Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Losing the Labels, While Embracing Our Identity

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." - Romans 15:7 (NIV)

I looked over to the right of where I was sitting on the equestrian center's metal bleachers, as we waited for our trail ride to begin. My daughter's Bible study leader was talking to several other women, but I couldn't hear them. Instead, they were communicating with their hands. 

I felt a little left out and jealous that I couldn't be a part of the conversation, because I didn't know sign language, but at the same time I admired them. The very fact they were here at the women's retreat told me that their deafness wasn't going to hold them back from experiencing all that God had for them, and it wasn't going to stop them from having relationships with hearing people, either. 

I asked them, through the interpreter, if I could have a picture with them. I said I wanted to send it to my daughter, whose favorite show is Switched at Birth, a television series about a deaf community. They smiled and obliged, but it got me thinking.

These women had come to the conference with an interpreter, like anyone who spoke another language would, and yet we kept referring to them as members of our church's deaf community. Don't get me wrong, the references were good and kind and filled with gratitude for having these special ladies at the retreat. But I wondered for a moment, "What if they don't like being labeled as the deaf community?"

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Healing from Within: Turning Away from Toxicity

"Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things." - Colossians 3:2

What if I were to tell you that there is a way to start healing your body immediately, without any drugs or special diets? Would you try it?

There isn’t anyone I know, especially within the chronic illness community, who wouldn't say yes. We are all longing for something to make us feel better.

The burden of chronic illness is not apparent to those outside of our world. We may look fine on the outside, and may even be able to perform our daily activities as if we were not ill. But those of us who have lived with illness day after day, year after year, know the burdens we carry. They are not light. There is a heaviness in our hearts, knowing that we will never get well.

As our symptoms come and go, and the bottles of medicines stack up on our nightstands, we are reminded that we are not like other people. We hesitate to make plans in advance, for we don’t know how we will feel that day. We cancel lunches with friends we love because they’ve come down with a bad cold, and if we catch it, that may take us down a path we can’t recover from.

We watch what we eat, we do the exercises that are prescribed, we get stuck with needles on a regular basis, and we go to countless doctor visits. Sometimes it feels like all we have time for is tending to our health. It’s draining.

What I’ve recently realized, however, is that there’s something that can make us feel even worse: toxic thinking. That can take a variety of forms, from self-pity to anger at family members who just don’t “get” that you’re really sick. One particular topic that has been top-of-mind and become quite toxic for me, however, is politics. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed discussing and debating, but lately, not so much. And while you may not think it’s relevant to this blog, read on.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Time to Get Back on That Horse?

“I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
Philippians 4:13 NABRE

We had just arrived at the dude ranch for our family reunion and were checking in when the desk clerk, a friendly woman with a broad smile and long blonde hair flowing out from under her bedazzled black cowboy hat, asked the inevitable question: “Are you interested in riding today?”

The next trail ride was in 45 minutes and, given that it was 3:00 in the afternoon on a hot summer day in west Texas, no one had signed up yet. There were plenty of spots open. Was I interested? Yes. Would I be able to do it? That was the question.

The last time I had ridden a horse was seven months before, and to call it a pleasant experience would have been a stretch. My left knee, one of the joints I’ve had trouble with since the onset of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA), was not happy. Truthfully, it felt as if it were being twisted right off my leg. No matter how hard I tried to get comfortable, I couldn’t, and I pretty much decided that perhaps my riding days were over.

While I remember the physical pain I was in during that trail ride, what sticks in my mind the most was the disappointment I felt. With the way my knee was hurting, I was not planning to ever ride again, which made me sad.

I had been around horses my entire life, from the time my daddy sat me up on top of “Kate,” the old mare at my grandfather’s farm, when I was about three. My uncle was a Texas rancher, married to a professional cowgirl, and when I was in high school in England, my sister and I spent a lot of time at the nearby stables where we learned to jump. Even though riding had been only an occasional pastime for me as an adult, it was still something I loved to do when I had a chance.

So here I was, at a decision point. Could I accept the ride seven months beforehand as my last time on horseback or should I try again? Would I take a chance and get back on a horse, or would I sit it out?

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.