Step Two: Getting Out of Survival Mode

We are in week two of our 18-week in-depth series on getting out of survival mode based on my article 18 Steps to Living Better with Chronic Illness!  Last week, I talked about step one: being flexible.  Step two is developing a sense of humor.  Here’s step two from my article:

If you don’t laugh, well…you know the alternative. I make a joke of things. Makes me feel better. Makes others around me feel better too.  But for times when I can’t joke, I can usually count on some friends, family and my dh to say something funny to cheer me up.  Life can be hard, even if you don’t struggle with chronic issues.  Making your struggle into humor is just plain uplifting. I’m not saying to make light of what you are going through, but I am saying to make light of what you are going through.  Now before you ask me for the Jibberish Subtitles, let me explain.  I don’t ever say that what I’m going through is easy or fun, but I do point out the funny parts of it.  In that way, I’m making it lighter and lifting my spirits.

Now in order to get practice in seeing the humor in your own struggles and trials, it often helps to see humor in something else first.  My default had always been to listen to Praise and Worship music when I was down, but when I was in a deep darkness, I found it difficult to listen.  The songs made me cry and, as you may have guessed, crying isn’t usually uplifting (However, see my side note below).  I found myself gravitating to the comedy section of Netflix and watching clean stand up comedians on YouTube for HOURS! Find something that makes you giggle, even if it’s watching the same I Love Lucy episode twelve times!

Have you ever been so stressed out that something seemingly just a smidge funny made you laugh uncontrollably for what seemed like hours? Then afterward you felt a bit happier and much calmer?  That’s what seeking out humor in your life can do for you.  So…after a much-needed giggle fest, I was able to see a bit more humor in my own issues.  You’d be surprised at the sense of humor life has when you’re primed to see it!

Another way is to just begin to do silly things with your friends and family.  I once went to a large park with sales booths and stores.  My sister and I walked around all day together just talking and laughing.  One particular store had hats.  Weird, odd, silly, pretty…hats.  We went about the store trying them all on and taking our pictures both separately and together.  It was such fun!  A great release and a much-needed giggle in my stressful situation and declining health that I was facing at the time.

Yet another way to get some lighthearted humor in your life is through me!  I’m a goofball by nature and I’ve been defunkifying myself for decades!  I’ve created over 570 humorous sayings about life-most of which come directly from my own struggles with various health, financial and life issues.  I call them JoJoisms.  I’ve turned several of them into small PDFs on a particular topic and posted several of them in visual format I call Visual JoJoisms. These have been sprinkled in throughout this post.

Once you have been able to lift your spirits for a short time by finding humor others bring to the table, you are ready to find it on your own.  Finding the humor hidden inside trials is something that has two parts:

1. You can never find the humor when your struggle is raw.  When you first find yourself in a painful situation or when you first find out about something that adds to a difficult situation, it’s hard to find ANYTHING funny about it.  But, if you give yourself a little time, you will be better able to see the humor sitting just below the surface of a frustrating situation.  How long a time it takes for something to heal enough to where you can see the funny side of it, depends.  Each person is different and each zinger life throws at you is different.  Tread lightly at first, but invite yourself to see the humor at various times during your trials.

Side Note: There are times when you just can’t laugh and you really want to cry…need to cry.  Do so!  Find a sad song or movie and give yourself permission to cry.  Afterward, you’ll probably be ready to find something to make you giggle. 

2. The more you practice this the easier it gets.  I was born a goofball. I’ve always been a goofball and I’ll probably always be a goofball.  But I know everyone else has a different gift as well as a different natural approach to life’s struggles.  The trick is to work with what you’ve got.  The more you see the humor or blessing or gift hidden (albeit sometimes FAR beneath) the struggles, the easier it will be the next time life throws you a curve ball.

 

The First Step in Getting Out of Survival Mode

I wrote an article a while back, 18 Steps to Living Better with Chronic Illness.  I thought I’d expand on these one at a time to share just how this works and how it has helped me.  Sometimes it’s hard to see things with a short blurb without really expanding the concept.  So over the next 18 weeks, I’ll be sharing one concept in depth. I pray you can see yourself and your family in these as they are some of the best ways I’ve found to live a life beyond surviving.

I started off with some ideas of attitude. The first was:  Be flexible and here’s what I wrote:

Chronic illness takes twists and turns. No matter how well you plan and/or how faithful you are to your meds/vitamins/diet, you will have times when you won’t be able to do X.  Be flexible enough, if your work allows, to be okay doing Y or Z or M.O.U.S.E.  If I don’t have the energy to bounce back after a difficult or stressful weekend, I may need to devote Monday to staying in and even taking a nap if need be.

Any time you or your family is in crisis/survival mode, you will have twists and turns.  It can be financial, health, or even family related.  Any major issue or struggle in your life will have ebbs and flows, twists and turns.  Even if God is working things for your good and the outcome will be deliverance from the trial, I’ve never found the path to be straight up.  It’s like that meme on Facebook everyone shares.  You may have seen it too.  The top shows a stick figure on a bicycle on a path with a slight upward grade and says, “Your Plan.”  The bottom shows the same stick figure on the same bicycle on that same slight upward grade but on a rocky path with ups and downs and pits filled with water and precarious narrow bridges. It says, “Reality.”

If you are not willing to be flexible with whatever gets thrown in your way (or flung in your face), if you are not willing to go with the flow when bad goes to worse, you will only succeed in frustrating yourself such that you will not be able to enjoy the in-between times when you are clearly on that slight upward grade with no pitfalls impeding your steps.  Frustration only leads to more and there comes a time when too much frustration will bring you to a place of wanting to give up.

First, let me say that life will give you plenty of times when you will need to stop, regroup, gather strength to go on without any help from you.  Those times are built for resting, but not for giving up.  However, if you heap more frustration upon yourself by not being flexible with your plan, you will come to that place much sooner and your brain won’t listen to your heart for God’s guidance that will allow you to continue.  It will lead you to a valley too deep to climb out of on your own.  When you are flexible, you flow easily between your plan and reality without benefit of fits.

So what does being flexible really mean?  You know how when you’re really looking forward to seeing a movie on TV, but you got the night wrong or the station goofed in reporting its programming?  It’s disappointing and frustrating because maybe you passed up an opportunity to go somewhere more exciting than what that channel is currently broadcasting.  But, what if just after you find this out, a friend calls that you haven’t been able to see in years and says she’s in town for only that day and has two hours to spend with you?  You’re no longer upset about the movie, are you? You’re delighted to be able to see that dear friend and happy you didn’t have other plans that would have made you unavailable when she called.

Life can be like that when you’re in survival mode.  You can think that your answer comes from one place and it can be devastating when that place is no longer available to you.  That resource is no longer attainable.  But where does our help come from?  The Lord is always at work and sometimes we need to be flexible enough to appreciate it.  Sometimes we are able to see that help right away in the place we expected it to be.  Sometimes we are able to see it around the corner from the place we expected it to be.  And sometimes it’s a long way down the road from where we expected it to be.

But if we spend our time frustrated that it wasn’t where we wanted it to be, we may not have our eyes on the road and miss it down the road…because our eyes were filled with tears.  There are times when we need to our tears to clear out our anxiety and help us focus on what’s next.  But sometimes those tears go on for so long that we miss what God has put in our path. It could be the very thing our heart longs for.

 

 

Three Things to Do for Someone Who’s Hurting

hear-no-evil

If someone has had an illness long enough to be termed “chronic,” trust me. They have probably researched more about it than you have. They’ve probably tried all the conventional remedies and most of the unconventional ones as well.  We don’t want to be told about this fix or that drug.  We’ve heard it all before.  We don’t usually share our struggles, but sometimes we just need to be understood or we need some help.

We don’t want to hear how we should pray more, not be so negative or that other people have it worse than we do.  It might be true, but when we are in the middle of a long overdue pity party or meltdown because we are at the end of our rope hanging by a painful thread, now is NOT the time!  Now is not the time for “I told you so” or “You should have…” or “I had a friend whose cousin’s uncle’s neighbor’s dog’s veterinarian’s mother, tried XYZ and it did wonders for her.

When we confide in you that we are hurting, desperate, frustrated, or depressed, now is the time for compassion.

And there are three things we need and would appreciate:

  1. A hug– We are a lonely lot having had many of our friends and family abandon us because they didn’t know what to do for us and/or were tired of hearing how painful our lives are.  We are desperately in need of a hug, to be held, comforted.  We are tired of defending ourselves to our doctors and friends and family.  We’re often alone because we are too tired or in pain to make it to social events.
  2. A prayer– As a Christian, I feel comfort when a sister or brother in Christ prays for me, but what really makes me feel God is near is when someone prays WITH me.  Even if the someone you know who is hurting isn’t a Christian, it is often a gesture of great comfort.  Very few nonreligious people will turn down a caring friend’s offer to pray with them.  If they are not willing, you can tell them you’ll pray for them, but it’s often a source of comfort whether or not they are a believer, just to know someone cared enough to take the time.
  3. A listening ear– So many of us have stopped talking because, when we do, we are either dismissed, ignored, told to be more positive, or told it could be worse.  Even worse, we’re told we should be doing the things they recommended we do every time we speak.  People mistakenly think we tell everyone how we feel and are just not willing to do anything about it. Take their advice.  Truth is we don’t tell anyone exactly how we feel.  We lie and say we are fine when asked: “How are you?”  We smile through the pain and we laugh and make jokes so we don’t cry.  Truth be told, we feel better when someone is willing to listen without judgment and without a recipe for our medical, spiritual or emotional salvation.  Once we get out what we need to say, we release it and can move on.  Keeping it bottled up is what causes meltdowns.

After we have felt like we are worthy, we have people in our corner, remember that God is with us, and have had a chance to talk, we can move on to handle our next hurdle or challenge.  And there WILL be others in short order.

What is something that gives you comfort when struggling with a chronic issue?  Please share.

Stress Isn’t the Same as Unbelief

This week, I had planned to share how God is leading me out of a very dark place, but something came up that I felt lead to address.

When a Christian reveals that she is stressed, some of her Christian friends will try to console her by saying to just have faith-as if belief in God will always fix the problem.

Stress isn’t always a matter of belief and God doesn’t always fix a problem you have. Many people are never healed; Paul was never healed. And anxiety isn’t always because of worry. It’s sometimes the sheer stress of having to deal with the natural consequences of trials in your life, especially when there are many issues going on at once. This is compounded when multiple struggles have gone on for a long time and even further by health conditions that put stress on the body and hormone changes that cause you to cry at toilet paper commercials.

My pastor has been going through Job for a while now and the theme of each week has been how Job’s friends, though they meant well, actually hurt Job because they gave uninformed opinions based not on scripture but on their own ideas of what Job was going through and what would fix his problems. They actually did Job the most good just by being with him at the beginning of their visit–allowing Job to grieve. Often the most help you can be to someone who is going through struggles (especially when there are multiple chronic struggles) is to be there for them, listen to them, hug them, pray for them, pray with them, and try to understand.

Stress isn’t the same thing as worry. You can worry about something without being stressed about it. A man can worry that his job isn’t secure prompting him to prepare a backup plan thus alleviating the cause of stress a job loss can inflict.

And worry isn’t a sin. It doesn’t mean you don’t have faith or aren’t Heaven bound. Mother Teresa worried that she wasn’t good enough.  All human type creatures worry even the ones who attempt to appear pious refusing to admit that they worry.

Lastly, just because you trip, doesn’t mean you fall. Trials produce worry and stress. The Bible is filled with good people who stumbled. We are human. God knows we will stumble during struggles. But that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on God.  Worry doesn’t cancel our reservation to eternal peace.  That’s why God tells us to lean on Him. That’s what fellowship is for. That’s why there is prayer, both on our own and collectively.

Stress isn’t the same as unbelief. Anyone can go through a temporary trial and not get to the point of stress. Those of us who have chronic, long-term issues know all too well how time can erode your strength. And those of us with chronic illness know that having other chronic issues pile up on top of you, while already struggling with chronic illness for years, can cause tremendous stress on the body as well as the mind.

Further, it is naïve to think that worry or stress will simply (and immediately) go away when a declaration of a belief that God is in control is made.  If the source of stress is still being dealt with, if there is a physiological reason why stress is manifesting in the body, and even if the stress is all in one’s head, this is a process much like the grieving process.  It takes time to master.  It seems only those of us who struggle with it truly understand.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” -Romans 8:26

Next week I’ll share how God is beginning to lead me out of that very dark place.

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!