Thursday, March 2, 2017

An Outside Perspective Pt. 3: Faith in the Midst of Chronic Illness

"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." ~ Jesus (John 16:33b)

     I'm blessed to live in a community in which people pray for each other. "I'm praying for you" is often heard, and, I trust, meant. "How are your mom and brother? Please tell them I'm praying for them." I pray too. But what happens when answers tarry, or maybe never come the way we hoped they would? What happens when, after years, things just get worse instead of better? Living with chronic illness is a wearying road (and it's not a sin to be weary!!)

     It is hard to persevere in praying with faith knowing that God can heal, yet still finding peace in His sovereign goodness, saying "Thy will be done." It's easy to lean toward one extreme or the other, either "claiming healing in Jesus' Name" and then being hurt and disillusioned when healing doesn't come, or just giving up on praying about it at all, giving in to despair. But the reality is, we are never promised healing. On the contrary, in Scripture we are promised repeatedly that life will, in some way, shape, or form, be hard. What we are promised is that we can have hope, peace, and joy even in the midst of suffering. In Christ, we are more than conquerors no matter what suffering we may be facing, and we know that nothing can separate us from His love. (I'm resisting the urge to quote all of Romans 8:16-39 here, but please, pause and read it. It's so good).

     As Christians, our hope is not ultimately in this life. Even one freed from the bondage of chronic illness still dwells in a mortal body which will eventually wear out and meet death. Praise God, because of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice, we have a "living hope" (1 Peter 1:3), a certain hope of eternity with God where we will never again know sadness, pain, or suffering. Whatever this life may hold until then, we can have hope for that reason. That is why we can rejoice.

     So in praying for a friend with chronic illness, yes, by all means pray that God will heal them! We serve a mighty God for whom nothing is impossible, who loves and cares for His children, and we hope that someday He may choose to heal. But pray especially that God will uphold them in the midst of trial. Pray that He will sustain their faith, give them hope, joy, and strength to meet each day. Pray that He will comfort and encourage them with His promises. And don't ever stop praying.

     I tried to capture all this in a poem I wrote for my Mom some time ago, inspired by Romans 8, and I will use it as a conclusion to this series of posts. Whether you are facing chronic illness or trial of any kind, I pray it is a blessing to you.

"Healing"

Few can see, and fewer grasp
The nature of this road,
A way of hidden suff'ring
On which many tears are sown.

Healing an elusive dream
And pain a steady friend
Imparting weariness to days
Which drag on without end.

This isolating illness
With no promise of a cure
Casts shadows of discouragement
Oppressive to endure.

A God of love, unbroken pain,
How are these reconciled?
How can a Father give with love
This thorn to His own child?

These concepts do not contradict
Though I afflicted be,
For I'm co-heir with Jesus,
And He suffered for me.

Oh, pity me, all who look on,
If all that I possess
Is uncertain chance of healing
And hope of earthly rest.

Yet, God be praised! That is not so.
One day this ache will lift.
A hope unseen, but certain hope
Is mine because He lives.

An eternal weight of glory waits-
The glory of His reign.
Not even worth comparing
With this passing, transient pain.

This troubled path is leading home.
One day I'll reach that place,
And there be healed forever
When at last I see His face. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

An Outside Perspective Pt. 2: Responding to Chronic Illness

"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" James 2:15-16

     In my last post, I wrote about chronic illness, and how we who do not struggle with it can better understand what life is like for those who do. Hopefully that was helpful, but simply being more aware and maybe feeling sad about it isn't going to accomplish much when all is said and done. Increased compassion for the hurting is good, and it should lead us to the obvious question: "So what can I do?" I was reading Romans 12 several days ago, a passage which is full of practical guidance for how we ought to live as God's people. Several points are, I think, particularly applicable here.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Romans 12:15
     This doesn't mean, of course, that we should feel guilty when we feel happy, since other people are sad. What it does mean is that, within the Body of Christ, we ought to walk closely enough that when our brother or sister is joyful or suffering, we are affected by it. We experience it with them. Chronic illness makes this difficult because, as I mentioned before, it is so isolating. In the normal course of life, friendships often fade as we see people less, and new ones develop. That's fine, but chronic illness is a bit different. Those who suffer with it are often forced to step back from most, or even all social circles. Life goes on for everyone else, and it begins to seem that everyone has forgotten them.

       "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17) True friendship is proven in times of trial, not shattered or frustrated by it. If someone you know is chronically ill, be intentional about reaching out to them. Let them know that you you are thinking about and praying for them. Keep on being there for them, even when they can't be there for you. If they have to drop a coffee date because they just feel too bad to go out, rather than feeling that you've been ditched, realize how disappointed they must be to miss one more thing they were looking forward to, take some time to pray for them or write them an encouraging note, and make it a point to try again soon. Text or call and ask how they are doing, even when you know the answer will probably be the same. And keep doing it. Don't assume they know you are thinking about them; communicate it."Weep with those who weep" isn't a one time thing. Walking alongside, and being a true friend to someone with chronic illness requires love shown through perseverance and patience.

"Contribute to the needs of the saints..." Romans 12:13a 
Within the Body of Christ we are blessed with a unique family relationship, and as we pray for a brother or sister in need... it may just be that God desires us to be His hands and feet in providing for them. Chronic illness is overwhelming, and not just to the one suffering, but to their family. It is hard, hard, hard to watch someone you love suffering and feel helpless to fix it, and the illness can cause strain in other areas as well. Often, chronic illness becomes a massive financial burden. Some chronic illnesses result in extreme food sensitivities and require a special (translation: expensive) diet. Treatment may involve a laundry list of supplements you couldn't begin to pronounce (again: expensive). Some tests and treatments may not be covered by insurance (expensive expensive expensive). You get the idea. Also, when living with the pain and fatigue of chronic illness in such a fast paced world, routine tasks like cleaning, yardwork, keeping kids busy, and running errands can become overwhelming.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to meeting needs, because needs vary. What is helpful for one person might be stressful for another. So how can you know what will help? Allow me to offer a simple solution that may seem obvious: ask. Don't say “Let me know if there's any way I can help!” That's well meant, I know, but odds are no one is going to call you and say, “Hey, remember when you offered to help awhile back? Well, we're really struggling with the supplement bill this month....” Instead, try something more specific: “What can I do that will be a help to you?” And keep asking. Look for opportunities too. A meal may be a blessing, but if explaining dietary restrictions is too complicated, why not bless them with a gift card to their preferred grocery store instead? Offer an afternoon of childcare so they can rest. Ask if you can pick something up for them at the store. Or maybe just come over for a visit, if they feel well enough. Seek to do something that will really serve and leave them feeling blessed and loved, not just a thing that will salve your conscience for awhile. And before, during, and after seeking to serve, pray.

Speaking of prayer, that will be the topic of my final post in this series: how faith in God plays out in the midst of a trial that can seem hopeless.

**I don't pretend to have this all figured out. These are areas where I need to grow as well.
***Chronic illness is a broad term, and as with anything else, there is no universal stereotype for those who are chronically ill. What is felt by and/or helpful to one person might not be the same as someone else. I don't pretend to speak for all those who suffer with chronic illness, only to offer what I have observed in the hope that it may be helpful. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An Outside Perspective Pt 1: Understanding Chronic Illness

chron·ic
/kränik/
adjective
(of an illness) persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.


     When was the last time you were sick? (Last Friday in my case). No fun, huh? Did you curl up in bed and watch movies, waiting for your aches and pain to pass? Did you power through cold symptoms at work or school while your nose dripped, your throat burned, and your head was in a fog? Being sick is miserable. It stinks. When we get sick we put life on pause if we can, and if we can't, we may feel a bit sorry for ourselves. We try to get rest, move a little slower, and trust people will have grace for us if we're not in a particularly cheery mood. Then we get better, and life goes on.

     But imagine, if you will, that miserable feeling being a constant. Rather than hitting hard and moving on with a possible week or so of recovery afterward, imagine it stretching on for days... weeks... months... years. The specific symptoms may be different (and often worse) but if you have been imagining along with me, you have gotten a taste of what it's like to be chronically ill.

     I am not chronically ill, but my mom and brother have a chronic illness (as do 2 of my closest friends) so I have, in a sense, lived with it and seen its merciless effects first hand. It is isolating. It is discouraging. It is wearying. It is misunderstood. It is frightening. In writing this post, I'll try to do in text what I often have in conversation- explain at least a little of what makes chronic illness so hard.

      First, chronic illness is hidden. Most of those who suffer with it don't look sick, and consequently, they are often misunderstood. They have to function as best as they can with pain as a constant companion, because that's just how life is. So when you see them a smiling and laughing that doesn't mean everything is fine. They may be an expert at hiding just how bad they're feeling, and what you also don't see is that the price of today's social event may be a crash tomorrow, as they expended far more energy than they really had. For them, doing things we take for granted comes at a high price. As energy is limited, activities must become limited. As they are forced to step back from things they enjoyed before, as they have to keep saying "no," life keeps going on, and they may increasingly feel forgotten or left behind. Chronic illness is by its nature isolating and lonely.
     
     Second, chronic illness is... well... chronic. It just keeps going, long past the point one would feel they could endure it. People ask, "how are you feeling?" and the choices are either to hide the truth with a simple "fine" or to be honest and say "pretty terrible" over and over and over and over. There are ups and downs, but when the truth is usually discouraging, sometimes people get tired of asking. There's often no end in sight, and even when one's faith is strong, enduring pain day after day after day is wearying. Also, many chronic illnesses are hard to diagnose, and often it can mean years of doctors and tests with no answers... and then when answers do come the implications may be bleak. They need prayer for endurance.

     I feel safe in saying that possibly the most hurtful thing for someone who is chronically ill is for someone (especially someone close to them) to doubt that they are really sick. When someone is fighting pain and exhaustion day after day, the implication (however well it is meant) that it's all in their head is like a dagger. I have seen this happen more than once, and I can't begin to describe the pain it causes. Remember, chronic illness is hidden. Just because you can't see it, don't understand it, and may not have a label to attach to it doesn't mean it isn't there. If someone you love is chronically ill, and you are struggling with skepticism, please, please do not express it, and do not judge them. Try instead to be there for them. Try to be humble and teachable, ready to believe them, And if you are truly struggling with reservations about it, I do understand, it's hard to understand its effects when you haven't witnessed them first hand. Let me encourage you to bring that before God, and ask Him to help you see the situation as He sees it.

     Even having witnessed the effects of chronic illness on a day to day basis, it's still easy for me to forget or minimize just how bad those I love are feeling. That's why I'm sharing all this- in the hope that we might, as brothers and sisters in Christ, be able to have a better understanding of something that is often hard to grasp. In the next post I'll share some thoughts about practical ways to love those who are chronically ill, but in the meantime, just trying to understand (and praying!!) is a good place to start.

***Chronic illness is a broad term, and as with anything else, there is no universal stereotype for those who are chronically ill. What is felt by and/or helpful to one person might not be the same as someone else. I don't pretend to speak for all those who suffer with chronic illness, only to offer what I have observed in the hope that it may be helpful. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Reflection and Gratitude

Over 7 months since my last post... And over one month since I became a married woman. After almost 3 years together, including my 8 months in the Philippines while we were dating and his 6 months on the other side of the world while we were engaged, on January 2nd I finally became my Zack's wife. More on that later, but for now there is something on my heart.

Last night, while most of America watched the Super Bowl (or, for all of my kindred spirits, hung out with other people who also weren't watching it), Zack and I spent a quiet evening at home in our apartment. Such is the life of a student... he had the entirety of Othello to read by the next day, and so the most we experienced of the game was our neighbor's passionate commentary which made its way through the walls. Good thing we aren't football people. 

After dinner I joined him on the couch, and as a passing thought, decided to read my journal from two years ago this week. I was in the Philippines then, finishing up my visit to another village, and celebrating in my heart the one year anniversary of the day Zack asked me if I wanted to "give it a shot." One year together, more than half of it spent apart. Then another entry from two days later, his birthday... celebrated over Skype. Missing him, loving him so much from so very far away. Sharing what life and love we could over a computer screen, because that's all we had and would have for months. It's easy now to forget just how hard that was. How I would offer my aching heart to God and pray for contentment when internet issues hindered our very few hours of conversation each week. How I would daydream about just being able to hold his hand. 

As I read my own words from a very different season and remembered how I had treasured what precious little I had of him, I was struck by how profoundly poignant it was to be reading that now, two years later, sitting silently on the couch with my husband. We are now immersed in life, with all of its frustrations, uncertainties, adjustments, ups and downs. There are jobs and dishes and bills and sore throats and homework. But we are together. I could look up and see him, concentrating, trying to grasp the mysteries of Shakespeare and still finish the assignment on time. I could move my foot a few inches to touch his, knowing he'd look up and smile. These are simple, daily realities now, and so easy to take for granted. But oh, how sweet that they are daily realities. How much God has led us through to bring us here. How long we waited. And I remembered that I wouldn't trade this for anything. 

Skype two years ago

Skype one year ago

Home






Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Poem- "My Confidence"

This week I've had more time to just be still than I usually do... and to be honest, I kind of miss the busyness! As long as I'm staying busy with tasks and relationships God has placed in my life it's great, and He gives so much grace, but busyness can become an idol. Coming into this week I've noticed in my heart a definite resistance to the stillness. I've been praying about it a lot, asking God to strengthen my desire to just draw near to Him, and hating my own fallen, wandering heart which so often renders that prayer necessary. Last night though, God reminded me of the glorious truth that He doesn't change based on how I feel about Him. Feelings shift and alter, but He never does.

For a long time, I have struggled with legalism... and by that I mean the tendency to measure my relationship with Him based on my performance- how well I'm doing in living out my faith. It is right and biblical to pursue obedience and a deeper walk with Him, but my standing before Him is based not on what I do, but on what He did on the cross! This poem is something He placed on my heart as I was meditating on that this morning. It's kind of simplistic, but it's something I needed to remember, and I hope it's a blessing to you as well!  

"My Confidence"

No heights of joy or thankfulness,
No zeal to win the lost,
No grief over my failures,
No passion for the cross,

No amount of study,
Gleaning knowledge of His Word,
No hours spent in fervent prayer,
Heart bent before the Lord...

No endurance in great trial,
No faithfulness through pain,
No sacrifice or service
I might render in His name,

All good things which He desires,
But they are not enough
To gain a place before His throne
Nor win for me His love.

It's Jesus who has paved my way,
Through His obedience.
My hope is found in Christ alone;
In Him my righteousness.

So, though I pray that all these things
May be seen in me,
Only in His blood I gain
My true identity

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Changing Seasons

Today was, unless God does something I don't anticipate, my last official day of CYT/STP after 9 years there. 9 years of ministry, of growth... of family. It wasn't until I left the building and the door shut behind me that reality started to sink in, and I cried.

God has really grown me in my ability to handle change (just ask my mother!) but on days like this it can still hurt. New chapters mean saying goodbye to old ones, and the fact that I'm excited for what's ahead (marriage- WOOT!!) doesn't mean that it's easy to let go of what came before. I believe that the human heart longs for permanence, and that God gave us that desire so that we might seek it's fulfillment in Him. He is the only constant in this constantly changing world, and if we are His, then one day we will be with Him forever. No more changing seasons or goodbyes. Until then, the stability that is ours in Him keeps us anchored as we walk through this life.

Through all of this, God has been reminding me of just how temporary I am. These 9 years at CYT amount to a major chunk of my life thus far, but even if I were to pour into something for a lifetime, after a few years people probably wouldn't remember me. But if, but the grace of God, people are somehow pointed to know and pursue Jesus as a result of my life, then my life will have been worthwhile, even if no one remembers my name. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Introducing....

This blog has had a serious omission for quite some time now. A very important development in my life (and by important, I mean life-altering) has gone only vaguely hinted at for the last two years. I've had my reasons for not writing about it here, and though those reasons disappeared awhile ago, by that point I wasn't sure where to begin! But since it's Valentine's Day, now seems as good a time as any, so here goes...

Just over two years ago, as we sat talking on a bench outside Starbucks, a handsome and godly young man named Zack, whom I deeply admired, asked me to begin a relationship.

And on September 4th, 2014, that man asked me to be his wife.

I rather doubt that's news to anyone reading this, but sometimes I still look down at the ring on my finger and catch my breath in wonder, because I can't believe this is all real. For years I prayed for the man I would marry, and all the while God was shaping Zack to be that man. Our love story has been sweeter than anything than I ever could have imagined for myself, made beautiful by the Author of beauty.

Through the month leading up to our dating, one thing I prayed over and over was that God would not only bring about His plan, but that He would do it in His way, in His timing. This has remained my prayer through the course of our relationship, and it's one God has been faithful to answer. If I'd had my way and my timing, things probably would have looked a lot different! As it is, our relationship has included several very long periods of separation, and our engagement will last for well over a year.

Would I marry Zack tomorrow if I could? In a heartbeat! I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with this man! But if it came at the cost of the lessons that God is teaching us through the difficulty and waiting? Not a chance. God gives His best to those who trust and surrender to Him, but sometimes (often!) that best involves pain. As much as I ache to be married now, I recognize how desperately I need God's grace to be the wife Zack needs, and if the lessons learned in this season of waiting are His means of preparing us for marriage and drawing us closer to Him, then so be it.

Zack and I have seen the faithfulness and goodness of our Lord throughout the course of our relationship in so many ways, and perhaps in the future I will share some of what He has taught me along the way. For now though, I thank God for what He has given Zack and me, and pray that He uses it for His glory.

Before our first real date



Thursday, February 12, 2015

Counting the Cost

I journal. I have kept a journal more or less faithfully since I was 11. My early entries often make me laugh or groan at my adolescent foolishness, and leave me thanking God that He loves me too much to leave me the way I am! But honestly, my journals are a magnificent blessing in my life, as I look back and see God's amazing faithfulness through many mountains and valleys, and I'm reminded of so many lessons He's taught me. I was reading through some journal entries from just over a year ago, and this one in particular stood out. It's something I wrote towards the end of my visit with Vicky in the Philippines, and because it fit with some other things I've been praying about today, I thought I'd share it here....

"Vicky and I were talking about suffering over breakfast. On multiple occasions Jesus spoke openly about His upcoming death to His disciples, but they didn't get it, and when it happened, they totally fell apart. Jesus has spoken equally clearly to us, and told us over and over that we will meet hardship and trials. We know it in our heads, but in spite of that, we are so often caught off guard when suffering actually comes. Vicky said that when she and [her husband] came to the field they came expecting to suffer. It made me think of 1 Peter 4:1a: 'Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking...' 

"Arming yourself is something you do in preparation for battle. We have been called to battle, and we can prepare for it by expecting to meet hardship, because the One we follow endured it before us. That's not to say we should worry about it or anxiously wonder about what might happen, only that we should realize that it's coming so that we won't be taken by surprise when it does."


This expectation is something so lacking in American Christianity... and I know it is far too often lacking in my own heart. I don't know where following Christ may take me, but I pray that He gives me steadfastness, faith and courage to meet whatever does come. He gave everything for me.... 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Enough

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I must admit that I have been a very negligent blogger. It has been a few days shy of 6 months since I posted last. I'm assuming that anyone reading this has heard my rather life-altering news which has yet to grace this humble blog in any form, so I shall save that for another time. Perhaps next week? That's not a promise, but we shall see.

I'm writing right now to share something that God reminded me of last night. It was in the middle of my church home group meeting (I love my home group!) and we were singing the song, "Enough." Maybe you've heard it before. It's a song I love, and one that God has used to speak to my heart in the midst of many ups and downs. Here are the lyrics of the chorus:

"All of You is more than enough for all of me,
For every thirst and every need.
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough."

Familiar words to me, but as I was singing them last night, I was deeply struck by what it really means to say that He is enough. For me at least, it's easy to sing that song in times of difficulty and meditate on the fact that He is enough even in the midst of a need I'm facing. That's very true, but reality goes far beyond that. He isn't just a sufficient substitute when something else is lacking. He is most definitely not a mere consolation prize in the absence of some earthly happiness. He is sufficient. Period. Even when our suffering subsides... when we get that job... when we have that relationship... when healing comes... when that unanswered question is resolved... when that separation ends... fill in the blank with anything you wish- if our joy doesn't begin and end with Him, we won't have any.

I pray that, in every season, whether empty or full, I might say truly that He alone is everything to me. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

When the Way Doesn't Make Sense

   Hey there! So... it's been a long time since I've posted. Months, in fact. Oops! Much has happened since I returned home, beginning with a beautiful welcome home at the airport and including the wedding of one of my best friends, two plays, a 3 1/2 month long job search, visits from family in Texas and a friend in Australia... it's been busy, full, and on the whole, wonderful! Adjusting to being back home was much easier than I anticipated, which I know was an answer to a great deal of prayer. Quite a few people have asked me if I plan on going somewhere else in the near future. The answer is.... I'm not sure! I will definitely be at home this year, and beyond that I haven't the slightest idea. I think there's a very good chance that I will end up somewhere else at some point, but I don't know how that will look, and I'm just trusting God to lead one step at a time.

   This summer I have been studying attributes of God, focusing on one in particular each week, and it's been great to take the time to dwell on all that He is. I finished up this week by studying His guidance. One point in particular stood out, and so I thought I would share!
~~~

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)

   From a human perspective, the way God was leading didn't make sense. There was a much more direct path than the one on which He led them. But He saw what they didn't- the quick way would lead them right to the Philistines, an enemy they were not ready to face. They were equipped for battle, but they weren't yet prepared for battle. They had much to learn, not only about fighting, but about trusting the One they followed. What must have seemed a foolish waste of time from their perspective was actually His protection. 

   It's not that He led them on an easy path, after all, they're headed straight for the Red Sea! There they would soon be trapped, and accuse God and Moses of leading them to their deaths. But God had a plan all along. He led them straight into a hopeless situation, that they might see Him move mightily on their behalf. His goal wasn't merely to get His people from point A to point B, but to teach them to trust Him in the process. 

   I pray for grace to trust Him always, even when I can't see why He is leading me somewhere.