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Rejoicing Through Pain

Romans 5:3-5

On the Brink

This last week we celebrated the first day of Spring! How I long for this time every year. I have struggled with depression or more like extreme melancholia, for as long as I can remember. It didn’t begin with a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia for me, as with some people. That diagnosis has made my periods of melancholy more difficult in some ways. Especially during the long, cold, dark months of winter.

For years, I have struggled with mild depression beginning the end of January and continuing sometimes through the end of April. As soon as the cheery Christmas lights are down and the landscape becomes a monotone brown my spirits seem to go down with the early setting sun. It becomes dark before the day seems to have begun, cold temperatures cause you to bundle up in layers of encumbering clothes and there seems to be no color in the landscape.

I have not experienced a debilitating depression in years and I believe it is only by the grace of God. It seems to me that when I am at my breaking point, on the brink of despair; that’s when we have a warm day to thaw my mood, or sometimes just a break in the monotony of the brown landscape with a clean, white coating of snow. I am given a glimpse of hope. It is my experience that God brings new life from the ashes of what was. Through the seasons, he shows us every year what can happen in our lives when we let Him in. He can turn the winter of our life (our sin, our loneliness, our life without Him) into a new creation, His relationship with us brings Springtime into our lives.

I began my relationship with Christ as an eleven-year-old; and even though it was June, my life was in the shadow of winter. I struggled for years with depression and despair even though I knew I was saved. My faith was strengthened through every bout of depression. With every season of pain, my hope was continually renewed. At one point, I was in such anguish that I wanted to end it all. I had a plan, a plan to stop the pain. As a seventeen-year-old, one time in the middle of the night I was prepared to put that plan in motion. I cried out to God, and he answered me. I didn’t hear a voice or have a vision, I simply felt like I was not alone. I felt I could go on, hope filled my heart. My faith grew that night and I know I am not walking this life alone. Although there are times that I still feel I would much rather be in heaven, I have not been that hopeless since. How grateful I am that God had a different plan for my life, a plan that ends in hope.

When we trust in Christ, he doesn’t promise us a life without struggle, a life without pain. To quote one of my favorite movies, “Life is pain…”.  However, what God offers us through our life is that he will walk beside us, that he will never leave us and that we can have a future of hope with Him. We might go through times of winter in our faith, but I take courage that there will be a new creation that comes from it. With my melancholy tendencies, I am not really a “glass half full” kind of person, but I have seen how God works good through even some of the toughest situations. Our struggles help us to have compassion for those who are suffering, even if it’s a different situation than what we have been through.

We are on the brink, we are on the brink of a new season of warm temperatures and growth. As I look forward to the green grass, the colorful flowers, the trees budding and birds singing; I am also looking forward to the new growth that God will have for me in this season of my life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away.

Behold, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/melancholy

https://quotecatalog.com/quote/william-goldman-life-is-painnb-x1mjBG7

If you are contemplating suicide and need help, please use this link:

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Gratitude

A little over ten days ago, America celebrated Thanksgiving. Now the country is in full preparation for Christmas…I wish the focus on gratitude could continue. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it isn’t because of the family traditions and good food; it’s for the focus on gratitude. I love the fact that the country where I live has a holiday where the focus is being grateful.  It has a long tradition in the United States; from the first pilgrims giving thanks for safe passage and a plentiful harvest, to President George Washington following the Revolutionary War, and even President Abraham Lincoln calling for a national day of thanks for our country during the Civil War.  For me, being grateful includes giving thanks for the many hardships that have made me into the person I am today and have only strengthened my faith through the years.

I’m not saying that I am thankful for the pain, but I am grateful for how God uses that pain to bring strength to my faith. Only one of the trials I have dealt with is living with a chronic pain condition.  Hardship of any kind is difficult to be thankful for; it seems wrong to be grateful for pain.  In truth, the world would have us act in the exact opposite way; giving in to anger, bitterness and despair.  It is only through the grace of Christ that any of us can be grateful for pain.

Everyone has things in their lives that are difficult.  There are adversities that seem harder than others to deal with, but how can we understand another person’s pain unless we have experienced our own.  I am infinitely more grateful for the blessings in my life because of the trials that I have come through and am happy that I can understand the pain of others.  Living with a Chronic Pain condition is something that I have had difficulty being grateful for experiencing.  Having an invisible disease can be one of the hardest things for others to understand and it has helped me to see that I don’t have to see the thing causing someone pain to give them comfort.

America is a blessed nation. There are so many people who are blessed with prosperity, but there are also those who are suffering.  I recently took a trip to New York City, and the suffering I saw on the streets and the people who just walked by saddened my heart.  Living in a rural community, doesn’t make me any better if I don’t help those who are suffering in my own community or teach my children to see those who are downtrodden.  I am thankful that I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my stomach.  Those of us who have so much, should be grateful for the blessings we have; even in our pain.

I believe that God uses the pain of this world to bring us closer to Him.  I also think most people can find something in their lives to be grateful for, even if they are suffering.  My question to those of you who are reading this and don’t believe in God, is: who are you grateful to?  If you say, “your parents”, “your boss”, or someone else, let me challenge you to think about where they got the ability to bless you.  I believe every good and perfect gift comes from above, and this Thanksgiving, as with every one for the past thirty plus years, I am most grateful for my salvation; that I have only through the grace, mercy and love that comes from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

 

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions – Abraham Lincoln, November 1864

Read the full proclamation here: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69998

Side Effects

Anyone who has ever had to take medicine is aware that there are both good and bad side effects.  Although if the medication does what it is supposed to do, that’s not really considered a side effect, just the intended result of taking the medication.  When you consider it, anything we put into our bodies has some effect on us.

If we put in healthy, nutritious food, then we reap the benefits of good health (hopefully).  If we gorge ourselves on junk food, then we have the side effect of our bodies not working in top condition or even breaking down.  If we treat our bodies right, then logically we should have continued good health.  There are also however those things that we never intended to put in our bodies that can cause us difficulties as well…second hand smoke, pollution, pesticides from foods we eat.

When you suffer from chronic pain, the medication you take can be life giving even though it is not necessarily essential for sustaining your life.  For instance, it can reduce your pain, it can help you sleep, or it can boost your energy.  When the medication that you put in your body does what it was intended to do, it can literally change your life.  This happened for me in November 2015.  My Rheumatologist increased one of my medications and it had the effect of rendering me nearly pain free.  For five years, I endured pain on a daily basis. For the past year I have had the pleasure of living pain free and it has truly been a blessing.  Putting something into my body that had the effect of what it was meant to do was incredible, unfortunately it was not without its negative side effects.  So many of the medications that the world provides even when they help and do what they were intended to do, have such negative side effects. But, can you imagine trying medication after medication without them helping with the added frustration of negative side effects? One medication I tried caused sever shaking.  It was so bad that I had trouble tying my shoes at times. When you are shaking so bad driving that you wonder if you can keep control of the car, it’s time to consider the benefits verses the consequences.

Like our physical bodies, it is important to consider what we are feeding our spirit. For Christians, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we should bear the fruit.  We should show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control as the consequence.  However, the side effects of sin can be so debilitating that the benefits of that fruit are almost hidden from sight.  I find that it isn’t the obvious sins that cause the most negative side effects, but the daily things we allow to squelch the Spirit that cause the worst pain. It is the sin that we let fester; bitterness, anger, resentment, selfishness, pride. These have the side effect of hindering our relationships, not only with other people, but with God himself.

If we are trying to allow the Holy Spirit to have reign in our life, but allow sin to cause these negative effects, our lives will not be complete. It is similar to my experience with this medication that rendered me pain free, it is not without negative consequences.  When we allow the Holy Spirit just a small portion of our lives, the side effects of sin can still touch our lives in negative ways. I am far from effective in allowing the Spirit complete control of my life and believe me, I do feel the effects of my sin on an almost daily basis.  It is a constant battle in this imperfect world to put “good” things into our bodies and spirits.  It is only by the grace of God that I continue to strive toward the prize (Philippians 3:12-15) that is waiting at the completion of my life and I thank Him daily for the grace and mercy He alone can give.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_Holy_Spirit

Bending in the Wind

A few weeks ago as I was watching a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, I noticed the warm wind blowing and realized that I was not in pain. Over the years, you begin to notice a pattern when you deal with chronic pain. There are certain triggers that make our pain worse. This does not apply to chronic physical pain only, but to those who suffer from chronic emotional pain as well, which I will admit that I have dealt with also. Depression, like a chronic pain condition has it’s own triggers; but I will save that for another time.

One of the triggers that I have noticed over the past few years, one that seems to cause me the most pain, is wind. There are many who acknowledge that the weather affects those who suffer from chronic pain adversely; and I do notice that the weather can affect my pain level. However, the days that I have felt the most pain are on those very windy days.

Most people don’t think of the wind as a bad thing. Unless it’s the strong wind of a hurricane or tornado, or the biting wind of winter; most view the wind as I used to. Our home is built on a hill in the middle of a valley and when we first moved here, I cherished our location because of the almost constant wind that blows. It almost always provides cool relief from the summer heat. In the Fall, I loved to see the wind blow through the colorful leaves or watch them blow like tumbleweeds across the lawn. Even in Winter, when the wind howled and blew snow like sand across a desert, it was a reminder to me of the greatness of God and made me grateful to have a roof over my head.

After I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, it took a long time for me to make the correlation between my pain and the wind. I was never one to be afraid of the howling wind on a stormy night, even though I have seen the devastation that a tornadic wind can do. I know where the wind comes from and believe that you can hear God’s still small voice in the wind if you listen. My view changed as the duration of my pain increased and I understood that the most pain I experienced was on windy days. It could be ninety degrees outside and clear as a bell; but if it was windy, I was in pain. Stormy days, those were the worst and it became difficult to hear God’s voice sometimes.

My pain masked His voice often, when I was focused on it and not on Him. Sometimes I allowed my pain to be an excuse for my bad attitude or my sharp tongue. However, sometimes in the midst of suffering, when we let go, we can feel His arms around us the strongest and hear his voice the clearest. When we let go of the physical, the emotional, the mental and just let God be who He is. To be completely honest there were fewer of those moments than I would like to admit. I failed often, to give up my physical pain and give Him reign, but those times that I did allow His voice to be heard, sustained me.

Even though I am now in less physical pain; I still have those times, those windy days that cause me grief. Although I am not bed-ridden on those days as before, they are a reminder to me of the days past. I am so grateful to God for this current relief I am feeling from my physical pain and will be, until the day it passes. I hope that I never forget those days where pain was bending me like a palm in a hurricane and that I can continue to rejoice in whatever suffering comes my way.

As I was watching the sun rise over the ocean and I realized the warm wind that was blowing was not causing me pain, I was listening to some worship music in one ear and the waves crashing against the sand in the other. I’m not sure if it was because I was worshiping God or if it was just that the wind was a warm ocean breeze, but God spoke to me all the same. “For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth-the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!” (Amos 4:13  ESV). There were two older worship songs that I heard that morning, both by the same artist…Coincidence? I don’t believe so. As I watched the sun rise over the horizon, inch by inch, the song “Everything Glorious” was playing in my ear. “The day is brighter here with you…YOU make everything glorious. And I am yours!” and as I walked slowly back toward the city, “How He Loves Us”, “loves like a hurricane, I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy”. Oh, How He loves us!

Rest vs Sleep?

It’s amazing how not getting rest can affect your life! For people with fibromyalgia, a good nights’ sleep is often elusive. Research shows that people with fibro often have sleep apnea and do not experience stage four in the sleep cycle which is where the body restores itself.  It is unclear if their pain effects their sleep or the lack of sleep increases their pain.  Either way, it means those who suffer with this chronic condition often also deal with chronic fatigue.

I don’t know about others, but those nights when I don’t sleep well, I feel as if I have been “awake” the whole night. I remember dreams but I’m easily woken by any outside stimulus (dogs barking, cows mooing in the pasture behind our house, light from the moon through the blinds, being too hot/cold). My family says I can fall asleep in ten seconds and yet I can hear their conversations and answer them “in my sleep” because I never get to stage three or four of the sleep cycle. I take naps often, which is not common in today’s society and although my close friends understand, it still feels like I’m outside the norm by doing it.

For those of us with sleep disturbances, whether from fibromyalgia or something else, it is difficult to see the difference between rest and sleep.  Although there are many times that I get as little as two or three hours of sleep, when I am relying on God for my strength I am able to make it through the day.  Matthew 11 states, “Come to me and I will give you rest”.  God is not saying here that you will always sleep if you come to Him, but the restorative rest that He alone can give is much more valuable than sleep.  He gives a peace that gives rest to your soul and allows you to rest even if your body isn’t cooperating.

For me, I was likely to get one good night sleep out of every four to five days, until December 2015. For some reason over Christmas break I began having a good night sleep every two to three days increasing my rest. I’m not sure why this new cycle began (We did increase one of my medications and I have less daily pain), but I have seen the benefits of it. My energy has increased and for some reason I began losing weight. Since Christmas I have been able to exercise without adding to my pain level and have lost forty pounds. For those of us with fibromyalgia, there are seasons in which we have less pain and I am thankful for the summer that I am currently having.

It is difficult to be happy and motivated when you feel tired all of the time.  For me it helped to rely on God for His rest and to take sleep where I could get it.  He has been faithful to help me at least have rest for my soul, even when my body wouldn’t allow sleep to come easily.  Whether it is the pain that causes difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep that increases our pain, God can give you rest.

Whatever the cause, I am grateful to God for the sleep that I am now getting even though it does mean I’m spending less sleepless nights talking to Him. One of the positive side-effects of not being able to sleep is that it gives me time to spend focusing on what I can do.  I have spent many sleepless nights praying…for friends, family, those in need and most definitely for rest. Although I am not often able to rest in my body, I have learned to rest in Him.

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/fibromyalgia-and-sleep

Living Day to Day

Several months ago I was in a bad place dealing with my constant pain. Although I know my experience with Fibromyalgia has been short compared to many family and friends who have also been diagnosed with this “chronic” syndrome. It had been almost five years of pain every single day…the achy deep muscle pain as if you have a high fever and there is no relief. I think I literally had only a handful of days since my pain began that I could really say were “pain-free”. That is free of the achy disabling pain that was my constant companion, not the other pain that goes along with fibro (tender points, headaches, sensitivity, etc.).

I came to the conclusion that as my life spread out in front of me, that this chronic pain would be my partner for the rest of my life. It had been five years and at forty-four years old, as I looked ahead all I saw was another thirty plus years of pain in front of me. When I looked at those years in front of me,  it was very difficult to see any hope of relief. This is not anyone wants; a life of pain. I asked myself how I would be able to serve God the way I longed to if I was so encumbered with pain that there were days that I couldn’t get out of bed?

Despair tried to take hold and on a daily basis I had to try to live only for that day. If I looked ahead all I saw was pain, but if I focused only on today I was able to live with at least some hope. By God’s grace I was able to have the strength to get the most important things done for my family. My teenagers were taken to their classes, lessons, sporting events, and friends’ houses. We didn’t miss out on the important parties or family gatherings even if I was in pain.  God gave me the strength to really try to start exercising which some days was nearly impossible. My motivation for exercise was not great, but my best friend who is a personal trainer helped me to at least start exercising three days a week.

My Rheumatologist had been encouraging me that exercise would help my pain. I was skeptical at best. So for eight weeks I pushed through the pain and forced myself to at least try it. Trying to persevere even with tremendous pain was nothing but the strength of God in me. Again, it was a daily giving up of what I wanted, which was mostly to stay in bed and force myself to exercise. It was difficult to keep going because I found no change in my pain level.

However, I did notice a change in my attitude. Having the empathy and encouragement of a true friend along with the constant taking up of my cross daily, helped me to put aside my despair and replace it with acceptance and even at times,joy. Through this process, God has blessed me with a decrease in my pain level overall and although I know I am not truly healed and the pain may return, He has given me a glimpse of a future where I can serve Him no matter what my life may bring.

My Journey…

My journey with fibromyalgia began in 2010. One warm November day, I woke with severe pain at my sternum. It was enough pain that I had trouble breathing. When the pain did not resolve after an hour or so I called my Primary Care Physician, concerned that I could be having a heart attack. She saw me within the hour and determined that it was not a heart attack, but the pain originated in my stomach. She was able to rule out other digestive organs and prescribed some medication. Over the next several weeks, the stomach pain continued but an achiness also started to envelope my body.

Finally in early February I had an EDG (Esophageal endoscopy) and was diagnosed with Barret’s Esophagus. This is a pre-cancerous condition. My uncle had been diagnosed with the same condition and only two years after, had passed away from esophageal cancer. I was concerned with having a pre-cancerous condition, so I was focused more on that than the increasing pain in my body and the other symptoms that were presenting themselves. However, it was increasingly difficult to complete my daily tasks and I continued to seek advice from my PCP.

By April, I was having continued stomach pain and the symptoms of achiness and fatigue were getting worse. I was doing my best to rely on God and trust in Him that this was just a season I would have to endure. I wanted to take the Barret’s Esophagus seriously and scheduled an appointment at Johns Hopkins with a gastroenterologist in order to have every opportunity possible for the best care.

In late April 2011, our church was having a healing service. At the end of the service, the pastor and prayer warriors asked for those who longed for healing to come forward to be prayed for and anointed with oil (James 5:14-16). As I was standing in the pew, I knew that I needed healing in my body and felt led to go forward. As my pastor and another faithful woman laid their hands on me, they asked what I needed healing from. I replied, “stomach pain and pain all over my body.” I had faith that Jesus could heal me and I trusted in Him to respond as He saw fit. As I was prayed over and anointed with oil, I felt a tingling come over my whole body and my pain gradually subsided.

I was not able to sleep that night because I had an incredible surge of energy, but the pain in my stomach and body was gone and I knew God had healed me. I finally fell asleep and when I awoke, the achiness was back; but I no longer had pain in my stomach. In the days that followed, the stomach pain did not return but my other symptoms increased. In May 2011, I had another appointment with my PCP and she told me she really thought I had Fibromyalgia. I am one of the lucky, I was diagnosed quickly and I have a wonderful PCP who takes the time to understand my symptoms and listens. She started me on a few medications, but the symptoms steadily grew worse and new symptoms developed as well.

I still believed that I had been healed, but I wasn’t sure how.  In April of 2012 I had an EGD performed at Johns Hopkins and the results showed no Barret’s Esophagus. I knew then that God had healed that malady, but I would have to continue to live with Fibromyalgia. In the years since, my faith has been tested by many trials. Although my Fibro symptoms have grown worse and my EDG’s have still physically looked like Barret’s Esophagus, all the biopsies have come back normal. Once I asked my doctor if the medication I am on could cure the Barret’s. She said that research had showed no cases where it had. I conveyed then that I felt it was God who had healed me of that, and although I have faith that He has, my Fibro journey continues on…

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