Saturday, November 29, 2014

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la la la la la.

Oh wait! Wrong holiday. It looks like Christmas, with a proliferation of stores donning twinkling lights, gold tinsel, and displays of brightly decorated packages in red and green; and even the weather – with five feet of snow in some places – seems to think it’s December already.  But no, it’s a national holiday with the most humble of beginnings that used to signify something important, but somehow has become increasingly buried in a frenzy of football games and Black Friday retail sales. Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s Thanksgiving.

It began almost 400 years ago with a boatload of Pilgrims struggling to settle into a newly discovered land, giving thanks to God for their very survival, made possible by Native Americans who shared their food crop. It has continued with traditions of family gatherings and feasts of turkey, corn and cranberries, reflecting the fruits of the land upon which we were founded.

From the richest of rich, to the poorest of poor, Thanksgiving was designed to bring to mind a most important concept: gratitude. The question is, “How do you express your gratitude?”

For many years, gratitude was something ingrained into our society. When we sat down to a meal, we gave thanks to God and to the host/hostess for the food. When we received a gift, we wrote out a handwritten thank you note. We acknowledged when someone did even the smallest act of kindness, such as opening a door. Perhaps it was those expressions of appreciation that made us want to do more for others. It wasn’t a burden. It was a privilege. In contrast to today’s world, in which we have to be reminded by books to keep “an attitude of gratitude,” we already had one. Courtesy and helpfulness weren’t the exception to the rule; they were the standard way of life.

A few years ago, a TV commercial aired and quickly became viral on the Internet. In it, one person did something kind for someone else, and then that person was inspired to do something for the next person he crossed. The concept of “paying it forward” was born.

While we may think of it as a new idea, “paying it forward” is not a new concept after all. It’s actually about 2,000 years old, originating with Jesus, as He commanded His disciples, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

In His commandment to “love others, just as I have loved you,” Jesus asked us to follow His example – basically, to “pay forward” His love. And He knew we were capable of it, because He considered something we often forget, which is that we were made in the image of God. Since God is love, we were made to love. And because God is love, that means He also loves to give. In the Garden of Eden, God saw that Adam did not feel complete without a mate, and so He gave him a woman. Up on a mountain, when Abraham looked for a sacrifice, God provided a ram. And when we as a people couldn’t ever measure up to God’s holy standards to find fellowship with Him, He provided a Savior.
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Why? As children of God, it is in our DNA to give. Wholly. Unselfishly. Lovingly. We cannot receive over and over again without feeling out of balance. We must find a way to give, or we will never find the peace, joy and abundant life we were created for.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few months, you’ll know it’s not been an easy time in my life. From my father’s passing to an RA diagnosis, to a bad tooth paired with chronic migraines, it’s been a period filled with pain, one in which I leaned heavily on my husband to help me through. My gratitude grew immense as time went on, but there was a burden that came with it. I didn’t know how to give back.

Then it happened. My husband became ill with back-to-back viruses that put him out of commission for almost a week. As he alternated between the bed and the couch, shivering with chills under a blanket, I served as nurse, taking his temperature, administering medicine, and fetching him soothing foods and beverages. “Rest,” I would say with assurance, “I’ll take care of you.” Even as I became sick with the first virus, I was in better shape than he was. Besides, it felt good to be the caretaker, after so much time of being cared for by him. In giving to him, rather than just receiving, I felt better than I had in a long time.

This Thanksgiving, I bowed my head in prayer to thank God for all the gifts He has given me the past year, including the wonderful husband I now share my life with. I also thanked Him for the wisdom He recently imparted to me: Whether it is “repaying kindness with kindness” to someone who has helped me or “paying it forward” to someone else, the best expression of my gratitude is to give.

How are you expressing your gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving? Do you know what it is to find joy in giving rather than receiving, as we head into the holiday season?

Paying It Forward: A Truer Picture of Thanksgiving originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Licking the (Yummy) Filling of an Oreo Sandwich Cookie

"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

Out of all that happened this past week, three things stand out: 1) I had to take my car into the repair shop for the nth time this month, due to the inadvisability of driving with the engine light on, 2) My husband and I watched a gorgeous sunset (from our kayaks) across a beautiful little private lake during our annual fall weekend getaway, and 3) I painfully endured a series of excruciating migraines, aching joints, and an agonizing tooth infection.  

Do you see the order in which I wrote that account? Bad, good, bad. Now try and remember what those three things were. It’s easy to focus on the bad, when it’s at both the beginning and end of the story, isn’t it? In fact, it’s tempting to just ignore the middle all together. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to sum up my week as pretty icky. Yes, there was that sunset, but hey, the majority of it was spent feeling physically wrecked and emotionally wrung out. 

Unfortunately, the above is often how I see my circumstances. It is so easy to get bogged down in all of life’s low moments, especially when they are numerous or extreme, that I can easily skim over the good parts of my days and weeks. Pretty soon, if I’m not careful to check my attitude, my life can look and feel pretty bleak. 

At the same time as I was experiencing all of this, I read the sad account of a beautiful 29-year-old with cancer who took her own life under Oregon’s “Die with Dignity” law. While I understood her pain as she suffered from massive headaches and seizures (I have had both), what I didn’t understand was her timing. Just two days beforehand, she had said she was postponing her planned overdose, because she was experiencing so much joy with her friends and family. Truthfully, I was shocked when I heard on the news that she was dead. “What happened???” I thought to myself. How could she be so happy to be alive one day, only to take her own life shortly thereafter? 

As I reflected on this question, the answer became clear. More importantly, the answer became pertinent to my own life. It’s very simple. Life is like an Oreo sandwich cookie: brown and crunchy on the outside, with some awesomely yummy vanilla frosting on the inside. Sadly, that young woman just ate hers the wrong way. 

 If you grew up in the United States and saw the Oreo commercials, you know that the “proper” (and best) way to eat an Oreo is to pull the two cookies apart, lick the delicious icing first, and then consume the crunchy pieces that are left. Even better, dip them in milk so that the cookies will soften a bit too. YUM!  

If you’ve ever tried eating an Oreo in the same way as you would a different kind of cookie, you’ll know it’s just not the same. When you bite through both cookies at once, it’s easy to miss the taste of the best part – the icing – all together. And yet, that’s how we often go through life, isn’t it? We look at our overall “Oreo” called life, and it looks very crunchy. We think about how hard and painful it can be, especially if we take the experiences of our past and project them onto our future; and the prospect of enjoying it just doesn’t seem very good, much less “delightful.” This is especially true for those of us struggling with chronic pain, which can suck the life out of our daily activities, either incapacitating us all together or just hampering our efforts to live normally by making even the simplest tasks so very, very difficult.  

What I realized over the weekend getaway with Ben, which began with a morning migraine and ended with an aching tooth, was that the key to enjoying – and valuing – life on life’s terms (which can be messy, even for those without serious problems) is to really, really, REALLY enjoy the beautiful moments sandwiched in between the painful parts. If I can just approach the “Oreo” of my life the right way, focused on the delicious experience of “licking the icing” from the middle, my whole perspective changes. It tastes so good that I can better deal with the “crunchy” bits and realize that even when life is hard, the good times are worth enduring the bad.
My father, who endured Stage IV cancer for two years, knew what it was to approach life that way. Although he was in extreme pain much of the time, he held onto and enjoyed every morsel of goodness he could find in his life, despite his circumstances. He held out for the icing! And in the end, I know he was grateful for each one of those delicious moments “in between.” 

I saw a Facebook post this week from a fellow RA blogger who clearly knows how to focus on the “filling” of her Oreo sandwich cookie life. She posted that she had taken some time to spend with friends that day and then had to come home to take her (pain) meds and was resting. Her thought on the day? “Worth it! J 

How do you look at the “Oreo” of your life? Do you try and take it all in with one bite and feel “crunched”? Or do you take the time to enjoy licking the yummy icing in the middle?

Licking the (Yummy) Filling of an Oreo Sandwich Cookie originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Power of Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

There is nothing more exhausting than pain that just won’t go away. The past few weeks, I have had more than my fair share of it, mostly in the form of migraine-type headaches. I say “migraine-type” because I’m not 100% convinced that they have all been actual migraines, but rather seriously intense headaches caused by a combination of joint inflammation, muscle tension, menopausal hormone fluctuations, and a bad tooth that has yet to be properly fixed by my dentist (let’s not even begin to talk about what a “headache” it is to have a crown botched to the point of needing it completely redone from scratch).

So … getting back to my story about migraines … I decided at one point to do a search for “RA and migraines” thinking perhaps that there might be a connection between my rheumatoid arthritis and the headaches. Judging from the other RA blogs I’ve read, I think many of us with chronic illnesses are “information junkies” and spend an incomprehensible amount of time researching potential causes and cures for our pain. We are willing to try just about anything to try and make it go away, right?

In this particular case, my research paid off. Yes, RA can cause cervical spine (upper neck) inflammation, which can lead to migraine-type headaches. OK, good. So I wasn’t crazy. There was a connection. But what about a cure? What could be done about it? I was at the end of my rope, tired of losing so much time and energy each day, as I struggled to even think, much less do all I needed to at work and for my family.

Finally, I ran across a video from a clinic, which was effectively a testimonial from one of their patients who had contacted them when she was diagnosed with RA and was experiencing frequent migraines. “Aha!” I thought, eagerly anticipating the answers that would surely come from watching the little 5-minute film clip. And so it began…

I waited and listened as the patient explained her initial situation and how dramatically different her life was now, after just four months of treatment. “Yes? Ok…and what was it you or they did?” I wanted to know. And here it was:

“Well, the first thing I did was quit my job,” she said. “I really needed to get out of all that stress and rest!” Other than losing a relatively modest amount of weight during that time, that was it. The solution to her healthcare issues boiled down to one word: REST.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the position to just up and quit my job or take a four-month leave of absence. Sounds like a nice idea, but it’s probably not very realistic for most people. So, what are we to do then?

I find it interesting that in our culture, extreme “busyness” is considered to be quite admirable, even though it accounts for the frazzled state so many of us find ourselves in, to the point where there are best-selling books with titles such as “Little House on the Freeway,” “Making Room for Life,” and yes, even “I’m Not Superwoman,” for women trying to do too much. I have owned every single one of those books and I am grateful for their message, because in the past few years I've given myself permission to trade in a very vibrant and yet crazy-busy life for a quieter, simpler one. I have learned that in order for me to be healthy and happy, I must have rest. Yes, even if it means saying “no” to activities and people I really enjoy.

Not everyone has the same idea about what “rest” is. To extroverts, spending quiet time alone may not make them feel “rested” at all, but rather even more drained. To them, socializing is what their bodies and minds need. Introverts take the opposite approach and find solitude to be their answer. I fall somewhere in the middle. I love my “peeps” but I wouldn’t trade my solo time for anything in the world. It doesn’t just happen, though. For me to find rest, I must be intentional about it.

The Bible is clear: we all need rest. Sabbath, setting aside one day a week to stop working, was designed by God for our benefit. We can’t be expected to go, go, go all the time and still maintain any degree of physical or emotional health. Even ministers need to be careful to take heed to that commandment. I know of one church where the staff is kept so busy that it’s off-handedly been nicknamed “The Fellowship of Exhaustion!” The type-A’s love it… lots to do, all the time … but others have burned out and left because they just can’t handle the pace.

Besides physical rest, there is another type of rest that is just as important: spiritual rest. That is the kind of rest Jesus is talking about when He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” There may be times in our lives when we just can’t control how much we have to do. I was a single mom for eight years and was frequently at the point of physical exhaustion. My illnesses, such as RA and migraines, can take me there too. But when I add worry and fear, or strife, into the mix, it is too much. I become weary from the stress of not only trying to do it all, but of trying to be it all. I become burdened by my troubles, from trying to figure out answers when perhaps there are none.

Just as my body is not equipped to operate without adequate rest, so my spirit is not equipped to handle all of life’s challenges alone. I need God. I need to enter His rest. And the only way for me to do that is to lay my burdens at His feet and to leave them there, to trust that He will take care of me and my circumstances, and to work all things for good. For me, my greatest time of rest is when I spend time with the Lord. Whether it is at my kitchen table in the mornings before work, with my Bible open to His Word; worshipping with others at church; or out in a forest where I can wonder at His creation, I find my rest in Him. It is there that I find healing for all the pain in my body and in my soul. It is there, I find the rest that makes me whole.

What does “rest” look like to you? Are you getting enough of it? Are you resting in Him or trying to handle life on your own?

The Power of Rest originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Putting on My Big Girl Panties

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

If Monday mornings aren’t difficult enough already, starting one out with a massive migraine headache made it even tougher for me to drag myself out of bed at the beginning of this week. In all truthfulness, I didn’t.

As I pressed my fingers into my temple and the back of my neck, hoping to apply enough pressure to stop the painful pulsating in my veins that made my head want to explode, my astute husband could tell I wasn’t faking “sick” and without a word, he got my daughter ready and over to her elementary school. It was at least another hour before my body recovered enough for me to open my eyes and be willing to face the world. “Thank goodness I’m married and self-employed!” I thought to myself, as I rolled over and looked at the clock. Nine-thirty.

Even with the late start, I would have been more than happy to have spent the day in bed. My head was still throbbing, albeit more subtly, and my body felt as if it were recovering from an automobile accident. I hurt. Everywhere.

When I finally did get up and over to my home office, I did my usual quick Facebook check and thought about what I would post as a status update. “Migraines suck,” I typed. I was sure I would get a lot of sympathy “likes” on that post, especially from fellow migraine sufferers. But then, I stopped. I thought for a minute. What if…? “What if I do something different today?” I asked myself. Not to take away from my “be real” philosophy, but I decided to step out of my pain and into the shoes of my friends. What did they need today? To hear my complaints, or to find something uplifting in what I had to share? What if I made a conscious choice to focus on the good and only to let positivity pass through my lips…for one whole day?

I thought about a couple of Bible verses related to this. “Only (say) what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…“ (Ephesians 4:29) andThink about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.” (Philippians 4:8).

“OK, God,” I prayed. “We’ll try it your way this time.”

Taking a cue from the verse in Philippians, to dwell on the good things in others, I deleted my yet unpublished “Migraines suck” status and replaced it with a challenge to my Facebook friends. “Who all is excited that it’s Monday? Anyone got big plans this week? If you’ve got good news or you’re just happy it’s the beginning of a new week, share it!”

The response was exactly what I needed. Instead of just “likes” on the post, my friends shared all kinds of exciting news. Soon, I was smiling too! Their good news took me out of my pain and into their joy. Huh! This little social experiment was starting to pay some dividends.

The day progressed, from one event to the next. Work in the morning. Lunch with my mother and friends. Errands in the afternoon. My daughter’s school play that evening. No matter how I felt (as my headache turned to nausea), I was determined to keep going and to put forth a smile when I encountered others.  I listened more intently. I encouraged more fervently. I empathized more joyfully. Did my pain and illness go away? No. But did my outlook improve? You bet it did. When I took the focus off me, then I was able to experience more of the beauty in others. And by the end of the day, I was able to count more of my own blessings as well!

Oftentimes, no matter what kind of pain we are going through, we are faced with having to “put our big girl (or boy) pants on” and do what we need to do, regardless. We don’t have the option of putting our life on hold or taking endless sick days. Life goes on. Our lives need to go on! It is on those days that it’s to our benefit to hold tight to those words of Scripture which encourage us to focus on the good – even if that means focusing entirely on others. After all, misery doesn’t really love company, does it? But rather, joy begets joy! And all the while, God’s grace abounds and we find ourselves blessed.
Where are you in your pain today? Are you able to take your mind off it for a little while, so that you can take in the joy that others can share with you? Take a moment to ask God to give you the strength to do what you need to do today, and to give you the opportunity to experience His grace and love through others you encounter along the way.

Putting on My Big Girl Panties originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Get Real!

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my infirmity.” - 2 Corinthians 11:30

My family is private. Real private. Share personal stories on Facebook? Not happening. Answer the “How have you been?” question with anything other than “Great!” or a very, VERY short list of exciting accomplishments? Out of the question. No, their lives aren’t perfect, but you’re not going to know that. After all, positive stories make for much better dinner conversation and no one wants to be known for airing dirty laundry!

Before you can say it, yes, I am the proverbial “black sheep” blabbermouth, wears-her-heart-on-her-sleeve member of the family. If my father were still alive, he would be reprimanding me harshly for sharing my personal health information on this blog. As it is, my mother just rolls her eyes and reminds me that “No one really wants to hear about your health. It’s boooring!” Well, yes, it probably is to most people.

Fortunately, I’m not writing this blog for “most people.” I’m writing it for you, that person who, like me, is struggling to accept or deal with or find purpose in a not-so-great health situation. Someone who is actually looking for someone who is willing to share honestly and openly about their struggles. Someone who just wants to know they are not alone. Someone who wants to know there is hope.

To truly connect with one another, we have to get real, something most people aren’t prepared to do. We live by the mottos “Put your best foot forward,”  “Dress for success,” and even “Fake it until you make it!” These are fantastic ideas for business, keeping a positive attitude, and making positive impressions everywhere you go. But after awhile, it gets tiring wearing that mask, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s why we feel safest at home by ourselves, or with our families and closest friends. Hopefully, you have at least one or two people in your life with whom you can let your hair down, take off your shoes, and relax. You can put away the perfect pretense. If you’re having a bad day, you can share it. If you’re in a bad mood, you can own it. And if you hurt (inside or out), you can admit it. You can be real.

When I first suspected my rheumatoid arthritis, I searched on the Internet for as much information as I could lay my hands on. Upon my diagnosis, I looked further to try and find some support groups. What I found were lots of people who were very real. They were raw with pain, in agony trying to make sense of their disease and trying to sort through all the options for treatment. For all the pain, though, I didn’t find what I really needed: hope. Yes, I wanted people to be real, but wasn’t there somewhere I could go that would offer both reality and hope? At the time, I could find nothing. Thus, the idea for Spring Sight was born.

One of the first questions I had to ask myself, in writing this, was “What qualifies me?” The truth? Absoutely nothing. Well,  except that you and I have a shared experience of a chronic illness and that we have the same source of hope: Jesus Christ. Paraphrasing this week’s key verse from 2 Corinthians, I have nothing to boast about other than my weakness, which is there for the primary purpose of showing Christ’s strength. It is only through faith in Him that I have hope of an abundant life, regardless of my health or other circumstances, and it is only through His power that I am writing this blog.
Spring Sight is not designed to bring attention to me or even to a particular illness like RA. It is designed to be a place where reality and hope meet. Where you and I can get real together, and at the same time, develop a real faith and trust in the God who says, “I will never leave or forsake you.” No, He won’t. No matter what. No matter how real you get. Or how good or bad that reality is today.

I am hoping that as Spring Sight’s audience grows, it will become less of a monologue and more of a dialog. I am willing to share my experience, strength and hope with you. Will you do the same for me and for the other readers, by sharing in the comments? I would love to hear your stories. Take a chance. Get real!

Get Real! originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nobody Knows Me Like You Do

“O Lord, You have searched me and know me.” – Psalm 139:1

I’m in love with my dermatologist. No, not in the romantic way that sentence might imply, but there is something different about her. She listens. She knows just what to say to make my heart sing, too. Words like “You know your body better than anyone.” Oh, halleluiah, FINALLY someone in the medical profession who recognizes that fact!

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short time with chronic inflammatory diseases (just prior to my RA diagnosis, I was diagnosed with rosacea), it is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to them. My diseases may have the same general properties as other cases, but ultimately, they are unique to me. My symptoms, my prognosis, my treatments, and even my body’s response to treatments will be different than yours. Therefore, I have to “own” my healthcare. What works for you may or may not work for me, and even recommendations from my doctor have to be carefully examined and evaluated based upon what I know about ME.

I have had several incidents recently that made this truth even more apparent to me. First, I had a doctor prescribe a medication I was allergic to. It was in my chart, but was overlooked. She didn’t really know me. Then a different doctor gave me a drug that caused an unexpected reaction. My GP wasn’t surprised, as he remembered I had not reacted well to it sometime in the past. Once again, the prescribing doctor just didn’t really know me. My last straw was when I went to a doctor about these drug reactions and he assessed the situation based only upon what he saw that day, when I was still experiencing adverse side effects, and prescribed yet another medication. After much discussion with family and friends in the medical profession, who interact with me on a regular (if not daily) basis, the universal conclusion was once again that if the doctor really knew me, his assessment and treatment advice would have been completely different. I listened to “my gut” and chose not to take the drug. I have never been happier with my decision. And to have that decision affirmed by my dermatologist, with whom I discussed the situation, was icing on the cake.

But what of this “I know myself better than anyone” concept? Is it valid in all situations? My dermatologist was quick to point out that not everyone takes the time to really educate themselves about their situation, so some people come up with ideas that make no medical sense whatsoever. If they followed only their own concept of what was best for them, they would make their situation worse than ever.

Hmmm … this is sounding familiar to me, but in a different context. I can’t count how many times I have messed up my life by doing what I thought was right in my own eyes, only to find out I was very, very wrong. I have also stepped into situations that were extremely damaging, based on the bad advice of someone else. So if I can’t wholeheartedly trust others who don’t really know me and I can’t trust myself - because even with my innate knowledge of me, it’s not enough to base all my decisions on – whom can I trust?

I have always loved Psalm 139, which says in verse 14, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It goes on to describe how God watches as we are formed in the womb and even before we are born, He plans our days. In verse 1, it says, “Oh Lord, You have searched me and known me.” Yes, HE knows me! And how well? One translation of a verse in this Psalm reads, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!” and another verse describes how He even knows how many individual hairs are on our heads. WOW. Only God knows all of our complexities - every tiny detail - that make each of us completely one-of-a-kind.

What great comfort it is to know that when we reach the end of ourselves, God is there. We do not have all the answers, nor do doctors or well-meaning friends, but He does. He is our creator! There is no single detail He does not know about us, body or soul. And God cares about us. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I (the Lord) have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” It is no wonder then, that He instructs us over and over again in His Word to trust Him, to not fear, and to cast all of our cares upon Him. God is there and HE knows us inside and out. As we seek to know Him, we begin to recognize His voice; and as we seek His will, then the answers are revealed. Only then – when we recognize His will for our lives – are we able to say, “I know what is good for me,” for no one knows us better than He.
Whom do you trust, for your health and for your life? Do you know the One who knows you best?

Nobody Knows Me Like You Do originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Side Effects: Which Kind Do You Want?

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23

Have you ever watched a movie and something about it just stayed with you? For me, it was the TV docudrama The Ann Jillian Story, which portrays the actress Ann Jillian’s life and battle with breast cancer. Even though it aired over 25 years ago, I can still remember it clearly. Beautiful actress beats cancer, but in order to do so, loses her hair and becomes violently ill every day, almost to the point of death. My overall impression? Chemotherapy, no thank you! I decided then and there, that unless I got cancer when I was exceptionally young and had an exceptionally high chance of success with chemo, with no other options available, I was never going to experience what Ann Jillian did. No way, no how. My mother had beaten lung cancer with surgery, and even though it was risky and her recovery was long and hard, it was nothing (at least to me, looking on the surface) compared to the pain and agony created by the side effects of the chemo drugs.

Most of the time, when we think of “side effects,” we think of physical side effects, usually from medications. Those are the kind of side effects that made me shudder as I watched the Ann Jillian Story, and I have experienced my own share of those recently, when I was prescribed various drugs for different symptoms. I know plenty of people who take meds for their illnesses and can tolerate the side effects, but I also know others who can’t and choose to find alternative, homeopathic treatments. I’ve noticed on some of the medications I’ve been prescribed recently, there is specific wording that says, “Your doctor has determined that the benefits of taking this medication outweigh the potential side effects.” Yes, that’s the key, isn’t it? When Ann Jillian looked at her options for treating her breast cancer, I’m sure she considered the side effects of the chemo. For her, faced with life or death, the answer to the question, “Are they worth it??” was an easy “yes.” For others, who are dealing with other illnesses, which may be serious and even painful, but aren’t life threatening, the answer might require more thought, and result in a “maybe” or even “no.”

Side effects aren’t always physical, though. Sometimes they are emotional. There is no doubt that serious illness is often accompanied by some negative emotional side effects. After all, grief is involved. Shock and denial, anxiety and depression, guilt and anger: these are all normal stages of grief that are experienced prior to hope and acceptance of a “new normal.” The key is to not stay in any of the initial, negative stages too long … you have to give yourself time to process all of these feelings, acknowledging the validity of them, while not allowing yourself to get overwhelmed by them, leaving you “stuck” in despair. As for me, I find these are fluid stages and I can sometimes bounce between several, based on how my body is feeling (which dictates what activities I can or can’t do) or other external factors. Having to skip a kayaking expedition with my husband because of fatigue and pain may leave me feeling angry or depressed. But the next day, when we are at church worshipping or visiting with friends, I will bounce back to that place of acceptance and confidence in who I am and where I’m at, not giving my disease too much thought at all. And, of course, there are always those inspirational stories of people who have gone on to do pretty amazing things despite their physical limitations or illnesses. Truth be told, those stories can either make me feel hopeful about all I can do, or make my mood even worse, if the reality is that I'll never get there from where I'm at.

OK, so physical side effects are mostly negative and emotional side effects can go up and down. Are there any other side effects we need to talk about? Yes. Spiritual side effects. I don’t know if you ever noticed it before, but the body and the spirit are closely connected. In all three of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – fasting (abstaining from food) and praying are frequently done together. And one of the world’s effective holistic health programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, from which all of the other 12-step programs have evolved, defines itself as a “spiritual program” that heals alcoholism, which is medically identified as a physical disease. Millions of people have walked through the doors of AA since its founding early in the 20th century, and have not only found physical healing, but continue to experience the spiritual “side effects” of the program for many years after the cravings for alcohol disappear.

But what of these spiritual side effects? What are they and how do we experience them? Well, the first thing we have to realize is that while physical side effects are rooted in our bodies, and emotional side effects come from our minds, spiritual side effects come from the Holy Spirit, which we are given when we turn our lives and will over to the care of God through Jesus Christ. This is great news, because it means they are not determined by the condition of our bodies or our minds. We can be in the early or late stages of our illnesses and still experience the wonderful “side effects” of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, when we are trusting in God, we don’t have to be ruled by our emotions. Instead, we can experience the fruit (a.k.a. side effects) of the Holy Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”(Galatians 5:22-23)

There is no doubt I have had times in my life when I was so focused on my own physical and emotional needs, I left no room for the Holy Spirit to work. I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark, and spiritually, I was! I was truly lost, and I don’t mean just before I accepted Christ as my savior. I mean during those times when I may have trusted Him for my eternal salvation, but I just wasn’t able to let go and trust Him for my daily life. Eventually, I came to a place where I realized that when the Bible said Jesus came to give us “abundant life” that meant for ME too! I finally decided that the emotional side effects of me carrying all of my burdens myself were too heavy, and that I wanted what God had to offer instead – His side effects of peace, love and joy! Since then, I have not been spared physical pain or even emotional pain. I have suffered chronic migraines, a painful divorce, and now have RA. But in the midst of it all, I have found the greatest side effect of all: love. God’s love has transformed me, so no matter what my circumstances, I can maintain a sense of peace in the midst of trials, joy in the midst of sorrowful times, and kindness even when my body is crying out in pain and my emotions want to lash out in anger. He has also brought, alongside of me, carriers of His gifts: people to love me when I felt the most unlovable. Yes, spiritual side effects are contagious!

Where are you with your side effects? No matter where you are physically or emotionally, do you long to experience the spiritual side effects of the Holy Spirit? They are easy to access, because they are there for the asking. In Philippians 4:6-7, the Bible says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Side Effects: Which Kind Do You Want? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Me? Why NOW?

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” – Romans 8:28 AMP

 “Why me?” Tell me that wasn’t your first thought when it finally sunk in that yes, in fact, you DO have a painful, chronic, incurable illness. It may not have stayed there long, but if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably said something along those lines, or at the very least, “Why now?” For me, the timing of my RA diagnosis couldn’t have been worse. After spending six years as a single parent, I had finally met the man of my dreams and remarried in May 2014. The future looked bright as we anticipated many years of paddling our kayaks and hiking across the country together. We knew that my move into his house would be stressful, as would my daughter’s adjustment to living with a new stepdad, but that was just par for the course. What we weren’t expecting was all that happened within just a few months of our wedding day.

My father had fought hard to keep his Stage IV lung cancer at bay for two years, and when my then-boyfriend Ben told him he wanted to marry me, his reply was, “Well, you better do it soon, because I’m not going to be around forever!” That was around Valentine’s Day. The weekend before Mother’s Day, Daddy was able to take off his oxygen tube for just a few minutes to walk me down the aisle to my waiting groom, and even to dance half a song with me. As I felt my father’s arms around me while we slowly swayed to the sound of Martina McBride singing “Over the Rainbow,” I couldn’t imagine being any happier. “If tiny little bluebirds fly across the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?” The words of the song touched my heart. Finally, everything in my life was falling into place.

About 8 weeks after the wedding, I got the news that Daddy’s cancer was back in full force and had spread considerably. Within a few days of that news, he entered the hospital for a complication. He never came home. I was at the hospital every day for almost three weeks after that, with the exception of when my daughter and I were baking a cake for her 10th birthday party. Watching him dying, unable to comfort him in his pain, was truly the most excruciating experience of my life to-date. After he was gone, time seemed altered. Some days, it felt like his passing was an eternity ago, and on others, it seemed it was just yesterday. Waves of grief drifted in and out of my heart, as the ocean tides move in and away from the shore.

The day that would have been Daddy’s 79th birthday, I spent the morning with my mother, comforted by her presence and the memories we shared of my father. She had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, and I had mine. What began as a difficult day ended on an equally challenging note: the confirmed diagnosis of my rheumatoid arthritis. In the morning of September 16, I cried for my father. That afternoon, I cried for myself. “Why me?” I asked God, with a very small voice. “Why NOW?” I cried, even louder. Why, at the beginning of my wonderful marriage? And why, just a few weeks after the painful death of my beloved father?

Sometimes, it’s really hard to see God’s fingerprints in the details of our lives, especially when bad things come along. We ask that question of “Why me?” knowing full-well that the answer is really “Why NOT me?” After all, people get bad news all the time. Who am I to have a pity party about getting RA at age 50 when people a lot younger than me – even children – are being diagnosed with cancer, even as we speak? And is there ANY good time for difficult circumstances? When my mother was diagnosed with cancer at age 41, she proclaimed, “I don’t have time for funerals!” I was just about to graduate from high school and my father had been transferred with his job to a new city. It was NOT a good time. But she persevered – determined not to let it beat her – and not only had a quite miraculous recovery, but also ended up becoming both an entrepreneur and competitive ballroom dancer – with just one lung!

I do not yet know what God’s exact purpose is in my diagnosis or its timing, just as you may be struggling with yours. What I do know is that He has one. I am happy that God has provided examples in His Word of people just like you and me, whose lives were interrupted by something seemingly bad that somehow was the impetus for something better.

Perhaps you have heard of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” the musical based on the biblical story of Joseph, the youngest brother in an Israelite family whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery in a foreign land, then told their father he had been killed! Now, THAT is what I call an unwelcome life interruption. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he was doing quite well in Egypt, when BAM! He got thrown in jail on a false accusation of attempted rape. Talk about a raw deal.  I am sure there were days when Joseph had to be asking “Why me?” and “Why now?” when these seeming disasters happened in the midst of an otherwise happy life. What he didn’t see for a long time was that God’s plan was in the works. When the time was right, God gave Joseph the ability to interpret the king’s dreams. As a result, he was released from prison and saved both Egypt and his own family from starvation during a great famine. Those difficult circumstances led right to where God wanted and needed Joseph, and his faith and obedience resulted in him not only being joyfully reunited with his family, but also in being a blessing to others - beyond anything he could have dreamed of.

Today, whether you are faced with a recent diagnosis or struggling with an illness you’ve had for a long time, do not despair. Jesus was very clear in His instructions for us to live one day at a time, when He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow … today has enough troubles of its own. Let tomorrow take care of itself.” All you are asked to do is to do what you can with TODAY. Do not lose hope. One day, you will look back and it will all become clear, just as it did with Joseph.

Try filling in the blanks in the following phrase with your own name and circumstance: Who knows? It’s possible that you ____________________ for a time just like this.” Seek God’s purpose in your circumstance and ask not “Why me?” but rather “Why not me?” Look for His fingerprints in your life, in the ways He is working all things together for the good of you or others. And do not question “Why now?” but rather wait to discover God’s PERFECT timing with the question of “Why not now?” How can God use you right where you are? Pray about it, and share what God reveals!

Why Me? Why NOW? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

“I have told you these things so you may have peace in Me. In the world you will have much trouble. But take hope! I have power over the world!” – John 16:33 NLV

I stared at the doctor, mouth somewhat agape, I’m sure, as she gave me the news. “Well, there it is. You have inflammatory (rheumatoid) arthritis. Now what we need to do is start treating it.”

This was NOT what I wanted to hear. Nor was it even what I had expected. She had given me a preliminary diagnosis two weeks beforehand, but between reassurances from friends and family that “you don’t know for sure” and my extensive review of my lab work and radiology reports (which, as a non-medically trained writer, I’m SO qualified to interpret), I was just sure the doctor would tell me it was just a case of stress-exacerbated osteoarthritis (OA). That was far more palatable, as it was a far less life-impacting condition. Worst case scenario, I had thought, would be that the doctor would be “on the fence” about whether it was OA or RA.

Sure, there were some tell-tale signs of RA in my symptoms and x-rays, and of course, that elevated rheumatoid factor antibody was a pretty clear sign, but surely – just surely – there was another possible explanation! But no, the doctor was quite sure. My denial – my coping mechanism to that point – was shattered. Like it or not, I had to accept that I was in the early stages of a chronic, incurable, debilitating autoimmune disease. And at some point, I was going to have to deal with the even more unthinkable possibility of treating it with chemo-type drugs not too different than what my father had painfully endured for two years prior to his very recent death from lung cancer. Unlike in the scenes I had rehearsed in my head before my appointment, I did not argue. Instead, when the doctor left the room, I cried.

As my husband of just a few months held me, there in the doctor’s office, I knew that this diagnosis was bad news, not just for me, but for both of us. We loved to kayak and hike, and RA held the potential for significantly impacting our life together, as its primary attack is on the joints of the hands and feet. We had in fact already cancelled several outings due to my pain and fatigue. If treated, perhaps I could still do those activities, but certain drugs that would enable them could potentially take away my ability to care for my young daughter if she were sick. The treatment of RA is to lower the immune system in order to reduce its attack on the healthy cells in the body, putting that person at risk for more serious infections if exposed to colds, flu, etc. If I felt bad for me, I felt worse for how this disease could impact my family.

The good news in all of this is that my disease is in its earliest stages, such that I don’t have to begin taking the heavy duty anti-rheumatic drugs right away. I can get by with anti-inflammatory treatment to manage my symptoms for as long as the disease stays at a low activity level. The even better news is that I have a partner to walk through this disease with. No, not my husband (although he is an awesome partner and no doubt, he will be by my side also), but rather an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God.

In John 16:33, Jesus assures His followers that “In the world, you will have trouble.” In another Bible translation, the word for “trouble” is translated as “trials and sorrows.” In other words, we are NOT assured a trouble-free life. A country song says it well: “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden!” We ARE offered, however, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a care-free life. Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We have a God who loves us so much and invites us to put our burdens – our trials and sorrows – on Him. He knows that we do not have the strength to carry them ourselves. We are weak, but He is strong. Jesus reassures us in saying, “(despite your troubles) … take hope! I have power over the world!”

I may have only had one day as an officially diagnosed RA sufferer, but I have had many years of trials and sorrow in my life. I know from experience that the troubles of this world can take me to a dark place, if I allow them to. Fortunately, I also know first-hand of God’s power to overcome those troubles. I know that when I turn my cares over to Him, He CAN be trusted to bring good from evil, to give peace in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances, and even to bring purpose to suffering. The song “I never promised you a rose garden” continues as it says “Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometimes.” For when do we draw closer to Him and to others? When life is good? No, it is most often during those times of trouble when we reach the end of ourselves and reach up and out for help. And when we do, we find Him there. Faithful. Powerful. Ready to lift us up from wherever we are, to hold us when we cannot stand, to carry us when we cannot walk, and to light the path before us when we cannot see the infinite beauty of the plans He has for our lives.

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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