Under Construction

I am in the process of making some changes in my blog that will eventually lead to a new website. As I’ve prayed and sought God’s direction concerning my blog, I believe He is directing me to narrow the focus – and with this, the name. 

I began my blog several years ago as a means of encouraging others who are struggling in their Christian walk. But as God has shifted my emphasis in ministry to meeting the specific needs of Christian women within the chronic illness community, my blog has also begun to change. Most  of my recent writing has been related to walking victoriously as a Christian with chronic illness, and this is the path I believe I’m to continue down. Because of this, my previous tag line will now be the title of my blog: Living with Chronic Illness: Count It All Joy. This is the first of several changes to come.

About Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is a term used to describe any illness that lasts of more than a few months. Arthritis, cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, and lupus are all considered chronic illnesses, and these are just a few of the better know diseases that fit into this grouping. Many chronic illnesses are invisible to the general public, but if you suffer with one or more of these you know that looks are deceiving. Chronic illness is life altering!

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics I could find, as of 2012 about half of all adults in the United States have one or more chronic illnesses. I am a part of this statistic. Seven of the top ten causes of death are chronic diseases, and arthritis – one of several chronic illnesses of which I’m well acquainted – is the most common cause of disability in our nation. 

Eighty-six percent of healthcare spending in our nation is the result of chronic illness in its many forms. This final statistic isn’t a surprise to anyone who personally deals with chronic illness, since medical costs are usually one of our largest budget areas, and that’s for those who are blessed to have adequate medical insurance.

As a born-again, Bible believing Christian, I believe healing is a part of God’s ultimate plan. For some, that comes on earth,  either miraculously of through the medical system, for others when we see the Lord face-to-face. I continue to pray for healing, both for myself and for others who live with chronic pain and illness. But the focus of this blog is on how  we can live victoriously in the here and now. How do we deal with the current, day-to-day struggles of life with chronic illness and pain? This has recently been and will continue to be the focus of my weekly blog posts.

In addition to personally written inspirational articles to encourage you in your walk with Christ, I will occasionally be writing reviews of books that have helped me grow in my knowledge of how to live a life pleasing to the Lord while facing chronic illness or other trials. Sometimes, I will feature guest posts to give a different point of view than my own. I hope to include some practical posts, giving ideas for coping with specific problems or limitations caused by chronic illness.

 This is not a medical blog – I have no medical training, so I’ll leave that to those who are qualified. Its purpose is simply to help my readers navigate the often perplexing path of living victoriously as a Christian with chronic illness. My desire is not to compete with any other Christian blogs that share this purpose.  I personally subscribe to several, and I benefit from what I read. My desire is that my insights on living wisely as a Christian with ongoing illness will present another resource to turn to for help. My hope is that you will join me on this new path, whether you are personally affected by chronic disease or simply want to be better prepared to minister to friends and/or family members who need help in this area.

Lessons From Job, Introduction

I’m currently doing a chronological Bible reading plan, and just started on the book of Job this past week. This isn’t the first time I’ve read through Job. But it is different this time. As a part of the leadership team for God-Living Girls, a group of Jesus-loving ladies who also happen to have chronic illnesses, my focus has shifted. I’ve become more aware of the pain many of the ladies in our group live with in on a daily basis. Not just physical pain, but also the pain of being misunderstood. As I read through Job this time, I’m seeing it through the eyes of those who suffer.

Those who live with chronic illness know what it is to be misunderstood. Many churches teach healing as a promise from God, and there’s nothing wrong with that. One of the Old Testament names of God is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals. I long for healing as much as anyone. But when we pray and healing doesn’t come, how do we learn to deal with our present reality?  Do we live under condemnation for not receiving supernatural healing? Or do we accept the fact that God has not currently chosen to heal us and seek to walk in a way that pleases Him in spite of our daily health struggles?  

As I read through Job and study the principles taught there, I believe God wants me to share weekly lessons from this book. Lessons From Job will be a series of articles on how to live victoriously when God chooses not to heal. I will be sharing the truths God applies to my own life during this season. This series is not to cause anyone to stop praying for healing. I continue daily to pray for healing for myself, those in our group, and others facing illness. It is to help those of us who have not currently received healing to know how to live in a way that pleases God in our current situation.

The Prologue to Job introduces us to the subject of this book, Job, and gives us God’s opinion concerning him. In the first three verses of the book, we learn:

  1. Job lived in the land of Uz. According to the Introduction to Job in the Life Application Study Bible, Uz  was probably located northeast of Palestine, near desert land and between Damascus and the Euphrates River. For our purposes, this tells us that Job was a real person living in a real place.
  2. God “bragged” on Job, saying he was blameless, an upright man of integrity. Remember this, when we get to later chapters where Job is unjustly accused by his “friends.”
  3. Job “feared God and shunned evil.”Another good report!
  4. Job was a wealthy man, blessed with a large family and much material wealth.  In fact, we are told he was the richest man in the entire area.

I don’t know about you, but if God used similar words to describe me I would not expect what follows. Because after a brief description of Job’s sons and daughters, God invites us into a conversation between Himself and some angels, including the fallen angel Satan. Satan, originally one of God’s good angels, rebelled against God and because of his pride was corrupted and fell. Surprisingly, God singles out Satan from this meeting with angels. Note that God is the one who initiates the following dialogue with Satan.

In this passage, I see God’s sovereignty. Satan was not in charge of this whole situation. GOD WAS – AND IS –  IN CONTROL! He not only initiated this first recorded conversation with Satan, He also told Satan what he could do to Job. Each time the book of Job records a conversation between God and Satan, this is true. So the first principle to take hold of concerning suffering of any kind is that God is sovereign. This simply means that God, as the ruler of the Universe, has the right to do whatever he wants. He is in complete control over everything that happens. This is the underlying principle of the entire book of Job.

As we continue through the book of Job, hold onto these two foundational truths:

  • God is sovereign. He – never Satan – is the one with total control over everything that happens.
  • Job was a righteous man, not perfect, but a man known for his integrity. God was not punishing Job for his sin. 

Until next week, meditate on these two key understandings from the book of Job. They form the foundation upon which I want to build, as we look at Job’s friends. And remember, as born-again Christians, we too have been declared righteous. The penalty for our sins has been paid in full by the shed blood of Jesus Christ!


Jeremiah’s Hope

This following devotional from Seeds of the Kingdom (https://www.seedsofthekingdom.org/) really ministered to my spirit this morning, and I wanted to share it with you. Written by Sue Griffiths, Ellel Ministries International.

Lamentations is Jeremiah’s book of weeping for the calamities that have happened to his country and his people. But tucked in there he suddenly spills out what has happened to him personally: ‘Those who are my enemies for no reason hunted me down like a bird. They forced me alive into a pit and threw stones on me. Water rose above my head. I thought, I am finished! (Lamentations 3:52-54).

Jeremiah tells us this story somewhere else – how he was taken and lowered on ropes down into a deep pit where he sank right up to his armpits in the mud at the bottom. His life was saved by an honourable Ethiopian army officer who personally confronted the king: ‘My lord, King! What these men have done to Jeremiah the prophet is evil! They have thrown him into the cistern; and he is likely to die there where he is, because of the famine, for there is no more food in the city’ (Jeremiah 38: 6-9). Thirty soldiers were sent to rescue Jeremiah and his life was saved.

This is the ‘public’ account of what happened and the rescue. But in Lamentations, Jeremiah is letting out his feelings about the experience. This is terror, trauma and torture. We’re hearing about the soldiers who tossed stones down the well on top of him, and how Jeremiah, totally trapped, nearly drowned.

We are often like Jeremiah: we have a ‘public’ account of what’s happening to us. When people ask how things are we might answer, “Well, things aren’t too good at the moment”, and the response is, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that!” End of conversation.

But inside, in that place where no-one else sees, we may be nearly overwhelmed by trauma and fear; terror of the future, despairing of ever getting out of the pit we’re in. That’s just where these verses come in: ‘But in my mind I keep returning to something that gives me hope’.

Jeremiah’s raw honesty about this experience means a lot to me. God has seen me and my family through times so bad I used to wonder whether they would ever come to an end. It took time – and it often does – and it needed God to be there ‘every morning’ for me. But God’s faithfulness and His love never come to an end.

We don’t have to have trauma anywhere on the horizon. Just day by day by day we can sing and look to God, who’s there day after day after day for us, every morning, with hope.

Prayer: Thank You, God, that You’re there every morning, day after day for me, with Your love and Your faithfulness. I welcome You today! Amen.

                
 

Self-Care vs. Self-Denial: Finding a Balance as a Christian with Chronic Illness

Living with chronic illness is hard. Living the life of self-denial we’re called to as believers in Jesus Christ is also difficult. But when you combine the two, as many of you who read my posts are seeking to do, you face a dilemma. How do we deny ourselves and yet cope wisely with the issues caused by chronic illness? In other words, as followers of Jesus, how do we find a healthy balance between self-care and self-denial?

The Christian life at it’s core is a life of self-denial. Jesus said to His followers, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew‬ ‭16:24‬ ‭NIV‬‬). As disciples of Christ who also happen to suffer with chronic illness, we are not excluded from this directive.

Our Heavenly Father has called us to be His hands and feet on this earth, putting the needs of others above or at least making them equally important to us as our own needs. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬). 


Yet, those of us who live with chronic illnesses live with limited resources. For many of us, fatigue is a way of life. Often, the things we used to enjoy doing are no longer within our range of ability. 

For example, earlier in my Christian life, one of my biggest joys was leading ladies in Bible studies. My heart hasn’t changed, but recently even making it to the class where someone else is teaching has been a stretch. For instance, yesterday morning I went to our iConnect Sunday morning class, but I mainly sat there like a sponge, absorbing truths that would strengthen me to make it through another week. Being in class was worth it, but after class I was exhausted. Severe shortness of breath and just general tiredness and weakness resulted in me spending the rest of the afternoon in bed resting

Denying the facts of where I am physically is not self-denial! Thinking I can ignore what is going on in my body is foolish. So how have I learned to balance the two seemingly opposites of self-denial and self-care? I’m definitely not an expert in this. But as I face new health challenges, I’m learning that it’s possible to both be concerned about the needs of others and do what is wise in taking care of myself. I’ve begun to reach a balance in the area of caring for the needs of others and caring for my own needs, and my goal today is to share some key understandings that are helping me in this area.

We cannot effectively minister to the needs of others unless we first meet our own true needs. Those needs fall in three main categories: spiritual, physical, and emotional.

  1. Trying to minister to others when we are depleted spiritually is like trying to fill a glass from an empty pitcher. Before I can minister to others, I must make efforts to fill myself so I have something to share. For me, that begins by spending time daily in God’s Word and prayer, asking Him to show me the truths I need to apply in my own life. This is spiritual self-care.
  2. Giving my body what it requires to function at its best is not being selfish. When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why is this important? Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their oxygen mask. Similarly, if you don’t take the needed steps to meet your own physical needs, you will lack the needed resources for meeting others needs. This is physical self-care. Whether it involves eating the foods my body needs to function at it’s best, finding exercise that is appropriate to my current level of health, or making time in my schedule for rest, this type of self-care is essential. 
  3. Emotional self-care is also important. Living with the challenges of ongoing illness can affect every part of our being. Serious illness often causes major changes in lifestyle and limits our independence and mobility. Chronic illness may make it impossible to pursue the activities you find fulfilling, and this can undermine self-confidence and cause depression and feelings of hopelessness. If you are struggling in these areas, taking steps to shift your focus onto the Lord and His love may help. Listening to encouraging music may help. Purposely looking for things to be thankful for, even  looking for God’s blessings in the midst of the pain, all of these things can be useful. And if you’ve tried all of these and are still struggling, finding a person you can confidentially share your struggles with may help. 
  4. Recognize that self-care is important but not the final answer in dealing with chronic illness. Spiritually, we need the encouragement of others who are walking a similar path. This is one of the biggest benefits of finding a Christian support group such as God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness, the one I’m a part of. Physically, find a good team of medical doctors and seek their advice. And emotionally, acknowledge if you are experiencing deep depression and need help to get out of it. There need be no more shame in seeking support for mental health issues than there is in seeking medical support. 
  5. Finally, having “filled your pitcher” and “put on your own oxygen mask,” look for ways to be a blessing to others. You may not be able to serve God in the same way you used to enjoy serving. So look for a new way to serve, one that is in line with your current abilities. Chronic illness can easily make us self-centered, and ministering to the needs others are facing counteracts that tendency. You may no longer be able to lead a Bible study at your church, but maybe you can help teach an online Bbible study. Praying for others, sending cards to encourage them in the battles they are facing, starting a blog and writing articles sharing the lessons God is teaching you about living a God-honoring life with chronic illness – these are just a few ideas for reaching out to others.  Ask God to show you how you can be a blessing to others. Then do what He shows you. 

So take care of yourself. Spend time daily building yourself up spiritually. Make wise choices that allow you to be at your best physically. And don’t ignore your emotional needs either. Exercise wise self-care in each of these areas, but then as a Christ-follower practice self-denial by looking for ways to use the resources you currently possess to be a blessing to others. By doing these things, it’s possible to live a balanced and fulfilling life with chronic illness.

Breathe

When I saw today’s Five Minute Friday topic, I knew I needed to write about my recent experience with shortness of breath. 

I was recovering well from neck surgery, and it was time for a follow-up appointment with my primary physician to evaluate how I was doing. As Mitch and I prepared to leave for the doctor’s visit, we decided to make this my first outing without my wheelchair. So I grabbed my walker and headed for the car. 

The walk from our car to the office was short, with no obvious problems. But when my doctor came to the door to take me back to her office, the problems started. The short walk left me seriously short of breath. What in the world was going on? My doctor was obviously concerned. Thus began a new experience in my journey of dealing with chronic illness.

The need to breathe is something God built into our bodies, and when something interferes with fulfilling that need changes are required. Last week, after numerous medical tests, I finally learned that my breathing problems are related to a new problem with my heart. 

So this week I’m starting down a new path in my chronic illness journey. That started with new medications, but I don’t know what else lies ahead. In the midst of change, I’m leaning on the Lord who formed my body for grace and strength to walk this new path. His grace has been ENOUGH in the past, and I’m confident I’ll find His grace sufficient in this new hurdle as well.

Anchored in God’s Character and His Word

Choosing HOPE as my word of the year for 2017 has caused me to think about what it really means to be anchored in the Lord. Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  What HOPE was the author of Hebrews referring to? Verses 17 – 18 make it clear that (1) the unchanging nature of God’s purpose, and (2) the truth that God doesn’t change and that it’s impossible for Him to lie are the HOPE we are to hold onto. In other words, our HOPE is found in God’s unchanging Word and character. 

So why do our souls need an anchor? This question caused me to ask myself why a boat needs an anchor. The anchor prevents the boat from drifting away with the current. If sailors didn’t use anchors, their boats would drift aimlessly around the harbor or, if caught in the right current, out to sea. Anchors serve a useful purpose, they help control a boat’s movement when the captain wants it to remain steady for any of a variety of reasons.

I am currently walking at a place where my need for an anchor to keep me from “drifting out to sea” is obvious. The “wind and waves” of life could easily cause me to “drift aimlessly out to sea” if my life were not anchored in the Lord.  God’s desire – His unchanging purpose – does not include us being tossed to and fro by the winds of adversity. Our “Captain” wants us to remain steady, even in the storm. And therefore, He has given us hope as an anchor. 

This hope is not like the “hope” of this world, which is wishing for something with no real assurance that it will happen. No, the HOPE The Lord gives us is a sure and confident expectation that our God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. It is a steadfast trust and faith in God’s faithfulness.

A Safe Harbor

After an emotionally difficult day yesterday, I woke up this morning asking God for a clear word of encouragement. My prayers for a diagnosis of my new symptoms now had been answered, and an effective treatment plan was starting. But the answer was a bit overwhelming. 

I have dealt with chronic illness for over forty years, but up until now most of my diagnoses have been orthopedic or neurological, difficult to live with but not life-threatening. Yesterday, I was diagnosed with diastolic dysfunction, a cardiac condition in which the heart loses its flexibility and ability to move the blood out of the heart and around the body. Left untreated, this can lead to heart failure. I had now moved into a whole new area of chronic illness.

I needed to see what I learned yesterday from God’s perspective. My daily Bible reading passage hadn’t given me what I needed, so I cried out to God in prayer for a clear word that would help me see my current trials as He sees them. The Lord answered my prayer with a simple phrase: “I am your safe harbor.”  

Usually when I sense God speaking to my heart, a familiar verse of Scripture comes to mind. This time was different. I couldn’t remember any Bible verses that specifically spoke of God as a safe harbor. So I did a search using the YouVersion Bible app that I’ve been using this year for the 2-year Life Application Bible devotional and reading plan. This plan uses the New Living Translation, which is new to me, and I didn’t change the version on my search parameters, so the following verses came up as the ones closest to the phrase I had entered.

The parallel to my current situation was clear:

  • I needed help!
  • I was crying out to God in my trouble, my distress, just as those in these verses had done.
  • I knew the truth of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and I was asking God to still my emotions so I could hear His voice.
  • He alone had the power to “calm the storm to a whisper and still the waves” crashing over me.
  • He could bring me “safely into harbor” – in fact, He is my SAFE HARBOR.

I don’t know what you are currently facing in your life. But let me reassure you that Jesus Christ is also your SAFE HARBOR. Our proper response to the truth is found in the next two verses, Psalm 107:31-32. 

                           “Let them praise the LORD for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. 

                              Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation and before the leaders of the nation.”

 ‭