“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.”
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 HopeHeals.com. 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.”