Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Help While You Wait

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those who have young.”
-Isaiah 40:11

Seeing as we are heading into a New Year, today is going to be a little more self-help oriented.  While these thoughts are coming to me in light of my chronic life situation in caring for our precious John, I hope they can apply to whatever season you currently find yourself in. 

I recently wrote about waiting, and I encourage you to check out the three recent videos on this topic by the Wolfs of  Truly inspiring!  The reality of Jesus’ Kingdom advancing and working to restore all things certainly informs how we wait and the ultimate hope we profess. 

But what else can we do while we wait?  What do we do when we find ourselves depressed once again, forgetting all the good that has come from the bad?   Rattled by fear, worrying about the heaviness of the future’s unknowns? Or we are simply down, because we do not see an end in sight?

My past week has been like this. The holidays always bring additional triggers for us, and then we know we are coming up on the twins’ birthday on January 21st with February 8th, the day John’s twin Warren passed away, following shortly after.  Dates on the calendar and certain occasions have a way of bringing the pain to the surface and our fears front and center. 

The old questions come back… right now, my questions have less to do with Warren’s untimely death (today, at least, I happen to have some peace knowing He is in a better place and that he is healed, whole, and happy with Jesus).  Instead, my present questions have more to do with John’s wellbeing and future.  Will he ever sit up independently?  Will we ever see a significant milestone?  Will going out to dinner as a family ever be easy?  Maybe he won’t ever walk… but will he at least talk and have a better way of communicating?  What will his and our options be when he becomes an adult?  Will his brothers feel burdened if they end up helping with his care some day?  Does Jesus still perform miracles?  Why were they front and center in every single Gospel narrative if He doesn’t seem to want to continue His miraculous work in my son’s life?  Am I only making it harder on myself to continue to pray for John’s healing (while simultaneously accepting him where he is) as I have felt called to do since the beginning?

Disclaimer here:  I don’t always feel this way, nor do I want you to think I take for granted all our blessings or the health John does have.  I know we all could easily point to people who have it worse than us, even though our human tendency, sadly, is to only compare to those who seemingly have it better.  But here is where some practical elements come in while we wait.  Things that I feel Christ uses to pull us up out of the muck and mire and set our feet back on solid rock (Psalm 40:2).  We all need our perspective renewed from time to time (Romans 12:2)! 

Here are two things that can help while you wait: 1) Gratitude and 2) Self-care.  And with chronic stress, these things must be incorporated into our daily routine so as not to slip too far into the muck (by the way, routine is another thing that I find helps a lot!). 

First: Gratitude.  Cheesy, yes, but bear with me.   As I stated in Gift of Gratitude,  I truly think it is key to grasp that our gratitude “stands as a bold confession, a stringent testimony against the darkness – proclaiming the Light.”  We must participate in the revolution!   Furthermore, gratitude may not mean finding things in your present day or situation you are grateful for… instead, it often means going back and recalling things, BIG things, from the past for which you are grateful, times when God really came through.  Certain things that were once HUGE (and still are) become commonplace and therefore expected rather than seen as a blessing after they have become embedded parts of our realities. 

An example here would be the wonderful school God has provided (and has brought many things together to make this possible) for John.  This school, and the care and love that John receives there, is nothing short of miraculous.  And yet, he has now been a student there for a year and a half, so I’ve come to simply expect it.  It is part of our “new normal.”  But when I stop, even on the crummiest of days, and remember how God provided through this school and continues to show up in my life and in John’s through this school, I am humbled, thankful and regain some much-needed perspective.  Additionally, my support system, both here and around the country, is an immense blessing that I know I can lose sight of on the hard days.  But how blessed am I that on any given day I have a number of people I could pick up the phone and pour my heart out to.  We all need these people in our lives, because Lord knows we are human and aren’t always going to maintain the proper attitude.   When I start recalling past provisions, I find I am more readily able to uncover things I can be grateful for in my current circumstances.

Second: Self-care.  Big counseling term.  Self-care, respite, time to unwind, reflect, and regroup.  We simply HAVE TO DO THIS.  We must work it in.  I’ve used every excuse in the book to not make self-care a priority but, after six years of this life, I’ve found it is not only imperative to you and everyone around you (especially if you are in a chronic situation such as a primary caregiver for someone), but self-care is also much cheaper than institutionalization!!  I’m chuckling, but this isn’t far from the truth!  Another line some of my friends and I like to quote is that a martyr can’t do anyone any good!!

What works for me may not work for you.  But find what does. 
Some self-care ideas include:
-Take a walk to clear your head.  Fresh air is a wonderful thing.
-Sit at a coffee shop to read, think, or get your administrative life tasks accomplished (a change of scenery and a sugary treat can make work fun, even the work you dread the most like applying for or renewing Medicaid or dealing with health insurance.)
-Pull out a deck of cards and play solitaire (or knit if you possess that talent, which I do not) in front of a mindless TV show.
-Plan a date night with that special someone or a dear friend (it helps to not only do these things but also have them to look forward to). 
-Hang out with people who are safe places for you and life giving rather than draining.  Limit time with those in your life who you personally find draining. 
-BOUNDARIES are huge.  Say no, so that you can yes to what matters!  Every once in awhile take your calendar out and EDIT!  Clear out what you can or what isn’t a priority.
-Get your heart rate up (a punching bag or manual labor like yard work can do amazing things for your stress level!)
-Do something unexpected for someone else.  It truly is better to give than to receive.
-Play a musical instrument.
-Sing when you are by yourself in the car.
-Plan an overnight trip even if you stay in your home town (you can find great deals on hotels if you ask around… I have been known to come back a much happier camper after just one night at a hotel, yes, by myself… room service, a movie in bed, reading, a FULL NIGHT’s sleep… it does wonders).
-Comedy!  We all know laughing is important, but how do you begin this process?  We’ve found comedians (Jim Gaffigan is our go-to) or those classic movies from high school or college (think Dumb and Dumber, Napolean Dynamite, or Tommy Boy) can really do the trick. 
-Take a hot bath when you aren’t in a hurry.
-Get a pedicure if that’s your thing.  Or a massage!
-Make a change you get to immediately see and enjoy!  For example, you may want to paint a room or change your hair color or style.
-Dance, even if you feel awkward… again, think about what you enjoyed dancing to in high school or college and dance around your kitchen!  If you really can't dance, just jump around or swing your arms in the air... huge mood improver!
-Cry!  Holding it all in never helps.  Cry and get it out when you need to!
-Remind yourself of God’s love for you, that this too shall pass, and that He is pleased with the wonderful job you are doing.

When we pursue self-care, we come into the spacious places the Lord wants to provide (Psalm 18:19), and we can be transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  We must be disciplined to get out of the patterns of the world, the patterns of anxiety, depression, comparison, and self-pity we sink into, and instead to recalibrate with what is good and pleasing in the Lord’s eye.  For what it’s worth, I find gratitude and self-care to be essential, and I am certainly writing this for myself as much as I am for anyone else who may find this beneficial.  If I put it out there into the world, I have more incentive to hold myself accountable!!  I believe you will also discover that these disciplines are helpful in getting out of your head and putting on the spiritual glasses to better see as God sees.  

He will not leave us as orphans.  Come again, He will!

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

-Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Christmas Photos:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gift of Gratitude

“I believe the Serpent’s hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn’t good. It’s the cornerstone of his movement. That God withholds good from his children, that God does not genuinely, fully, love us.   Doubting God’s goodness, distrusting His intent, discontented with what He’s given, we desire… more. The fullest life” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 14).

Sunday night before last, I attended a women’s event at a local church featuring Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts and   I don’t think it is an overstatement to say her book changed my life.  Needless to say, I was quite excited to be in the same room with her (and 1,700 other women!).  We can all look back upon moments, people, books, or experiences that came along at just the right time to speak the exact right word from the Lord into our desperate, lonely, or burdened hearts.  Ann’s book was just that for me several years back.  A gift from a precious friend (thanks Lindsey!) that turned into soothing balm from Jesus Himself for this mother’s broken, angry, and just plain confused heart. 

I was fortunate to be given a foundation in faith at an early age from my family, church and elementary school.  Thus, when tragedy struck as an adult, I couldn’t turn my back on God even when I wanted to at times.  My heart was shattered, and I beat my fists against His chest like a petulant child.  The faith anchor held, yet, on the flip side of tragedy, my searching mind and disappointed heart now required more than the “Sunday School answers” or neatly packaged theology that had carried me for most of my life.

I was hurt… deep, deep down.  Taking my child in what felt like a very cruel and untimely way did not line up with my view of a good God.  Watching John continue to suffer only made matters worse.  It wasn’t that I questioned my belief in God, it was more that I felt our trust had been severed… that the tenderness between a Daddy and his beloved daughter had vanished.  God was still sovereign Creator but was He Abba Father? 

In the early years, I simply could NOT handle Bible verses such as Romans 8:28 (God works everything together for the good for those who love Him), the explanation that our days are numbered and that I’m supposed to somehow find it comforting that my son’s days were set at 19, or the anecdote that God won’t give you more than you can handle (which is actually from a verse about overcoming temptation and not about being given more than you can handle in terms of pain and suffering in this life… see 1 Cor. 10: 13).  This wasn’t my season for the cheery or seemingly explanatory Bible verses.  (As an aside, we are blessed in that we don’t need to look far to find the many verses that take pain seriously and grapple with all the questions we may face.)  They felt like additional salt in my gaping wounds.

“Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency” (p. 16).

So along comes a woman, a book, and a story of real pain… deep loss.  A weeping mother and sister, a family left to pick up the pieces.  A faith sojourner asking the very questions weighing down my heart.  And yet Ann Voskamp came out on the other side with gratitude, encouraging others to also count blessings.  Not in a cheesy, trite way.  But in a way that stands as a bold confession, a stringent testimony against the darkness – proclaiming the Light.  This I could handle. 

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God… prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.  At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours” (p. 40).

This woman, through her pain, had earned the right to speak into this season of my life – shepherding me through the pain and leading me to recognize genuine flickers of renewed joy welling up in my heart.  Not an acceptance of the evil in this world, but a restored desire to take God’s hand again and trust Him to walk down the path of healing our relationship. This was a powerful turning point. 

“The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, ‘I know.  I know.’” (p. 87).

Then, that one Sunday night, I found myself in a warm, tear-filled embrace with this dear woman, the woman God used as His love instrument to begin stitching up my heart and mending my faith.  Tears fill my eyes as I type these words, never having dreamed I would be able to thank her in person.  And yet, we somehow managed to have a quiet moment during the evening’s intermission.  A moment of shared knowing. Compassionate eyes that simply communicated, “I get it,” as I briefly summarized our story and how her journey had so profoundly impacted my own healing journey.  

The gift of gratitude this night was mine… the tremendous honor of being able to express simple but sincere thanks to a woman for allowing herself to be utilized. For finding Jesus in her pain so that He could in turn meet me in mine. 

“As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible” (p. 33).

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living” (p. 84). 

“The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace” (p. 99).

Merry Christmas to all!! 

Such a gift to get mail addressed to all my boys!  Thanks, Ann!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Good from the Bad

A few months back, my mom and I celebrated a special occasion over a delicious dinner.  If you know my mother, you fully understand the fact that she has never met a stranger!  And so, as God ordained it, we struck up a conversation with one of the restaurant managers.  One thing led to another, and this man shared his heavy heart… a burden of love due to the sudden and unexpected downturn of his dear friend’s child’s health.  At only one year old, this child had begun having inexplicable and relentless seizures. 

As I sat and listened, I thought to myself, I know that life all too well.  That fear.  The invading panic.  The feelings of powerlessness to act or fix, either as the parent or as the supportive friend.  Feeling frozen in a moment while life all around you appears to whiz past at lightening speed.  

In the moments that followed, I was able to share our story, how quickly life can transition from a fairy tale to a nightmare…. how you go from studying restaurant menus in order to select the location of your next date night to analyzing seizure medications and medical protocols, memorizing and reciting them even in your sleep.  In addition to relating to the pain, I was able to offer some hope… that our son had overcome his seizures and had even been able to escape the clutches of those numbing medications.  I also shared my blog and email, in hopes that, if this family wanted to talk to someone who has walked this path, they could reach out to us.

I walked away from that special dinner with more than a full stomach.  I came home with a full heart.  Of course, I hate that anyone, and I mean anyone, would ever have to endure the heartache of watching his or her precious loved one suffer, battle a chronic illness, or leave their arms all too soon.

Nevertheless, as the days accumulate and years pass, beauty and joy spring forth when we realize there certainly can be good that comes from the bad.  There was a time when I never could have fathomed that ANYTHING good could come from Warren’s tragic death at 19 days old or John’s ongoing struggles.  I’m sure many of you resonate with this as I know you have your own trials, broken hearts or unfulfilled dreams.  And yet to honor my sons and to know their lives were/are not in vain— that the pain wasn’t for naught, that God can still be glorified— I have desperately needed to know good can come from the bad.  That death does not have the final say.  That life does ultimately win out.

Therefore, I started a simple Word document several years ago entitled “Good from the Bad.”  A “rainy day” document, so to speak – something I could pull up when the doubts flooded and fresh tears stung.  When all the ground gained was forgotten. Something that could speak the truth that God has been working different aspects and pieces of our story together for good, that beauty does come from ashes, that the sting of death is overcome by Christ’s ultimate victory and promise to restore and redeem all. 

In this document, I simply copy and paste excerpts from encouraging emails, comments on this blog, and stories like this one from the restaurant… anything that speaks to God’s hand at work in our family not only despite of but also because of the pain.

The very pain and loss I thought would kill me have been used to encourage and to comfort others. 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."
-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

I hope to encourage you today to consider starting your own “Good from the Bad” document or journal.  Reflect on experiences, circumstances, or people God has brought across your path, and record the ways God has encouraged you by using your pain and dark places to minister to others.  As you get into this habit, I imagine you will begin to see more and more good come from a seemingly "bad" story. And in that, I pray we will perceive how we truly are a part of something bigger than ourselves, a part of His Kingdom that will triumph.  Your pain may be heavy, powerful even.  I’m right there with you. But, also like me, I am confident your story is more powerful.

“Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
-C.S. Lewis