What to Remember About Struggles

Here’s an article I wrote over on JoJoisms back in November of 2014.

November is the month of Thanksgiving, but those of us who struggle with chronic illness or other chronic issues often find it difficult to feel thankful for what we have.  I understand this as one who has struggled with chronic issues for over 35yrs, but I also know we do have things to be thankful for.  It’s just often very hard to see them through the pain and frustration and sadness.  I know from experience that they are there if I look for them.  Starting with my last post, The Blessings of Pain, and all this month, I’ll be sharing my observations on being thankful, joyful and grateful even in the midst of the darkness and despair that is chronic illness.  Here is an article I wrote a while back as we continue our month-long study of thankfulness in the face of chronic issues.

Sometimes things that friends and family communicate to us can make our struggles more difficult, but there are things we can communicate to ourselves that can help us during struggles.  Today I’d like us to consider some things that will help us remember that God is not out to get us when struggles come. God isn’t punishing us and that there is a reason and maybe even a blessing around the corner.

Here’s what we need to remember during hard times: 

1. Even if we cannot feel Him, God is still with us

We can count on Him to help and support us through the difficult times.  Often we feel abandoned by God when tough times come.  It’s only natural that we may not feel close to God when we are struggling, but if we can remind ourselves that God has not moved away from us, we might feel Him near.  It’s always harder to find something when we aren’t looking.

It’s almost like when you have a close relative who lives far away.  You can’t reach out and touch them or hug them, but you can still talk to them on the phone, but only if we dial the phone.

2. This struggle may prepare us for an incredible opportunity

We may need to learn something from this horrible experience that will help us in the future.  Just as the butterfly strengthens its wings as it tries to break through the cocoon, so we may be strengthened by the struggles we face.  If you cut short the butterfly’s struggle to break out, you assure that he will not be strong enough to fly afterward.

It’s not fun to think about this, but it will help you see a purpose…a method to the madness and meaning in the wilderness.

3. Think of this struggle as an opportunity to trust God with your life rather than a time of meaningless strife

I remember delivering both my children via natural childbirth.  It was more painful than anything I have ever experienced in my life or likely will again.  Part of the training the Bradley Method provides (similar to La Maz) is to realize that there is a reason for the pain.  At the end of this excruciating pain so intense I felt like ripping my face off, I was blessed with a precious child of God.

Thinking about that pain now, I don’t think I could have stood it for just a few minutes if I didn’t know it was for a good cause.  My pain wasn’t meaningless so I was able to endure it and trust that God would end it with the blessing of a child.

Some labor lasts only a short time as mine did.  My son was born only three hours and fifteen minutes after the first sign of labor.  However, some children are born after 20 hours of labor.  Likewise, some struggles may last a day and others will last years.  Knowing there is a purpose, even if we don’t know what that purpose is, will help us endure. If you can’t see a purpose in the struggle you are facing, try to think of the purpose as an opportunity to trust God.

4. Think of your struggle as an opportunity to obey God

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of trusting God with your physical life, but trusting Him with the course of your life.  Instead of thinking of the experience as meaningless and difficult, we can try to think of it as an opportunity to obey God.  Do you feel called to do something, but it isn’t working out?  Maybe it’s helping you to obey God.  Nobody said life was easy and nothing worth doing is easy either.  Sometimes it’s so hard people often want to give up just prior to success.  Did you know that Mother Theresa wrote in her diary that she struggled to obey God’s calling for her life?  What if she had given up on God’s plan for her life because she was frustrated and tired?  She did it anyway.

Even if our struggles are long and even if things are coming at us from all sides, just remembering these four things can help us to endure. So, as we saw a few weeks ago, sometimes it is the communication of others that make struggles more difficult.  Sometimes it is our communication with ourselves that can help us stand strong in the struggles.

Next week, I’ll give you some practical tips that will help us to be thankful for our blessings even in the midst of a storm in our lives.  These are things that have usually helped me and I pray they will help you as well.

I’d love to know what you remember about struggles when they hit. Please share your experiences here with my readers and God bless you…

 

About Me

I’m JoJo Tabares.

I’m a child of God, wife of 31 years, retired homeschooling mom of two, author, speaker, self-professed goofball, and purple lover from waaaay back!

I remember a phrase used by my Bradley birthing coach when describing how I’d feel just prior to giving birth.  When you feel like you can’t stand the pain anymore, that’s when the birthing journey is almost over. You can endure anything for a short time, but it’s the chronic issues that wear us down and shake our faith.

I’ve learned some life lessons along the way and I aim to support and uplift those who suffer from chronic illness and issues who are in desperate need of hope, love, support, understanding and uplifting,

I look at life through scripture sprinkled with humor because, when life’s not fair, I have found that you can still find laughter and joy if you look hard enough.

I keep it real.  No rah rah here!  BUT I always bring us back to the Lord!  Come join me, won’t you?

 

My Miracle Story

ribbon-1101997_1280I tell this story because it is the most bizarre tale of God’s divine grace!  It is with enormous thankfulness that I share how I became a cancer survivor before even my doctors knew I even HAD cancer!

So a few years ago, I was told that I had a HUGE fibroid tumor that took up my entire uterus.  My doctor said it wasn’t anything to be concerned about because they are never cancerous and would go away as soon as my hormone levels dropped enough to put me close to full menopause.  I was so close to menopause and I didn’t have any issues with it so I went along my merry way.

When I moved down to the Indy area, I got new doctors and my OBGYN insisted I go in for an ultrasound to confirm that the fibroid was no longer there.  We were all fairly certain it was gone or very nearly so I was a bit unclear why she wanted to search for it with all the modern technology at her disposal, but as luck would have it, the procedure was covered at my age so I went in and let them have a look around at my interior.  They seemed to be focusing in on my left side for an inordinate amount of time, but I just thought they were admiring my vintage upholstery.

The doctor called me in to go over my results. I was fully expecting her to say that it was gone and we could then move on to finding solutions to my several chronic issues where fatigue and pain had become a full-time job.  However, what she said was that the results revealed a rather sizable solid cyst on my left ovary.   She said it was the kind of cyst that could become cancerous so it needed to be removed as soon as possible.  Since I was 53 years young, I was no longer really using my ovaries so she said it was easier to remove the entire ovary and that she might want to take the Fallopian Tube as well just in case because “cancer likes to hide.”

Turns out she called an audible during the surgery and did remove the tube and sent everything to biopsy.  The surgery was much easier than I thought it would be and I was in very little pain that it didn’t necessitate ANY pain pills including Tylenol or Ibuprofen.  I was ecstatic thinking it was over and I got away just about scott free.

The doctor herself called me with the biopsy results.  That’s never a good sign. It’s usually some nurse or office gal who tells you everything is normal.  So when she used the word cancer, my brain kind of went tilt.  I had a hard time wrapping my head around that.  After all, there was no reason to believe I had cancer.  My blood work indicated levels of cancer antibodies below the limit indicating cancer was present.  Nothing they saw indicated any signs of a tumor or cyst or lump or anything they felt was something to worry about.  But the fact remained that I did have cancer cells in my tube and, since this type of cancer is aggressive, I was referred to a Gynecological Oncologist.

After the initial shock wore off (about two hours), I wasn’t really concerned.  I was told that he would probably want to remove my other ovary, tube, and lymph nodes just to make sure there was no more cancer in my reproductive system which was now laying dormant having retired some time ago.  I went into the appointment feeling pretty confident and actually kind of looking forward to having an end to my 17+ years of Peri!

When he first walked into the room, he asked me why I thought I was there.  He wanted to know just how much I understood.  I told him it really was a miracle.  They went in looking for a huge fibroid tumor that wasn’t there, found a solid ovarian cyst, and only found the microscopic cancer cells in my Fallopian Tube under the microscope after the biopsy.  My OBGYN said that it saved my life and he agreed with her.  They both said that the cancer would never have been found that early.  This type of cancer has no symptoms until it is too late and, since it’s an aggressive cancer, doctors wouldn’t have known it was there until it was too late and I would most likely have died.  So I’m a cancer survivor and I was a cancer survivor long before anyone (including the doctors) knew I even had cancer!

So what’s next?  Well, the Gynecological Oncologist has me scheduled for a total hysterectomy in October.  He wants to remove EVERYTHING reproductive, not just my other ovary and tube and lymph nodes…because they already found cancer and “cancer likes to hide.”  This is a much more involved surgery requiring a 2-3 day hospital stay.  If the biopsy finds no further cancer cells, I’m done!  Both with peri and with cancer.  If they do find more cancer, they’ll probably want to do chemotherapy. But he doesn’t think there is any reason to believe that they will find more cancer. So I’m hanging my hat on that for now.

UPDATE: Got my biopsy back and there is NO MORE CANCER or any other abnormalities anywhere.  I’m CANCER FREE!  

 

Why you shouldn’t wait til your story ends before you tell it

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”2 Corinthians 12:8-10

 

blind mouseLast week while on Facebook, I came across a meme that said:

“I can’t wait til my storms are over so I can tell people how God challenged me, how I made it through, and how I’m a better person because of it.” 

I used to think like this. I remember praying God would cure me so I could have a wonderful testimony to share with others.  But after 35 years, God didn’t heal me, and I believe the above statement is dangerous thinking.

For so many years I never even mentioned my health issues to anyone. It was embarrassing.  No doctors believed me, and all the test results said I was normal so how could I complain? I was young, how embarrassing to tell people I didn’t have the energy to go out with my friends or to admit I went home and slept in the sun after I got home from school every day.  Later on, it just seemed silly to share my story because I believed I was the only one living it.  I didn’t realize that thousands of people struggled the same way I did and, like them, I needed some support, but I didn’t find it because too many others were unwilling to share their struggles for the very same reasons.

But what if we didn’t wait for our story to end before we tell it?  What if we shared it in real time and in all candor?  We could lift up so many others who suffer from chronic illness and need to know someone understands, someone cares, and they are not alone.  There are many reasons why you shouldn’t wait til your story ends before you tell it:

1. What if, like Paul, God doesn’t heal you this side of heaven?  Then what?  Then where will you be?  Then where is your testimony?  Then how can you help others?  Why wait?  Why not share your struggles, your triumphs, your blessings NOW?  Contrary to popular cultural belief, not everyone who prays is healed.

2. It keeps you waiting for your joy and doesn’t allow you to see God’s hand in what you’re going through.  If you are always looking for the silver lining, you miss the blessings in the clouds.  You miss the blessings inside the struggles. There are some, I promise.  More on that topic next week.

3. It keeps you from seeing the blessings that come from helping others.  I can’t tell you how blessed I feel each time I receive a comment saying that a reader was inspired to take charge of her daughter’s treatment or how someone no longer felt alone after reading one of my posts.  I think I cry each and every time, but they are tears that come from knowing that place of deep hurt that can only be understood by another in my same situation.

4. When your struggle is over, you may not remember some of the details that can hold blessings for others struggling as you did.  You may be tempted to put on your rose-colored glasses and not share the times when you weren’t positive when you were angry or did something you aren’t proud of.  You may not want others to see your flaws, but trust me in this…they need to see them.

5. It takes much more courage, sometimes much more than you think you have, to share your story in real time not knowing if others will judge you, condemn you or chastise you. I wish I could say they don’t, but they do.  They will.  Reaching out to help others has never been easy; it’s just always worth it.

6. Sharing now, in the midst of your struggle, pain, and flaws are much more of a blessing to those who can relate to how you feel right now. Not when it’s all over, but right now.  Your honesty and candor will draw them in and lift them up.  If they know your story has a happy ending, they may not be able to relate to what you have to say because they see it colored in the peace of a life without that struggle.  Right now, as I struggle with health issues and several other things 2014 has brought for our family to deal with, I am sharing how God’s hand is in our lives.  I’m sharing how He sustains me-even after I get angry, falter or cry out in frustration.  If I can do that, you know that you can too with His help.

7. Sharing now keeps you honest.  It’s difficult to write how well you handled each and every set back with grace when you just had a meltdown.  It’s tempting, but it’s convicting. I always think long and hard before I disclose anything personal or unattractive about myself, but I feel an overwhelming need to share truth and honesty with my readers-otherwise what’s this blog for?

As I was finishing this blog post, I heard a song playing in the background. It’s Write Your Story, by Francesca Battistelli.  I have embedded the YouTube video for you here. Pay close attention to the words and then read my final comments and challenge to you

God is writing our story on our hearts right now.  Unfortunately, our story is not always the story we envision or would choose. The hope He gives us isn’t usually for a pain-free life, whether that pain is physical or emotional. His plan isn’t always that we live an illness free life and I’ve never heard of a life that was devoid of all struggle.  In fact, most of the Bible stories of great men and women show that their lives were filled to capacity with struggle, illness or pain.  Just look at Paul’s life.  Life with struggle isn’t all fun, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t have to be without purpose or joy if we let God write His story on our heart and we share that story, yet in progress, with others so that God may do the same for them.

I’m not waiting til my storms are over. I’m writing about how God is getting me through right now.  What about you?  If you feel a calling to share your story…Why wait til later?  You can write your story on the hearts of others who need to feel like someone understands right NOW.  Don’t wait until (or IF) God heals you to begin to share your story.  Do it now. So I ask, do you have the courage to write your story before it ends?

Share some of your story with my readers and me right now by leaving a comment on this post.