Friday, July 4, 2014

Lisa's Tale

Lisa was one of three children. She was the middle child, and in many ways she filled the middle child stereotype of being “lost” between her older and younger siblings. She never made waves, and felt like she lived in the shadow of her older sister Lauren. Lisa was the "easy" child for her parents, and never made demands. She also seemed to be the one who got all of the physical problems. From extreme food allergies, stomach problems, and tubes in the ears, Lisa seemed to get it all. Despite all her ailments she never complained, and she was so accustomed to being sick that many times no one noticed until she was very ill. Strep throat turned to scarletina and ear infections became ruptured ear drums. There were times when Lisa felt invisible.

Lisa was diagnosed with a rare illness in her early thirties. Although she was gorgeous, and still appeared healthy, the symptoms of the illness were overwhelming. She went from being a straight “A” student and an adventure loving girl to an adult who could barely function. She had numerous debilitating symptoms that made it very difficult to function. There was no cure for her disorder, and there was no set treatment protocol. The numerous drugs options left much to guesswork and chance to find the right combination. Even when a best treatment was found, it only provided a degree of relief. She could no longer work, and she lost the quality of life she so wanted to enjoy.

Despite the physical effects of her illness, the hardest part of Lisa's life was the judgment, minimizing, and avoidance that she faced from the people she loved. She had friends who walked away without any explanation, and others who told her things like if she would “just exercise” she would feel better. Out of everyone, the one response to her disease that hurt the most was her older sister's. Lisa craved her sister's approval but never felt that she earned it. She did not recognize Lauren's jealousy because of the amount of attention Lisa got growing up. Lauren was always mean and critical of Lisa. She continually pushed Lisa to "snap out if it." She went to the rest of the family and complained about Lisa taking advantage of the system, and her need to "get attention" and "avoid working." This caused so much stress that it not only affected Lisa emotionally, but physically as well.
Lisa's best friends became people online who had the same illness. She felt profound loss not only from a life impacted by illness, but from the people in it. If she could have made herself well, or even well enough to function more, she would have in a heartbeat. Lisa didn't imagine or exaggerate what she was going through. Very few people believed her. So here was Lisa, the invisible sister with an invisible illness who felt like she didn't matter. She didn't want answers from anyone: she had her support group for that. She wasn't looking for special treatment, but she would have given anything to be treated like everyone else. She just needed acceptance, even if people didn't understand.

Lisa's story is a familiar one. There are many people living with "invisible" illnesses, who on the outside don't appear to be sick, who don't act sick, and don't want to be treated as a sick person. They want as normal a life as possible. Finding a normal in this world living under such circumstances is hard at best. So many people unjustly judge others based on their own limited knowledge and experience. We cannot know what someone is going through if we have not walked in their shoes. God tells us in the Bible that to turn away anyone is like turning away Jesus.

None of us should judge a book by it's cover. If Jesus lived here today how would we see Him? I believe that most people would see Him as a crazy, homeless beggar. Just think about a man like this being the savior of mankind! Sick people, no matter what kind of illness they have, still have a lot to give. In some ways, they have more to give. When going through a chronic illness most people develop a very special kind of compassion and wisdom. The Christians I know who have a chronic illness also have a very deep, mature relationship with God. Each one is like a lost lamb, the one that our Shepherd leaves the flock to bring home.

Bear this in mind the next time you encounter someone whose illness you cannot see or don't understand. For those who have an invisible illness, please know how important you are! You are very special to Jesus, and you are very special period. It sometimes takes other special people to recognize this. Don't worry about the people who don't understand. Remember that there are others who do understand and some that are learning acceptance even without a full understanding. You may have less friends, but the meaning of your relationships can be much deeper. And I pray for you all!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Defining Community

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
~Matthew 18:20
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
~Galatians 6:2
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
~1 Corinthians 12:12

This is my first "assigned " blog topic in a long time! In preparation for a new online Bible Study from Proverbs 31 ministries based on the book "Limitless Life," we are asked to write about what community means to us. This is a good subject, and one I have not broached often.

When I think of the word community, I think of a neighborhood or a commune. I have a friend who lives in a Christian commune in a nearby town, and the bond that makes them a family is their Christianity. The bond that makes a neighborhood a community, is that everyone lives in the same place. So to answer that question in a simplified manner, I would say that community is a group of people that come together because they share a common bond.

As someone who has chronic, debilitating illness, and as a family member to someone who also does, I think community is essential. Whether it be in person or online, the need for a support system becomes more pronounced. God wants us to have relationship, we are made for it. He wants us to have fellowship with other believers, and He also wants us to spend time with non-believers as well.

God has been teaching me so much through the struggles of being sick and trying to find a "new" normal. Never before did I realize the importance of depending on Him, not just in the hard times, but all the time. Part of what he provides to me, is the people He puts in my path. Sometimes He teaches me through these people. Other times, they are here to help me in a more direct way, and it is as if He is speaking through those people to me. Sometimes it is so I will reach out of my own world and help them. Whatever the purpose, I believe that God's church exists far beyond the walls of a physical church.

So for me, as a Christian, community is my church. My husband and I have a Christian support group that meets twice a month for people with a mental illness and their families. Sometimes we have had 15-20 people, other times we have two people. It doesn't matter who comes, because God is present. We make God part of the journey and He speaks to us, through the Word, Sometimes He speaks to us through a voice; some of those times that voice is the weakest and in the most pain, but we are reaching, learning and growing. With God in the middle, we are growing together. And although many of us are so different, there is such a sense of trust in our group, and a respect for each other's differences. God may have brought us together through a sharing of illness, but the bonding is about our shared Christian walk.

Everyone has a different role; not assigned roles. I believe that when God brings us together, he provides people who all serve a different purpose, much like the parts of a body. No one needs ten arms, but certainly we need enough of the different parts in order to be able to function well. There are people who serve as the "core" group, who have a constant presence, and others will come and go. Whether the community is online or face-to- face, I see this happen. As time goes on, there always seems to be a divine timing to it.

My communities that I have been and am a part of have been a true blessing to me. I pray that if you have not connected with others and become part of a community, that you will find one. I hope that your eyes will be open to what God has just for you!

What does your community mean to you?
How does it help you cope with life?
What means the most to you in your community?
How do you think you have grown through community?

P31 OBS Blog Hop

Saturday, January 11, 2014

For The Love Of A Cat


 R.I.P. Tabby- 3/94-1/14

I just lost my almost 19 year old tortoiseshell cat Tabby yesterday morning. She had a long life, she went pretty fast and she had no pain. I am devastated. She was not my only pet, I also have three dogs; but she was unique.

My late, ex-husband found her in a paint shed at work when she was around 2 weeks old. Her mother had left her to die. She was so little she fit in the palm of my hand. She was so weak she squeeked rather than meowed. I started giving her milk in an eyedropper and the first few days I was lucky she took about that amount in a day. We didn't think she would make it. We went out and got kitten formula and started feeding her in a doll bottle when she finally did  perk up. Not only did she make it, she lived longer than any pet I have had. She grew up with cats and dogs, so she begged like a dog when she wanted something, and had no fear. With her small bone structure, she weighed 8 lbs at her heaviest, yet would walk up to my dogs (even my lab) and punch them in the nose. She ruled! When she wanted something, the scared dogs backed off. They all had an understanding though, and were like a little family. Later when she got older and I had her front claws removed, it didn't take long for the dogs to figure out that she no longer had any way to hurt them. She became as affectionate as any dog you would ever find. I talk about her and them like they are my children, and in many ways, it's like they are. You will never find the kind of loyalty and unconditional love that you find in a cat or dog.

I miss her and I miss the routine of her. I keep thinking she will be there watching me or I need to check on her. My children were little when I got her. She had kittens in the middle of my bathroom in front of all of us when she was young. She cuddled up with the labs I have had. She saw me through a divorce, my children leaving home, many moves, and even Hurricane Katrina. This cat lived in 4 different states, and when I look at it now, I think she was one of the few consistent things in my life.

This loss is also symbolic of change for me. I see everyone getting older, I see me getting older. I see my health declining, I see my children who have their own lives and no longer need me. These are all things that naturally occur in life, but there is such a sense of loss with it.

I know new things will come along and I will find a new "normal." I actually have it all worked out in my head, but sometimes the longest distance is between your head and your heart. Letting go of the former things is a very hard thing to do. Having been such a physical person, there are parts of me that have to change. It's not a giving up of any kind, but being realistic. I won't be hiking up mountains again, or power walking through nature. The list goes on. So here I am in this place between the old and the new. My cat is running free somewhere over the rainbow bridge. Someday I will be running free too, without the limitations I have now. I look forward to that. So I look to God and I pray, that tomorrow I'll see the sun. I know in my heart, that rainbows can only be seen after the rain. I feel lost in this place, but I know that God is here right next to me. That keeps me going, as this loss is making me face my other losses that I haven't fully grieved yet. I have a hard time letting myself do that, but I so look forward to reaching the other side, and finding my rainbow.

For all of you who are grieving, who have been facing loss, I pray God's comfort and peace during your journey through the grief, and that you will soon find your rainbow too.