On Eagle’s Wings …

Most of us grew-up with the notion that when you were sick, you went to the doctor and you got well. Life returned to normal. But once you are diagnosed with a Chronic illness, that simple concept goes out the window. In your new normal, you regularly go to the doctor/s … you regularly take medications, sometimes therapy, surgery, exercise, dietary changes, etc., but you are never where you once were. The symptoms remain. Pain is often times as common as breathing. And being well translates to effectively managing your disease. Despite your best efforts, there are setbacks. Those with a Chronic illness will tell you that it’s inevitable. And with time, the struggle can take its toll. Some become anxious and/or depressed. Others just want to give up. Medical science has accomplished a lot, but courage and strength can’t be prescribed. These essential tools must come from within.

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“… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  — Isaiah 40:31

Often times, a patient wonders, “Why me?” They may look at their life and try to find where the mistake was made. While lifestyle can contribute to some Chronic illnesses, there are many patients who have a long history of maintaining a healthy one prior to their diagnosis. Genetics and environment also play a role. In essence, there are no guarantees in life.

My uncle was diagnosed with Hypertension, around the age of 30. He successfully managed his condition, for years. In his late-50s, he retired … sold his home in the suburbs of Chicago … purchased a farm near Nashville, TN … and left the Big City grind for an easier gentry. He had chickens, ducks, horses, a well-stocked fishing pond, etc. When he and my aunt chose country-living, they went all in. Gardening. Quilting. Relaxing on the porch. It was a peaceful existence, surrounded by natural beauty. Admired. Perhaps, envied. Yet, a year later, he was stricken with a massive stroke. Left with partial paralysis, he found himself in a wheelchair. And, as he confessed to me nearly a decade later, he wondered, “Why me?” The really wondrous thing was that, according to him, he heard a voice say, “Why not you?” Was this a Divine conversation? Maybe. But, in that moment, he realized that he wasn’t alone. He had his faith to sustain him — to help confront his situation. There were millions struggling with medical conditions, the loss of body function, etc. His new normal wasn’t a rarity. It was a curve-ball in life. And he chose to make the most of it, which is exactly what God wants us to do.

Consider, for a moment, the Book of Job. It details the long-suffering of a good man. In my humble opinion, the diagnosis of any Chronic illness isn’t a matter of punishment. It’s a part of life that eventually finds most of us. It’s a time of change, like the seasons. But it is also an opportunity to inspire, to grow, even to thrive. My faith has taught me many things. One is that the Lord will not give me more than I can handle. So, even when a setback comes, I am comforted in that knowledge. Prayer has been a vital part of my daily living, for decades. Through it, I have been uplifted — strengthened emotionally, physically and spiritually. Inspired. And, yes, guided. I have been given the courage to confront my fears, work through my frustrations and move forward. Through the worst of times, prayer has led me — allowed me to soar. And I thank God for that.

Many religions rely on the power of prayer. They believe in the use of prayer for comfort, healing, strength and peace-of-mind. They know that it works, though the how and why may remain a mystery. Buddhists use meditation. Roman Catholics use the rosary. Protestants have individual prayer and Prayer Groups. Muslims use Du’a (personal prayer for healing). Jews turn to dovening and the Mi Sheberakh (a healing prayer for the sick). All are united by the belief that comfort and healing can be attained through sincere prayer.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of medical studies involving prayer. Even the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has funded one. Thirty years ago, the idea would have been unheard of by the scientific community. But time, as well as data, has a way of changing things. Even those who are not devout, can understand positive results. Prayer, in its various forms, has the ability to relax the patient. Stress is lessened, or eliminated. This in turn promotes healing. The limbic system of the brain, responsible for basic emotion, instinct and mood, is also positively effected. This aids the patient’s mental health. Who exactly gets the credit for the healing remains a matter of debate. Still, the facts remain. Prayer can play a significant role in a patient’s health and well-being.   

When you are diagnosed with Chronic illness, you are in it for the long-haul. If you are a religious person, you will probably turn to your faith for strength and courage. You may even find yourself struggling with it. That too, I think, is natural — human. So, set your hesitation aside and talk to your clergy about it. You won’t be the first, or the last. Others, overwhelmed and searching, may find faith at this time. You too are neither the first, or the last. It might also be the perfect time to join a a Bible Study group, volunteer at a Food Bank, etc. Sometimes, when you see the difficulties of others, it lends perspective. And many religious organizations even have support groups, for those who are living with Chronic illness. This is especially helpful for patients who live alone, or lack a solid support system at home.

Despite your affliction, or your views toward prayer, always embrace optimism. On the difficult days, I know that’s a lot to ask. But remember … an optimistic mindset is a key component for managing your condition. It’s uplifting. Encouraging. Motivating. Optimism is a confidence — a sheer hopefulness — that allows you to fight another day. One that somehow strengthens your body as well as your resolve. If you are anything, as a patient who is living with a Chronic illness, you are a warrior. We all are. Keep fighting the good fight!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-cancer-patients-with-strong-religious-or-spiritual-beliefs-report-better-health.html

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/dec/30/power-of-prayer-healing-and-therapeutic-prayer-in-/

*Photo by Keo Mowat on Unsplash

 

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A Time To Laugh …

When you are diagnosed with any form of Chronic illness, it’s no laughing matter. On behalf of those who have experienced the situation, I can assure you that it’s pretty sobering. One might even call it a come-to-Jesus moment. Life suddenly isn’t as easy as it was, in the past. It’s harder. Scarier. For some, their faith becomes stronger. For others, it’s when faith is sought. The unknown has a way of diminishing one’s ability to smile, let alone laugh. Yet, Scripture teaches us that there is a time for everything — even laughter. And modern medicine has actually proven that it’s good for you!

 

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens …”                                                                      — Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

 

Laughter has the wondrous ability to heal and renew the body. When you laugh, it enhances your intake of oxygen. It stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. Laughter increases endorphins in your brain. It even burns calories. And all of this helps you. With every giggle, you will relieve tension … fight stress … and relax. But that’s just the short-term benefits!

In the long-term, laughter improves your immune system. It helps to relieve pain. And it increases your level of personal satisfaction. Laughter improves your mood — including your outlook on life. You might even say that laughter sows seeds of optimism. And we all know how essential that is, when living with a Chronic illness. Laughter improves your relationships. It aids in good mental health, i.e. providing joy, relieving anxiety and strengthening resilience. A study conducted in Norway even found that people with a strong sense of humor outlive those who don’t laugh as much!

Today, the medical community is embracing Humor Therapy, also known as Complementary Therapy, to assist in the treatment of many Chronic illnesses. This therapy implements the use of laughter exercises, comedy movies, books, games, etc., to help patients cope with their disease. This has proven especially useful for Cancer patients. So, consider the benefits. 

Life is precious. And any Chronic illness is serious. But laughter really is good medicine. Indulge in it. Tell a joke. Watch a funny movie. Smile and giggle your way through a good book. Laugh. There’s no better time for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/humor-therapy

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_laughter_brings_us_together

* Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

 

It Is Well With My Soul

If you have a Chronic illness, then you have experienced that Twilight Zone moment when your diagnosis was first given. A part of you is hearing what the doctor is saying. The other part is almost in shock — engulfed with disbelief. This is the start of an emotional, physical and often times spiritual rollercoaster. One that none of us asked to ride on. One that seems hopelessly out of our control. Or is it? I have heard the diagnosis of a Chronic illness, more than once. Multiples are not unusual. Millions of patients can attest to that. And I have asked, “Why me?” But I have also asked, “Why not me?” One of the most important things that any patient of a Chronic illness can do is embrace it. Those words are easier said than done. I know. Still, they beg the question: Have you accepted your diagnosis?

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A Chronic illness is not the same as being terminally ill. Yet, there are five stages of grief involved: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The life you had is gone. This is your new normal. Many of the things that you once did are lost to an affliction that you didn’t ask for. And, if you are like most patients, you don’t feel that you deserve. It’s a lot to take in. It doesn’t seem fair. Why is this happening? You lament about what you could have done differently. Some seem to have done everything right and still they are diagnosed with a Chronic illness. It’s confusing, irritating and overwhelming. While you are trying to cope with medications, treatment, side-effects, lifestyle changes, symptoms and emotions … you may also be wrestling with your spiritual beliefs.

Faith is easy to have, when life is good. It becomes a different ballgame, in difficult times. Some people question their faith, when life gets hard. They may even become angry with God — confused by the turmoil that has engulfed their comfort zone. Often times, adults drift away from church and faith. There isn’t a specific reason. It just happens. The diagnosis of a Chronic illness can bring them back. They now need the assurance, hope and peace that faith provided. Those things they shrugged aside — took for granted. For others, who have never had a religious belief system, difficulty can actually lead them to faith. It’s a very personal walk, down an often lonely path. If you are struggling with your faith, you may be asking, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And that’s a good question. We don’t always understand why, at the moment we are going through an ordeal. It may take months — even years — to know. But one day, we will understand (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Personally, I believe that God has a plan for each of us. To get us where He needs us, God uses every tool. He doesn’t create our suffering, but he allows good to flourish from it. He knows that in these difficult moments, we are gaining insight … serving as examples … literally inspiring others. Good emerges. In Romans 8:28, we are told, “… God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

If you take a few moments to look through the Holy Bible, you’ll note that affliction and suffering are ever present. In fact, there are at least 14 words in Hebrew and Greek that translate to “affliction”. Think about that. Suffering is part of this earthly world. It always has been. None of us are immune. Chronic illnesses, i.e. Alcoholism, Mental illness, Atrophy, Leprosy, Epilepsy, Obesity, Glaucoma/Blindness, etc., were present in biblical times. What you are experiencing isn’t new. Such afflictions have been around for centuries.

Today, thanks to modern medicine, we have options that make living with Chronic illness much easier. Even modern society has changed — becoming more accepting of those who suffer from these diseases. Yes, there are still problems to be addressed. Awareness continues to be a need. The more people understand, the better off that we become as a society. Healthier living. Preventative measures. Learning has its rewards. We cannot control human nature. There will, unfortunately, always be individuals who are bigoted, who discriminate, who bully, who judge, etc. But we can pray for them. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

If you have a Chronic illness, work towards accepting it. Stay optimistic. Take the necessary steps — changes —  to manage your health. It will provide much needed stability to your life. Learn to live each and every day to the fullest. Appreciate what you can do. Maintain a clear perspective — set a few goals. Avoid additional stress. Count your blessings. Your life has changed before. Think about it. Perhaps, it was when you went off to college? Or when you entered military service? Or marriage? This isn’t the end of the world. This is a new journey. So embrace it, as I have. It isn’t the path that I would have chosen. And you probably feel the same. But it is well with my soul.

Have a Blessed Easter.

 

Reference Links:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness.aspx

http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2012/july-online-only/doesgodallowtragedy.html

http://www.jennifermartinpsych.com/yourcolorlooksgoodblog/2013/09/the-five-stages-of-grief-for-chronic.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-affliction.html

https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/diseases-bible

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

*Photo by Caleb Frith on Unsplash

The Healing Power of A Pet

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Those of us who are pet owners know how wonderful they are. We brag on them, dote on them, etc.  Those of us, who are also parents, may even distinguish between our children as “those with fur” and “those without”. Our pets live with us, play with us and travel with us. They comfort — even mourn — with us. They are a member of our family and we love them. But did you know that these adorable pets … with their soulful eyes … precocious personalities … cunning wit … and slobbery kisses … actually have the ability to heal?

The U.S. Dog Registry divides dogs (of any breed) into three categories:

  • Service Dogs help with a function/s for a person with a disability, i.e. Blind, Deaf, PTSD, MS, etc.
  • Emotional Support Dogs help people with emotional problems by providing support and comfort, i.e. Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders.
  • Therapy Dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. They are often sent, in the wake of horrific events, i.e. the recent mass shooting in Parkland, FL.

But what they all accomplish is that they make a positive impact on the people that they interact with. These pets improve the lives of every human that they touch.

Children with Autism were significantly more engaged, when animal therapy was incorporated into their sessions instead of using the standard approach. The children used more language. They exhibited more social interaction. All positive. All heathful.

Cancer patients have improved from pet therapy, also known as Animal-assisted Therapy or AAT. A session of animal interaction, lasting between 5-15 minutes, provides a welcomed distraction from difficult treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. It brightens their day, lifts their spirits and offers a myriad of benefits overall. In fact, AAT has proven to be so effective time and again for many illnesses that the medical community is embracing the idea more than ever before — regularly including it in patient care.

Seniors, who often live alone, also benefit from owning a pet. A pet can provide mental stimulation, erase loneliness, give them a reason to walk around the block and a companion to do it with. Pet interaction has the ability to lessen, even diminish, overall pain. And many seniors live with chronic illnesses that cause a lot of discomfort.

When we are bonding with a pet, we are in the company of a dear friend — a confidante. As a result, our blood pressure lowers … muscles relax … stress fades. On the chemical level, a pet decreases cortisol in our blood. It can raise levels of the brain chemical dopamine that makes us feel good. We are happier and more positive. And when we reach out … touching their fur … rubbing their back … talking to them … we experience an increase of immunoglobulin A. That antibody boosts our immune system. Hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin are released, when we are rubbing that fuzzy belly or rolling a tennis ball across the floor. Our mood is lighter. We’re smiling … laughing … enjoying life.

Have you hugged your pet, today? Have you felt the nuzzle of a cold nose against your cheek? Or was it soft purring? We all should be so lucky. That furry companion, who greets us at the door, is actually good for us!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/healing-power-pets

https://www.curetoday.com/community/mike-verano/2015/12/cancer-and-the-healing-power-of-pets

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm

https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/from-cancercare/animal-assisted-therapy-enhances-cancer-care/article/372518/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342

* Photo by the author

Choose Joy …

It’s funny how little things can emotionally move you. When I was very young, my mother took me on a trip to the local garden center. She said that a Dutch girl (such as myself) needed to start appreciating Dutch flowers. We picked out various bulbs — Tulip, Crocus and Hyacinth. Then, we went home to plant them. It was my first real hands-on experience, with gardening — filled with ancestry, excitement, dirt, anticipation, and beautiful results. In the decades long since, I’ve always had and admired Dutch flowers. Whenever I see them in bloom, no matter where it is, I have to pause to just look at them. And I always smile. It gives me joy.

Recently, I was doing some updates around the house. I wasn’t really looking for a wall plaque, but it found me. It was simple, in design — a bit rustic — painted with wildflowers and butterflies. Yet, its message leaped out at me: “Let it go … Choose joy”. Like those Dutch flowers, it made me smile. It literally uplifted me, if only for a few moments. Need I say, I bought the plaque? And I hung it where it can be seen, first thing, every day. I did this as a reminder to myself to choose joy — to live as happily as I can. And to let go of the negative.

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Faith teaches us that joy is an emotion and a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). That it is a matter of habit and virtue. And that it can be commanded. I’ve never professed to being a Divinity major. My walk in faith is purely based on my experiences in life. But in my humble opinion, God didn’t place us on Earth to be miserable. Scripture teaches us that “A joyful heart is good medicine …” (Proverbs 17:22). Remarkably, there are actually scientific studies to support this.

When we are happy, or joyful, our hearts are healthier. Our stress is lessened. Aches and pains diminish. Our immune systems grow stronger. And our lives are lengthened. Think about that, for a moment.

Psychology teaches us that happiness and joy aren’t exactly the same. Happiness is a vague emotion. It means different things to different people. And that it’s temporary, in duration. Yet, all agree that it is positive. Joy is also positive — possibly more powerful. But Joy, they contend, is like a belief. It is with us, for the long haul. Even when life becomes difficult, joy can find a way to comfort and uplift us.

There are ways to feel more joy and happiness, in your daily life:

  •  Choose to smile. You can make a conscious decision, each day, to have a good day.
  • Try Prayer or Meditation. It soothes the mind and soul. Relieves stress. Comforts.
  • Practice Positive Thinking. Acknowledge the simple things that bring you joy.
  • Be Grateful. Often times, joy/happiness is increased by recognizing the people & things that we already have.
  • Be More Active. Random acts of kindness don’t require Olympic training. Yet, they are fulfilling and inspiring. Try volunteering for a cause you believe in. You will feel joy, as a result of your involvement.

Society often times bombards us with negative things. But each of us has the power to choose. We don’t have to accept every negative that surrounds us. We can learn to let go and choose joy!

 

Reference links:

https://faith.yale.edu/joy/virtues

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_ways_happiness_is_good_for_your_health

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/03/why-does-happiness-matter

https://healthpsychology.org/is-there-a-relationship-between-happiness-and-joy/

https://ideapod.com/psychologist-explains-best-way-change-thinking-negative-positive/

* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

The Garden of Optimism: What is this place?

Did you ever find yourself wondering how life managed to lead, or drag, you down a certain path? Well, such is my case. When we find ourselves in such a predicament, we usually know how we got there. But sometimes we aren’t too eager to admit it. Still, there are times when life leads us into the middle of uncharted territory. Our reaction depends upon the circumstances, our perception of them and our willingness to take on the challenge. For me, personally, I am humbled and flabbergasted.

Throughout my entire life, I have always felt a strong sense of service — volunteering with various organizations, my church and within the community. But no one would have predicted that I’d become a blogger — including me. I’m not the most tech savvy person on Earth. I freely admit that. Still, God did provide me with a gift for words. One that I’m abundantly grateful for. And He molded me with a very tenacious spirit. So, why now? Why bother?

In all honesty, I have felt a calling. Divine, as from the Lord, but not in the pastoral sense. Persistent. Urging me. Whispering to my conscience. Telling me, of all people, that I need to reach out and do this (Matthew 5:16 NIV). I need to serve (1 Peter 4:10 NIV) others. I need to help them — to become their voice. So, here I am — a Patient Advocate.

I’m not a medical professional, though I’ve seen more than my share of them. I hold no degree in Divinity. My credentials are from personal experience. And, unfortunately, this is subject-matter that I know all too well. I have lived it, for decades.

By now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering where all of this is going. Patience, Sweet pea. I’m a Southern gal. We sometimes ramble like ivy on an arbor, but we eventually get to the point …

Mine is that our lives are like gardens. For a moment, consider the similarities. There are beautiful, bountiful years. And there are meager harvests. All of the usual things can make growing difficult. The rocks. The lousy soil. Even the daily grind. Too much heat, or stress, is harsh on a garden. And it’s harsh on us, too. The rain, whether in drops or tears, can wash away our plants … our plans … our dreams … even our deepest desires. Then, there are the things that we least suspect. The ones that we never wanted. The ones that, we so often told ourselves, only happened to other people. And our gardens are never the same …

This blog is a place of refuge and support. It is devoted to those who are living with chronic illnesses and their loved ones. I understand what you are feeling. Your garden and mine share common ground. This is about accepting that no garden is perfect, but all have beauty and purpose. It’s about realizing the potential of your garden — finding it. This is about living, each and every day to the fullest in His light (1 John 1:5 NIV). It’s about enjoying the sun on our face and the blooms that we find. It’s about allowing our bodies and souls to dance. Yes, dance — even in the rain. Come … sit a spell (as we say down South) … browse the pages of this site (there’s more than one). Let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

 

Blessings,

Julia

 

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* Photo by Kaeyla McGee on Unsplash