Great Is Thy Faithfulness …

When life is going well, it’s easy to profess one’s faith. I have heard many do so. And, for the record, I do not doubt their sincerity. They are describing their spiritual journey, thus far. But the real test of faith for anyone comes through difficulties in life. Hardship. Suffering.

God promises us many things. He keeps each and every one. But an all-inclusive membership into some “comfort club” isn’t one of them. Christianity isn’t that. It never has been. In Scripture, He actually warns us of the hard times that will eventually find their way into our lives (John 16:33) and of His own discipline (Hebrews 12:7). Christianity isn’t easy. But it is fulfillment in life … a deeper understanding … a walk with God. And, like the trials we face, it transforms us … molds us … into something greater (Philippians 1:6). The Lord sees to that.

 

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     “I have chosen the way of faithfulness …”  — Psalm 119:30 (NIV)

 

Sometimes as we struggle with a Chronic illness, or watch a loved one do so, it’s difficult to see a reason or worthwhile purpose. It’s hard to imagine that any measure of good can ever come from it. Yet, the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s possible for good to come from horrific things (Romans 8). Imagine that.

Our suffering may seem too long, or unnecessary. We may wonder, “Why, Lord?” Doubts may eat away at us. That’s not unusual. We are all human. And fear is a powerful thing. Still, we wait … we pray … we trust. We cling to our faith, because we believe that God keeps His promises. When it would be easy to ask, “Why me?”, we know the more correct question is “Why not me?” No matter how difficult, or how long the road may be, we are not alone. The Lord is with us. We will get through it … each of us … because great is our faithfulness.

 

Reference Links:

*Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash.

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The Greatest Of These Is Love …

We usually talk about Chronic illnesses and treatment, management, awareness, etc. But, for a moment, let’s talk about others effected by the disease — family and especially caregivers. 

No matter the patient’s age, or the specific illness involved, a Chronic condition effects more than one. Family members must also cope. Some may worry about genetic factors. Others may feel guilty, if they live far away. A few may have difficulty accepting the diagnosis at all. Caregivers, God bless them, are juggling everything — the needs of the patient, the family, doctor visits, medications, work, etc.

It isn’t unusual for a caregiver’s life to be drastically changed, by their new role. Some will put their careers on hold — hoping for a return to normalcy in a short time. Others literally see their professional careers end, as the role of caregiver consumes every minute of their day. Many allow their own health and well-being to go on the back-burner. This often creates additional health issues (for the caregiver). Weeks turn into months … then into years. It takes a toll. The caregiver finds himself or herself doing things they had never imagined doing, i.e. administering shots, buying diapers for a parent, protecting the patient’s rights, or watching a child suffer with pain. There is nothing easy about being a caregiver. It is a very mentally, physically and emotionally challenging role. And previous experience in no way means that you are adequately prepared for being a caregiver, again. Each patient, each illness, is different. 

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” —             1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Twice, in my life, I have had the privilege of being a caregiver. I use the word “privilege”, because in some ways it was rewarding, i.e. close-knit talks, deepened relationships, special moments, etc. It was also highly stressful and at times downright scary. My first experience as a caregiver was for my father, 1989-1990, as he battled cancer. The second for my mother, in 2008, when she battled cancer.

Despite the common denominator, they were two vastly different experiences. My father was terminally ill, upon diagnosis, with lung cancer. He ate anything that he wanted and pretty much did anything he wanted, until his death. No medications to administer (seriously). No use of oxygen (seriously). His radiation treatments also went well. He truly lived every moment of life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky. I realize that, now. But at the time, I lived in high anxiety of what might happen. My mother was just the opposite. With Mom, everything that could go wrong … did go wrong. I charted over 20 medications, daily. She had every unusual side-effect to chemotherapy that a patient could have. No nausea or hair-loss (seriously). In the end, she was beating the cancer but succumbed to the worst of these side-effects (a pulmonary embolism or blood-clot). It was frustrating and heart-wrenching. The last thing that she asked of me was to sing. So, I sang … and sang … as she drifted into an unconscious state … gasping for every breath. I would rest for a couple of hours and start singing again … tears streaming down my cheeks.  Then, I’d pause … pray hard … and sing some more. This went on for 10 days. And by the grace of God, I managed. I was with her, voice and all, till the end.

If you know a caregiver, then you know the love that he or she so unselfishly gives. You may know a few of the burdens that they are carrying, i.e. responsibilities to the patient, their family, their job, etc. You may even know some of their fears. So, please, let them know that you care. Offer to sit with the patient, for a couple of hours. Ask if there is an errand that you can do for them, i.e. pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Drop by with a warm casserole for dinner. It may sound silly, but you’ve just taken a task off of their “to-do” list. You have lightened their load and offered support. Many caregivers will never ask for any help. They have their reasons. And, often times, they will neglect themselves before they do. But you can give them the little boost that keeps them going. Because without that caregiver, rest assured, things would be much worse.  So, give them a break … a hug … show your appreciation … share some love. They need it, as much as the patient does!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/faqs/faq-blood-clots-cancer/

Fishing For Our Youth …

My uncle used to love to fish. Even when his body was struggling with Chronic illness and he needed a walker to steady himself, he found a way to go fishing. I asked him, once, “What are you fishing for?” I suspected trout, walleye, or crappie. Maybe, catfish. All were common in the waters of Missouri. With a sly grin and a chuckle, he replied, “My youth!”

For those living with Osteoarthritis, or OA, life may feel like one long fishing trip … day after day … week after week … searching … fishing for their youth. The aging process happens to all of us. Some more quickly than others. One day, we are in our prime. The next, we’re getting a certain card in the mail — officially labeling us as “Seniors”. And while we ponder how time took advantage of us … fooled us … turned us into silver versions of our former selves, we must also deal with what it has done to our bodies. Age plays a significant role in many health issues, including OA.

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Osteoarthritis affects about 27M Americans and globally 300M. It is a degenerative joint disease and the most common Chronic illness of the joints. Although people of any age can get OA, it’s usually diagnosed in those over age 65. It is also the leading cause of disability in Seniors. But, please, don’t panic. Every case is different. Most patients will not require joint replacement surgery, in their lifetime. Some will. And while there is no way to reverse the damage done by the disease, there are ways to help OA patients live better.

If you have been recently diagnosed with Osteoarthritis, your Rheumatologist will discuss treatment as well as lifestyle changes with you, i.e. losing weight, reducing your cholesterol, regular exercise, eating healthier choices, medications, etc. As with any Chronic illness, your mindset is extremely important in dealing with OA. Optimism isn’t always easy, especially if you are battling pain and mobility issues. Some days, you may feel pretty overwhelmed. But hang in there. Be patient. Make some changes. You are worth it. You might even be surprised at what you can accomplish … enjoy … and share with others. No, you can’t reel in your youth. None of us are that lucky. But you can feel better … have less pain … be happier … and continue to stay active. And like the millions who are taking this approach, you can enjoy living!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Osteoarthritis

https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/what-is-osteoarthritis.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925

https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/q-and-a/living-with-arthritis/hobbies/does-flying-and-cabin-pressure-affect-oa.aspx

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322603.php

*Photo by William Malott on Unsplash

Consider His Footprints In Your Life …

Most Christians have heard of the prose “Footprints In The Sand”, written by Mary Stevenson in the 1930’s. They may own a copy. It has appeared on many plaques, mugs, t-shirts, etc., over the years. It’s authorship has even been debated. But, for a moment, let’s stick to the message of the poem — not marketing or legal wrangling. The poet reflecting upon her life, asks the Lord, why He wasn’t walking with her through the most difficult of times. And He responds, “The Times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

Wow! For any Christian, those words are profound. Scripture teaches us, in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” But have you ever stopped to reflect upon how this verse applies to your life? Have you stopped to consider the times, as the poem describes, where just one set of footprints can be seen? How many times has the Lord carried you through the sand of life?

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For many, it’s easier to forget the worst of times than to reflect upon them. They stick the bad and ugly, in a tightly locked box … somewhere in the back of their memory … safe and out-of-the-way. It’s not that they aren’t grateful. It is how they cope. But when you live with a Chronic illness, the struggle can be overwhelming … frustrating … even depressing … for long periods of time. Most of these patients don’t have the luxury of tucking the worst of moments away and forgetting. They live with the initial struggle, daily. Then, there are complications that add to that struggle. The setbacks can seem endless. Scary. Lonely. At such times, even the most devout of Christians may wonder if the Lord has abandoned them.

Does the latter describe how you or a loved one is feeling? If it does, I encourage you to read Mary’s poem. Imagine your life as footprints in the sand — the Lord’s footprints right beside your own. Imagine that long stretch of beach. Sometimes, the sand is warm and enjoyable. The kind that you want to wiggle your toes in. Other times, it feels cold and hard. Unpleasant. Perhaps, it’s even painful to walk on? And then, if you will, consider how many times there was just one set of footprints. His footprints.

The Lord was there, in the worst of times. He has carried both you and me. Not just once or twice. His presence wasn’t fleeting, in our lives. He’s been there for us, many times — taking us through our trials and tribulations … rejoicing in our triumphs. Even when our faith was shaken, the Lord has been there every step of the way. And He will continue to be there … taking this journey called life with us … and carrying us if need be. His strength has lifted us … guided us through our darkest moments. He has answered our prayers … calmed our fears. We weren’t alone. We can see His footprints in the sand. When we needed him, He was with us. And He is with us, now. If you are like me, that knowledge will give you the courage to keep going … to keep walking … to keep fighting every hardship. Warmer sand lies ahead. He will get us there. May God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

*Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

Be Not Afraid …

Fear. It is our most primal instinct — key to our survival. Nothing motivates us like fear. And nothing makes us more uncomfortable. When you have a Chronic illness, you know fear. Some know it all too well. You live with it, daily. In fact, patients with a Chronic illness are three times more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety. Depending upon their diagnosis, as many as 40% can experience mental and emotional distress. It’s a burden, to say the least. 

Living with a Chronic illness is a lot like living on a roller-coaster. There are highs and lows, curves that toss you around and cork-screw days that leave you nauseous. Coping with the upheaval isn’t easy. Sometimes, you grasp for stability and comfort. Symptoms bring an array of problems. Pain alone can be overwhelming. Then there are the other things … medical bills, insurance issues, side-effects to medication, surgery, complications, various types of therapy, your job, family, etc. All bring you more stress … more worry. And, yes, fear. 

What works for one patient may not help another at all. There are no guarantees, with treatment or life. And the unknowing can be hell. The sheer feeling that you have lost control is both irritating and embarrassing. Feelings of uselessness can haunt you. The lack of mobility is scary. Thoughts of disability may keep you awake at night. Some patients don’t want to burden their families. They fear the thought of it. Yet, they need help. Others are facing end-of-life issues and making very difficult decisions. It’s a sobering moment. A daunting task. And many patients fear death itself.

 

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“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”     — Deuteronomy 31:8

 

If you or a loved one is living with a Chronic illness, be not afraid. You are not alone. Though your days may be a struggle and your nights long, scripture teaches us not to worry … to trust in God. He is always with us. I say this, not as a theologian. I offer it, from experience, as a believer. My faith has sustained me, for decades. Without it, I couldn’t live with multiple Chronic illnesses. I couldn’t cope with the throes of it. But through the grace of God, I do so daily. And when fear envelopes me, I turn to Him. I trust in Him. He remains my light through this constant storm … guiding me … giving me the strength to go on … and always reminding me that there is hope for tomorrow. 

If you are struggling to manage your Chronic illness, take a moment to talk to God. Prayer between you and Him doesn’t have to be a formal prayer. It can be done casually, on the fly. Will it ease your fear? Soothe your pain? Medical research on the power of healing prayer has nearly doubled, in the last decade. If the results weren’t positive, they wouldn’t be interested. The Lord knows your suffering and your problems. He knows your heart — your needs (1 Samuel 16:7). He’s waiting. He’s listening. And His peace does bring comfort to the body as well as the soul.

 

 

References:

https://www.psycom.net/chronic-pain-illness-anxiety

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-main-ingredient/200909/the-most-powerful-motivator

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1016/j.ejheart.2008.04.011

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

*Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash

Kindness Matters …

Our relationships are like the seasons — they change with time. Some grow warmer and others are colder. Some may be harsh. Others are soothing … understanding … and loving. How these relationships evolve, or change, in part depends on each of us. Why?We change, i.e. our health, our jobs, our priorities, etc. Often times, that change can effect our relationships — even strain them. Yet, our relationships are an important part of our lives. And that is all the more reason for us to be proactive.

As winter approaches, we pull out our winter clothes. We may even buy a new coat, boots, a scarf, or all of the above. We make an effort to prepare. We take the time to consider what is, or may be, needed. As summer approaches, we do the same. Our relationships need that same kind of attention. It doesn’t matter who your relationship is with, i.e. spouse, partner, significant other, caregiver, children, parents, co-workers, etc. All need and deserve consideration.

None of us are the person that we once were. But we can still be our best, despite age or Chronic illness. We can reach out — nurture ourselves as well as our relationships. And we can be all the better for it. But to do so, we need to embrace kindness.

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“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”   —   Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

One the surface, kindness is the quality of being considerate … generous … friendly. But, often times, it requires courage and strength. Though it isn’t regularly seen as such, kindness is a skill. There are different ways that we can practice kindness. We can look at a person, or group, and identify what they need. When we do so, we strengthen the relationship between us and them. Simple gestures, i.e. a smile, a hug, offering a compliment, or running an errand are acts of kindness. A card, an email, or a phone call are also excellent ways to extend kindness. Sometimes, the most helpful acts of kindness are candid and direct. They show our concern as well as providing much needed honesty and insight.

Kindness is linked to happiness and contentment — ours and someone else’s. It has  psychological and spiritual levels. Kindness promotes our gratitude and our empathy. It can encourage the will to live and provide hope to those who feel life is hopeless. Kindness has the ability to connect us, one-on-one or as a group. Kindness can bond an entire community — strengthen it. And Kindness can be good for our own health.

If you, a loved one, or neighbor has a Chronic illness, kindness can be a godsend. Talk with them. Talk to their caregiver, or yours. Talk candidly. Tell them what you need. Ask what they need. There is no shame in asking for help. Nor does it take a great deal of effort to offer some. Little things can and do mean a lot. All of us, chronically ill or well, need help from time to time. Last, but not least, remember to be kind to yourself. Love yourself.

Self-kindness has the ability to promote better health, in patients who are chronically ill. Most Chronic diseases involve pain, fatigue and/or a decrease of functioning. Self-kindness will allow a patient to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. It enables all of us to better cope with stress, setbacks, etc. Self-compassion, or self-kindness, is even being considered for use in clinical settings. Like optimism, it’s a positive thing. And the rewards are worth reaping.

May God bless.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mdedge.com/jcomjournal/article/146122/role-self-compassion-chronic-illness-care

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201711/why-random-acts-kindness-matter-your-wellbeing

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

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importance-kindness

*Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

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