When you are first dealing with something difficult, all your energy is on how to get through, how to move on, and then how to cope with it. After you begin to find your way, you can go back to the Lord and see what He has in store for you to share or to do.
All month long, I’ve been talking about this process. When you finally have a handle on this thing called chronic illness, even if it’s changing, you can take some of the energy you have and put it into the mission or the work the Lord designed you for. When you do, you will find that the joy in your life is greatly increased because you found your purpose and it isn’t just getting through life with chronic illness!
When you write your own story. At the end of the day or the end of your life, do you want to be the one always complaining who others pittied or do you want to be the one who did what she could with what she had and relied upon God to bless her? Be the overcomer, the one who persevered!
Do you know what makes a good story? What makes you read or watch a movie and feel something for the characters? Is it the success or the struggle that was overcome?
My life would be a pretty boring story if I just did everything great the first time and it came easy. Life doesn’t work that way. We don’t admire people who are a success if that success was handed to them on a silver platter. The ones who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Those people don’t inspire others because that almost never happens, does it?
Last week, I talked about how we, who have endured difficult health issues, have been blessed to be born without a comfort zone. I shared how I feel it has strengthened me both mentally and spiritually. This week, I’d like to share why that’s especially important these days and especially during Covid Times.
Have you noticed how even though society has so many “modern conveniences,” people complain that life isn’t easy? People seem to be offended by everything. They can’t seem to cope well with things the older generations thought were just part of life. I believe most marriages end in divorce because the younger generations no longer view relationships as something requiring work. They lost that loving feeling and so they simply move on.
Success in anything takes work whether it’s a business, a relationship, or an education. Unfortunately, fewer people these days will put forth the energy required to do so.
When I first began writing this blog post, I was doing it from my iPad because my laptop hard drive was failing and I was backing up all my work. I was typing with a stylus because my fingers shake due to Essential Tremors if I use my fingers directly. I was working on changes to my site on paper even though I had a massive headache. Why? You just do what you can with what you have.
It’s how you look at things. If you look for the bad, you’ll see it. If you look for the good, you’ll see that too! You’re not entitled to an easy life. A lot of American young people think so but it’s not true. The founding fathers knew this. We with chronic illness know this all too well.
If I go back a generation in my family, I see a much stronger work ethic than I see today. My great grandparents and my grandfather came to this country from what was then Russian to start over with nothing. My grandfather didn’t speak the language, but he worked hard and eventually was Vice President of a large Union in N.Y. He provided very nicely for my father and his brother.
My husband and his family came from Mexico with nothing not speaking the language. They worked hard. Made a life. They came for the American dream, but that dream was an opportunity, not an entitlement.
A job is hard work. A business is hard work. Marriage is hard work. Life is hard work. I think most people many years ago used to understand this. I think the younger generation can learn a lot from our ancestors. I also think they can learn a lot from those of us with chronic illness who don’t have a comfort zone. But I also think we should stop and think once in a while to learn from ourselves.
No, life with chronic illness isn’t easy. But life never promised it would be. And sometimes, if we focus on the strength it takes to get through a day with chronic illness, we can be proud of what we accomplished!
There is a line in the movie, Split, where the Beast says, “the broken are more evolved” and he spares the girl’s life because he tells her, “your heart is pure.”
This got me thinking about how I believe there is strength in suffering. Struggles, trials, and suffering are abundant in this life. If we think of our struggles as JUST difficulties to get through or to avoid, we miss the lessons and strength they can give us–even here in this fallen world.
The psychiatrist in the movie says that she believes those with this disorder are stronger than others and she illustrates by saying some are blind, but one of their personalities is able to see. The Beast goes through certain things in the movie and doesn’t get hurt when he most certainly should have.
Of course, this is a movie and not real life. However, I’ve found that the different kind of strength spoken of in this movie is spoken of in the Bible and reflected in my own lifetime of experiences with chronic illness and other difficult situations.
I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating here. I once had a mammogram technician ask me if I’d been through a lot of struggle in my life. I admitted I had and asked her why. She told me that she’d noticed that people who have been through a lot in their lives are much less vocal about the difficulties with the whole mammogram experience, are more empathetic, and tend to be more compassionate .
The movie, Split, shows us that suffering gives you super powers and I maintain it does! Just not the kind in the movie. And my belief is backed by scripture as I’ll get into in a minute. My purpose for sharing this is to help those of you who struggle with chronic issues, especially those who can’t see a purpose in it, so that you might have a change of perspective from victim (or just a survivor) to a more heroic picture of someone who moves beyond surviving to inspire and lift up others.
Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.“
Here are some ways in which the Bible tells us we gain by suffering:
Empathy: 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.“
1 Peter 4:10 “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.“
Strength of character: “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
Appreciation for Joy (and ability to find joy and humor in dark places): Galations 6:3 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Perseverance: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12
I talked a little about this in the beginning of this blog post, but…
Why is it that God allows some of us to struggle so with things? I believe these scriptures answer that quite eloquently:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:8
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Peter 5:10
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
I believe that, ultimately, our sinful worldly existence will end and we’ll be with the Lord forever. Until then, our mission is to share the hope that is in Him and live by Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘”
If we truly love others as we love ourselves, we will have some super powers of understanding if we allow all our struggles and trials to strengthen us.
It’s not easy to find the good things hidden inside our struggles, but finding them while we are going through them is quite difficult. So far we’ve talked about three ways to find the good, the joy, in the trials of life. This month I’d like to share my 4th way to find the blessings inside the struggles of life.
Not only do we develop our strengths by climbing our mountains, but we may finally be able to lay down our own strength and allow God to lead us. I’ve always been a doer. I’ve always been a hard worker and I’ve got the grit that comes from having to overcome struggles. While that develops character, it also develops a sense of pride or at least stubbornness. lol
Have you ever been so determined to do something that you didn’t stop to consult the Almighty to see if it’s what He wants for you? I know I have. When that happens, God often sends a tornado to destroy any pride you might have left so that you have no choice but to rely upon the God of the Heavens. Sometimes God needs to get our attention so we are listening to where He wants us to go because where He’s sending us is better than where we were praying we’d go!
Unless we die to self and take direction from the One who created the universe, we will not get where God wants us to go. Just as the seeds must die and be reborn as a tree, we often have to die to self to have our lives reborn into what the Father has for us to be…and live the life He meant for us.
Whether or not you have a chronic issue/illness, you will face trials in your life. It’s not a matter of if, but only when. And most of us face trials multiple times in our lives–some of us, more than one at a time.
It’s sometimes hard to find the joy inside things that feel like the end of your world as you know it, isn’t it? I’ve noticed that there are different ways in which we can see trials and, that one fact alone, can determine how we face them.
When we’re at the bottom of our trial mountain, it can be hard enough to see a way up let alone how we can get there. But if we look at that mountain in a different way, we can see that there is a way up. You see that mountain up there in the picture? One side of it looks straight up. It looks hard to climb. Hard to navigate. But look at the back of that mountain? There’s a slope. It’s a steep slope, but a slope is better than straight up any day of the week!
Sometimes that slope on the other side is NOT as easy to climb, but that only means we should look at it a bit cockeyed. See how tilting the picture of the mountain gives us a better view of the slope in that picture? It may be harder to climb than turning the picture will make it appear, but what I’m saying is that there is your best shot. By being able to see that other side of the mountain with a tilt and enlarging the terrain allows us to learn better how to navigate our way up and over.
God often allows obstacles in our way to strengthen us-to build us into the person who can fulfill our purpose. Sometimes the storm clears the way. Sometimes storms are there to prove to us that we have strength we didn’t think we possessed. And that strength always comes in handy, if not for our own needs, then for the needs of our friends and family.
When we go through trials, we often feel they are a big part of our identity or, worse yet, ALL that we are. We are so much more than just the struggles we go through. God often builds us through our struggles, but He wants them to create a stronger soul able to reach and inspire others because nobody escapes this world unscathed. EVERYONE will have trials and those trials are more easily lived if we have others to look to who go before us and pave the way.
We are so much more than our struggles. We are so much more than our pain. We are shaped by them, but we are not defined by them alone!
The road to success is often paved with rocky terrain, u-turns, detours, and mountains to climb. Look at almost any success story and you’ll notice that the success you see is only the snap shot from the top of the mountain. When you read the book or watch the movie of their life, you see the rocky road they had to take to get there. And isn’t that a more inspiring story anyway?
Isn’t it inspiring to know that you aren’t the only one who struggles? Isn’t it nice to know that you, too, can achieve? That your struggle is what MAKES your success and not the reason you CAN’T succeed?!
I created this meme a while back when I saw a topic on social media talking about race and how it identifies who they are. I disagree. It’s only part of who you are. Who you are is SO much more than that and it’s so much more than a condition or illness you have. You are so much more than the struggles you have. God made each of us an individual-uniquely designed for such a time as this. He wants us to use the gifts and skills He’s given us to help others. If you can’t help others directly, you can inspire them with who you are and how you handle the trials you face.
So many with chronic illness believe they have nothing to give, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Inspiration is worth so much more often times than giving a million dollars to a charity. It’s worth so much more than physically being there to help someone up because you can lift them spiritually!
Remember, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” -Matthew 4:19. If you lift someone up off the floor, you help them get up once. If you lift them up spiritually, you may lift them up for a lifetime. That is what this blog is all about. That is what I strive to make my entire life about.
If I can inspire just one person, then my struggle has a higher purpose, doesn’t it? That higher purpose has another purpose because, in living my life to inspire others, it also inspires me to keep going! It gives me a purpose where I may have believed I had none.
Living with chronic issues or trials isn’t necessarily an end to your purpose here on planet Earth. It can be THE purpose you were put here by God to serve: an inspiration to others so they don’t give up on what God put THEM here to do!
I’ve done a post about this before, but this one is a bit different. If you have chronic illness or know someone who does, this is a post that will help you communicate your love and support. You might also want to share this with those you love.
Not Supportive: “You don’t look sick!” (He/She’s heard this a thousand times! What it says to them is “You don’t believe me.”)
“It could be worse!” (While this is true, it isn’t helpful. It’s like telling someone who just lost their child that it could be worse because they could have lost both of their children.)
“Must be nice not to have to go to work!” (Yes people have said this! It’s like telling someone who has the lost a leg, “It must be nice not having to walk and have others push you around all the time.”)
“It’s probably just stress!” (Stress isn’t diagnosed as Fibro of Chronic Fatigue. Saying it’s JUST stress minimizes what they feel and says they could feel better if only they’d do something different. Trust me. They have probably already tried.)
“Are you sure you just can’t __________?” or “Have you tried ______?” (They’re sure. Whatever it is you think they haven’t tried, they have!)
“Call me if you need anything.” (While this sounds helpful, people with chronic illness are usually too proud to ask for help or they don’t want to burden anyone. They won’t call.)
“Feel better soon!” or “Hope you feel better.” (The chronic part of chronic illness means they most likely won’t be feeling better. Saying you hope they feel better isn’t supportive because it implies that they should be thinking more positively about their chronic issue. While they may find something that helps down the line, it probably isn’t as easy as this statement sounds.)
“Just think positive!” or “Have you prayed about it?” or You’re always complaining!” (It’s not a matter of thinking positively and God sometimes doesn’t answer our prayer. Paul prayed for God to take away the “thorn” in his side and God told him that His grace was sufficient for him. Telling someone with chronic issues to pray or think positive is like telling them they are a bad person or a bad Christian because they weren’t healed yet. They may be healed by the Lord sometime in the future on this earth or they may need to wait until they are on the other side of Heaven.)
Supportive: “I’m so sorry!” (Then let them share with you, cry with you, and be uplifted by your support. They don’t need you to try to fix them. They need a friend to support them. They’ve got doctors, other chronic illness friends/groups, and God for that!)
“What is it like?” or “How does it affect you?” (This tells them that you are interested in listening and allowing them to vent a bit. Venting isn’t the same as complaining. Venting to someone willing to understand is helpful. Once the person is allowed to share, they feel a bit better and can actually be at least to some degree more positive.)
“How’s your pain/fatigue level today?” (This tells them you get it. This tells them you care. This tells them they can open up to you without being judged. This is helpful.)
“Wow! That stinks!” (This says you get it and you aren’t trying to shove another “cure” on them. This may actually open up a discussion that may lead to something that helps them because they feel more comfortable with you.)
“How can I help?” (This tells them you really care and are willing to really be there for them.)
“I’m getting a coffee. What can I pick up for you while I’m there?” (This tells them you’re serious about the help you are offering. This way they don’t have to ask. You are offering.)
If you struggle with chronic illness/conditions, you know all too well how many times we need a distraction. From the pain. From the boredom. From the fatigue. Here is a list of ideas that may help. I’d love you to share your favorite method of distraction.
HUMOR: The best way I’ve found to distract myself from the pain or fatigue of chronic illness is with humor. I watch funny reruns of tv shows, funny movies, funny memes on social media. All these get me to laugh, have fun, and help me to cope with the fatigue and pain of fibro and other issues I deal with.
CONVERSATION: Another of my favorite ways to distract is to engage in phone calls with friends and relatives. Catch up, reminisce, and engage. You can have a great time with people even if you can’t get out and even if they are 3000 miles away!
CREATE: I am a creative soul and I love to create new and unique things. I write JoJoisms, blog posts, and I’m working on some books I’d like to get traditionally published. If writing isn’t your thing, you can turn to art, crocheting, crafting, music, running a YouTube channel with your passion… The possibilities are endless!
INSTRUCT: If you have a talent or skill, why not set up a blog or YouTube channel or other way to teach others how to master something new? You have no idea how much your knowledge of history or science or math or any art form might help others and give you an outlet and a reason to bounce (figuratively) out of bed each morning.
CREATE A BUSINESS: Use any of your skills or talents to start a business! You’d be surprised how many YouTube sensations started off just sharing a passion. There might be things you can do that wouldn’t be too energy taxing that could bring you some income! You may not know until you try.
PRAY: If you can’t think of anything that you could do that excites you, you might try praying. Pray for others. Start a prayer group, a support group, a texting ministry. Start a prayer ministry on Facebook where you pray for your Facebook friends and their families. Prayer is powerful and it can be a powerful way to both minister to others and fulfill a purpose here on earth as you struggle with chronic issues.
Can you think of any others? How do you distract yourself?
So many times those of us with chronic illness feel useless because we don’t have the energy to do things with our kids, to help around the house, or to contribute to the family finances. We’re often too tired or in pain to do the things we think we should do. While we may not be able to do certain things, we can, indeed, contribute to others lives in so many other ways that we probably don’t think matters.
Lower Your Standards for Usefulness The first thing I did that helped me to feel as if I had a purpose to my life may sound a little defeatist or wrong. I had to lower my standards of usefulness.
My idea of living with a purpose and making a difference in the world was HUGE! When I was a kid, it was being a famous singer. As I got older it was being the BEST homeschooling mom and helping others to do big things for God. When I found I wasn’t able to get out of the house much (or off the couch often), that made me feel useless. The house wasn’t clean, the kids couldn’t run and play with me and I wasn’t changing anyone’s life.
But when I began to see the little things that I COULD do, I realized that they made a difference in other people’s lives…and sometimes a BIG difference! Instead of hosting big events in person, I hosted an event online. (Before that was a real thing!) Instead of running with my kids, I concentrated on teaching and training them with knowledge and helping them discover who God intended them to be. Instead of writing a best seller, I wrote a little blog that helped others with chronic illness live with more joy.
Those things turned out to be much more rewarding!
BeVirtually Useful Just because we can’t reach out in person, doesn’t mean we can’t help especially in the Information Age! As I mentioned before, I ran an online convention for a few years before online events were even popular. I also took to social media to help others deal with every day issues. I had a texting ministry where I’d text a few people daily to uplift them during a difficult time. I also found ways to earn money online via websites and various original products/services.
So, I was contributing to my household’s finances even though I wasn’t able to hold a job!
Take Up a New Hobby or Purpose Sometimes God will allow you to do the same things you’d like to do in a different way (virtually). Sometimes God gives you a whole new purpose! I have a degree in Speech Communication so when I wasn’t able to do in person speaking engagements, I did them virtually. Later on other things became more important to me.
One of my passions is purple. I’ve always loved the color. About 11 years ago, I started a fan page on Facebook for purple lovers. That page grew to over 10K fans. The page was just for fun. It doesn’t sell anything and I just share and create and post pretty purple things. That’s all. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a comment or message about how important those pretty purple things uplifted someone during a trial in their lives!
Sometimes you have no idea the importance of something you do for someone else!
See How God Can Use You My advice for you if you are struggling to find a purpose because of chronic illness or a chronic condition is to pray to have God reveal to you how He can use you where you are right now. It doesn’t matter what you can’t do. It only matters what you CAN do! So…
2020 has been a blur, hasn’t it? So much has happened and I can hardly believe it’s all been packed into five months! While our nation and the world is in all kinds of chaos, there are certain things that have not changed. Chronic illness stops for nothing. So, I will continue to support you by bringing you some new insights and information as I find them.
This month’s topic has been near and dear to my heart for over twenty years as I’ve struggled with my weight, diets, and exercise that all promised great results but delivered bupkis.
I’ve been steadily gaining weight since I had my son almost 21 years ago and I began my perimenopause journey. However, a little more than three years ago, I had a total hysterectomy and that’s when my body decided to make up for in width what I lacked in hight! Since I was mostly a healthy eater and had no issues with cravings, stress eating, or portion control, I was at a loss to find something that actually worked for me.
As I mentioned before, limiting calories to 1200/day had not worked AT ALL for me because left to my own devices, I was only eating 900 – 1000 calories/day. So, my attention next turned to exercise. BUT…there’s a HUGE problem with exercise for those of us with chronic illness. Here’s an excerpt from an article I found online:
“It’s basic physiology—when you feel sluggish, unmotivated and fatigued, getting up and doing some exercise causes changes in your body that boost your energy. Exercise also releases endorphins in the brain, and endorphins are great pain killers. So when people say those of us with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome would feel better if we got “more exercise,” there’s something to it, right? Actually, no. In normal, healthy people, yes—exercise creates energy. Problem is, we’re not normal and healthy.”
And what are these endorphins people speak of? I’m pretty sure they don’t have those on my planet. My husband always told me that he feels GREAT after exercising and taking a shower. I never had enough energy after exercise TO take a shower. The best I felt after a “work out” was slightly more tired than you normally feel when you have the flu!
In my experience, even as a teen in high school (after eight months of doing two back to back 30-minute aerobics tv shows), I couldn’t get off the floor to take a shower and go to school. As I got older, it only got worse. In recent years, I have never gotten past two or three weeks of “gentle walking” on the treadmill without having a flare and giving up for a month…or several.
The dangers of exercise for chronic illness sufferers are flares and injury. Doing too much can cause a flare in your pain and/or fatigue and that flare can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or longer for some. Injury is a concern even for those who don’t have a chronic illness but don’t exercise regularly. After walking on the treadmill a while back for as much as three weeks, I injured my foot requiring six surgical procedures!
The most difficult part of this for me is knowing when is too much. I can have no problem for weeks and suddenly, in a matter of a few seconds, I’m done! I’m exhausted. No warning. Nothing telling me it was coming. Anyone have this? And further, when something is too much, I have no idea how long my recovery from a flare will be. Sometimes it’s a few hours. Sometimes it’s seven weeks.
I have no way of knowing, but some people can feel it coming on. Some can tell when they are going to need to stop and some know that doing X will likely cause Y amount of time to recover. Some know when it’s too much but have no idea of how long recovery might take. I have no indication of either.
If you can start slow, build slowly, and you can find what works for you, there are many benefits of exercise for chronic illness. For some, exercise is a way of feeling healthier or building strength or even easing some of their pain symptoms. For some, the goal was weight loss.
I was never able to exercise enough to contribute to any weight loss. I was way too fatigued to do enough of it to yield any weight loss results. After gaining 50% of my weight in FAT, I thought I’d never lose it.
Everyone gave me lots of ideas, but nothing worked for me. I heard about the Keto Diet but found it too complicated even for those who lost weight with it to explain it to me in four sentences or less. I had all but given up when I found a health coach that was able to tailor a plan just for me and tweak it along the way when things went sideways. And that’s how things work on my planet so that happened a LOT!
I think most of the issues we, as chronic illness folk, have with traditional programs of any kind are that we aren’t your typical, average person. We may not even be typical for whatever diagnoses we have! I know I’m not!
Just like I was blessed to find a doctor who not only understands my chronic illnesses but who is willing to listen and tweak my treatment, what made all the difference for me was my health coach. I found one that knows her stuff and also is open to listening to the issues I was having that weren’t normal. If someone had told me what the average person needs to do to lose weight and left me on my own to figure it out, I’d have quit after my second week!!
After losing 15 pounds, I finally began to notice an improvement in my fatigue, sleep, and a decrease in the number and severity of my flares. Fatigue is still the BIGGEST issue I deal with even more so than the pain. It’s no where near gone, but there is a noticeable improvement!
Each one of us has to find what works for our individual needs. My coach, Mary, has been such a blessing! At the time I’m writing this, I’ve lost 15 lbs and 17 inches so far. If you’ve had a tough time losing, check her out. She’ll talk to you about how she can help with no obligation whatsoever! If you do, tell her JoJo says hello!
What diet, eating program, or exercise have you found works for you?
Make sure you check back next week when I’ll be sharing some insights I found about food that has proven very interesting to combat fatigue!
I started this blog almost three years ago with the intent to support those with chronic illness and conditions because it’s the chronic part of those terms that make life so much more difficult. It can be a lonely life because chronic issues can limit what we can do or how much of it we can do. It’s isolating.
My heart was to bring some joy, information, support, and humor to a group of weary people who often feel alone and hopeless to control a life they don’t recognize anymore.
My goal is to help others to find the road to living a Life Beyond Surviving! I pray you’ll join me in 2020 to make it your best year with chronic illness yet!
I’d love to hear how this blog has helped you so far. Please leave a comment with your thoughts and suggestions for future posts. Until then, Happy New Year, Survivors!