Pity Party RSVP

When one lives with a chronic illness, day to day life changes. The predictable becomes the unpredictable. Little things suddenly seem like big things. Activities that once were done with little to no thought now prove to be often difficult and sometimes impossible. And a body that at one time could handle things being thrown at it from all different angles no longer holds up as well under stress. All of these things are difficult and can lead to frustration. But for me, by far the most frustrating result of life with a chronic illness like mine is the fact that it is impossible to explain to friends and loved ones exactly what is happening inside. I have tried, even for my own benefit, to put into words the effects that my illness has on me. For someone like me, who likes words and enjoys the challenge of finding just the right ones, it is a source of extreme frustration to not be able to find them. I believe the misunderstanding that often exists between me and those around me is exacerbated by the fact that I look fine. If you were to walk into my house right now, you would see me sitting in a typical living room chair and typing on my laptop. In contrast, if you were to walk into the home of some that I know, you would not find them sitting upright in a chair. In fact, you wouldn’t find them at home most likely. To see these folks, you would need to travel to a local hospital where they are being treated for various illnesses. Many would have bald heads due to radiation and chemotherapy. There would be no doubt in your mind that these people would be unable to carry out regular daily tasks. I would dare to say that few, if any, would even expect them to do so. After all, they are battling a disease that is draining them of all their energy.

Before I go any farther, I want to be clear on a few things:

  • I am extremely grateful that I am able to be home, sleeping in my own bed, sitting in my own chair, and even completing tasks around my house that need to be done.
  • In no way do I even begin to think that I can compare my illness to those who are battling a disease like cancer. They are apples and oranges to each other.
  • I also want to be careful that I do not cross over into a pity party for myself. There is a fine line to walk when trying to explain an invisible illness without making it sound like the sky is falling in on that person’s world. Often that line is difficult to find. Often I have crossed it, but today I want to try to not commit that offense.

Those things said, I have to admit that lately I have found it nearly impossible to keep up with all that is taking place around me. I have done much of what I needed to do, but I also have missed out on things because doing those things left no reserve to do any others. It is the missing out on things that today has me battling the above mentioned pity party.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I were smack in the middle of the busiest years I had ever seen. We had four elementary school aged kids, all involved in multiple activities. I have written about this in the past so I won’t re-hash it. Suffice it to say that our calendar had so much writing in so many different colors (each kid and each activity was color coded and written out by the month on a large erasable wall calendar) that just thinking back to it leaves me exhausted! The thing is, though, it was all accomplished.  We never forgot a game or a practice or a kid (okay…one time I did forget to pick up one of the kids from the school, but it only happened once–I think). In addition to being mom and taxiing kids all over the Twin Cities, I was responsible for meals, laundry (those uniforms ALWAYS needed to be washed!), coaching various teams, a dog, a cat, cleaning of the house, a part time and sometimes full time job, world peace, world hunger…you get the idea. I was BUSY.

And I loved it.

I thrived in it.

My adrenaline never stopped.

Now, years later, one additional activity added to a fairly light schedule, throws me into a tailspin. The activity may be a wonderful event. It still causes stress. If the activity is a not-so-wonderful event, the stress feels ten times heavier than it should. Because of this unwanted effect of a chronic illness, I have had to begin the learning process of saying no to some things.

This is where I am today and it is frustrating me.

It seems life for me has been non-stop stress for the last couple years. Good things as well as bad things have contributed to that stress. The bottom line, though, is it doesn’t matter. Good or bad, stress is very real and I have found that I just don’t handle it as well as I once could. My body that once thrived on the stress of a busy schedule, now shuts down at it. This week it hit hard. I felt like Wile E. Coyote who, when chasing the roadrunner, was slammed head on by an ACME eighteen wheel truck and flattened like a pancake in the road. In those old cartoons, Wile E. Coyote pulls himself off the road, looking completely dazed, and shakes himself to return to normal. I have spent the week pulling myself off the road, but I have found that I have yet to be able to “shake myself” back to normal. I’m not even sure all of me is off the road yet.

Tomorrow is a special event at our church. They are hosting a women’s day retreat. In past years, the women’s retreat has always been held over a weekend. That meant driving to some camp somewhere and spending a couple nights on a most likely uncomfortable bed and eating meals that someone else chose. I don’t really do overnight things like that very well, so I have never attended. I spend many nights in hotels. I seldom sleep well in a hotel with my husband with me, so I know I wouldn’t do well without him in a cabin type situation. I’m also a pretty picky eater. At least when I’m out of town with my husband, we go to restaurants he knows I will like. At an overnight retreat, one never knows what will be served. From past experience, it seems everyone thinks women’s retreats should serve quiche. Why is it assumed that all women like quiche?

Back to the subject at hand…

This year, when the flyer appeared for the women’s retreat, I saw that it was not an out of town overnight thing. Instead, it was a day retreat in the ministry building–five minutes from my house. I was excited to go. I have felt the need to connect more at church and knew this would be a good chance to do so.  I checked with my husband and he said he thought I should go.

Guess who isn’t going to the women’s retreat though.

I simply do not have the energy to be gone another whole day, especially a Saturday. I’m not sure if I could get through the day without tears of exhaustion or frustration at my limitations. Another year that I feel as though I am missing out on something that has the potential to really help me grow more in Christ and possibly develop some friendships–friendships I desperately need now that we have moved and I don’t get to see the few friends I left behind very often.

People look at me and maybe think I am crazy. I look fine for the most part. People can’t see the constant shaking that takes place INSIDE my body. That is a very difficult thing to describe to people. People can’t see the struggle it often is to make connections to put words together that make sense. People can’t see the frustration that accompanies not being able to walk much of the time without some balance assistance. People can’t see that through my eyes, the world is usually spinning to some degree. People can’t see the level of exhaustion that often overtakes me. People can’t see that I need friendships even though I often struggle to make them because I don’t feel well or I have to cancel a get together.

I guess part of living with a chronic illness is learning to accept the difficulties it brings with it. I have tried to remind myself today that even though I won’t be going to the women’s retreat tomorrow, even though I really want to, God is still with me. He hasn’t abandoned me. He sees the shaking, the dizziness, the pain, the blurriness, and the heartache that comes with the realization that I am unable to do what I used to do. He loves me in spite of my tendency to sink into self pity mode sometimes. Tomorrow, I will try to think about Him and His constant love for and presence with me instead of the growth opportunities that I am probably missing. Come Sunday, it will be hard to go to church and hear the stories of all the wonderful times had the previous day. If I can make myself go, though, I will thank God for those who did grow through it and that I at least have the opportunity to be at church worshiping Him.

And I will probably have to ask forgiveness for the little pity party that I threw for myself.

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Gifts

I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts lately.

Maybe it’s because my love language is gifts. It brings me such joy to give gifts to those I love. Of course, I love to be surprised with gifts as well. These are not always a gift of wrapping paper and bows; sometimes they are a gift of a surprise dinner out or a cake brought to me by my husband just because he knows I love cake. I can’t unwrap these gifts, but they are exciting all the same.

Maybe it’s because in the span of two weekends I attended two showers–one a baby shower for my daughter and grandson, and the other a bridal shower for my soon to be daughter-in-law.

At both showers it was fun to watch the gifts being opened. As a child, I remember really looking forward to my birthday and Christmas morning. Every kid loves to get presents on those two days, and I was just like every kid. I was never one to peek before the actual day of gift giving arrived. My brother was, though, and on more than one occasion he ruined what was to be a fun surprise for me by revealing to me what he had found. I didn’t like to snoop because I enjoyed being surprised. I enjoyed the days leading up to the event, wondering what I would be opening when the big day arrived. Sometimes I could guess the contents of a gift package based on its size, shape, or the fact that I specifically asked for something. Many times I couldn’t guess and had to wait until I opened the gift to see what was inside. As an adult, I enjoy watching others open gifts, whether I was the buyer of them or not. It’s always fun, especially at wedding and baby showers, to watch the face of the gift receiver as she opens an adorable little monkey outfit (yes, my daughter opened one of those for my grandson!) or a beautiful tea set that will make what is currently the apartment of a bachelor look more classy after his bride joins him there. It is always nice to get new things, whether that be to replace an old worn out or broken item or just to have something one has never had before.

When I choose a gift for someone I love, I try to be mindful of the person’s likes and dislikes. For example, this month for my husband’s birthday, I wanted to surprise him with a dinner out. Now, we eat out quite a bit, especially since there are only two of us now and it isn’t too expensive to grab a bowl of Noodles or a pizza at Davannis. I didn’t want a run of the mill birthday dinner surprise this year. I wanted to take him somewhere I knew he would absolutely love AND somewhere we would probably not ever visit. Knowing that my husband is very much a carnivore and wanting to make him happy, I chose a steakhouse for his surprise. This wasn’t just any steakhouse; this was a Brazilian ALL YOU CAN EAT steakhouse! We were treated to piece after piece of wonderfully cooked steaks, chicken, and pork, some marinated with delectable flavors that danced on our taste buds. In addition to the meat, we were brought unlimited appetizers and salads. We both walked out of there stuffed fuller than we have ever been. I knew my husband liked steak, so I chose his gift in order to make him happy on his special day. I imagine if I told him I was surprising him for his birthday and subsequently drove up to the local McDonald’s, he would have been less than thrilled. It wouldn’t have showed him that I put extra thought into making sure he had a special gift; in fact, it may have made me look like I really didn’t care about his likes and dislikes. I knew I had made a good decision when he couldn’t stop talking about how good it was.

The right gift, whether it be a tangible package or something intangible like a grudge let go, can change a person’s day as well as a person’s attitude. When someone is having a bad day or is going through a difficult time, a gift from a friend, even if that gift is just a visit to encourage, can mean the world to someone.

Imagine, though, if my husband had left the steakhouse complaining about how full he was or how expensive it was. I would have felt horrible for ruining his birthday. Sometimes we do get gifts that maybe aren’t our favorite thing, but as adults we understand that the gift giver usually gives with good intention. In other words, grandma doesn’t mean to ruin Johnny’s birthday by giving him clothes. Johnny, being a child, can’t help but show his disappointment upon opening the box to find socks and underwear. As Johnny grows and matures, he understands that sometimes clothes are a blessing. After all, it is much more fun to spend extra money on fun things–whether one is an adult or a child– and replacing clothes that really need to be replaced is often not done.

This morning I signed onto Facebook and started scrolling through my news feed. I don’t always start my morning like that, but sometimes, while I am waiting for my body to cooperate with what my brain is trying to tell it to do, I scroll through news or Facebook on my phone. I came to a post by a Facebook friend, one I have not met in person. The post was a song that had touched this person’s life. I watched the video posted and began to think, as I have OFTEN thought in the past, how much I wish I could sing. I have repeatedly asked complained to God about not giving me the gift of vocal performance. I love to sing and always do so when I am driving or riding in a vehicle or if I am home alone. I have often wished I could be part of a worship team–especially the worship team at our church. They are ridiculously talented and every Sunday they lead me to the feet of Christ in worship. If I could only sing, I would jump at the chance to join them as they stand on that stage and boldly proclaim the name of Jesus in song. But I cannot sing–at least not good enough to be in front of people. Again this morning, I found myself grumbling toward heaven as I wondered why I couldn’t have been given the ability to sing. That quickly led to a downward spiral of thought as I wondered what position I am supposed to be filling in God’s kingdom work. I began to think how I don’t have the gift of hospitality (introvert here) nor the gift of encouragement nor the gift of mercy nor the gift of…Soon I found myself in a pit of self pity convinced that if I disappeared from the church, no one would notice anyway.

I know the Bible says that God gives His children gifts and those gifts are to be used to build His kingdom. I have always felt like the kid sitting on the bench when it comes to spiritual work. That’s hard for me since I was never the kid sitting on the bench. I was a starter–an asset to my team when I was on the field. In my Christian life, though, I am floundering. When I do attempt to get in the game, I’m lost as to the play that is supposed to be happening and I quickly excuse myself from the game so as not to be mocked for my lack of skill. While others are obviously gifted and using those gifts in wonderful ways, I sit by wanting to get in the game but fearful of being ridiculed for “doing it wrong”.  My bigger fear, though, is getting to heaven and standing before my Savior and having nothing to offer Him. If the Bible is true, and I believe it is, then somewhere in my created being resides a gift that I am supposed to be using for God.

The $64,000 question, though, is…

What Is It?

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Branching Out

The past few weeks have brought insane craziness and busyness to my life. Exactly one week ago today, our little grandson decided that his birthday would be that day. Mommy and Daddy were a bit surprised since he wasn’t due until the first weekend of April. He is the most precious bundle of cuteness and I couldn’t wait to get there and snuggle him! My daughter and son-in-law are completely smitten with him–they are going to be wonderful parents! There is something special about your daughter having a baby. As a mom, I still tend to think of her as my little girl. The pictures that decorate the walls of our home show her in different stages of life. I can remember when every picture was taken and to see her now, holding a little bundle of her own, is almost surreal. He is a beautiful combination of her and her husband with the blood of his grandpa and grandma on both sides coursing through his veins. I never really understood the impact of the phrase “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” until my little girl had a little one of her own. A new generation has started. It’s exciting to say the least!

In addition to the growth of our family through the birth of our grandson, our family will grow again in a few weeks when our son marries his beautiful fiance. Wedding planning is taking place in a flurry right now as the day gets close. One day after leaving our daughter, I traveled to a bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law. How fun it was to see her excitement in opening gifts that will be placed in the home they will soon share! Brand new dishes, fancy tea sets, kitchen utensils and other items given by people who love them and wish them only the best as two lives converge into one new family.

Today, while trying to recuperate from the last few months that have really taken their toll on me, I looked out the window that faces the woods behind our home. The trees are still bare from the winter cold and snow. Have you ever really looked at a big tree? Really studied it? The trunk of an established tree is round and often thick. Follow the trunk from the ground up with your eyes and at some point, you will no longer be looking at just the trunk of a tree. At some point, for some reason, branches appear. From those branches come more branches. And from those even more branches jet outward. When spring arrives and the buds burst forth and grow into leaves, the wide swath of leaf covered branches will provide a protective shade from the heat of the summer sun. They will also provide safe places for birds and squirrels to build their nests. A healthy tree will continue to grow and branch outward. Many trees in the woods behind me have so many branches that I am unable to count them.

As I looked at the plethora of branches sway in a March wind, I thought about the new branches that have already and will be sprouting from a union that began twenty-seven years ago when a tall, dark-haired man took the hand of a young woman and together they promised each other “till death do us part”. The promises made that day have been put through numerous fires and trials; the branch survived and sprouted four new branches. Now, with awe and wonder at how God weaves our lives into a wonderful work of art, I get to watch as our branches sprout new branches of their own.

Our tree is growing.

And I couldn’t be happier.

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Heartache

Dictionary.com defines the word heartache with the following:

emotional pain or distress; sorrow; grief; anguish

Each of those words could also be looked up in the dictionary and each would have its own definition relating to the others in the list. Most everyone has, at some point in their life, experienced heartache in some form. Of course, one’s perspective of heartache skews their vision when looking at those around them. For example, a child may be experiencing heartache because their favorite toy broke; a sixteen year old whose boyfriend dumped her for her best friend may feel her heartache is much more valid than the child’s over something silly like a toy. Going even farther, a twenty-three year old bride left standing at the altar when her groom-to-be changed his mind feels a heartache that she is certain is much more valid than the fifteen year old who lost her first crush. I could go on, but I believe you most likely get the idea. All this to say that, regardless of the reason for a heartache, it is not something a person in his right mind would look forward to experiencing.

Like most folks, I have had my share of heartaches in life. Some were of the type common to the majority of the population: a broken toy, breaking up with a teenage boyfriend, or not making the team. Some of the heartaches I have been given are not as common (although I am finding that really they are more common than I once thought): the loss of a baby, the loss of a home, the loss of a parent or grandparent, or the loss of health. Heartache is not a competition. I cannot say that my loss of a parent hurts more than someone else’s loss of _____________–whatever you can fill in that blank with that fits your circumstance. God designed us the same yet differently. We all have emotions, but some (like me) tend to be more emotional. We all have feelings, but some (again like me) tend to get their feelings hurt more easily than others. My reaction to a heartache may be much greater than yours would be to the same one, or perhaps it may be much less than yours might be. Regardless, hurting and heartache are very individual and none of us has the right to say that someone else is acting ridiculously over a loss.

So, why all the talk about heartache?

For me, one of the most difficult heartaches to deal with and accept is death. Death is so final. I remember when I was young–maybe eight or nine. The front of our house had large shrubs that had grown together to form almost a hideout. The shrubs were up close to the house, but I was able to crawl behind them and sit and just be alone in the shade and dirt. One time I crawled back there and lying in the dirt was a dead cat. We did not own a cat, nor did any of my friends. But, someone had lost a cat. I cried real tears as I went to get my dad. As he buried the cat in our backyard, he explained that sometimes animals know they are sick, so they go somewhere to be alone and die. I sobbed for hours for a cat I had no emotional attachment to. Several years later, I would get a phone call telling me that a young man I cared for very much had lost his battle to cancer. Kevin was my first real boyfriend. I was a teenager with a huge heartache that I didn’t know how to handle. Many years after that, I got a phone call telling me that my dad had passed away. In between those two events were heartaches of varying degrees. I am still alive to write about them, so I know that one can survive what feels like a heart broken into many tiny pieces.

Last week, my heart suffered another ache. My husband and I had to make a very difficult decision about our beagle. We had Yogi for twelve years and loved her dearly. She was our daughter’s dog originally, but the last several months, with all the kids moved out, she decided that my husband would be her human. Her world was complete when he would come home from work and allow her to jump up on his lap. She would let out a big sigh and put her head down in contentment. The tail end of those months saw her unable to jump, but doggy stairs did the trick. In the last couple weeks, she even struggled to get up those little stairs, falling off of them on more than one occasion. Her breathing was quite labored. Often we wondered if she would be alive when we woke up the next morning. Last week, she didn’t even show interest in her food. If you know anything about beagles, you know that is a huge red flag. My husband called our vet and made an appointment to put her down. That day was last Thursday. My heart is still completely broken. I miss her begging at the table for food. I miss her excitedly barking when we said the word “walk”. (She actually hadn’t been on a walk in a few months, but she faithfully was walked every night around 6:30–rain, snow or sun.) I miss putting her in the cute sweater that she hated so much! I miss her nose poking out the door when we would return home from an errand. I just miss her presence.

Today, my husband and I went for a walk on a beautiful path near our new home. It didn’t take long on a warm day like today for someone to pass us with a leashed dog. The heartache started all over again. I thought about how much she would have loved to sniff all the smells of a new path. I felt guilty for not walking her more and guilty for putting her down. The feelings of being a horrible person rushed in and grabbed hold of my hurting heart, tormenting me even more. Her box of treats still sits on the top of the desk. Her sweater is in a box on the steps. A piece of my heart went with her the day I petted her head as she breathed her last breath in the vet’s office. Right now, I wonder if I will ever heal…if the sadness will ever go away. It seems, right now, that will never happen. The heartache hits at unpredictable times and the tears flow regardless of how hard I try to stop them.

I miss you, Yogi, very much. Rest in peace little beagle. I pray I see you again someday and we can walk and sniff to your heart’s content.

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A Reminder

Today is not shaping up to be one of my good days. In fact, this week is going to be a very difficult week. As usual, I turn to writing to help me process some of what is going through my head. One thing that I have learned–and it has taken me a long time to learn it–is that the days of life ebb and flow like the waves of a sea. On windy and stormy days, the waves are high and extra precaution must be taken if one is in or near them. The wind and storms, though, don’t last forever. At some point, the seas will calm and allow for smooth sailing once again. On days like today, even when they seem to stretch on into weeks, I try to remember that this is not forever. In fact, some day, when my life on earth is over, I will live eternally in a place where all the tears will be wiped away forever–there will be no more sadness, no more depression, no more disease, no more pain, no more loss, no more death. On days like this, I cling desperately to that hope. The ironic thing is that I really love cloudy, dreary, rainy days. I feel so alive when I hear the rain fall! Somebody once told me that I was wired backwards. Maybe. Or maybe that is just how God made a few of us. (I haven’t met too many others like me, but I have met a few) After all, if everything God makes is good, isn’t rain then good? Isn’t snow then good? Isn’t wind and cold then good? And, yes, even sunshine must then be good. Maybe God created a minority of us to thank Him for the weather that the majority complain about. Regardless, the sunshine and warmer temperatures outside my window right now do nothing to alleviate the heaviness and sadness that weigh me down today. Today is one of those days that I could really use a friend. Having only lived in our new home just over a week, though, there are no friends to be found…at least not human ones. Again, I cling to the fact that the One who created me sees my loneliness today, that He sees my depression today, and that He understands all of why today is not a good day. I understand some of what is making this day–this week–so difficult, but do not understand the depth of the loneliness that I’m feeling today. I also remind myself that even though the loneliness is a very real feeling, in reality, I am not alone. The Psalmist said:

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121:1-2)

Yes, this day of sadness and loneliness may last and even stretch into two days, or three, or even a week. But it will not last forever. My forever is guaranteed by the One who saved me–guaranteed to be full of joy and free of anything that comes even close to being the opposite of that. As I fight the high waves of depression and sadness today, and most likely throughout the week, I know my head will be kept above the water. It may feel as though I will go under never to resurface, but feelings are fickle. The truth is that God will not let me drown in this sadness.

Today, I write to remind myself of this truth, for today, I really need to be reminded of it.

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Social (in)Justice

It’s been a while since I have written here. As some readers may know, my husband and I were scheduled to move this month. The weeks leading up to the actual move were extremely stressful; the move itself was even more stressful. It is behind us now, although it seems like the real work is just beginning. Boxes, which are scattered throughout the entire dwelling, need to be unpacked. Before unpacking, though, I feel as though I need to have an idea for the placement of the stuff that was put into said boxes. In the hope of just ridding the house of some of the boxes, I did do some unpacking. I have found, though, that I have had to rearrange items several times, and I am still not happy with the placement of things–especially in the kitchen. My kitchen is one space where I spend a great deal of time; it is important to me to have things placed smartly and conveniently. All this has definitely taken a toll on my already struggling health. It has been frustrating to not be able to accomplish as much as I feel I need/want to each day. One thing I am learning, though, is when dealing with a chronic illness like mine, it is not an option to skip breaks. Even though feelings of guilt stab as I sit and watch a Food Network show or read a book, it is something I need to do to prevent complete emotional and physical breakdown. Even with those breaks, yesterday was one of those days that it seemed everything caught up to me and flooded me with feelings of despair, exhaustion, depression and hopelessness. Some days, I guess, are just destined to be like that as long as I live in this broken and fallen world.

Speaking of a broken and fallen world, I am currently reading a book written about our culture in America and how Christians have and should respond to the events happening around us. I have found this book to be an honest, in-your-face look at the apathy and cherry picking that characterizes Christians today. I plan to review the entire book when I finish it so I am not going to give its title or author at this point, but I will say that this is not the first book by this author that has rocked my world and shaken up the way I perceive the new cultural norms in America. I have only finished the first few chapters of this book but have found myself nodding in agreement with what is printed on the pages. I’m sure there will be some who will be offended by what I write. That actually just proves the point the author is trying to make–many who call themselves Christians do not hold true to the teachings of the Bible. Instead, they pick and choose what they agree and do not agree with and present their own beliefs as that of all Christians. Some even go so far as to insist that if Jesus were walking the earth today, their beliefs are what He would preach to His followers. To those I would have to say, go back and read your Bible…really read it and study exactly what it says about so many of the modern day issues  about which “Christians” get on their soapbox.

A sneak peek into what I am saying…

Ask just about anyone about their feelings on the subject of human trafficking. This is usually presented as a group of young girls taken from their families–often with the consent of the parents–and eventually sold to men who will use them as sex slaves for thousands of men. The author actually visited a village where the majority of the girls between the ages of eight and sixteen were gone. Their parents willingly allowed them to leave based on promises from these horrible monsters that they could give them a better life. Most likely the parents do not realize the actual intent of these men and, since they are most likely feeling guilty that they cannot provide a better life for their daughters, they jump at the chance to have one provided by someone else. Most people, Christian or not, would agree that this is a tragic occurrence that happens all too frequently and something should be done to make it stop.

Another example could be in the area of poverty. Again, the author traveled to countries where living conditions were so bad that he became sick just walking through some of them. One man he met had an infection in his eye. With no access to medical care, the infection spread. By the time the author was introduced to him, his eyeball had fallen out of its socket and there was a gaping hole allowing one to peer into the man’s skull. It would be just a matter of time before the infection would spread to the man’s brain eventually taking his life. We in America may be outraged to think that this man, and millions like him, will die simply because no medical care exists for him. In addition to that fact, the majority of people who live in conditions described above also have no access to clean water. We often take for granted the shiny faucets found in nearly every home in America out of which flow clean water. Perhaps we don’t care for the taste of the water straight from the tap so we spend money to install something to filter out a few impurities. Maybe we skip the faucet water altogether and buy plastic bottles filled with pure spring water in order to enjoy the refreshment we crave and the substance our bodies need.

These are just two examples of subjects that many Christians, especially those of the younger generation, rally around and fight to do something about. It is called social justice in many circles and the modern church has taken up its cause with cries of human rights. And, it should. We should care about the young girls (and boys in many cases) sold into slavery and sex trafficking. We should be outraged that there are men, women, and children dying because they have no access to medical care of clean water. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The problem is, the modern-day Christians–especially those of the younger generation– have taken this concept and twisted it to make it say something Jesus never said. Yes, we are to love others–skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.– should not be the basis for who we love or do not love.

BUT…

Jesus also spoke the truth according to what God had ordained as right and wrong. No one could go to their Bible and find a place that Jesus instructed us to lie or steal or kill. Those things are wrong. Again, regardless of religious beliefs, most people know that it is wrong to kill someone because they have something you want. Most people know it is wrong to go into a store and take something without paying for it. God designed us in His image; therefore, we instinctively know right from wrong. The problem, though, is religion has tainted some areas of right and wrong. Even though in the very beginning of the Bible God, in creation, designed and defined male and female and pronounced them to be good, many today have taken up the cause of re-defining those roles. “Who are you to say that even though I was born a female that really I’m a male and I have the right to become that if I desire?” is something that can be heard often in today’s society–even within “Christian” circles. Or, “Who are you to say that if a man finds that he is attracted to other men that they shouldn’t be allowed to marry?” “Who are you to say that if a woman wants to take the life of the baby growing in her womb that it is a sin?” I am nobody to say those things. I don’t have to take the credit (or blame depending on how you look at it) for those statements. God defined all those things, and everything else, when HE created the world. HE defined man. HE defined woman. HE defined murder. HE defined life. The problem is, too many people, saying they represent Jesus, are stating things that go directly against what Jesus taught! Jesus never taught that murder is right; He never taught that men should marry men or women marry women. He DID teach that we are to love those people. Love, though, doesn’t mean condoning behavior. Let me say that again:

LOVE DOESN’T MEAN CONDONING BEHAVIOR.

If my child buys a gun, goes to a gas station, steals the money from the cash register and shoots the man behind the counter, I don’t applaud his actions. I also don’t stop loving him or her. My heart would be broken; I would be appalled at their actions, but my love for them would still be there.

Let’s stop picking and choosing the things we stand up for as Christians. If you are a true believer and follower of Jesus, then you do not have the authority to say that sex trafficking is wrong but gay marriage is okay. You do not have the authority to say that the murder of a man because he is black is wrong but taking the life of an unborn baby is okay. It doesn’t work that way. Either you are all in, or you are not in at all. Jesus himself warned that “On that day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord…” and I will say ‘Get away from me for I never knew you.”

How tragic to spend your life championing the cause of one injustice while supporting the cause of another and find when you get to Heaven that you hear the words, “Get away from me for I never knew you.”

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Ahhhh, Winter

If you don’t know me or can’t tell from the name of my blog or the title of my post, I love winter. I mean, I seriously love winter. I always have, and I’m pretty sure I always will. As a youngster, I didn’t notice that the majority of people around me were winter haters. I was naive enough to think that everyone else thought like me. I had no reason to believe otherwise. My neighborhood friends and I would make the most of the large amount of snow that fell in Western New York every winter. In those days, kids played outside regardless of weather. On a side note, it seems in these days and times, kids don’t even play outside in the summer.

But that’s another subject.

As I was saying, I am a winter lover. The lower the mercury drops in the thermometer, the happier I am. For example, this morning, where I live, the temperature when I woke up at 8:00 was -15 degrees. The windchill was -31 degrees. I put shoes on and grabbed the food for the birds and squirrels that were waiting for their morning meal. Stepping outside, I was greeted by the arctic cold as it hit my face. I breathed in deeply and smiled…nothing is invigorating as a sub-zero day. Perusing Facebook as I sat down with my own morning meal, I was greeted by post after post of complaints about the weather…

“So tired of this snow and cold.”

“Is it almost summer? Are we even going to have a summer?”

“Looking forward to summer!”

You get the idea.

I get it…I understand now that the majority of people in this world prefer summer over winter. “Why would anyone love winter?” they ask. “The summer means we can be outside enjoying sunshine and family and picnics and beaches and…” They go on and on singing the praises of summer. For this winter lover, it can get almost nauseating. Here is why…

The winter has a beauty all its own. The sun shines brighter in the winter, especially as it glistens off a newly fallen snow. A new snow is pure white–no blemishes. The Psalmist asked God to wash him so he would be whiter than snow—he knew there are few things that can describe purity and cleanliness as well as a fresh blanket of pure white snow. Even the nighttime is brighter when a new fallen snow lays on the ground. Nothing beats the feeling of walking into a warm home from the cold outside. It feels so…cozy. It just isn’t the same walking into a cool house from a warm outside.

Winter is a time of rest. I previously wrote about the importance of the land resting underneath the cover of snow in winter. I won’t repeat the points from that entry, but I encourage you to scroll down a few entries and read it. Beyond the importance of rest for the land, though, is also the rest for the human soul that winter can provide. A farmer works long hours in his field during spring, summer and fall. There is plowing, planting, watering, monitoring and harvesting to be done in those months. There is also concern as storm clouds build on the horizon and the farmer worries if a hailstorm might come and attack his crop. In the winter, though, the farmer is able to rest and plan for the busy time that will come when the spring awakens the ground. It isn’t just the farmer, though, that benefits from the rest that winter brings. Winter allows any of us, if we are willing, to recharge our souls. The cold and wind chill that comes with winter and forces us to stay indoors more often also gives us time to spend on hobbies—reading books that feed the soul, knitting afghans that may be given away to elderly nursing home residents, playing on the floor with children or grandchildren, enjoying hot chocolate by the fireplace (or just on the couch with your spouse if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a fireplace), journaling, drawing, painting, baking…the list could go on. The cold winter months allow for comfort foods from the kitchen as family gathers around the dinner table, no one rushing to leave for soccer or some other outdoor activity. Weekend afternoons can be spent napping, snuggled under a warm blanket as the winds howl outside. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that it is in the colder months that families come together to celebrate the two top holidays in our country—Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Winter, like spring, summer, and fall, was created by God and is, therefore, beautiful. I cannot say that I love summer, but I can say that there are aspects of summer that are beautiful to me. I love the apple blossoms on the trees as they hold promise for delicious fruit. I love the sound of katydids in the trees on a summer afternoon. I love a good thunderstorm and the smell of rain. A field of fresh strawberries brings excitement to my soul.

Each season has elements of beauty in it. Too many people, though, do not take the time to stop and see the beauty in the snow covered terrain of winter. I challenge you today, if you are reading this and the view outside your window is white instead of green, to stop and thank God for the rest that winter time can bring. Thank Him for the refreshment found in the cold air as it hits your face and wakes you up. Thank Him for the time to spend indoors with those you love, whether that be human or animal. Thank Him for fireplaces and hot chocolate and movie nights and fleece blankets. But most of all, thank Him that he did not make our world all one color or all one temperature, but instead, chose to bless us with changing seasons.

I know I will always be in the minority as a lover of cold and snow and ice.

I’m okay with that.

You can call me crazy or insane. I will probably feel the same way about you come July when the heat index is over one hundred degrees and I am feeling like satan has taken over my part of the world. It is then that I will light my pine tree scented candle and allow my mind to drift to the winter months that will surely come around once again.

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Some Days

Have you ever wished you had been created without emotion? For me, the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES!” Couple a chronic illness that results in extreme fatigue with an ongoing battle against depression, and you have the recipe for misery. It seems the better part of the last few years have been spent suspended in this cloud of fogginess formed by depression, stress, disease, change, and fear. That’s a pretty heavy cloud. There is a commercial on television, advertising an anti-depressant, that focuses on the daily activities of a cartoonized woman. She struggles to get out of bed, get dressed, walk her dog, make breakfast–all the things that many people get up and do every day without a second thought. Her actions are being narrated by a voice that suggests that depression is keeping her from enjoying the life she is meant to have, and even portrays her depression as a small, dark cloud that is always hanging above her head. When she moves, the cloud moves as well. There have been many days that I have felt like there was a cloud hovering over me. It blocked any light, and therefore any hope, and fed my mind with thoughts like, “Why am I even alive?” and “No one would care if I were gone.” If you have ever found those questions ruminating through your mind then you understand exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t had those thoughts take up residence and become your “best friend”…well, I can only say I envy you.

What if we had been created as beings incapable of feeling emotion? What would that look like in every day life? When I honestly answer that question, I have to admit that I don’t think I would enjoy life like that. Don’t misunderstand–I hate depression. It has stolen countless hours from me. It has caused me to doubt and mistrust not only those closest to me, but also God. I have wished more often than I can measure that I didn’t have to deal with depression. And, as if depression isn’t enough, throw in a chronic illness that easily lends itself to depression, and I often feel like I am being hit from all sides with the hopelessness and despair that comes with the dark clouded best friend. Yet, how boring would life be if we had no emotion? The excitement of children on Christmas Eve would be gone–replaced by stone faced humans just muddling through daily tasks. The joys of a new baby, the thrill of the first snowfall of the season, the satisfaction of a job well done–none of these would be experienced if we had no emotions. Of course, that would also imply that the loss of a loved one or a beloved pet would not result in sadness. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? No, I don’t think it would be. If a heart never knows sadness, how can joy be measured? The inverse of that is true as well–without joy, a heart wouldn’t know what true loss really is–and there are many times it is very appropriate to really feel a sense of loss. Knowing all this, though, doesn’t make living in a state of depression any easier.

The reality is we were created with emotions. The falsehood is that we have to be controlled by those emotions. This is a lesson not easily mastered. It’s much easier to be the marionette on the end of the strings of emotions. If our emotions are up, so are we; if our emotions are down, we are down as well. If, like me, you’ve become accustomed to living like that, you know how exhausting every day can be. On any given day, my emotional meter can swing from high to low and every point in between. On most days, it hits every point more than once. I liken it to many amusement park rides. The thrill of a ride is often found in its speed and unpredictability. A roller coaster, for example, makes a slow climb up a hill and then quickly drops, sending its riders into various twists, turns, loops, dips, and tunnels. Riders find that as soon as breath is caught from the initial drop, there is something else that takes the breath away. Life is like that, too. Joy can turn to heartbreak with a phone call or a pink slip. I remember several years ago when my husband was working for a large accounting firm. Those above him said they saw great potential for him in the company. They were grooming him for promotion–they had stopped just short of guaranteeing it. Imagine his shock when he went to work one day and was told he was being laid off. A promising career suddenly halted. Unpredictability is about the only predictable thing in our day to day lives on this earth.

Up and down.

Up and down.

Like a second hand on a clock that is always moving either up or down, so too will we if our emotions are allowed to be the boss of our attitude.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

While God created us with the capacity to feel, to hurt, to laugh, and to cry (among other things), he never intended that these feelings be our master. In his book titled Emotions, Dr. Charles Stanley said, “Our emotions often stand in direct opposition to our faith in the Lord and what He is achieving for us.” In other words, our hearts only have room for one head honcho. Just as a car has one steering wheel because it would be impossible for two people to be steering a vehicle at the same time, so too our hearts have room for only one to be in charge. The throne of our hearts cannot be occupied by fear and peace at the same time. They will constantly be battling for supreme reign. The ride will be a bumpy one if we let our emotions rule our days. I speak from years of experience. The six million dollar question, though, is how do we stop our emotions from mastering us and move toward us mastering our emotions?

It is at this part of the writing that I so desire to type something profoundly wise. I desire to lay out a formula or a special trick to mastering the emotions of humanity. Alas, though, I have no such trick nor do I know of any such formula. What I do know is that much of our battle with emotions begins in the mind. Aimlessly allowing thoughts to wander, at least for me, is often the catalyst to downward spiraling emotions. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that we are to put off the old self and be renewed in the spirit of our minds. The same concept is found in Romans 12–be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This is a process, not an overnight transformation. The process is written in verb form. Verbs, by definition, show action or a state of being. The process of renewing the mind–mastering our emotions–is an active process. We have to be mindfully aware that we need to be acting on something, not just once or twice, but over and over again. Since God is our Creator, only He is capable of renewing our mind. Our part in the process is allowing Him to do so by being in His Word every day.Every. Day. Sometimes, maybe, several times throughout a day. It is only by submitting to the will of the Creator that we will eventually gain victory over our emotions.

Feelings–emotions–are a gift from God, given to allow us to experience all that is around us on earth. They are a blessing but they should not have ultimate power over us. Depression is a formidable foe, at least in my life. I know God is bigger than depression, and I know He is more powerful than it as well.

Some days, though, that is hard to see through the cloud that surrounds me.

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Underneath it All

This morning I was scheduled to be in the city near where our church meets. For me, that is about a thirty minute drive. As I opened the curtains upon getting out of bed, I saw a few snow flurries fluttering here and there outside our window. As I started into my morning routine, the dog let me know that she needed to go outside. I hooked the leash, which was inside the hallway under the door that leads to the garage, to her collar and opened the door. I reached around to press the button that would raise the garage door. She stumbled down the stairs (she has been having increasing difficulties with her back legs) and went out to the patio. I decided it would be a good time to feed the outdoor critters as well. I slipped on some shoes that were in the hallway, grabbed the container of bird food, squirrel food, and an ear of corn for the squirrel feeder and headed outside. The snow had started to fall more heavily as I walked from station to station to feed the various outdoor creatures that I have grown to love taking care of. I have always been an animal lover and have always been sensitive to their care. The Bible says that God sees and takes care of the every sparrow; I like to think I am being one of God’s helpers as I provide food for them, especially in the cold months when the ground is frozen and food is hard to find. I checked the road conditions online to make sure my drive would be manageable–ever since my car accident, I have had difficulties driving when there is snow on the roads. Conditions were still good so I prepared to leave.

There are several ways that I can get to where I was scheduled to be. As I turned out of the alley and onto the road, I decided to take the back roads. The roads around our house were fine, so I figured the back roads would be as well. Besides, the back roads would be much less congested with other drivers, and since I have a tendency to get frustrated easily with those driving too slowly, I felt it would be much more relaxing. I made the turn that would take me back to the county road that would wind its way through farm country before emerging into the city of Maple Grove. As suspected, there wasn’t another vehicle anywhere around me throughout the country part of the drive. I was listening to worship music and enjoying the scenery as I drove. I passed farms fields where cows stood at a hay feeder, munching on the nourishment the farmer had provided for them. In other fields I saw horses, standing in the falling snow, not seeming to mind one bit the precipitation falling on them. At one point, a pheasant ran across the road in front of me. I slowed down to assure its safe arrival on the other side. I drove past miles of farmland. If the fields did not hold animals, they sat barren of any life. Most were covered with some snow, although one could often see the remnants of what was previously harvested–pieces of corn stalks frozen into what appeared to be dead ground.  Occasionally there would be a tree in the midst of a field. It too, would appear to be stripped of any life. Just six months previously, those trees, most likely, were adorned with leaves of green–leaves that would indicate life and growth. The beauty of the white snow that barely covered the miles of land could not completely conceal that what was meant to grow there, could not grow at this time. For some, there is no beauty to be found in winter. They look at the bare fields and bare trees and see only death–nothing that would indicate life or nourishment. The below zero temperatures just add to the body the chill that their hearts feel as the world lies silent and the fields lie empty.

I knew better, though. My dad grew up on a farm. He spent many hours in the backyard of our house in the suburbs tending to his gardens. Flower beds and vegetable plants bloomed year after year, providing our yard with beauty and our table with fresh produce. But, that wasn’t accomplished without effort. It took labor and time. My dad would spend hours in the spring, digging holes to carefully place the seeds or plants. In the summer, he would be found kneeling on the ground, patiently pulling weeds that threatened to choke his beloved plants. In the fall, he would harvest fruits and vegetables, and, after the first frost, he would pull the dead plants from the ground so they wouldn’t contaminate the soil. The snows of winter covered the dirt that once held the plants, but he used to tell me that the snow was very important to a farmer. The snow served two purposes. First, the snow served as added moisture to the soil, for in the spring, as the snow melted, the resulting water would soak the soil, allowing the extra moisture to be pulled deep into the dirt. For some plants, trees included, the snow that covered the soil in the winter allowed the plant to grow again in the spring. The roots of the trees would draw the water down to them so that, even though it may appear dead, the tree was actually being strengthened as the roots forged deeper into the earth. Second, the winter, and the resulting cold and snow, allowed the land to rest. If the sun always beat down on it and the rains battered it again and again, the farmland would be at risk of total erosion. New dirt would constantly need to be added in order to have enough depth for a plant, such as a corn stalk, to grow. Instead, winter provides a season of rest for the land. When the snow melts in the spring, and the sun shines to warm up the land, it will once again be ready for the farmer to cultivate it.

As I passed what appeared to be dead land on my ride this morning, I thought about what was happening underneath the snow-covered soil. What the human eye is unable to see is the rest that is taking place and the nourishment that will be garnered from the snow once it melts. I then thought how winter is like that in my own life as well. Living in the north means winters that are cold and outdoor activities are limited. Now, if you know me, you know that I am a lover of all things winter. For me, the colder the better. Beyond personal preference, though, it is the cold of the winter that allows for time spent indoors. It allows for time to feed my mind with good books that can deepen my faith and make me think. It allows for time spent with family, in front of a warm fire or cuddled up with a blanket and hot chocolate. It allows for more elaborate home cooked meals and the lingering around the table to just talk that the busyness of summer doesn’t seem to give. It allows for a season of rest from outdoor yard work–no grass to cut, no weeds to pull, no dirt to move. It allows for time to spend with God to strengthen my walk and draw me closer to Him. Underneath the exterior that may sometimes appear to be dead, God is working. He is working in my life and in my heart, giving me rest and showing me things that I may not see if I didn’t have this season to spend indoors away from barbecue’s and bonfires and the noises that accompany warmer weather. He continues to show me His care as the squirrels still scamper up and down the tree outside my kitchen window even when I forget to feed them or run out of food. The squirrels and birds are His creatures, and He sees and cares for every one.

The tree outside my window, the trees in the fields, and the fields themselves may appear to be dead, but I know better. Underneath it all, God is working, preparing for the day when the snow melts and the sun shines warm, and the life that is hidden underground now will once again appear.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

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Summer blues

One of the most difficult things for me since being diagnosed with MS has been the loss of complete and unencumbered mobility. There was a time, as recently as several months ago, that I got out of bed every morning, put on my workout clothes and headed to the gym. I loved my time on the cross training elliptical machine–music pumping into my ears as I got lost in the workout. After thirty minutes there I made my rounds to a few favorite weight machines. I would finish my morning routine with a mile or so walk around the indoor track. I found that when I started my day at the gym, I was more mindful throughout the day of went into my mouth. I found myself eating more fruit than brownies and drinking more water than diet Pepsi. I also found that I had more energy and that the jeans that sat in my dresser drawer were fitting a bit looser–loose enough that I was able to buy one size down. I was thrilled! Now, most mornings I have to force myself to get out of bed; in fact, I usually lie there for a bit trying to talk my body into connecting with my brain in order to start the “getting out of bed” process. The cane in my right hand is a constant reminder that I can no longer power walk an indoor walking track. The dizziness that is a constant companion makes thirty minutes on an elliptical machine virtually impossible if not dangerous. And, while I haven’t had to go back to the higher size of jeans, I do notice that my lower size ones seem to be fitting a bit tighter. It is frustrating to want to be able to do something but not be able to follow through with it.

This time of year seems to be the most difficult so far. The day after Christmas, as all the holiday and winter stuff is being marked down, the summer clothing is taking over that space. It has always been disheartening for me to see swimsuits and tank tops–I’m not a fan of summer nor do I like the skimpiness of summer clothing. This year, that disheartening has turned to an almost deep depression as I think ahead to a summer of not being able to be in the shape I want to be and to not be able to look like I wish I could. It also seems that the new year brings a host of people changing how they eat and exercise. A quick sign on to Twitter and Facebook leaves me bombarded with updates about weight loss and better health. I know how exciting it is to finally feel like one is making progress in the area of weight loss and better health. I now also know the other side–the side where one desperately wants to exercise but physical issues stand in the way of doing so, or at the least, doing so effectively enough to lose weight. It causes a snowball effect of thoughts and feelings, especially as summer clothing overtakes the bulk of sweatshirts that can hide some of what embarrasses me.

The thing is, I know there is more to a person than how much she weighs or what size jeans she wears. I know my husband loves me and would never say anything about the fact that I have gained a few pounds. But, there is such a loud voice in my head that screams that he really does mind and I am convinced that the revealing clothes worn by others is so much more satisfying to his eyes than an old lady who can’t exercise to lose the weight. These thoughts are just reinforced by television ads for summer clothing and beach vacations (not to mention the ads for Weight Watchers and the like), the barrage of tank tops and bikinis that sit at the front of Target stores, and the Facebook and Twitter selfies that are posted showing lean and trim bodies that have been freed from extra weight. I dream of the days when I was younger and could eat whatever I wanted with no thought of extra pounds. I think about just a year ago and how exercising made such a difference in my life. And again it is just a hard hitting reality that there is so much that MS has taken from me. I want to hike again with my husband. I want to snowshoe, take a morning walk, ride my bike, play basketball, rollerblade…all the things I used to do without a second thought. I find myself growing resentful and angry that I am unable to do what I used to do. That has bothered me because I know that God doesn’t want me to be bitter, jealous, or angry. What do I do? How do I just accept that this is how it is? Just a tough day I guess. If history holds true, I may feel differently tomorrow…

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