This Isn’t How I Imagined It Would Be…

How many times have we found ourselves in the midst of God’s plans and said, “This isn’t how I imagined it would be…” I could stop there and not finish that sentence and we could have a whole blog post painfully dwelling on the million thoughts of “what if things were different”  about a past we can’t change. That is not this post.Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 8.52.22 PM

Some of you may have been wondering what’s been going on with me these last couple of months. Well, this is my life update in a nutshell:

This isn’t how I imagined it would be… but it’s so much better.

I can’t change my past no matter how hard I try. I don’t find my sole identity in it, though it has helped shape who I am today. My past doesn’t dictate my future, but I’ve been learning that my present will help shape my tomorrow. Specifically, my being present. This is Philippians 4:8 living. This is living Matthew 6:25 -34 in obedience.

I’m a dreamer and have a wonderful imagination that I’ve often escaped to in times of stress or boredom in an effort to escape TODAY. It’s a “the grass is greener over there” mentality which obviously isn’t a healthy state of mind I should live in.

I have found that my mind is both a blessing and curse, a landscape of ideas and plans, yet a cage I get easily trapped by when I try to live in a future that hasn’t happened. In that cage I can feed fear and worry in all of its forms: fear of failure, fear of meaninglessness, fear of people, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, and fear of unfulfilled dreams. Anxiety.

The only thing that has been able to cut through the fog of my mind has been the Bible. Matthew 6 is an amazing passage that is part of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. It addresses the problem of worry (lack of trust in God’s character) and provides a very clear solution to live out truth. Take one day at a time, because that’s how God intended us to live.

Matthew 6:25-33

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

I’ve been learning the “one day at a time” living principle over the last couple of months of being home. Last December I reached my wall in regards to my health and school and decided to withdraw from college so I could seriously focus on getting healthier. It was simultaneously the hardest and best decision I have ever had to make to this day. It was hard because I had detrimentally put off focusing on healing to push through one more year of college. I was miserable mentally, physically, emotionally, academically, and confused spiritually. Thankfully God drove me to my knees and made me face some harsh realities about trying to live up to my own standards versus simply living in obedience to Him.

Basically, I had come to a point where I had to stop, drop, and heal before I seriously (and permanently) damaged my body. (Chronic stress will do a number on you!) The first few months were extremely hard on me as I sorted through the jumbled mess of my heart and head when all of my close friends were preparing for graduation and I was indefinitely postponed from participating.

Oi, did that hurt. I felt like an utter failure, left behind, and worthless. There wasn’t an end in sight. I thought I would be walking, and I wasn’t going to, not to mention I didn’t know if I was going to be able to any time soon. Everyone was moving on into a new season of life and I was in this weird invalid limbo, useless and (in my lying thoughts) easily forgotten. Safe to say, I was extremely frustrated with myself and the prison of an unhealthy body and mind.

God never leaves His children or forsakes them. Instead, He provides peace that passes all human understanding to help us grieve, to comfort us, and strengthen us to take the next faith step in His timing. I was driven towards His Word which was my only comfort and my only clarity during the first couple months of 2018. I had the luxury to take all the time I needed to immerse myself in meditating on God without the pressure of urgent responsibilities. I had the luxury to have precious unhindered one on one time with the Lord, and the luxury of being still and quiet so I could hear Him clearly. I learned a lot.

  • I learned about His abundant Grace towards me. (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
  • I learned more about myself and began to find my identity in Christ instead of my own human expectations. (Psalm 139) 
  • I learned crucial lessons about living in FAITH and accepting God’s grace in my daily life. (2 Corinthians 5:7, Heb. 11:8b)
  • I learned about His perfect LOVE that casts out fear (1 John 4:18, 2 Tim. 1:7) and how I could rely on God loving me perfectly and allowing different experiences into my life to refine and push me to be more like Him. (James 1:3, Romans 5:4) 
  • I learned to TRUST in a Sovereign God who completely understands me, who anticipates and meets my needs, and who cherishes me and provides the emotional security and stability I was searching for. (Isaiah 55:8-9, Jer. 31:3)
  • I learned to think and inundate my mind with TRUTH so that my expectations reflected God’s expectations for my life rather than what I thought other people wanted me to be. (Phil. 4:8)
  • I learned to take steps of faith on God’s terms at God’s pace, reassuring myself of the steadfastness of His mercy and character instead of worrying about the end result.  (Prov. 3:5-6, Ps. 119:105) 

I learned to trust God with my future however it looked (health-wise, academically, and relationally) and continued to pray for direction. I still had the question about finishing my education because it became clear that God closed the door to finishing school at the university up north. My health was seriously aggravated by the weather and I honestly needed a fresh start if I wanted to be motivated to finish my degree. Out of nowhere, a friend offered me an opportunity to join her on a trip down south where we’d visit her alumni university in South Carolina. I prayed about it and went on that trip in faith, waiting to see what would come of it. It soon became evident that God was working through this opportunity and multiple people I met began to affirm that this might be a new direction for me to go.

All of my questions about health care, transferring credits, connections, and living arrangements were basically answered. I found myself surrounded by some of my closest college friends who had graduated the year before and moved to the area around the university I was looking at! I had abundant access to health resources that could assist my healing process. I had people who shared and understood my experience with chronic illness. And I had a opportunity to get the fresh start I desired as I pursued God’s perfect will in my life. I was invigorated during my visit due to the climate, and I actually felt healthy for the first time in 3 years! It was incredible!

Fast-forward to today, I have more energy because I’m allowing myself to rest and I’m cognizant of a healthier homeostasis. I’ve changed several bad habits and am earnestly working on making newer healthier ones. I’ve been accepted as a transfer and will continue pursuing my music ed degree down in Greenville, SC. In a few months I’ll be moving there to live on my own for the first time! I am anticipating all the lessons God is teaching me in this season of growing health, new unknowns, and faith tests.

With this season of change comes a lot of future content as I continue to share what God is teaching me as He leads. I’ve learned that He controls my “pen” and when He wants me to write, I’ll write.

I hope this gives you encouragement that while the seasons of waiting may be long and silent, God is still working! He is always steadfast in His love, and His love will manifest itself perfectly in our lives as He directs us. God always has a plan for our lives, even when it doesn’t seem clear to us. That’s when we need to apply Philippians 4:8 to our thoughts (Whatever is true -think on these things.) Our clarity isn’t a requirement for God to be working. He isn’t in the business of always answering to the benefit of our immediate happiness. God always is looking for our eternal joy and happiness which only comes through Christ and a life surrendered to Him.

This isn’t what I imagined my life would be.

It’s so much better.

To God “that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” Praise His Name!

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Chronic Illness: Part 4 – Music and Suffering

 

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It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt inclined to write here. There have been other things in my life that have needed my attention, so this blog fell to the back-burner so to speak. In my time away, however, God has taught me so many things that I definitely want to share with you at a later date! There will be a life update in a future post. 🙂 To review what we’ve talked about in this Chronic Illness series already, check out Part 1 ,Part 2 ,and Part 3. Now on to today’s topic!

God’s Truth and Music

I initially had another post planned as the “part 4” in this series on chronic illness, however I felt that this topic would be a nice juxtaposition to the previous post describing the spiritual battles behind being sick.  Again, this was organically born from my own experiences in the last couple of months. The Lord has been gently leading me to greater understandings of the lessons He has set up for me in this season of illness.

Just about a year ago, one of my best friends introduced me to a particular song by musician Laura Story called Blessings. At the time that friend, two other mutual friends, and I were dealing with different degrees of illness in college, and this song resonated in our hearts at the deepest level. Last September I went to the Getty SING! music conference in Nashville where I saw Laura Story and Joni Eareckson Tada speak in a session on music and suffering.

Laura had to deal with the life-changing experience of walking with her husband through a brain tumor journey. Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic after a diving accident at 19 years of age. Both ladies shared the impact that music had played to comfort and challenge them through their trials. Music has a way of penetrating our souls in ways mere words cannot. We can be comforted as well as challenged by God’s truth as we listen then meditate on a song. My journal is full of hymn texts and song lyrics that I’ll mull over in my head to keep my mind focused on what is true about my God and what is true about my situation. The spiritual battles are fought with TRUTH. Jesus resisted the devil by quoting scripture. The Bible is FILLED with so many verses that speak about the importance of speaking Truth to oneself as a source of strength, defense, refreshment, and encouragement.

“Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11) 

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) 

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4: 1-4) 

One of the greatest hurdles with dealing with chronic illness is how many LIES we can tell ourselves and how many lies surround us. The world gives us temporary solutions to combat the despair, discouragement, and depression we sometimes feel in response to our chronic illness. There are placebo pills, positivity/empowerment messages of “Don’t let this illness get you down! You are stronger than you think!” and distraction philosophies that the world tells you will help regulate your emotions during times of trial.

They might seemingly work for a time, but those of us who’ve gone through “deep water experiences” know that the world’s solutions will not satisfy or penetrate the heart levels as God’s truth can. They are inferior to the superiority of our Sovereign God.

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) 

Only God’s Word can help bring light unto the darkness of our situations and comfort us with a “peace that passes all understanding.”

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Music alone can be powerful. It has a way of comforting the soul when it’s in the deepest of turmoil. The Bible gives us an example of how the evil spirit within Saul was calmed when David played music.

“And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (1 Samuel 16:23)

There was a research study done by the American Psychological Association that delved into the effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and hostile feelings. Basically, studies like the one above observed what happened to people when someone used music and paired it with “un-truth” and the resulting social, emotional, and psychological consequences. If you wanted to see more information on this, just type “Does music influence behavior?” in your search engine. I guarantee you, you will find hundreds of articles talking about the effect of music on the brain.

So what happens when you combine TRUTH and music together? This is the cool part. You have a powerful combination that helps to comfort your soul in the most trying of times, and a means of hiding God’s word and truth in your heart through repetition!
Joni Eareckson Tada emphasized how we Christians need to have deep truth we can cling to and meditate upon to lift our spirits in trial. I couldn’t agree more.

There is a great debate about musical style in the Christian realm, and while I won’t get into that, I truly believe that one needs to go to the Bible for himself to decide what his personal preferences will look like. There are clear guidelines that we need to follow in regards to be discerning about what we allow to influence our life. (Psalm 19:14; Phil.4:8; 1Cor. 10:31-to name a few.) The Bible must always be the root source of our convictions, personal choices, and grounding beliefs. You have to look there first and know your God deeply to get a clearer picture of what pleases him (music included!), and He surely will direct you! We shouldn’t go to the Bible to justify our own choices. The Bible’s truths and principles need to dictate our choices. Isn’t it wonderful that we can serve the same God and yet do it in different ways that are all pleasing to Him!

Not everyone is going to have the same convictions as to what style of music is “good” for them to encourage their walk with Christ. There’s going to be a lot of variety, but having different opinions doesn’t have to divide us if we are all united in the body of Christ and in the truth of His Gospel.

Music can be powerful and it can truly help those of us suffering through “deep waters” cling to the saving, comforting Truth of God.

Here are three songs that have greatly helped me through my years of sickness.

“Day by Day”  – Linda Sandell

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

 

“Lord of the Small” – Johanna Anderson

Praise to the Lord of the small broken things,
who sees the poor sparrow that cannot take wing.
who loves the lame child and the wretch in the street
who comforts their sorrows and washes their feet.

Praise to the Lord of the faint and afraid
who girds them with courage and lends them His aid,
He pours out his spirit on vessels so weak,
that the timid can serve and the silent can speak.

Praise to the Lord of the frail and the ill
who heals their afflictions or carries them till,
they leave this tired frame and to paradise fly.
to never be sick and never to die.

Praise him, O praise Him all ye who live
who’ve been given so much and can so little give
our frail lisping praise God will never despise-
He sees His dear children through mercy-filled eyes.

“Blessings”Laura Story

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

 

 

 

Chronic Illness: Part 3 – The Spiritual Battle

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If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, feel free to catch up!

I took a little longer to publish this, because this post is rather tricky for me to write. I suppose that’s because I’m in the midst of this specific focus on chronic illness. It’s not something I’m reflecting on that happened in the past, but rather something that I am currently dealing with. This is a look at my reality.

In the first post, I briefly talked about the emotional and spiritual warefare people face on top of the physical battle of chronic illness. Here’s my main thought on that.

As Christians in the scope of all eternity, our earthly physical suffering is merely a backdrop to spiritual warfare where our heart is the prize.

That’s a bit much to chew on, so let me try to break it down a little.

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Spiritual Warfare: The Greater Battle

When you think about a person suffering from a long term illness, your focus is primarily on the the pain that they are having to face. You may see a outward disintegration of health (sometimes you don’t #invisible illness), but you rarely get a glimpse of the internal conflict that is a day to day reality for us.

When my body is weakest I have to fight the most. I have to fight the lies that Satan tells me: lies about my situation, lies about the the duration of my suffering, lies about my future, lies about my worth, lies about who God is. I am bombarded by thoughts of discouragement, despair,  anger, frustration, impatience, pessimism, fear, worry, and defeatism. I will be addressing how I fight specific lies Satan and my flesh bring to mind in an upcoming post, but here are some very common ones.

“I can’t ________, anymore.” 
“I used to be able to do ___________.” 
“I’m helpless,… worthless,… insignificant,…useless.” 
“God is cruel… unfair… vindictive… selfish…”
“If God was truly a loving God, why is there pain and suffering?”

When you’re lying in bed, stuck in some sort of “suffering limbo” and “everyone else” in the world is moving forward, it’s easy and natural to think despairingly about your situation, to question God, especially if you can’t seem to see an end to all of this. If you’re not actively fighting to think on truth, and you indulge where your feelings will lead you, I assure you, without a doubt you’ll surely end up in a very dark place. You’ll turn those lies over and over and over again in your brain, until basic depression can consume your mind.

You follow your natural feelings, you follow your natural responses, you’ll end up in a very dark, fear-ridden, worry-consuming, despairing, God-less place. Guaranteed. No doubt. I’ve done that, and I felt utterly alone. And I’m sure that anyone who has experienced some sort of chronic illness has been there too.

I feel that the primary difficulty of being chronically ill as a Christian is fighting the spiritual war that seem to overwhelm us in our weakest moments. Especially when we feel we are physically too weak to fight our minds. To me, at least, that is the biggest and most important of the battles I’m facing in the present, more so than the physical. Medicine may help alleviate my “outer” pains, those pertaining to my body, but it does very little to help with the battles of the mind and heart. When our bodies fail us, we are left alone with our minds, and if we are passive, it is so easy to give in to our flesh, to the world, and to Satan who ultimately rejoices in immobilizing our potential to minister for Christ.

That is the real battle, I feel. It is greater than the physical pain we may face, because our responses to the spiritual battles shape our perspective of who God is. Our perspective of who God is in turn shapes our lives and ultimately informs where we choose to spend eternity.

Spiritual Warfare: The Reality

It’s so easy to think when you’re physically healthy, cognitively sharp, and not currently experiencing trials, “I’m strong enough and smart enough to resist temptation. I’ve got enough will power to not fall for Satan’s deceptions. Telling myself those lies is ludicrous. It’s immature Christianity. I know who my God is. Just don’t think like that. Lord, just take away those thoughts.”

Ok. Let’s try that. Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t you even dare even think about one ear of a pink elephant. Are you thinking about pink elephants? Whether or not you actually did, that’s a classic example people have used to show the futility of trying to control your mind by sheer will power. You cannot simply ignore or remove said thoughts like you may clean your computer desktop. You must change your focus and replace those thoughts “the weights that so easily beset us,” with truth. What is true about God in your situation? This is the ONLY way to fight the spiritual battle.

When Satan tempted the Son of God in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-11), Christ used scripture truths as His rebuttal. Like your invisible illness, you may not necessarily “see” a spiritual battle going on, but there is definitely one going on.  Satan is actively trying to use all of your circumstances, your flesh, and the world to distract you, to cause you to stumble, to weaken your faith in God, to change your perspective of God, to make you unprofitable and unusable to God. 

I know it. Because I can see that actively happening in my life. After a great encouraging Sunday when I’m reminded of how much God loves me, I’m riding this “spiritual high” of a refreshed understanding of my Abba’s character. Yay! Life is great, and I’m content with my sickness in that I know I’m drawing closer to God, so therefore, I can rejoice. Though life isn’t ideal, there isn’t anything to challenge my thinking otherwise. That’s Sunday.

Monday comes, and I might have a break down physically, or something someone says or does emotionally and physically stresses me. The next thing you know I’m questioning God’s love based off of my feelings. Note: That’s always a bad choice.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?(Jeremiah 17:9)

Thoughts like the following start to come into my mind, like cascading dominos. I don’t feel useful. I don’t feel like I’m ever going to get past this hurdle of weakness. I’m defined by my sickness. I’m never going to get better. Nobody loves a sickie. I’m a burden. Why is there so much pain? Why can’t I just be normal? On and on, and on.

Think of putting your face next to a hydrant and asking the fireman to turn on the water. I plummet. And as I sit amongst the carnage of my destructive thoughts in a moment of clarity, hours have past. Valuable time that had I been more active at guarding my heart and running away from my temptation to dwell on lies, I could have been writing, reading truth, encouraging, uplifting, praying, and communing with God. My passivity to the battle that I didn’t know was in front of me, rendered me useless for a day to the Lord.

Ironically enough, Satan uses my moment of clarity to start shoving feelings of guilt, of despair, of regret, of frustration, of confusion, of utter loss, and the inability to receive grace into my heart. I think: “I failed again. I sinned again. This was the ____ time. God must be tired of me failing. I’ll never conquer this. I’ll never be released from these bonds. I’ll never…

Lies, and more lies, unrelenting, hard, heavy, battering against my soul as Satan, my flesh, and the world work against what God is trying to do in my life. I want to be used of my Lord in whatever way He desires. I am His servant, who is willing to be taught. I am His little daughter who clings to Him as she tries to walk on those wobbly legs of faith. Yet I didn’t think I had to be a soldier so soon. My armor is weak, but my Father’s arm is strong as He helps me to lift the sword of truth to defend against the Enemy.

I fail countless times. Oh how I fail. Sometimes the weight of succumbing to temptation weighs heavily on my heart, because I feel beaten and down trodden, unable to have victory. I have been reminded recently that God gives Grace for EVERYTHING. While I feel far from triumphant, I know God will continue to give me strength, when I have none to fight these daily battles for my heart focus.

We have victory through Salvation. Satan no longer controls us. We CAN say no to temptation. We have the potential in Christ to resist. We just forget that way too often. There is hope in Christ. There’s a spiritual battle going on, and I’m right there with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chronic Illness: Part 2 – “New Normals”

If you haven’t read Part One of this series, click here! Chronic Illness: Part 1-Perception vs. Reality

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Part Two: New Normals

When someone is dealing with an invisible illness, his or her life is transformed overnight. It’s like whenever a natural disaster hits an area. Some sort of catalyst interrupts a normal town for a traumatic moment, then the inhabitants must deal with the damage months or years after. They have to rebuild, reorganize, and reformat their lives to accommodate change. Reconstruction of an area cannot make everything the same as before, but the people learn to grow with the differences. In order for you to understand how chronic illness has impacted my life, we are going to take a look at a couple before and after scenarios from my life to show you what has changed.

Before: Energy – Before I got sick three years ago, I was a go-getter, do everything, school is easy for me kind of gal. Now as I look back at what I used to be able to do, it looks like a totally different person. I hardly recognize her. It blows my mind that I ever felt that I could do all of “that” without having any after-effects! I never had to “pull-back” on the activities that I wanted to do to conserve energy. I had boundless stamina, and I was always moving or involved with one big project after another. I never had to deal with facing the possibility I wouldn’t be able to do the big dreams I had for my future. The world was wide and rich with all the things I could do!

After: Energy – Some days I walk up a flight of stairs and have to sit down, because I’m tired already and out of breath. Other days I can’t get out of bed because I’m in pain, entirely worn out because I didn’t have enough sleep, or I ate something contaminated that I shouldn’t have resulting in a huge headache and loss of balance. Some days I just stay home because it’s too much to get in a car and drive somewhere. I’m afraid of not having enough energy to drive back, or of not being aware enough to be safe. I have a whole list of things that I can’t do much of because I don’t have the stamina: running around doing a million things, walking for long periods of time, or lifting heavy things. (I used to move furniture around all the time at home.) Playing my instrument tires me now, because I can’t hold my violin up for very long.

Before: Academics – I was a decent, almost all A student. I graduated valedictorian of my high school class, and I hardly had any trouble understanding material. I never received an F in a class because I was unable to complete the assignments because I couldn’t think clearly. I never had to deal with brain fog, staring at a book or screen for hours not even comprehending the content. I never had to retake classes because I kept failing them. I never had to face the fact that I needed to pull out of school because I was too sick to finish.

After: Academics –I was going to graduate in 4 years like any other college kid, but I decided to take it easy so I pushed graduation off another year (5 years of school!). I was supposed to graduate this coming May. The key word –Was. After pushing myself again this past semester (it’s a life struggle for me -I’m working on it!), at the end, I finally had to admit I was done. I had to focus on healing, otherwise I know I would have damaged my body irrevocably because I had pushed past my limitations. I withdrew from college to put all of my efforts into focused healing. I can’t do the deep thinking required of me unless I’m healthy.

Before: Emotional health – I never really had to deal with depression, self-harm thoughts, and moments of utter despair because of all of my physical limitations. I never cried in my bed because I couldn’t get up, and because I was so tired of saying “I can’t,” sick of being sick. I never had to deal with the fact that there was a possibility I wouldn’t get back to “normal” and that I had to accept the fact that I had new boundaries, and accept this was my new normal in life. I never had days when I sat on the floor of my room, crying, and beating my fists on my bed, yelling at God asking “Why? Why all this pain? These disappointments? Why more?”

So much angst huh? You might be thinking that I’m this emotional, over-dramatic wreck, that I’m someone that cries all the time, and that my narration might be exaggerated a bit.

While the part that I cry all the time is partially true (I do feel things deeply), it doesn’t lessen the realities of what people with long-term illnesses have to face emotionally. Unless you personally have gone through an experience like this, it is very hard for outsiders to feel exactly what we feel when our futures are changed before our very eyes.

After: Emotional health –  All of my “potential” seemed to be sucked dry as a result of my illness. I had all of these dreams to participate in “big” ministry opportunities like being a counselor at a Christian camp, going on an international missions trip to Asia, being in student and dorm leadership on campus, or that particular heart dream of traveling the country on a music team for my college. “Poof.” Gone. However as discouraged as I was with more disappointments, I realized a key truth about God.

“God’s plans for me are far bigger and far more satisfying than my pursuit of my immediate happiness. His goal is what’s best for me “long-term.” He will bring into my life whatever experiences that will give Him the most glory in the response of my life. Anything that happens to me isn’t about me at all – it’s all about God. Right now, the best way for that to happen is through me being sick, afflicted, tried, and tested, for I shall come forth as gold.”

~My Journal

Here’s another truth. When you’re chronically sick, accepting a new normal – your actual present state of health – is NOT giving up. I’ll discuss in a future post about the lies chronically sick people can tell themselves, but this one was a fundamental one.

Accepting where you are right now as your new normal is NOT giving up on ever becoming healthy again. 

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)

Accepting the fact that TODAY you are sick, is ok, because that is exactly what God wants you to be worried about. It’s exactly where God put you and allowed you to be in His perfect will. Tomorrow could change, and you could feel better, but it comes down to living life one step at a time. You have to accept that. (P.S. You’re going to be forced to do that through chronic sickness, so better learn it now so it doesn’t hurt as much.)

Accepting your new normals means that God is in control of your today, and whatever battles you are facing today. You are relying on Him to get you through it moment by moment. He is in control of your present state, and He knows what your future state may be, but you need to focus what little energy you may have within the boundaries He lovingly has put around you.

Whatever you’re facing – if you’re a Spoonie yourself #chonicillnessbuddy or if you’re a friend of one, or just reading because you’re curious – adjustments to God changing your life will be hard. I’m not telling you they won’t be, but I’m telling you there’s still hope.

You might be feeling very overwhelmed with all of the different, scary, and intimidating unknowns that you’re having to deal with. I get that! If you’re like me, you’re taking the whole of your future at once, and allowing your worry to mushroom cloud with what if’s and other things you frankly have no control over. Whoops. (Because no one does that…ever…)

From my heart to yours: Dear friend, these changes in your life may be wrought with your uncertainty, but here’s me being brutally honest with you – God knows.

LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether (Psalm 139: 1-4)

The more you are driven to read about God from the Bible, when there are no answers for you outside of it, the more you come to understand just how wonderful, understanding, comforting, strong, and unfathomably loving our great God is. He knows exactly what you’re going through, and He’s opening His arms for you to run to Him. He knows you’re scared of all of these changes, but you must trust that He knows what is best for you today and any other day.

God loves you, friend. He loves you too much to keep you where you are when He has so many better and bigger things planned for you. Pain may just be a part of your growing to be more like Him. Even if you can’t see it today, there’s always a good purpose.  Always.

Chronic Illness: Part 1-Perception vs. Reality

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This series is meant to give you a little more insight on my personal experience dealing with the ramifications of being chronically ill, and how God is using this period of my life to shape me! Hopefully, if you’re suffering too, it will encourage you that you’re not alone! If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with some form of long-term illness, here’s a look into what’s really going on in our heads to help you understand our needs when we might not be able to put it into words. 

Disclaimer: Not all experiences are exactly the same, but you’ll find a lot of similarities!

Part One: Perception vs. Reality

Here’s a little known fact about people who suffer with chronic pain, fatigue, or *insert invisible illness of choice:* what a normal person sees is but a minute fraction of what is truly going on.

Perception: “You don’t look that sick.”

What most people don’t realize is that there are deep mental, emotional, and spiritual battles going on, on top of the physical consequences that sometimes are not even seen at all! Any visible symptoms that something isn’t quite “right” are often carefully concealed by novice invalids like me in several ways:

  • ghosting – disappearing unannounced for days at a time.
  • isolation – retreating from normal social habits, a higher than normal preference to be alone.
  • The words “fine,” “good,” or “ok” – This can be tricky because it could be very true (in comparison to really bad sick days) or simply a matter of personal privacy.
  • “faking-normality” – trying to do all the things we used to do, at the same level, not willing to ‘give into the reality of our new normal.
  • “helping others” – focusing on other people’s pain to detract ourselves from our own and others from focusing on us.

Reality: “I’m hiding it really well.”

Based off of my personal experience and interacting with multiple friends who have chronic illnesses, (when you have one, you start meeting people like you!) the initial reaction is to be private about being sick. Privacy can be fine until it elicits an inaccurate perception of you and the serious reality of your health. This easily leads to communication issues, misunderstanding, and other difficulties when people don’t understand what boundaries they need to be aware of when they interact with you. This is hard, because you don’t want people to treat you differently than the way that they treated you before, even though it may be necessary.

  1. Guilt about being a burden.

One of the reasons that you might not be aware of the depth of your loved one’s illness is the fact that we feel weirdly guilty. We don’t want to share that much with others because we don’t want to add to the burden of all the inconveniences of us being sick: the new diet accomodations, the doctor appointments, the time commitments, etc. Our immediate families bear the brunt of us being sick because their lives are the most affected. We see the sacrifices that they make for us day to day, and we’re unable to “pay them back” in action. That makes us almost want to contain the “damage” to a select group of people.

2. Unwanted Attention

I know it’s very hard for me to open up to other people outside my immediate family about how truly sick I am because I don’t want the attention. I don’t want to monopolize a conversation with a description of my illness and its ramifications. This can happen when people simply ask my parents how I’m doing. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable because I just want to be sick in private, if that makes sense. Being sick for me is the ultimate vulnerability, because it’s being unable to do things myself and having to rely on others to help me complete different tasks. I’m so not used to that, and it is a pride thing I’ll admit, because I never had to ask anyone for help before I got sick. I don’t want to draw attention to my weakness, because I still cling to the hope that I’ll get better and get back to “normal.” This leads me to my next point.

Perception: This is just a temporary sickness, like a cold. It’ll pass.

Sometimes people get confused when I still say I’m sick, (after 3 years!) but I still look like a human. I smile, I laugh, and I still try to do things with people when I’m able to. There are a couple of things that you need to know. Having a chronic illness means it’s a long-term health condition that may or may not be curable. Examples can range from Chronic Fatigue and Diabetes to different cancers, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Lyme disease. I have chronic stress associated with Adrenal Fatigue (Adrenal Insufficiency) , and I’m currently preparing to get tested to see if I have Celiac which is an autoimmune disease.

I assure you. My sickness doesn’t go away with Benadryl or Advil and chicken soup. It has stuck around for the last three years, slowly but drastically changing my entire life. I have planned another post in this series detailing how chronic illness has changed my life, so I’ll spare you an explanation. However, just to be clear, it has taken me a long time to accept my health condition as my new normal.

Reality: Chronic Illness lingers indefinitely and changes your life forever.

I may smile and act “normal” which may confuse people because I’m not acting like the idealized sick person everyone has pictured in their head, the ones in the hospital or in the wheelchairs hooked up to multiple machines. Sickness comes in different forms and different degrees, and it’s no less serious to the person who battles with chronic pain daily to the person who needs artificial help to breathe and run their organs because they cannot themselves.

Invisible illnesses can bite those of us who have it because we don’t show visible evidences of what’s going on in our bodies internally. I choose to smile and try to live my life within the boundaries of my new normal, because the sooner I accept the fact that my life will never be the same, the easier it is for me to adjust to the changes. I used to fight that so much, always referencing “when I get better,” or “when I get back to normal,” in this vain hope that I’ll someday be the exact same boundless energy, limitless Lizzie of 5 years ago. I haven’t given up hope that I’ll regain some of that energy, but I have to accept the reality that this is exactly where and how God presently wants me to live my life – for His glory!

As for God, His way is perfect… Your right hand has held me up… You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip.

Psalm 18: 30-36 

God has taught me so many lessons through getting sick, and I have gotten a taste of the reality of minute to minute reliance on His strength when I absolutely have none. As much as I dislike my limitations, and I buck against them over and over again, God has used this trial to train and stretch my faith in ways that I couldn’t have experienced without getting sick. I may not like the method that God is using to teach me, but I have confidence that this is the very best thing for me to have in my life in this very moment.

No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.

Psalm 84:11

Based on that verse, being healthy wasn’t what God considered “good” for me. Huh. It’s funny isn’t it? That God could consider sickness, pain, and difficulties as being “good” for His children. That is contrary to EVERYTHING the world would say a loving God would do! Personally, I’m thankful that God loved me enough to give me difficulties and to give me this sickness, because my life has irrevocably been changed for the better because I know and trust Him so much more. I have confidence in His faithfulness. I have confidence in His strength. I have confidence that He will work everything out for His glory and our good. How do I have confidence? Because He has shown His character through every step of leading me through my illness, every single day since I first ended up in that hospital in Colorado, that’s how.

Hopefully this was a good introduction of what is to come in this series! I’ll be writing more on my experience and what God has done through it all in the weeks to come. Be encouraged dear friends – our God is faithful through every trial you or a loved one is going through!

Until next week! 🙂

Joyfully His,

Lizzie

 

 

 

Revision: Exchanging Our desires for God’s Desires

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Write. Save. Revise. 

With the end of term coming up, this post itself is unrealistic. How did she find time to write all of this, you may ask.  I made the time as a challenge to myself to keep the right focus these crucial weeks until graduation.

Write. Backspace. Highlight. Delete. 

As a premise, I am a free-writing type of girl when it comes to jotting down ideas, journaling, and often writing academic papers. I write what I feel in conversational English, in a way I think best allows people to connect with and relate to. I approach every blog post in the same way, with one difference. I only write the blog post when I feel that the content is something the Lord desires I share.

Save. Revise. Write. Backspace. Write. 

By this paragraph, you must be confused and frustrated with the constant interruptions of thought in this post. I get it. You feel like you want a certain measure of organization, a natural flow of thought with leading points to some spiritually enlightening truth as you have come to expect in this blog. But you were constantly interrupted by italicised commands that had seemingly nothing to do with what I was talking about in the beginning.

Welcome to LIFE.

God continues to teach me how His ways are not my ways, nor are His thoughts my thoughts as I pursue a college degree. I am one year away from graduation, and the detailed 5 year plan I had written out in my freshman year is now null and void. I want a cohesive, big-picture view of where I need to be headed. I want my future to come in a series of checkpoints on a gradual incline that leads me to a form of security. I want a divinely appointed one-lane decision course that will lead me in God’s will.

Instead, I’m constantly interrupted by ill- health that disrupts my potential to serve God in a way I feel best. I’m faced with disappointment when my efforts to “do normal life” and “to school” are hindered by uncertainty because of physical problems. Clear mental cognition is easily replaced with emotional and mental fatigue in a moment’s notice.

Two years ago, my future was “set” because it was dependent upon a healthy body that could physically handle the stresses of college. I was going to get a masters right away after I graduate. I was going to work at a Christian camp. I was going to see if I could travel with a music ministry team. I was planning on taking a missions trip.

Those were my desires. They weren’t necessarily bad, but obviously, those desires were not in God’s plan for me in this stage of life. Now with uncertain health, I am grappling once again with the truth that God knows exactly what is best for me. As I’ve been contemplating all the potential “next steps” in my life, God has been teaching me that I need to revise how I live TODAY in preparation for His leading in the future. Here are some truths I’ve been learning about our amazing God.

  1. God loves me better and more perfectly than I can love myself or than others can love me. I need to trust in His ability to love me best, even if it doesn’t appear the way I think it should.
    • Psalm 139:13 – “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
    • Matthew 10:29; 31 – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father… Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” 
  2. I can take a step out in faith, but Christ must first tell me to “Come.” He alone needs to lead my steps and decisions.
    • Matthew 14: 28-31 – “And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
  3. Sometimes you can erroneously “spiritualize” a desire by praying about it constantly, when God simply desires you to leave it in His hands. This is such a passive aggressive way to try and control a situation! Fill your mind with Christ and not the object of your desires!
    • Psalm 19:41 – “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” 
    • Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
  4. I don’t need to shoulder the enormous burden of having the entirety of my life figured out TODAY. I just need to rely on God’s grace to handle the responsibilities He gives me today. BE FAITHFUL TODAY. That’s all.
    1. Matthew 22: 37-38 – “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.”
    2. John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

 

I sometimes want to sing “Tis so hard to Trust in Jesus, Just to take Him at His Word, Just to rest upon His promise, Just to know ‘Thus saith the Lord.” That is a constant spiritual battle for me to practically apply that truth daily. But it IS sweet when you finally can rest in the character of the God of the universe. It IS sweet when you are willing to let go of your unbelief and trust in His promises.

Fill your mind with truth friends, and God shall never lead you astray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ submitted his desires regarding the Crucifixion before His father through prayer. I’ve taken to write one particular phrase daily as a reminder of His sovereignty over my life, and I’d encourage you to think on this too!

“Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.”