Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Giving Thanks for What I Don't Have

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:18

“Keep an attitude of gratitude.” I’ve heard that phrase over and over again through the years. For me, it’s what I tell myself when I’m going through a hard time. It reminds me to find the little things to be thankful for, especially when the big things in my life are looming over me like a scary monster about to chew me up and spit me out.

An attitude of gratitude has gotten me through a lot in life. In every situation, from my divorce to my father’s death, I have tried to find the silver lining in the dark clouds. “Well, at least it’s amicable,” I mused about the breakup of my marriage; and “He’s no longer suffering” is what I said when my father passed after a two-year battle with cancer. This “silver lining” approach has become so ingrained in me that my closest friends know that every trial I tell them about will be followed up with the statement “but it could be worse…”

Yes, it could be worse, couldn’t it? It’s easy to sit on our pity pot when times are tough; and yet, when you step outside yourself, you find that even with your troubles, there is often someone else hurting a whole lot more. In the “old days” when I was growing up, parents would remind us of this, even if it were to just tell us to eat all the food on our plates. “Think about the starving children in Africa,” they would say. Suddenly we appreciated that we had food at all, even if it wasn’t our favorite dish.

I am reminded of this today because I find myself surrounded by friends and family members for whom it really is worse. While I sit here typing this blog, I am looking out the window at a beautiful sunny day, thinking fondly about the walk I took in the park with a friend this morning and the laughter we shared over coffee. Sure, I have multiple chronic illnesses and a torn rotator cuff that isn’t quite healed. It can be difficult to sleep and sometimes hurts to get dressed in the morning. I don’t like that.

But then I think about a friend whose child is struggling with depression, to the point of suicidal thoughts. Another friend is sitting at the hospital waiting for the doctor to give him a prognosis on his son suffering from traumatic brain injury due to an accident. One family member’s RA treatment isn’t working and she is facing knee replacement, while another family member is preparing for cancer surgery and chemo.

Having a thankful heart, however, is not the same as giving thanks. Giving thanks is an active verb, not a passive condition. God wants our gratitude, but he also wants action behind it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

13 Reasons Why {Not}

"So don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you. I will support you with my right hand that saves you." - Isaiah 41:10

It was an ordinary Friday night. We had just gone to dinner as a family and were settling down in front of the TV, talking about what to watch.

"You should watch 13 Reasons Why, Mom," my daughter said. "It's really good!"

Curious about the show she had mentioned once before, I looked online to see if there was more information on it before making a decision. Why yes, there was. A whole lot of positive reviews for its direction and creativity, and a whole lot of talk from parents and psychologists expressing concern over the graphic content and messaging that was making suicide hotlines light up like Christmas trees.

If you don't have a tween or teen, you might not have heard of the latest show on Netflix, which is based on a novel in which a teenage girl commits suicide. The "13 reasons why" refer to 13 messages she left for individuals whose actions played a part in her decision to take her life.

I will be the first to tell you I haven't seen the show and I don't plan to. I will also say that the same night I learned about it, I took steps to adjust the parental controls on my TV and my daughter's cell phone.

There are some who think we as parents should watch the show "to understand what our teens face" in today's world. By all means, if you grew up in an untarnished, sheltered environment, perhaps this is the eye opener you need. Drinking, drugs, bullying and date rape...it's all there, graphically depicted (apparently).

But as for me, I haven't always lived in the light. I have touched that darkness - the despair, the depression, the shame, the hopelessness - and was almost swallowed up by it. I'm not going back. And I'm certainly not taking my 12-year-old back with me.

When I began writing this blog almost three years ago, it was to give people hope. Living with chronic illness is not easy. Depression is common, and suicide is not unheard of. When the pain feels like it will never end, when your life feels over, it is easy to give up. There are those who do. But I'm here to tell you - DON'T. 

I spent the first few months of this year in daily, intense pain from chronic migraines. If you have ever had a true migraine, you will know what I mean when I say it's not just a headache. At one point, during a trip to New York, I rocked back and forth on the bed, holding my head, crying and screaming, "Please help me. Somebody, help me!" Not long afterwards, I went into the bathroom and threw up, before crawling back into bed and finally passing out from the pain.

If ever there was a degree of physical pain that made me feel like giving up, it has been during episodes of severe migraine. I have literally felt like dying at times, because I thought I couldn't handle the pain even one more minute.

And yet, here I am.

Thankfully, God designed our bodies not to remember physical pain. I can tell you what happened, and generally how I felt, but I can't re-live the pain itself. Unfortunately, that isn't the case with emotional scars. Those wounds can sometimes take a lifetime to heal, and when they are reopened, they can hurt just as much as when the initial pain was inflicted.

When I am hurting physically, I may feel like dying, but when the pain goes away, life looks sunny again. It's easy to then see that "this too shall pass" because it really does. Even with chronic illness, there are moments when the pain dissipates enough to find moments of joy. It's important to look for those, because it helps you endure the rest of the time. Looking at my photos from New York, no one would ever know I had spent half the trip in pain, because the rest of the time, I was all smiles! Yes, there were a few of those pics where I was in "fake it 'til you make it" mode, but for the most part, I managed to salvage some really great moments that far outweighed the nightmare migraines I endured.

We have to be careful with emotional pain, though. I don't know who coined the phrase "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me," because that's just not true. Harsh words, coming from friends or family members, cut deep. We begin to believe what we hear, and wonder if we really are OK...or not. 

Our mistakes can hurt too. When I look back at my teen years and even into my 20's, it's easy to beat myself up over the many poor decisions I made. I may have changed my ways, but the consequences of those decisions didn't just disappear. There are so many times I have wished I could go back and have a "redo."

And sexual violence and abuse...well, that pain cut to the very core of who I was, and it took years of therapy for the flashbacks and nightmares to stop. I can still remember hands holding me down, then the hand placed over my mouth as I cried out in pain, ordered to "shut up!" because someone might hear; and the sting of my tears when it hit me that I was not a virgin anymore.

Night after night, for many years, I cried out to the Lord, "Why God, why?" I certainly could have come up with 13 good reasons to take my life. And yet, I did not. Growing up in the church, I was told suicide was the one unforgivable sin, because how can you confess killing yourself when you are already dead? I'm not sure that God in His infinite mercy wouldn't have forgiven me, but I do know that was not the only thing that kept me alive. 

The words spoken by God in Isaiah 41:10 are powerful. Don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you. I will support you with my right hand that saves you. Every moment of every day in which I have been in either physical or emotional pain, I have had to remember them. God will help me. God is with me. God will save me.

Despite my health situation, despite my poor choices, despite whatever bad things I have believed about myself, and despite the physical and psychological trauma I have experienced, I have held on to those promises: God will help me. God is with me. God will save me.

And you know what? He has.

Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has a plan for us...a good one! The only way to find out about that plan, though, is to live it out. We have to wade through the mud, fight the battles, and allow God to cut away entanglements that hold us back, in order to reach the promised land He has for us. Sometimes it isn't easy. Sometimes, we aren't sure we are going to make it, or whether it's worth it. But it is. It always is. How do we know? Because He says so.

Back in my younger days, surrounded by darkness and not seeing much light ahead of me, I could have found 13 reasons why my life wasn't worth living. Today, looking back in hindsight, I can find 13 reasons - and more - that God wanted me to hold on for. 

If I were able to talk to my teenage self and tell her the 13 reasons why not to take her own life, here are what they would be:

1. God has a plan for you - a good one - and you will get to hold His hand through your entire journey, finding more comfort and joy, peace and love than you ever thought possible.

2. You may not realize it, but you're not alone. A lot of people look perfect on the outside, but their life is messy too. Even Jesus suffered through gossip, betrayal, pain and loss. He gets what you're going through.

3. You think if you were only "good enough" those people will like you. The truth is, some people won't like you even if you're the most wonderful person in the world. That's more about them than it is about you.

4. You think your pain is never going to end, but I promise it will. One day, you'll graduate. One day, you'll move (or they will). One day, you'll meet people who like you just the way you are. One day, your broken heart will heal. One day, you won't just notice the rain. You'll see the sunshine and notice the flowers too.

5. Your parents aren't perfect. Neither are you. Do the best you can to deal with them, the same way they are doing the best they can to deal with you. That whole parenting thing is as hard for them as it feels to you.

6. Everyone makes mistakes. Lots of them. Learn from them, but forgive yourself too. God loves you, warts and all, and the Bible is full of people who have screwed up but God used them anyway! Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will eventually get where you need to be.

7. You may feel powerless, but God is all powerful. Give your biggest problems to Him, do the next right thing, and leave the results to Him.

8. That rape or physical abuse? No, it's not your fault and don't let anyone say otherwise. You didn't ask for it and you didn't deserve it. Stop blaming yourself and get some help instead.

9. Just because "everybody's doing it" doesn't mean you need to. There are many miserable people in the world, doing things they know aren't right. Don't become one, just to fit in. Live your values and you'll keep your confidence.

10. There isn't any problem that an alcoholic drink or drug (or act of self-harm) won't make worse. And even if you feel better momentarily, there will be a hefty price to pay the next day or even further down the road. Reach out for help instead.

11. When God feels far away, remember who's moved. He is always there for you. Don't forget to reach up.

12. Don't be a victim of "stinking thinking." Fill your mind with positive thoughts and surround yourself with positive people. You have to look beyond your problems to find the solutions.

13. Life is like a rose: it is full of petals and thorns. Yes, sometimes it's painful, but there's an awful lot of beauty there too. Count your blessings every day. A little gratitude can go a long way.

Had I not chosen to live through the pain of my early years, I hate to think what I would have missed later on: quiet sunrises, gorgeous sunsets, warm embraces, wildflowers in the spring, happy smiles and travel across the miles. Every day, there is something new to look forward to.

The world is tough and pain is real. Just don't forget whose you are, and who's got your back! God will help you. God is with you. God will save you...every time.

Peace, joy and love to you today,

Linda

13 Reasons Why {Not} originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on Facebook and Twitter

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' Thoughtful Thursday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. I also link up often with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.


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Monday, February 6, 2017

God is Listening

"But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help.
He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears." - Psalm 18:6 (NLT)

As I look across this room today, I am sick of being sick. After battling an upper respiratory infection for weeks, with a cough that just won’t go away, on top of a painful shoulder and a sore foot, I am tired of hurting.

This is an unexpected feeling, because before Christmas, I was feeling pretty good. I felt like I was pretty much in remission with my RA, and I began a diet, hoping to get my pre-RA figure back.

Alas, with rheumatoid arthritis – or life in general, I guess - nothing is ever a straight line.

That is where trust comes in. Trust in myself? Ha, I wish. I’ve been down that road before, thinking that if I just try harder or work smarter, it will all work out. Unfortunately, I can’t control every facet of my life, the least of which is my chronic illness.

I don’t like being told I’m not in control. I am a linear thinker, which means I want to know that if I am in control of the input, then I can control the output. That isn’t real life, though, is it? There are so many variables, only a few of which I am really in control of.

I am fortunate to have found a good program, Pack Health, about a year ago, which set me on the path to taking better care of myself. I’ve been able to apply the strategies to my life and as a result, I feel much better overall. I’ve even begun writing blog pieces for them, so that others may benefit from my experience. That said, no program can prevent all the curveballs that autoimmune diseases can throw at us.

For me, the most frustrating aspect of living with RA is the inability to heal. I thought I was never going to recover from my shoulder surgery two years ago. I did, but not without a lot of hard work, some extra time, and only with the help of a DMARD (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug). I hadn’t needed to be on a DMARD before, but my doctor made it clear I would never fully recover the use of my shoulder without reducing the inflammation in my body. Wow, what a difference!

Yet here I am again, with the other shoulder’s torn rotator cuff…and despite months of physical therapy, it still hurts. And while I was just feeling good about a daily walk through the neighborhood with my husband, along comes a constant pain in the bottom of my foot. In between visits to my physical therapist, my rheumatologist and my primary care physician (for that pesky sinus infection), I might actually make it to the podiatrist. Joy…another new medical experience!

Not to sound like negative Nellie, but sometimes you just have to get real. You know what I mean?

I tell you why I’m sharing all of my frustrations here. It’s so you know that I understand where you’re at. I know exactly how it feels to be fed up. Or maybe we should call it “beat up” because sometimes that’s more like it, isn’t it? The pain is more than just physical; it’s emotional too. I don’t know about you, but there are days I just want to curl up in bed, throw the covers over my head, and quit.

You know what keeps me going, though? It’s that still, small voice that says “I’m not finished yet.”

Yes, I believe it when God says in Jeremiah 29:11 that He has a plan for my life and it’s a good one. I believe Him when He says He doesn’t start something He isn’t planning to finish. And somehow, I don’t think He’s done with me yet.

There are enough times in the Bible that God says “Do not fear…I will go with you” to let me know that even right now, while I’m ready to give up, He is with me, cheering me on. Sometimes, it’s seeing a news clip that makes me realize I’m really not so bad off after all, compared with them, anyway. At other times, it’s my daughter, who makes me smile and yet also makes me see how much she needs me. And when I look back over my life, I can see where God really has been there during the hard times, carrying me until I could get back on my feet and walk again.

I know that when I close my eyes and pray, my prayers are heard. He hears my cries. I know, because at some point, the pain stops – even if just for a few moments – and I can feel His peace and His presence.

Whatever you are struggling with today, whether it is chronic illness or something else, you can be confident in a God who loves you and cares for you. He hears your cries too and says, through the words of Jesus, “Come to me, lay down your burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Peace, love and joy to you today.

Linda

God is Listening originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on Facebook and Twitter

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' Thoughtful Thursday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. I also link up often with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.


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Friday, January 13, 2017

Quit Yer Bellyachin'

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." - Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Happy New Year! Or is it?

If the Christmas season is "the happiest time of the year" then is it any wonder that after all the tinsel and glittering decorations are packed back up in the attic (except in my house, of course, where we are total slowpokes about leaving the holiday season behind), there seems to be a period of letdown?

Yes, here we are in January, and 'tis the season to work on those resolutions. Whether you're trying to lose weight or get organized, this time of the year can just feel hard.

Gone are the holiday parties. Now it's time to work off the 10 pounds you put on while noshing on all that fabulous food consumed at them. Forget the tinsel and bows around the Christmas tree. Now you're trying to find a place to put it all, as you search for those financial files underneath the rolls of wrapping paper strewn across your office.