someone like you and what do we understand so that we can stay in fellowship? I mean, we've heard some heartbreaking stories of those who live with MCS which often keep them living far away from people and disconnected from the life of the church. I mean, you moved out in the middle of somewhere in a camper, right? So how have you stayed in deep fellowship with other believers, even though you can't always be with them physically?

Danika Deva:

I think part of that is, I mean, we have video and chats and Facebook and things like that. And being intentional, that's my life motto and ministry, in people's lives and vice versa. And again, that's part of asking, you know, “Hey, can you help me?” or “I'm feeling really lonely today. I need a call.” Those types of things can help us stay connected.

I think there's specific things that outsiders can do. What can I do for you? You know, people don't know that I cross-contaminated my taxes because I lived in a moldy house and they've been sitting in storage, but they got to get done. There are things that you can do. So just offering. I think asking how can I help you is better than what I'm going to do this for you.

Because they don't know that you could wash my laundry and there were people that did. But if they have scents or mold in their washer, dryer that it's contaminated. Right? So, the protection measures that have to be so extreme. Don't offer advice, you know, oh, just take antihistamine and you'll be fine.

Well, I'm already on six day today, you know? People bought me things like, they helped me buy a glass table. One person bought me a filtration system and another person put it in so that I could breathe and not react. So, there's always something we can do.

People who are isolated don't have touch. Right? And so one person would give me a foot rub, and just gently it would help with some of the swelling, but also was a gentle way to have some touch, driving people to doctor visits, hospital or doing paperwork for them. I would get paperwork.

And as I'm writing, my arm would go numb because there was mold on the paperwork that I got from some office. You don't think about that when you're not hypersensitive. Right? So, copying that, or if you have brain fog, you know, there's many patients with cancer that have brain fog and doing things that they can't do and just saying, what can I do for you? It's beautiful. It's beautiful. There's just beautiful ways that you can step into people's lives. But I think the biggest question is how can I help you? You can ask that.

Crystal Keating:

That's so great to be reminded of and we've heard from many others too, who say these are some of the general things that we can think about doing, to offer. Like if you're experiencing brain fog, and you're thinking, I don't know what I need. So, for people to even specifically offer, would this be helpful?

Would it be helpful to do your laundry? What do you suggest? I think is probably a good thing. I don't know. You're the expert. Tell me. 

Danika Deva:

I think it's asking that question. What can I do? And if they say they don't have answer because of brain fog or they're so sick, you can just say, what do you need at the grocery store?

Can you give me your list? You know, can I do such and such for you? They'll tell you yes or no. And some people are apprehensive because I don't want someone doing my laundry and they don't know what I need, whatever. Again, it’s just about offering. Right? And if it's something that's too big, that's okay.

You can say I can't do that, but I'll find someone who can. Or I'll partner with a friend to make you a meal. You know? I think with chemical sensitivities and hypersensitivities, like even the food made in someone's house, might have mold in it. So, there's a lot of extreme things like that.

Like, I couldn't go to a restaurant ever. I think people don't realize, oh, well I have Glade plugins at my house. So, I'm going to bring you a book, but that book has absorbed the Glade plugin. So that person with hypersensitivity will react. There's things like that that you just don't think about, but it's still okay.

It's better to go. Thank you for the book. And I stick it in a baggie. And maybe someday I can read it outside. Right? But I still feel loved, supported, and blessed because you thought of me. 

Crystal Keating:

Heart of encouragement. Well, speaking of encouragement, how have you encouraged others to find freedom from shame, hopelessness, and regret in the midst of their hardships? You talk about emotional freedom. And I think those are things that we deal with as human beings, whether we have a disability or not, simply because we are a broken people living in a fallen world and we desperately need the hope of Christ.

So how have you encouraged others to find freedom? 

Danika Deva:

Yeah, this came out of round two. So, when I was in round two, two friends called me and prayed with me, and I realized that I had fear and anxiety, and a broken spirit. And I would have never said that about myself. Nobody would say that you're anxious person or fearful, but as I was digging deeper, I'm like, oh wow.

I do. And I realized I had bitterness over some betrayal that I had and some resentment and fear over even small things. I started giving those things to the Lord. And when I was in the camper, it was me and Jesus over and over and over. And I would just like write a list, where do I have fears and pray through it.

And I was like, where do I have anxiety? And I pray through it. Where do I have pride? Where do I not have Lordship? And so, through that, I created a process called a freedom sweep, which takes people through the five steps. So often people say, you need to forgive seven times seven zillion.

And you're just like, yeah, but how do I do that when X happened to me? This was awful thing. And the church doesn't always give us the steps, or our family doesn't give us the steps or the whole process. You know, just cast all your cares on Christ. Don't be anxious for anything. We give the verse, but what's that process to walk me through it?

And then I realized, hey, we're all stuck. We have yesterday's yuck and we need to get rid of it. It could be fear. It could be anger. We could just be tired of hitting that same replay button over and over and over. And so, the process is to release or forgive and then root up whatever that root is, renewing our mind and body, soul spirit it's all connected, replacing it with the opposite. If it's fear, then I want peace. I want love from God. I want to trust him. And then remembering his goodness, which of course is just thanking him for what he's doing in our life. God has said, I want you to train churches so that they can give this to the people.

And so, while I was in the camper after doing about 25 of my own and get rid of my own stuckness, my friend said, well, I want that. And I'm like, okay. So, I did it with her and it ended up being kind of like a ministry outside of everything I do for work and jobs. And God's like, I'm going to provide the resources that I'm going to make a way. I'm going to move you.

I'm like, no, you're not. I'm allergic to the world. You know, he's healed me so now I can move. And he says, take this to women who've been battered and shamed. Take it to everybody but take it to the church and give them this practical process. It's not a formula. Nothing with God is a formula. It's a process, right? And it helps people get unstuck from that. It's scripturally based. And just going before the Lord and saying, okay, God, I surrender this to you. Yes. I'm feeling trapped. Yes. I'm angry. Yes. This wounded me, but I'm going to give it to you. I'm going to trust that you're going to replace it with your goodness.

So, my heartbeat is just to help people walk through that and God said, do it free because I died for you on the cross. Don't charge people anything, just do it free. And so, I'm starting to take it to churches. I've worked with almost a hundred people going through the freedom sweep. Once I teach them the tool, they just take it and use it. And that's the glory of that. You can just use the process and it; it frees you from all those things. You know, we all have lists.

We're worrying. We're just over busy or fearful of the future or the scary unknowns or God, you didn't answer my prayer. Why not? Right?

Crystal Keating:

Oh, that's so good. Danika, we need more women like you in the church who have met with God in their hardships and seen him faithful and are able to share that with others.

You know, I'm curious, what are some of the most uplifting things people have done or said during the harder seasons of your life? 

Danika Deva:

I think just people saying, I will walk this journey with you in anything. Like, for me, it was physical illness and emotional support. But whether it's, I just lost my spouse, I will walk this with you.

Whether it's, I feel shame and regret over something in my life. I will walk this with you. And we have a mindset that says, oh, this person did this. Their life is ruined. No, their life has changed. Adjusted. Yes, my life wasn't ruined. Was it awful at times? Absolutely. It wasn't ruined because God is still in the middle of it.

And so, helping people not say, oh, you have just walk in shame and you're a loser because of this or that. No, we are beautiful. God wants to support us. And as fellow believers, we walk in that circle with them through whatever it is without judgment, you know? Just with love with blessing. And I have a friend that says, how can I be a blessing to you today?

That's his only question, right? Like what if everyone said that? What if you said that to your coworker and your spouse every day, your son, what if they said it back to you? What if they prayed that every single day? How beautiful would our world be? Because the blessing today might be, I need a cup of water.

Can you go to the store and get me filtered water, please? Or the blessing might be, can you just hold my hand? Can you pray over me? I feel like a leper because no one can touch you. You know, there's a lot of things. And just to be aware, that prayer basically is how can I be intentional in your life?

And when we ask God, we don't necessarily have to ask the person because God can reveal how you can be a blessing to your son or your brother or your friend. 

Crystal Keating:

Praying for one another and helping people remember their true identity, it's not in shame. It's not in regret. It's in hope and it's in faith and it's in love.

Well, Danika, how have you continued to serve your church and community through the ups and downs of your condition? And praise God, you are in a great, great season, hopefully, to last for many years to come. I know service is part of our heartbeat as Christians. So..

Danika Deva:

Absolutely. For me, I just kept finding churches I could go to. It's super easy to give up, especially when you're so sick, you can't get there, or you're just so stressed out. You can't even focus if you get there. You know? So again, it's that I'm going to be intentional about my life, whatever that entails. And for mine, it was stay in community. And sometimes the only thing I could do was walk around the church, come early, and say, “Hey, anything I can pray with you for?” And someone might say yes or no and pray with them.

That's all I could do. I couldn't teach a Sunday School cause I didn't know if I would even show up that day. I couldn't lead a women's group. I couldn't necessarily even join the choir. If you can't breathe, you can't sing. So, those are the things that we can do. You do what you know. God's told you to do without fear, boldness, and then you do what you can, just like in your illness.

I know I can eat this food or drink this water, or you do what you can do, and there are days where you just receive and that is totally okay. And it's even okay to ask. And there are days where you just give. But, staying in community is huge because that's how God created us to be interdependent.

We're such an independent-like society, right? And, and he says, no, I want you to be interdependent. I want you to depend on one another. New Testament church, they shared everything. And we're just like, nope, I'm going to live in isolation over here. Another thing because of the digital era, you know, when I was really sick, I was like, anybody want to read Philippians with me? I'm going to read all four chapters every single day for a month. And hopefully, I find some more joy right now. I had like 30-something people join me. The next month we read Ephesians. I had a hundred people. Who knew a hundred people would just want to read the Bible? We just read it in a Facebook group, and we shared a verse or a takeaway.

There were no rules. Who thought a hundred people would want to read the Bible four chapters every single day? I didn't, but people want to connect with God's word, with the hope of Jesus. And so that didn't take any effort on my part except, you know, hey, wow. That was a cool verse.

Great takeaway. So even though we can't do one thing, we can go to God and say, God, you know, what should we do? That was purely selfish. I wanted to have more joy. Philippians is a book about joy. So, I was like, who wants to join me? You don't know how you can help other people, even in your own mess. God just shows up. That's part of how God works it, which is just a joy. Yeah, I think we can all be hope dealers, is what I believe. You know, if hope comes from Christ and his word, God, in his word, we can always give hope. 

Crystal Keating:

That's right, hope dealer. Danika. It's been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. 

Danika Deva:

Thank you so, so much.

Crystal Keating: 

Thank you for listening to the Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast. If you’ve been inspired, would you leave a 5-star review? And don’t forget to subscribe! You can also visit to send me a message. I’m Crystal Keating and thank you for joining me for the Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast.


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