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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