Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Keep Growing!

My wonderful husband makes me coffee each day before he leaves for work (and before I wake up.) So, every morning I have a few minutes to sit and stare out the kitchen window while I wait for the microwave to heat up my coffee. As I look out the window, I see all the trees and brush growing on our mostly wild property. In particular, I see a tree just outside the back fence that I have come to think of as “my” tree, because I see it as symbolizing my life with a chronic illness.

Several years ago, we had a terrible ice storm, which coated all of our trees. The ice was so heavy that the younger, thinner trees bent over with the weight of it. After the ice melted, all the trees gradually returned to their normal upright position over the next few days, with the exception of this one, which has remained bowed over ever since. Somehow, it was so damaged by the ice that it was never able to spring back. For years, I would look at it and think that maybe it would eventually get back to the way it was, but it has never happened. However this year, I noticed something that is absolutely amazing: at the top of the arc, new growth has appeared, reaching straight up! It’s as if the tree has realized it’s never going to unbend, so it better start growing upward in the only way it can - from its new “top!” It’s just getting on with its purpose in life as best it can, which is to grow up toward the sky.

And that’s what got me thinking about the parallel to my own life. Over thirteen years ago I was “bent over” by an illness. Most people would have recovered normally from it, and gone back to “standing upright” (full health.) But I never did. I’ve remained “bent over” (chronically ill) all these years. I was too damaged by the illness to go back to normal. BUT, even though I’m bent over, I’m still growing! I’m growing out from my illness! Just because I’m chronically ill, doesn’t mean my purpose in life is over! I’m still sick, but my life still has meaning. I can still grow. It’s not the growth I would have wanted, but it’s still growth. 

And the alternative can also be seen in this photo: off to the right you can see a tree that snapped off because of the weight of the ice. That could have been “my” tree. It would have been easy for me to just give up on my life and dreams, because of my illness. All of my hopes and plans were dashed. I could have just snapped in two. But I didn’t. I decided that even though I’m bent over, even though I’m not like a “normal” healthy person, I wouldn’t give up. I chose to keep growing, just as “my” tree has!

Maybe life has left you “bent over” too. Maybe you thought that you could never grow again, because of the damage caused. But that tree is living proof that you can keep growing, keep living. I see it every day, and it reminds me the God can create good out of any situation, any life - no matter how broken. If that tree can do it, so can I. And so can you!

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Peace That Passes Understanding

All Christians are familiar with Philippians 4:7 which reads:
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” 

That’s the King James translation. Other translations are even more expressive:
  • And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [NASB]
  • And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [NIV]
  • 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. [New Living Translation]
I have always loved the idea behind this verse, even as a little girl. It spoke of the “bigness” of God, and of God’s amazing power - that we could have peace even when it didn’t make sense to. I believe that at various times in my life I experienced that peace. But now, I am living in that peace. 

Allow me to explain.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or you know me personally, you know that I’m chronically ill, and have been ill for over 13 years, now. Prior to that, I was a hard-core amateur athlete, and I had a rewarding career that I loved. But because of the illness, I had to give all that up. In fact, I had to give up everything - even going to church - because I just didn’t have the energy to do so. As the years passed and I never got better (despite many prayers and many doctor visits), I obviously struggled to find my way in this new life I had. I eventually came to the point where I placed all my trust in God, because I knew that God is good and God is love. I didn’t understand why God didn’t heal me, but I still trusted that God could make something good come out of even something as negative as a chronic illness. It’s been a long journey, with many, many ups and downs, but here I am 13 years later, and I am at peace. And this peace doesn’t seem to be going away! Even on my worst days, there is still this underlying feeling of peace and contentment. 

Now, don’t misunderstand me - I still have days when the unfairness of it all hits me hard, and I feel angry and depressed. But even in the midst of those difficult emotions, I am somehow at peace; I don’t feel consumed by the dark feelings - they’re there, I acknowledge them, I feel them, but they don’t seem to outweigh the peace in the depth of my soul. It’s really quite incomprehensible, if you look at it logically! I mean, seriously, just think: I lost a job I loved (which also meant a loss of over half of our family income), I lost my sports that practically defined who I thought I was as a person, I lost my church, I lost my volunteer activities, I lost almost all of my other hobbies and interests. I have lost SO much! And on top of the loss, I feel terrible, physically. Every single day. No matter how long I sleep, I never wake up refreshed. I feel like I have the flu 24/7/365. And yet I have peace.

It truly does surpass comprehension and understanding!

All I can say is, it’s God. This peace is not of my own making. My natural tendency is to worry and to overthink things. But somehow in the midst of this incredibly difficult life, I have peace. When I gave up my need to control things, when I put my trust fully in God, the peace that passes understanding arrived! And it looks as though it’s here to stay. I certainly hope so!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I've Got This!

It’s now two days from the inauguration as president of the US a man who is a proven liar, a proven sexual predator, a proven misogynist, bigot, and xenophobe. A man who is trying to reduce the freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, not to mention freedom of speech.  A man who was endorsed by the KKK and Nazis, who has appointed a self-avowed white supremacist to his staff. A man whose candidacy and election has torn the fetters off of the dark side of our country,  causing an eruption of hate crimes unprecedented in our history. On top of this, we have a GOP led Congress attempting to repeal the ACA (with no replacement in sight), and with plans to gut the EPA, the Endangered Species Act, and to remove funding from Planned Parenthood (the latter in the name of being “pro life” - completely ignoring the fact that abortions are at an all time low, due to the availability of birth control, which Planned Parenthood provides!) The governmental checks and balances that our founding fathers created are all out of whack, with the GOP in control of Congress, the White House, and due to their refusal to let President Obama to appoint someone to the vacant spot on the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court. And they have demonstrated a complete disregard for the welfare of anyone in this country who is not white and rich. How are we to live in such a country - a country that looks more and more like pre-WWII Germany? How do we do this?

It’s so very easy to look at all of this and fall into despair and hopelessness. I have to admit, I was in that pit for a while after the election. I just didn’t see what I could do to combat all the evil i was seeing in our country. But I have crawled and scratched and pulled myself out of that pit for a variety of reasons. First, I donated money to groups that are fighting for people’s rights (for a list of such organizations see this earlier blog post.) I also made a conscious effort to be aware of all the people and groups that are rising up and taking action, instead of just focusing on the negative. And I prayed, of course.

Through all of this, what I have come to understand about myself is that my whole life has molded me into someone who is made for such a time as this. Let me explain. From a very young age I considered myself an athlete. i got into running track in grade school, and continued throughout junior high, high school and college. I also added cross country and basketball, which meant I was in training throughout the entire school year. And after college, I spent years playing soccer and softball, and then got into bicycle racing. This means that I know how to work hard. I know how to work with others to accomplish a goal. I know how to face adversity and keep trying. I know how to look at something that seems impossible, yet go for it anyway. I know how to fight! I was not the fastest runner on my team in high school, but my coach put me on the anchor leg of the relay because I would never, ever give up! So for the majority of my life, I have had these lessons of perseverance and tenacity ingrained in my very soul.

And then 13 years ago I got sick and became chronically ill. As my life slowly became constricted and lessened due to my physical limitations, I learned to stay positive in the face of this loss. I learned to not give into despair and hopelessness, in spite of living with an illness that has no cure, one that has left me completely disabled and mostly housebound, taking away the things I loved to do. I learned to face a life that I didn’t want, that was unfair, that was so freaking hard! The lessons I learned from a lifetime of athletics translated perfectly to facing a life with a chronic illness.

And, guess what? These are the same traits that I need to live in such a time as this! I know how to fight a seemingly hopeless battle. I know how to not give into hopelessness and despair, despite what life throws at you. I know how to work with others to achieve a goal. I know how to live in a country ruled by Nazi oligarchs! My whole life has prepared me for this!

So, yeah, I’m not giving up. I may not be able to change the country on my own, but if we go down, I’ll go down fighting! On my deathbed, I’ll be able to say I fought the good fight. I ran the race so as to win. I stood up for the oppressed, I spoke for the helpless, I fought for the rights of my brothers and sisters. I know how to do this. I’ve got this!