God Held My Hand

handI told you all I’d update you on my progress and, well, I gave it the old college try, but I just couldn’t choose joy with the tools that devotional talked about…the one I told you about last week. I found myself crying more and being frustrated more and my struggles increased.

So last Wednesday, I couldn’t sleep. Woke up several times. Starting/running three businesses while trying to earn a steady income a month before your daughter’s wedding and two months after your dh lost his job is even more stressful than I had imagined. I cried out to God for direction and peace for about an hour and then…

The last time I awoke, I really didn’t think I had been asleep. I felt someone holding my hand, but nobody was there.  Somehow I felt it was God.

I turned to my iPad to read the Bible, devotionals and to pray. Then I found myself watching a few In Touch Ministries YouTube videos on grief, struggles, and sadness and then I found one on courage.

I never thought about meditating on the word of God the way he suggests, asking Him questions about how He would do this or how I should follow A or B. I also loved his suggestion not to read through the Bible in a year when you are struggling, but rather to read Psalms or Proverbs. My daughter had told me as much not a few days prior. Finally, I loved his five-point plan for finding courage during dark times.

1. Meditate on God’s Word as your compass

2. Recall past experiences when God helped you through challenges

3. Observe the courage of others and their blessings to give you hope

4. Ask the question “What if I do or don’t do this?”

5. Recall His promise that He will never leave me, forsake me and will always be with me

After a few days, I was scrolling around on the internet and decided to type in “God held my hand” and found this: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear;  I will help you.” -Isaiah 41:13

I was dumbfounded as I reflected upon my initial thought as I woke up feeling as if someone was holding my hand. Despite the fact that my left hand was hanging free off the couch and my right hand was pinned between my body and the couch back, it was my right hand that I felt someone was holding!

Sometimes You Need a Pity Party

cry baby partyI don’t think you’d be human if you were sunshine and roses every day, especially in the face of chronic struggles and hardships.  However, some will tell you-you’re not a good Christian if you share that you are depressed or upset or frustrated.  It’s not like the Lord doesn’t know you feel this way. It hasn’t escaped His notice.  It’s not a sin to be angry or sad or frustrated with your situation.  It’s only destructive if you stay there.  It can actually be quite therapeutic to throw yourself a little pity party now and again.

I think the only people who don’t ever go down deep in the valley of despair are those who don’t have any problems. Know any people without any problems?  Me neither!

So when you are exhausted just after getting up in the morning, you go looking for your sandwich in the closet, your electric bill is past due and you have only two nickels to rub together…AGAIN, you will enter that valley.  What you do there and how long you stay will determine your quality of life and the joy you find in spite of it all.

The value of a pity party:

Allow yourself time to grieve and/or express your negative emotions so you can move on.  Without a pity party, some find it difficult to gather the strength to move on to life’s next chronic hurdle because they haven’t dealt with the previous one.  Making time to express your anger, sadness or frustration can help you get rid of those feelings.

What to do at your pity party:

Invite people to your pity party.  You don’t have to send out formal invitations or anything, but fellowship with one or two trusted, Christian friends or family members who understand what it feels like to deal with the issues you are struggling with.  They will not only understand and allow you to vent but lead you back out of the valley of despair and back to the Lord.  They can help by validating your feelings so you aren’t concentrating your energy on justifying why you feel the way you do.  You have a right to your feelings.  You don’t have to marry them, but you have a right to them as you come by them honestly.

Play Woe is Me.  Express how you feel and allow that trusted friend or family member to see the real you–even if it isn’t pretty right now.  It’s your party and you’ll cry if you want to so…cry if you want to!  You’ll feel better afterward.

Allow friends or family to lift you up.  I know.  It’s frustrating to make one single statement and have well-meaning Christians immediately jump all over you about not being positive and tell you just to cheer up.  But once you’ve had a good cry (or scream as the case may be), you need to be lifted up out of the valley or you’ll be tempted to stay there.  And trust me, pity parties are a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there!  Your friends want to help.  Let them.

What to do after your pity party:

Have some FUN!  Here are a few ideas.  Go for a walk, see the beauty God put on this earth.  See the humor in your situation and poke fun at yourself. Lift someone else’s spirits.  Make someone laugh.  Concentrate on someone else’s problems for a while and try to help.  It’s amazing how focusing on others will draw you out of the pit you’ve fallen into.  Write about it.  Sing about it.  Hug your blessings…better known as your children.  Hug someone else’s children.  LOL

Pray.  Pray that God would take this from you and, if God doesn’t take the struggle away, pray that He would use it, your experience and you to lift someone else up.

Lastly, thank God.  Thank the good Lord for the good things in your life.  Count your blessings.  You have some!  Even in the lowest pit of despair, you have some blessings you can count.  If your dishwasher broke and you can’t afford to fix it, you can thank God your water bill is paid this month and you can afford dish liquid.  If you are so tired you can’t get up out of bed, thank Him for the bed you have.  If your pain level is high, thank Him for the life you have and the chance you have today to perhaps find your answers. Maybe you’ll discover something that helps you.  Maybe you’ll discover a $20 bill in the couch that will pay for a few groceries.  I know, I’ve looked there a time or two as well!

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”—  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

I pray this has been helpful and uplifting. Please leave me some feedback in a comment.  Share your story.  Tell me what you’d like to see in the coming weeks as I share.  And please pass this post along to others who may need to start planning their own pity party.  😀

One of the Worst Things to Say to a Believer Who is Hurting

I wrote this a while back for another publication.  It’s the first time I began to think about how society (even fellow believers) communicate with those who are suffering, especially with chronic issues.

 

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” -Proverbs 16:24

SadI’ve seen it so many times. A sister in the Lord opens up to share a struggle she is going through in the hopes that the fellowship will bring strength to a weary heart. Instead of support, sympathy or understanding, she receives condemnation by well-meaning and faith-filled believers. In place of words of peace and comfort, they rebuke the poor sinner for not having enough faith. They remind her of the mustard seed, how faith can move mountains and how big God is, but what does that do to her suffering? Does it relieve her suffering or does it, in fact, increase it and place the blame squarely on her?

This is actually one of the worst things you can communicate to a believer who is hurting. Why? Because what you’re saying is:

1. Your suffering is your fault

By telling a believer that she doesn’t have enough faith in God, you are telling her that she wouldn’t be suffering if she only had more faith. Since she either doesn’t believe she has little faith or doesn’t see how she can have more, she feels you are telling her that she is ONLY suffering because of her own lack of faith. Essentially, this belittles her suffering. After all, people don’t feel as sorry for those who cause their own suffering as we do for those who are suffering through no fault of their own.

2. You wouldn’t suffer if you only had more faith

After being told she has caused her own suffering through unbelief, the only option given her is more belief. This is sort of like telling someone “Be happy!” Have you ever been upset and been faced with a situation in which you had to go out and put on your happy face? It was difficult, wasn’t it? Magnify that tenfold and think how difficult it would be to put on your happy face after having lost a loved one to cancer or after being faced with financial ruin. Can they do it? I’m sure some could, but what does it require? It usually requires a time of mourning, a time of rebuilding after a period of support and strength that comes from fellowship. Telling someone to have faith after you just told them they didn’t have any, isn’t helpful and it can be a huge detriment to their ability to bounce back after a devastating event.

3. Your suffering is not going to stop until you have more faith

This poor hurting soul who was reaching out for comfort and strength is now frustrated because she is being told that, no matter how the struggle began, it is now her fault, the only cure is more belief and she cannot find an ounce more in her suffering so it’s never going to end. She is now convinced her suffering will go on indefinitely! Struggles are difficult enough when we believe they are somewhat temporary, but when we see no end in sight, struggles take on new depths of sorrow.

We can all build our faith. Even the most faith-filled Christian can become even stronger in the Lord, but this growing in faith usually comes after a period of mourning the loss at the root of the struggle and a period of gathering strength from family, friends and the Lord.

Telling someone their suffering comes from their unbelief is unbiblical. Here are just three examples from scripture:

1. If all suffering comes from not having enough faith, why was Paul suffering?

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” -2 Corinthians 12:7

2. If all suffering can be reversed by having more faith, why wasn’t Paul healed?

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” -2 Corinthians 12:8

3. If Christians are not supposed to discuss their feelings when they are suffering, how can you explain Job?

“Even to day is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning.” –Job 23:2

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” –Job 42:10

Telling a person who is suffering, especially when the suffering is new, that they simply need more faith is not only unhelpful, but it can frustrate and depress the person even further. This is where more communication skill is needed. Be careful at this vulnerable time in this believer’s life that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem

Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29

Please share your comments, thoughts, and experiences here.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

The Blessings of Pain

JOJOWHANDSOkay. JoJo’s gone off the deep end!  Brain fog has taken over and she’s completely out of her mind!  I hear ya out there.  You’ve stuck with me through some of my other unusual posts, but this one’s gone too far.  Stick a fork in ‘er, she’s done!  As someone who is in a fair amount of physical pain as I’m typing this, I understand your horror at this title, but give me a few minutes of your time and I think you’ll see my sanity returning and you’ll be blessed.

This idea started as a debate topic.  You see, (those of you who may not have known me long) in a former life I was an author and speaker on communication skills at www.ArtofEloquence.com.  I used to teach speech, debate and communication classes both online and off. Nowadays, I’m too tired, overwhelmed and in pain to run my business much less teach so I only do that on rare occasions.  This month was one such occasion.  I am teaching a homeschool co-op class on debate.  One of the topics I picked was Pain is Good.  I figured it was something with which most teens would be unfamiliar and would be a good life lesson as well as a great debate topic.  Pain keeps us from more harm.  Even babies would remove their hand from the fire, right?

As I began putting my week’s lesson plan together, it occurred to me that, while I am not a fan of pain (emotional or physical) itself, enduring it can bring some blessings that I’d never have had the opportunity to experience had I been healthy. There are some lessons you only learn from pain.  There are some lessons life cannot teach without it.  There are some blessings you will never notice unless you’ve been through a day where you felt your head would explode or years when you thought if you woke up without pain one day, you would HAVE to be in heaven.

Pain itself is bad, but enduring pain can be a good thing and bring blessings you’d never have known-but you have look for them.  They can’t always be seen by the naked eye or heard above the white noise of the TV.  But as soon as I reveal to you how pain can bring blessings, you’ll never look at it the same way again. There are several ways in which pain can bring blessings into your life and the lives of those you touch.

1. Pain makes you compassionate.

The people who have suffered the most, tend to be the most compassionate.  The more struggles a person goes through, the more they have compassion for others who are going through difficult times.  I’ve known some amazingly compassionate people who consistently take time to support, uplift and help others.  I almost always find that they have suffered a great deal in their own lives and have a calling to be of help to others. There is a saying, “hurt people hurt people,” but I have found that struggling people help struggling people because they seem to have a heart for others and feel their pain as if it were their own–because it was (or is).

2. Pain makes you supportive.

Those who have struggled with something, especially for a long time, seem to have a need to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.  Their compassion manifests itself when they lift up and support others going through the same thing. They don’t want to see the pain–even if it’s in another’s life and not their own.

3. Pain gives you understanding.

Nobody can understand what another is going through like someone who has already been through it.  Understanding is a huge blessing to those who struggle with chronic illness, especially the kind we call invisible illness where test results and doctors don’t corroborate or justify their experience.  Most people with invisible illness are desperate to feel understood.  When they encounter someone who truly understands them, they feel vindicated and not so alone.  Someone acknowledges them. Someone truly hears them and understands and that is priceless to one who has been fighting the good fight alone for years.

4. Pain makes you a good servant.

Those who have struggled with something for a long time are not only compassionate, supportive and understanding, but they often go the extra mile to help relieve another’s suffering.  They are the ones who take a meal to a neighbor even though they, themselves, are having a rough day.  They bestow blessings upon others who are suffering and struggling with life’s difficulties.

5. Pain enables you to be sympathetic.

Not only do they feel compassion for those who are suffering, but they are sympathetic.  They not only say the right things, but they do so in the spirit of sympathy that means so much to others even if they haven’t experienced exactly the same struggle.

6. Similar pain enables you to be empathetic.

That sympathy goes above and beyond when they HAVE experienced exactly the same pain or problem.  Empathy is an even more powerful support than is sympathy.  To have someone who has been through the exact struggle you have been through, share with you, help you and say they understand is even more of a blessing.

So far you say, all these blessings are bestowed upon others.  But I tell you it is a blessing to be a blessing to others.  To give blessings blesses you in return. But if you need a blessing that is truly your own, look at these:

7. Pain makes you appreciative.

Those who have suffered a great deal appreciate the little things.  You get great joy from a simple flower, a pain-free moment, a few extra dollars, a bit of free time, a rest, a beautiful day showing God’s beauty in the midst of your suffering.  Appreciation gives you hope and hope brings even more blessings.  Being appreciative of the little things means you are grateful for even small advances in treatment, tiny steps forward in financial matters, and most importantly grateful to God and other people for their help in getting through the tough times. You know the depths of sorrow and it stands in stark contrast to some of the wonders of the world and the amazing people you meet. Managing to be grateful helps you find joy even in the midst of pain.

8. Pain makes you stronger.

Though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, in retrospect, you do feel a sense of strength having gone through something so difficult.  Whether it’s physical or emotional pain and as difficult as it is to admit, we do feel as if we’ve overcome after we are over the worst of a particular struggle de jour. After the pain of childbirth, I don’t much worry about the pain I feel when I bang my knee.  As compared with the pain of worrying about my dd’s heart condition when she was young and seeing her jaw bone through her chin when she hit the ice while skating, I wasn’t as easily frazzled when she tore a ligament in Karate.  After having been through the pain of seeing her empty room when she left for college or when she spent a semester halfway around the world in Russia, the sadness when she left to go to grad school in Texas didn’t seem as devastating to me.

My sister’s kids were always having high fevers and were forever getting sick.  I remember talking to her about my fear when my dd’s fevers would spike and she was able to reassure me based upon her experience.

People ask me about the stress of having to replace all of my electronic devices after a lightning strike took out 18 of them back in June.  I remember thinking, yeah. It’s a bit annoying having to buy and install or schedule repairs on all these items.  This was a mild annoyance, but we had the money to replace them all.  Having to figure out where to find the money to replace a $15 item was much more stressful!

Those of us suffering from chronic illness are pain warriors!  We’ve been through it all and back again and, though we’d never knowingly ask for it, we are stronger for having had to deal with it in our lives.  It’s been much easier to handle little setbacks the last several years than it was in the beginning of my journey with chronic illness. I used to immediately jump on the “freaked out” wagon.  Now it takes a lot more for me to get freaked out. To paraphrase a popular meme on Facebook, my track record for getting through difficult times is unblemished.  I’ve done it each and every time and God has been there every step of the way with me.  It’s not too much of a leap to assume He’ll be there again and I’ll come through.

Has sanity returned to JoJo? While I’d never choose pain and I do whatever I can to alleviate it, I do count these among my blessings.  If you have to have pain, at least there is something good that comes of it.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” -Romans 5:3-5

My debate class learned a lot that week. I’m proud of them for reaching into their hearts to see the blessings past the pain they saw in the world, in their families or inside themselves.  How can YOU see the blessings in your own pain?  Please share your comments/feedback here as a blog comment.  And please share this blog post with others who you think will benefit by seeing the blessings in their pain.

How to Praise God in the Storm

StormContinuing with my thanksgiving theme this month is an article I wrote a long while back for Examiner.com…Most Christians have heard many times how we are to praise God in the storm, but what has always frustrated me is that nobody has ever told us how to do that.  It’s hard to just begin feeling thankful when you’re in the midst of a financial mess or a loved one’s death.  Merely understanding that you should do something doesn’t help you do it.

All devotionals on this topic will tell you to read the Bible and pray.  This is obvious since we are trying to get closer to God and further away from our pain or struggle.  This is also something we should do when we are not struggling.  But just reading the Bible when you are struggling may not help your attitude turn to gratitude and you may not even know how to pray for a situation, especially if it has been a long and confusing one.

There are many devotionals on thankfulness that talk about this so I’m not going to spend much time on it since you’ve probably read enough of them to quote them verbatim.  I’ll just say that it’s important to continue to pray and read the scriptures even when we are at our wit’s end and even when we are no longer able to envision that God would help us because, the moment we no longer seek God, we begin to drift away from Him.  “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.” -Psalm 119:143

So how do we begin to feel thankful?  Well, last week I prepared our hearts a bit by sharing with you what we should remember about strugglesBut that often isn’t enough to bring us through from frustration and despair.  After many years upon this earth, I have found some things that have helped me to become more thankful and bring me to the point where I can praise God during the storms of my life.  By the way…I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers.

1. Start small and build

Thank Him for whatever blessings you can think of, even if you have a hard time coming up with things you are thankful for and even if you don’t feel very thankful when you write it or say it.  There is an old saying, “act as if.”  If you begin to thank God for the blessings, no matter how small, in your life, you will begin to see more and feel it more as you go.

Somehow my attitude changes when I concentrate on the little blessings.  I remember an old saying my relatives had when I was a child, “thank God for small favors.”  It has become a popular secular saying that has come to mean something quite different so I don’t suggest you actually say this to yourself.  I think it must have started out meaning that we should thank God for the small blessings in our lives to help us see the blessings He has given us.  Unfortunately, what it has come to mean is a snarky commentary that God only grants us small favors.

See how your attitude changes when you say, “thank God for small favors” instead of “thank you, Lord, for these little blessings?”  One suggests that’s all we expect the Lord to give us and the other reminds us that these are just the beginnings of blessings God wants to shower upon us.  That one little communication change changes everything.

Think back to all the times when you had just missed a disaster.  How do you think that miracle happened?  Envision what God must have been doing to protect you and then feel the love that leads God to that act.  I remember a time when we drove from California to ARIDzona to visit my folks.  On the way there, we heard the brakes begin to screech.  All the men at the event thought it wasn’t a major issue so we didn’t drive the car during our visit and headed home where we planned to have them repaired.  There was a great deal of traffic that holiday on the way back and got progressively worse on that six-hour drive home.  We were able to make it all the way home and, as we coasted into the garage, the brakes completely failed, leaving us unharmed and safely in our garage.  Thank you, Jesus, for all the disasters we avoided that night alone!

Think back to all the times when NOTHING bad happened.  What disaster might have occurred?  Thank Him for those as well.  How many times were you thinking of going to XYZ when something changed your mind and you narrowly avoided a known disaster?  My husband once decided not to go to work one day because the only route there (70 miles one way) was covered in snow and notorious for closure.  Later we found that many of the people who traveled that road were stuck down the hill unable to get home for a day or two.  And what about all the other situations we have no idea we could have found ourselves in?

2. Blessings for worst not happening

In the midst of terrible pain, it’s often hard to see what could be worse and, to be honest, we don’t often care.  We just know where we are now is bad.  However, looking at the bright side can truly make a person thankful because, believe it or not, there are so many situations where we could be worse off.

Food prices up? Praise God that you have the money to buy them.  Health bad? Praise God that you have the time to rest.  Sick? As you pray for healing be thankful it isn’t fatal.  Serious illness?  Be thankful that there is still hope.  And if a loved one has passed away, praise God he is no longer suffering and is with Jesus in heaven.

Now, these things may sound easy to some, but they are not at all easy to do when you are in the middle of a struggle especially when that struggle has already taken a toll on you for many years.  However, if you start small, are consistent and build, your faith will increase, your sorrow will lift and your joy will return even if you aren’t happy about your circumstances.

In the midst of despair, sadness and being overwhelmed with struggle, we may find it difficult to just pick ourselves up by our Christian bootstraps and just “be happy.”  However, these little things have helped me get just one step closer to being thankful and have reminded me that God is there with me and He’s working on my behalf even if I can’t feel Him through all that life throws at me.  I pray they are blessings to you and you can begin to see how you can be thankful and praise God during your struggles as well.

3. Remember that joy and happiness are two different things

Keep things in proper perspective.  Happiness, as defined by Merriam Webster as good fortune or prosperity, a state of well-being and contentment, joy or a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

Joy is listed as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires, delight, the expression or exhibition of such emotion, gaiety, a state of happiness or felicity, bliss, a source or cause of delight.

So happiness is dependent upon external circumstances, whereas joy exists in spite of whatever is going on around us and is a result of what’s happening on the inside. You can still have joy even though you are not happy because you can have a hope because you are in God’s will and will be rewarded in heaven even if you aren’t here on earth.  You can be joyous in your strength or your endurance or your obedience even if you are unhappy about your health or your finances or your relationships.

4.Do things that bring you joy

Look at pretty pictures of God’s world and remember how everything is delicately balanced for us and given for us to use.  It’s hard to look at the beauty of God’s world and not feel some amount of joy.

Listen to uplifting music and sing along or sing harmony.  I am a wannabe musician. I used to write songs and I was a voice major in college before I switched to Speech Communication.  I can’t help but feel better when I hear beautiful music and sing along.  It usually makes me feel better to sing along to praise and worship music sometimes the same song over and over again.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Call a friend.  Sometimes you need a real, living person you can talk things over with.  Just talking through our feelings can help us feel a bit better because we have expressed them and someone cared enough to listen.  Many times we aren’t looking for a solution because we already know what our options are, but sometimes we may be surprised at our friend’s ability to help us find one!  Even if nothing gets resolved, you will probably find yourself feeling better just because you were able to share your feelings with a good and trusted friend.

5.Read encouraging devotionals

Not devotionals on being thankful, but ones that encourage you.  Bible Gateway has devotionals you can subscribe to that I have found helpful: Encouragement for Today, Devotions for Women and Devotions for Moms.  I don’t recommend the one called Standing Strong in the Storm because it’s mostly about people who have endured religious persecution.  While that might be important to read and inspiring at other times, I find that they are not something we can relate to when we are in the middle of stress.  Unless your struggle is religious persecution on a grand scale, I find I can’t relate to them and they make me feel bad for even being upset about financial or health or relationship issues which don’t help me feel any better about my situation.

6. Help someone else

I know it sounds a bit backwards, but it can often feel good to be the solution for someone else’s problem.  Sometimes we are almost paralyzed by our fear or stuck in our sadness that we feel a complete lack of control over our lives.  It can feel empowering or at least uplifting to be the solution to something, no matter how small the issue is.  As they used to say back when I was a little girl, “try it; you’ll like it.

You may not be able to become happy about your circumstances, but you can do things that bring you some joy.  This joy will help us see the blessings God has put in our lives and this will, eventually, allow us to thank God and even praise him in the storm.

It’s been an incredibly difficult year for my family.  As I said, I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers.  I have read it over about three times this week as I have needed these words as much as any of you.  Please share your story. How can I pray for you?

Six Reasons Chronic Issues are so Different

When I was about to have my first child, I went to a birthing class for The Bradley Method (different philosophy, but a similar idea to La Maz).  The teacher said something I will always remember because it fits as a motto for so many things in life.  She said, “You can stand just about anything for a short time.”  She explained that when you couldn’t stand the pain a moment longer, that’s usually when the baby is born.  I found that to be true.

I remember thinking, about that quote as I lay in the hospital bed in agony dilated to 7.  The nurse said it would be HOURS yet.  I was only in labor for about nine hours at that point.  Most women are in labor far longer so that is what hospitals are used to.  Well, they never met Speedy Tabares!  So she walked out of the room saying to call her back when I felt the need to push.  Well, the minute she walked out, I felt I needed to push.  My husband went to go tell her and she sent him back in assuring me it would be HOURS yet and to tell me no, she’d be back in later on.  I was in so much pain, I remember thinking, I could possibly take another few minutes of this, a few hours?  NO!  So I told him to go back to her and tell her YES!  She came back in and sure enough, I was at 10.  My daughter was born just a few minutes later.

You can stand just about anything for a short time, but the longer it goes on, the more the stress of it zaps your energy, your hope, your strength, your courage, your resolve, and shakes your faith.

There was a psychologist I read about who was teaching a class on stress management. She asked her class to imagine holding up a glass of water.  Most of the students thought she was going to talk about the glass being half full or empty to illustrate optimism vs pessimism.  However, she asked them how much they thought the glass would weigh.  Many of the students gave answers, but she told them it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t how much the glass weighed that was at issue; it was how long one must stand there with their arm outstretched holding it up.  You see, you can stand there with your arm up holding nothing at all and, over time, your arm will grow tired.  Holding it up for a minute is no big deal.  While holding it up for an hour would cause your arm to go numb and feel paralyzed.  She explained that it’s the same with stress.  While it may not kill you, it can destroy your quality of life.

Most chronic conditions will not kill you, but they can destroy your quality of life as the person you were is stretched and changed and limited beyond what you were and had ever envisioned for your life.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Facing the Giants, you’ll remember that scene where the coach has the football player close his eyes and he coaches him a few inches at a time to eventually get him across the entire field with another man on his back.  When he opens his eyes, he is amazed at how far he had come because he was certain he couldn’t make it all the way before he started.  Life is like that.  We can stand just about anything for a short time and then we need encouragement and inspiration one step at a time to make it to the end…or just keep making it each day as some struggles don’t have an ending this side of heaven.  It’s how the old saying goes about how ones eats an elephant…one bite at a time.

There are actually six reasons why chronic issues are so different, devastating, and destructive.

1. What doesn’t kill you may, indeed, destroy your quality of life.

…and very few who have not experienced a chronic issue will truly understand this.

  • Over time these experiences will change who you are.  Not necessarily for the worse, but it may seem that way at first as you no longer will be able to do the things you once could.  If it’s financial, you will no longer be able to afford things like luxuries (or in extreme cases even basic necessities) that you once could. If it’s health-related, you will no longer be able to afford the energy to do the things you once could or loved or desire.
  • Chronic issues force you to think ahead much more than you used to, to plan things ahead of time.  In the case of financial matters, you will be forced to not go to dinner all month in order to be able to afford to go to a birthday dinner with friends next month.  In health issues, you may need to plan to take it easy this week in order to have the energy to go out to lunch with friends next week.
  • It can be increasingly frustrating not to know when, or even IF, your current crisis will end.

2. Most people will not understand. 

  • They’ll make comments like, “You don’t look sick.”  or “I’m broke too, but I’m going to buy a nice gift for Mom. Why can’t you?”  They don’t understand…”chronic illness can’t be all that bad if you look ok on the outside.”  Their idea of broke may be different from yours if you can’t pay rent this month.
  • Friends and family will use the words tired and exhausted interchangeably to mean they stayed up a bit too late last night and think that’s how you feel when you share why you can’t make the trip to Vegas this year.  After all, they’re tired too.

I remember a time when we were so broke, we drove an hour to a grocery store because it was the only one in the area who took credit cards at the time and we had no money for milk and bread.  We mentioned our financial struggles to a friend of ours who said they understood how we felt as they were down to their “last $10,000 in their bank account.”  True story and, yes, they really thought they knew how we felt.

3. Feeling guilty for all the things you can’t do for others. 

  • For all the gifts you can’t afford to buy for your nieces and nephews…or maybe your own children
  • For not being able to spend time with others who are hurting because you just can’t physically make it out to see them.
  • For not being able to give money to deserving friends or family when they are in need.
  • For not taking your kids out to a movie or signing them up for an extracurricular event because you don’t have the money or the energy to get them there.
  • For not volunteering at church.
  • For not offering to make dinner for a friend in need because you can hardly sum up the money or energy to make your own.

4. You will feel the need to push yourself beyond what you can comfortably give to others. 

  • and this will cause you to overextend your energy levels or financial situation beyond what it can hold.
  • and this will cause you to have consequences like having to give up working the next few days to recover or give up some repair because you ran out of money before you ran out of month.

5. Getting angry or defensive when challenged.

  • and you will be challenged.  You may find yourself having to explain to the very same relative why you can’t come to the big shindig next year in Tahiti even though they were able to save up for it this year.
  • Explaining for the 20th time how you may have to cancel lunch for the third time because you just don’t feel up to it today even though you did feel up to cleaning the house yesterday.

6. You may find your faith eroding as you wonder why God hasn’t healed you. 

  • because He did heal So and So
  • You’ll wonder if God really cares for you if He is willing to leave you in this trial all this time.
  • You may wonder why me? What did I do to deserve this?
  • You may wonder if God is really there at all.

Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”  It’s so important in our struggles that I put it up on the top of this blog.  You see, we can get down in the valley after a while such that we have a hard time pulling ourselves out.  That’s when we need others to help us up.

John 14:18 says, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” Just knowing that someone understands what you’re going through and justifies your feelings about what you are dealing with can help pull you out of the valley.  And that’s why I’m here.

I am not a doctor or a financial whiz kid. God may not choose to heal you or put an end to your financial struggles, but I can help you pull yourself out of the valley so you can begin to see the joy and live a life beyond surviving!

 

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 Us

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.