I’ve been sharing some key ways of finding the good in the bad things we go through down here on planet earth. We do that by understanding that we couldn’t climb high and gain success if the mountain was as smoothe as glass. We do that by understanding that the more amazing the success, the more difficult the journey. And we do that by understanding that we are sometimes tested not to show our weakness, but to discover or even grow our strengths!
I don’t know about you, but the difficulties I’ve been through have given me the strength I needed to deal with what was coming down the road a bit. God prepares us. Body builders have to strengthen their muscles in order to life heavier weights. Gymnasts need to strengthen their bodies in order to do all the amazing tricks.
Just as athletes must strengthen their bodies, we must strengthen our minds and our resolve in order to do the work the Lord has for us. Just to face the growing difficulties of life on a fallen world, we need to strengthen our character, our resolve, and our mindsets.
Strength is something often admired, but most people have no idea what it took to get there. Building strength in an area often takes difficulties endured that often look like trials and hardships. But they yield some amazing fruit!!
So, last month I started by sharing how just by understanding that we couldn’t get to the successes or see the incredible view of the top of our mountain if we didn’t have rough terrain to climb. If the surface was as smooth as glass, we wouldn’t have anything to hang on to in order to get to the top. Knowing there is a purpose to difficult times like our experience in helping others, allows us to see the joy in a difficult time.
The second way we can find the joy inside the bad times is to know that very often our hardest times produce the most amazing fruit. The most important or amazing successes often take the most effort and sacrifice. It’s just how life is.
How much time would you devote to a book or movie about a three minute climb to the top of a small hill? How impressed would you be with the business owner who spent a few weekends a year to create another mediocre product that doesn’t work much better than all the others available on the market?
We may not always agree with the owners of large corporations with respect to their politics, but we do admire a good rags to riches story of how they sacrificed for their vision. We love seeing the grit it took to get to the Olympics. We love the Rocky movies that shared how, against all odds, Rocky Balboa overcame and went on to win in the next movie. We love the story about how Sylvester Stallone took that move idea all over to many in the film industry who said no and how he went on to make a bunch of Rocky movies in spite of all those nos!
The effort you are putting into your dreams or goals or health or life is admired by others who are inspired by your example. Don’t give up the hard path so easily. It’s often the hardest climbs that lift the most people up!
I’ve often been asked how I am able to find a way to focus on the joy in my life amidst the trials of life. I thought I’d take some time to share some of the more simple ways I’ve managed this. I’m not saying it’s easy. Just that it’s simple.
Since it’s often the case that those going through life’s difficulties have very little time, I thought I’d share just one per month for the next few months. Also, this gives you time to make it a habit you fit into your life among the other “stuff” you’re going through.
I recently saw a quote by Wintley Phipps that I think illustrates the most important concept of finding joy in the trials. Wintley said, “Son, if the mountain were smooth, you couldn’t climb it.” If you think about life that way, it almost makes you wish for the mountains in your life. We wouldn’t be able to rise above the muck and mire of the every day to do the extraordinary things that inspire and motivate others if we didn’t have our mountains to climb.
We wouldn’t be able to see the majestic view at the top of the mountains of life if we weren’t able to climb the rocky terrain to get up to the top. And lets face it, if you’re thinking we could always take a short cut and fly over the tops of the mountains and catch a glimpse of the view, you’re not taking into account the experience you give up by not climbing it for yourself.
What I’ve learned by climbing to the top of my mountains has helped my readers and friends and family get through their own difficulties. Not every difficulty is alike, but knowing a friend was able to get through the death of her son or an abusive relationship or an illness, helps me face what life throws at me…even if it isn’t exactly the same kind of issue.
Let’s face it, life is difficult down here on earth. We will graduate to a perfect life in heaven, but for now, aren’t we better off knowing our brothers and sisters have paved the way dealing with trials such that we can learn from their experience? Here’s another word of wisdom that sums up why:
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!
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?
It’s not easy having chronic illness, is it? Nope. It’s not something I’d wish for nor is it something I’d wish upon even those who “done me wrong.” I’ve written several times before about how I’ve found blessings inside the struggles: joys that were there inside the trials right along side the pain and fatigue. However, what I never wrote about before is how the struggle itself has strengthened me and my faith as nothing else could have!
Just like how working out builds a strong body (unless you have chronic illness lol) or how an athlete trains to be strong enough to win the big race, our struggles can strengthen us and mine have!
I’m sure you’ve seen those memes on social media about how “Nobody ever accomplished anything while in their comfort zone.” “You gotta get out of your comfort zone if you expect to do anything with your life!” Well, I’ll bet you were thinking, “I have chronic illness. I don’t HAVE a comfort zone!” And you’re probably right!
If you’re one of us (chronic illness/issues sufferers), you don’t think in terms of comfort. You think in terms of what is the least painful, the least energy zapping. You just work to make sure your pain or fatigue or discomfort isn’t as bad as it could be because there isn’t any real comfort inside the Chronic Illness Zone, is there?
Well, this got me thinking that so much of my life has be filled with not only pain and fatigue, but difficulties of various kinds. I was blessed to be born without a comfort zone. I was a painfully shy kid. What’s the worst thing for a shy kid? Having to meet new people! But that’s exactly what I had to do every few years. New town, new state, new school, new neighborhood…
I couldn’t look people in the eye when I talked to them. Shy people usually stay in the background: The Comfort Zone of the Socially Awkward. But not me! I couldn’t. I was always the new kid. The one dressed different, the one who called jeans “dungarees.” The one who pronounced SePULveda Blvd as SepulVEda. The one who was 4′ 10″. The one who had a NY accent in Virginia. I stuck out like a sore thumb.
And shyness wasn’t the only area of my life that was difficult either. As I’ve shared many times here on Life Beyond Surviving, I’ve had chronic illness and other chronic conditions most of my life. What I haven’t written about much is all the other ways in which life has been challenging for me.
I’m one of the only Christians in my family. I’m of Jewish heritage, but most of my family is either atheist or agnostic. Some are/were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has always been a bit challenging at family gatherings.
In the 33 years we’ve been married, my husband and I have had quite a number of issues to deal with. My husband was born in Mexico so we’ve had some issues with racism and early on in our marriage we had some financial issues we had to overcome.
Several years ago he lost his permanent job and he’s been doing consulting work ever since. It is rather challenging, especially when the economy isn’t doing well or, say, a pandemic hits and jobs aren’t as plentiful. He’s had a lot of times in between assignments where we had to find alternative ways to make extra money.
Once, during a year of his unemployment, we had to work quite hard in our own business buying HUD homes and reselling them to real estate investors to fix up and resell. It was especially difficult to invest in real estate this way because HUD doesn’t like investors and they made it increasingly difficult for us to make a profit, but we persevered. We did earn a living doing this for a while.
We also worked for a while selling our own products on Amazon until we found that Amazon, while a FABULOUS platform for buyers, is very biased against sellers. I was constantly on the phone with a lawyer trying to resolve oversights where Amazon allowed scammers to spoof our listings and then sell subpar versions of our products or send none at all to the customer.
I’ve had to work 10x harder than most at just about everything. Maybe you have too. And yet, I’d still say I was blessed to be born without a comfort zone because I never felt hard work was an option. It’s just part of life. Knowing that made my adjustments easier because most of achievement is mindset, isn’t it?
Not having ever had a comfort zone has benefited me greatly because I assume I’ll have to work hard…at EVERYTHING! I expect it. I plan for it. I embrace it. Life with challenges has taught me to endure, but also to see the joy not only in what hard work brings, but in what hard work does. It builds character and it builds trust and faith in the Lord to bring you through just about everything the world can throw at you!
I’ve said it before. God uses everything for our good and we can use everything for our own good as well. Just like the butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon builds strength in its wings, our own struggles build strength in US. I choose to look at life’s struggles and difficulties this way and it has helped me to see more of the joy in life and build my own strength to be who I need to be while I’m doing it.
God uses six things to encourage us and, so far this month, we’ve looked at God’s Word, music, and Fellowship. This week, I’d like to talk about thankfulness.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;” -Philippians 4:6
It sounds counterintuitive to say that in the midst of great suffering we should be thankful, but it does help. First of all, we are not thankful for suffering, but we may be thankful that our suffering brings understanding of other. We may be thankful that we can now understand enough to help others. We may be thankful that we will grow from this experience. But above all, we can be thankful that God never abandons us in our suffering. He is always near, giving us strength, giving us peace, giving us guidance and direction.
Secondly, it is true that the more we are thankful for what we have, the more we see the positives that struggles bring us. Further, as we get used to being thankful for the beauty around us, the opportunities that come our way, the fact that God is with us, the people in our lives that help us, the more joy we are able to have.
I’m not saying this is easy, but it is powerful! At first, you may only see one good thing in the mess that you perceive to be your life. Soon, you can see more. Keep looking for them. You see what you look for. Look for a red car and you will see them everywhere. Look for a blue car and you may never notice the red ones. Think of this as an exercise similar to I Spy that you played as a kid. See how many blue cars (blessings, joys, good things, beautiful things) you can see each day. After a while, you won’t notice the red cars (negative things) as much.
This is a powerful encouragement to cultivate in yourself and that is why I discuss it frequently here on the blog and why I have included it as a theme in the Life Beyond Surviving Facebook Group. I post a prompt each week called, Thankful Thursday as a chance for you to think more about the good things in your life. I hope you participate with me as I get just as much out of them as my members do!
“For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15
Next week, I’m going to talk about how humor is another way that may encourage us through difficult times. Join me!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
We’re getting back to basics this month. That old saying, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” never sat well with me. I’ve shared this before, but if our tunnel is chronic, it usually doesn’t end this side of heaven. That means we have to find the light inside our tunnel and last week we began that process by talking about the five stages of grief as it applies to those of us with chronic illness.
The five stages of grief may seem insurmountable at the time, but I’ve found that what comes next is the hardest part because once you get to acceptance, then what? What’s next? Next, you have to learn to live with it and grow through it.
This can seem impossible because you have your ideas of what life should have looked like, should have been, work you should be doing except for limitations imposed by your chronic issues. But how you allow God to mold you and change you into the life He has established for you will make all the difference.
Instead of looking at your past hopes and dreams and continuing to grieve for what will never be, I’ve found that it is far more positive and uplifting to allow God to guide me to the work he has for me in my present state. God always knew how my life would turn out. It wasn’t a surprise to Him, just to me. I figured, God created me and He has a plan for my life, so if He knew this, He must have work for me that I cannot see at this time.
The first step is to ask God for guidance and pray to hear His direction. I had been writing since I was nine years old. I had dreams of becoming a songwriter. Well, actually at that age, I had dreams of becoming a famous singer. As I grew up, my life changed and so my dreams changed. For me, they changed from writing songs to writing speech communication books to writing about chronic illness. The writing remained the same, but what I did with the talent the Lord blessed me with changed.
For you, it might be a more distinct change from something like working outside the home to selling your artwork. But it isn’t just our work life that changes when we have chronic illness. It’s every area of our lives. So…
The next step is to establish what would help you in all the areas of your life: health, family, career, and ministry. I went over this extensively in my series on Chronic Illness New Year’s Resolutions. You can click on each of those and look through those areas of your life for ideas.
After you know what you can change, adapt, and adopt in these areas of your life the final step is what I’ll be talking about next week so stay tuned!
I’m in the middle of working on the rest of the Finding Joy in the Trials series. I promise to get some more out soon, but until then I had to share this. Over the last several years, I’ve seen several memes on Facebook that said something like:
“I’ve heard that no matter what you’re going through, someone has it worse.”
Not only is that dismissive of someone’s trials, but it causes people to feel afraid to reach out to those who can be supportive and helpful. Further, while we are all dealing with struggles, each one handles things differently. What we need during times of stress is uplifting not shaming.
It doesn’t help you to know that somebody has a more dire problem or is more in debt. What you need are answers. It most certainly can help you to know that you aren’t alone, but the first thing someone needs when they are hurting is to know they are understood and that their feelings are valid.
Can we all agree to be uplifting rather than dismissive? Could we choose to help and support first before we tell someone their needs aren’t important? Let’s let the first thing out of our mouths be, “I understand” or “I’m so sorry” or “What can I do to help?”