Sunday, July 13, 2014

Storehouses of Hope for the Chronically Ill During Battle

For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:12

Do you ever feel tired? Not sleepy tired. Bone-weary tired. When you are fighting a chronic illness, you are in a physical war to get well and stay healthy. But the truth is, you aren’t just in one war. You are in two. You are also fighting a spiritual warfare for your faith, just as all Christians are. In addition to these two wars, every-day life is going on. No wonder you get tired!

The bible says that we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. These evil rulers have been around for a long time. They answer to the Satan whose sole mission is to kill, steal and destroy taking as many fallen souls with him to hell as he can.

Our calling as Christians is clear in the Great Commission: love God, love people, and bring the two together. Sometimes when sick it feels like all of life vanishes. Good news! Just because you have a chronic illness doesn’t mean that your calling goes away, it just means that you answer it in a different way. You might answer it from a phone in bed or from a laptop or iPad from the sofa. We all have a place in the Kingdom of God. No act of love or encouragement is too small.

The natural progression of this life, as we can see it in our limited human/earthly vision, is that we are born, we live, and then we die. As Christians, we see the lie in that. There is life after death. If we live with hope in Christ, we live abundantly in love, knowing that this earth is not our home, heaven is. We know from God’s written word that we have a job to do while we are here. Rich relationships are formed with others as we do His Kingdom work. Unfortunately, part of living in a fallen world and getting the Kingdom Work done is suffering. Suffering is the battle wounds of war. Knowing this earth is just a stopping place until we get to our eternal home makes the battle wounds we receive easier to handle because it is temporary and relief is coming. In short, we have “Hope”. Our spirit sings “Onward” in answer to His calling each day when we hit those hard moments. That’s because we are living in His strength, not in our own.

Knowing the Enemy's Tactics

In the midst of the brutal battles, when we are battle weary and think we cannot go one step further, the enemy would have us forget our hope in his attempt to rob us of our position in the Kingdom. You see, once he has distracted you from the hope that God has given you, it’s very easy for him to lie to you. How does he do this? The “Rule of Distraction”. By throwing circumstances in your path and saying “Here! Look at this!” and thus tempting you to avert your eyes from the One who would carry you beyond that circumstance if you would let Him.  Once you allow that distraction to shift your focus off of the Heavenly Father and onto the troubles on earth, the lies begin coming in the form of darts from the enemy. One degree at a time, he begins to rob you of your hope, until before long you’ve made a complete 180 degree turn from a happy, fulfilled Christ focused individual to a miserable, anxiety filled, depressed Christian.

In recent weeks, I've been in a major flare up and the darts have been flying my way. Desperate for relief, I began praying for clear answers on what was going on. Through prayer and study, the Holy Spirit has shown me the truth about this warfare and the tactics of the enemy. The enemy is predictable when he is trying to get to God's children. Though not always in this exact order, his tactics follow this pattern:

Christian is Focused on God à Dart #1: Satan throws distraction the Christian’s way (via suffering, anger, pride, lust, greed, busyness/work, or discouragement) to get his/her eyes off God à Dart #2: Attack on a Key Relationship à Dart #3: Attack on Work/Ministry à Dart #4: Attack on Finances . The lies of doubt, fear, and discouragement begin in order to tear down the child of God and immobilize him/her. à Dart #5: If the Christian does not recognize the pattern and begin to fight with the Armor of God and the Power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18), the darts keep coming.à Dart #6: Christians who try to fight it in their own strength, and without the support of other Christians will see a "doubling down" in efforts by the enemy to take them down (this is why the gift of praying for one another and Christian fellowship is so important). 

This is the same tactic he’s been using on God’s children for thousands of years. He will do his best to divert your attention from the One who protects you. Once he does, it’s a home run for him to attack your marriage, your children, your family, your work/career, your health, your friendships, your reputation, your ministry, and your testimony. The devil is a liar and he will tell you anything to take your hope away so that he can immobilize you and take you out of the Kingdom Race. This happens with all Christians. No one is immune, some just have better armor than others because they’ve taken time to prepare. They've put on the Armor of God filled their storehouses with hope.

The Extra Battle of the Chronically Ill

So that’s a lot of battling for the average person, right? Well, what about the second war? The war the chronically ill person is battling? Oh… you are probably asking "How do I fight two battles at once?" The answer is you don’t. You let God take care of the battle for you. 

Another key tactical move by the enemy in the lives of the chronically ill is that He will distract your physical battle with fear and the need for absolute control. The chronically ill person begins to put so much of their hope into themselves: If I just go see the right doctor, exercise enough, keep my stress levels down, keep my house cool enough, eat the right foods, get rid of the chemicals in my house, and on and on it goes, then I'll be well. The control is not ours. The diseases most of us with chronic illnesses face have a certain degree of unpredictability to them. The good news is that God does have the control. We need to give it to Him and allow Him to fight those battles on our behalf. Do what you can, but do it with a heart that relinquishes control and says “I trust God. No matter what… I trust God.”

Isn't it wonderful that we have a loving God who will take this battle on for us? We must do our part, but we don't have to take on the worry that comes with it. Knowing that God is already in tomorrow means that we can rest in today. 

Filling Your Storehouses of Hope

In your battle to get healthy, to stay out of bed, or to “just survive”, you must make sure that you pay attention to your storehouses of hope during your good days and healthy seasons. There will be down days/weeks/months when the pain and fatigue are so overwhelming that you’ll need to borrow from those storehouses. Make sure they are full to the brim. If you don’t, the enemy will use that to try to take you down.

How do you fill your storehouses? Practice thankfulness for His blessings on your life. Fellowship with God. Fellowship with other Christians. Read His word daily. Go to church when you are able because there will be times when you will be unable. Worship in quiet moments with praise music. Keep a prayer journal that shows His faithfulness.

The Battle is Already Won if You Fight It

If you want to win the war, plan for the battle. Be on the lookout and on the defense. Put on the Armor of God (truth and the Holy Spirit), keep your focus on the One who made you and loves you, and fill your storehouses. When you do, you win the war, battered body or not. That’s right, WE WIN. The bible is clear on that. It’s a fixed ending and the tools are free. You may not be able to win the war with your body… but with God’s help you can win the spiritual battle and do His Kingdom Work. Onward!

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” ~  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” ~ Romans 12:12

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” ~ Romans 15:4

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” ~ 
 Romans 15:13

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trusting God With Our Tomorrows

“All I know of tomorrow is that GOD WILL RISE before the sun.”
These words jumped out at me as I walked around our local Christian book store. I found myself in a long pause as I looked at the plaque in front of me, pondering the many ways this truth applies to my life. The little plaque with the big promise now sits on my desk just under my computer monitor, a daily reminder that the Lord is in all of our tomorrows before we can even think about getting there.
There are so many changes one has to make when you are faced with a health crisis. It is an unwelcome guest that refuses to leave, and unlike a real guest you cannot excuse yourself and go to another room for a few moments away.  You learn to live one day at a time, hoping and praying that when one day ends the next will be a good one.  Many of us begin a turn on the teeter totter of two thoughts:  1. Squeeze everything that I can out of today and forget about tomorrow (get it done while I can!). 2. Tiptoeing around the day on eggshells in fear of overdoing it and tomorrow not being a good one.
Oh, I tell you I spend a lot of time on that teeter totter and I look upon it with disdain in my heart. My goal has always been to address chronic illness with wisdom, a positive outlook, and a can-do attitude. Little did I know how many times this challenge would slam me to the ground,  jolting my world and causing confusion – “I have so much to do! I need to get it done today because who knows what tomorrow may bring and I do not want to get any farther behind. On the other hand, if I work more than a couple of hours today I might be okay tomorrow, or I might put myself in bed with a flare. WHAT DO I DO?”

There is not one person I know with a chronic illness who travels this journey without a trip to the school yard for time on their own teeter totter.  As a matter of truth, some of us are waving to others from our side of the school yard, desperately hanging on with one hand (Hey! How’s it going over there? You figured out how to get off this thing yet?). 
One side of this balancing act is weighed down with our responsibilities and passions – the very things that give us such joy and fulfillment in life.  The other is weighed with the reality that our bodies are not what we want them to be.  Let’s face it – it’s not easy to keep getting up again when your body is bruised from the jolting . The things we love seem to slip from our grip and slowly out of our sight. If we fail to be careful, we can become jaded and view the world only from the place of frustration with our broken bodies.

The only hope for balance and less slams to the ground is complete and total trust in Jesus. Growth toward wholeness and maturity in the Lord is a journey, not a destination, and I believe that applies to learning His voice in the midst of the ups, downs, and slams chronic illness brings. Our dreams are infinitely smaller than the dreams He has for us.  Step into tomorrow’s uncertainty believing in His promise to us: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him...” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Drawing Near

Today has been one of "those" days when every plan I have made has gone awry and if something could go wrong it seems it has. Halfway through the day I was coping with 44 ounces of pure diet coke + vanilla heaven with a side of caffeine from Sonic (my best friend and I jokingly call them our "sippy cups"). This day wasn't scheduled to be any different than any other business day - except that I missed most of Monday and all of Tuesday due to dealing with the "DM" and therefore needed to cram three days into one. Those who know me know that I tend to move backward, not forward so by noon I needed to cram four days into one instead of three. No comments from the peanut gallery.

By the way, you can pronounce DM however you want to.... but I have my own version. It seems that just as I'm settling into a routine, life, and getting back into a groove of feeling fantastic, DM loves to manifest itself in some new and odd way. Sometimes it's enough to send me reeling sideways and right into bed. Other times it's just enough to interrupt my life, cause chaos in my "to do list" and also send me right in to bed, as was the case this week. Usually, either way, the end result is "bed"... which is something I despise but am attempting to view in a different light. Two years ago I was in bed every day. Now it's just a day or two a week so I can count my blessings right along with those items on that "to do" list. 

Speaking of that list... I have a beautiful and wonderful new Operations Manager for one of my businesses who likes giving me such lists. Because I'm the crazy blonde with DM who decided to start an absolutely insane second business, these lists are very much needed to keep me on track. The challenge is that I have never liked having a list that at the end of the day still has items left untouched. Try telling DM that (and the Christmas tree that is still up in the living room because it's too heavy for me to take apart!). It has a mind of it's own. Today as I began to hyperventilate over the state of my apartment, the 9 loads of laundry that need to be done, and my "list" that continues to grow,  I longed for the days when I could just "get it done" and that life I thought I had signed up for.

I'm not sure that I will ever be that "get it done" girl again but I will keep on striving. In the meantime, I want to share something I read in my Jesus Calling devotional that really hit home tonight. I hope that it speaks to some of my other chronically blessed friends as well. It's so easy to get caught up in the "this isn't the life I signed up for" mentality when pain levels get high or your energy levels hit bottom and it feels like you are spending half of your life watching the world go by from your bed. Let the following words sink into your heart:

"Draw near to Me with a thankful heart, aware that your cup is overflowing with blessings. Gratitude enables you to perceive Me more clearly and to rejoice in our Love-relationship. Nothing can separate you from My loving Presence! That is the basis of your security. Whenever you start to feel anxious, remind yourself that your security rests in Me alone, and I am totally trustworthy.

You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones. Be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you."


P.S. This daughter looks forward to that glorious adventure! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Doing a "Good Job" of Being Sick

A while back, the title of a book caught my attention: "Being Sick Well: Approach Illness With Dignity, Adopt a New Attitude, and Find Hope Through it All". Being the typical Type-A personality buried beneath limited energy (which means I never get anything done to the perfection I really want), I immediately thought, "Hey - being sick well? I'm game! If I've got to be sick... why not do it the right way?" I purchased the book, headed home at a snails pace, and armed with highlighters of every color, curled up in bed with my treasure-book full of answers. I was asleep before I opened the front cover, thoroughly exhausted from my simple outing.

Two years later, a new doctor, a diagnosis and new successful treatment, and a recent major downsize to a small condo had me unpacking boxes when I stumbled across this book, still unread. Well... sort of. I've read the first two introduction pages. Today. When I wasn't feeling well.  Then my body gave out and I fell asleep. See a pattern? I'm sure many of you can relate. There isn't enough energy left to do everything I want to do so doing a good job of being sick seems like a paradox.

I think this haunts all of us who are ill and who want to do well in life. How can we be sick "well"? Is there such a thing? How can we live a life that is abundantly more than we could have ever dreamed of - blessed beyond measure despite the daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute reminders of the illnesses that eat away at our resources of time, energy, emotions, and finances.

I have started this journey toward "wholeness" despite being broken physically by downsizing. My friends have all laughed at me because despite giving away a 28 foot moving truck full of "stuff", I didn't downsize enough. So I am still getting rid of stuff that I can no longer physically care for. I live in a condo that is less than 600 square feet, and though I initially fought the idea of letting go of things that I thought meant something to me emotionally, now that I've made this transition I am so thankful. Though I'm still unpacking, sorting, and tossing stuff out, it takes me less than an hour to clean my home including the floors and bathroom. In finally accepting the limitations and creating a new living environment, I am able to spend precious energy that would have otherwise been spent on a larger home on things that are far more important. For me - step one toward "being sick well" was admitting that living in and caring for a large home was no longer an option.

Another thing I've found successful was to stop fighting my body and start listening to it. Many of us were told "There is nothing wrong with you" or "It's all in your head" when we were on our journey toward getting a diagnosis. As a result, we tend to try to push ourselves through flare-ups rather than listen to the cues our bodies are giving us. This is something my Rheumatologist has been preaching to me- "Be kind to your body." It took months of my doctor preaching this to me before I stopped feeling guilty for resting when my body says "rest".

One of the most important things has been to stay connected with my girlfriends. I have girlfriends that I talk to on a daily basis and those friendships are my lifeline, especially when I am too sick to go out. They add joy to my days, laughter to my life, and sunshine to the darker days. They are gifts from God, and I encourage each of you out there to let your friends in and be authentic with them.

I am so far from being close to doing a "good job" of being sick... it's a work in progress. But I am determined to live my life to the fullest despite being placed in a body that is not what I want it to be. I think all of us who live with chronic illness want that... that's why events like Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and groups like Rest Ministries and those found on Facebook and the blogosphere are so important. Each one can reach one - we can share what we've each learned and help one another along the way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Recreating Your Life With Chronic IIlness

Most of us with a debilitating chronic illness, if asked, would admit that as we traveled along the journey of life, we never saw this train called “Limitations” coming and if we had, we certainly would moved heaven and earth to get out of the way. As children we dreamed of what our lives would hold and who we would be, encouraged by those who loved us to dream big and wide. But what do you do when the life you have so carefully been creating and carving out begins to fall apart around you because of your illness? What happens when you are no longer able to hold down a job five days a week, so you go to four, then three, and then even two becomes too much.

I was there four years ago and it was the scariest and loneliest time of my life. After twelve years of being sick, I could no longer manage many of the simplest tasks of daily living, which included holding down a steady job. Eventually, my disease, which was undiagnosed at the time, progressed to the point that I was unable to hold my arms above my head for five seconds at a time or walk more than a few hundred feet. However, mounting medical bills and household bills still had to be paid. After pushing my body to it’s limits—I finally conceded that I had no choice but to recreate my lifestyle and find a way to work from home.

While some may see this as a luxury, for many with chronic illness it is the only way we can survive. What and how recreating your lifestyle looks like will be dependant on many factors:

  • Your current field of work—is it suitable for a work-at-home environment?
  • Your relationship with your employer
  • The way your home is set up—do you have room to work from home
  • Your financial situation—do you have funds set back to start up a small business if needed?
  • Access to equipment—do you have a dependable computer/laptop, printer, phone, etc.?
  • What are your talents, gifts, and skills that you could use to start a small business from home that would work with your physical limitations?
Once you have carefully taken all these factors into consideration, you can begin putting a plan into place that works for you and your family. As you recreate your lifestyle, the challenges you live with on a daily basis won’t go away—but they will become more bearable. When your body is wracked with pain, you can work in your pajamas propped up in a cushiony bed. Instead of sitting at a desk in an office chair all day, you can create a “desk” space around a sofa that is more comfortable with a laptop and a laptop stand.

I started transitioning into this change in 2005, and made the permanent lifestyle change in 2007 when I opened my business, Hilton Head Nannies. Having a chronic illness and living with daily challenges, pain, and limitations certainly isn’t the life I signed up for when I dreamed about my future as a child long ago. However, I am a firm believer that there is a purpose in every serious/chronic illness and a story to be told as God’s plan unfolds. I am still learning to embrace God’s plan for my life. Each day as I turn to Him and ask for His help in recreating my lifestyle, I am finding joy, peace, and hope that break through the disease and pain and make me dream like a child again.

God bless you as you pray about what He has in store for you!

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ` Jeremiah 29:11