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Reclaiming Your Life: The Place of Biblical Self-Care in Chronic Illness Management

side of the bed. Gradually increasing my walking is another goal. Yes, there are days I don’t feel up to exercise, but on days that this is an achievable goal I start my day with some light exercise. Another area where we can become more active is by doing my household tasks.2side of the bed. Gradually increasing my walking is another goal. Yes, there are days I don’t feel up to exercise, but on days that this is an achievable goal I start my day with some light exercise. Another area where we can become more active is by doing my household tasks.

I’m washing the breakfast and lunch dishes, a job I can do in less than ten minutes, and one other small job that needs to be done most days. When you live with the limitations of chronic illness, pacing yourself is very important, but for me a small job that takes around ten minutes is doable, and it takes a little of the pressure off of our daughter, who deals with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

SELF-CARE FOR THE SOUL
Our souls are made up of our mind, will, and emotions. Romans 12:2 deals with our minds and thoughts.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do your thoughts line up with the truth of God’s Word? Or is your thinking “conformed to this world”? Renewing our MIND to see our lives through the lens of God’s Word is an area of self-care many of us need to work on. Lasting changes, even those that mainly affect the body, must start in the mind. That’s because our actions are a direct result of what our thoughts are focused on.

The apostle Paul spoke about our WILL in Philippians 2:13, saying we are to work out the salvation God has worked in us through His Spirit, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” While God won’t violate our self-will and force us to do His will, He will work in our will to help us embrace His will and then to empower us to do it.

The third area of our soul is the EMOTIONS. A passage that has helped me many times when my emotions are out of control is found in Philippians 4.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

SELF-CARE FOR THE SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 4:34 encourages us to be holy – set apart for God’s use – in both our spirit and our body. Just as our bodies need physical nourishment, our spirits need spiritual nourishment.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do you have a daily time in God’s Word? Are you taking time to listen to see if God has some truth that you need to make it through the obstacles before you today? Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scriptures are spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth.

Prayer is equally important. Prayer is an acknowledge of our need for and dependence upon a God who is bigger than anything we may be facing.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV ‬‬

This is no where near a complete list of all the areas where self-care would help us better deal with the daily challenges of life with chronic illness. But it gives a starting place for choosing some self-care actions that will enable you to better manage the daily challenges of your life. I encourage you to share in the comments an area of self-care that has helped you cope better with the limitations and struggles of living with chronic illness.

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Is Mindfulness Meditation Something Christians Should Try for Pain Relief ?

One of the most difficult problems of living with one or more chronic illnesses is chronic pain. I personally have lived with chronic pain since 1975, and I’ve used a variety of treatments including over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, supplements, physical therapy, braces, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS unit), ElectroCorticosteroid and Hyaluronic acid injections, and several orthopedic surgeries in hope of relieving the pain – with minimal effect in most cases. One thing I have shied away from is mindfulness meditation for chronic pain.

Focus on the Family says of mindfulness meditation:

“Mindfulness (some use the word grounding) is characterized by meditation and relaxation techniques. The idea is to become more self-aware. You pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in that moment — without purposefully deciding whether they’re good or bad, and without becoming overwhelmed or overly reactive. In short, you tune in to what’s real right now.”

Many reputable universities (such as Harvard) and medical facilities (such as Mayo Clinic) now recommend mindfulness meditation for chronic pain. What is mindfulness meditation, and is it something I should try as a Christian for pain relief?

Mindfulness meditation can be individual mindfulness meditation, sitting alone in a quiet comfortable space, usually with your eyes closed and not focused on anything specific to begin with. It often includes concentrating on various areas of your body, one at a time.

Or it may be guided mindfulness meditation, which involves listening to someone either on a recording or in person, who will prompt you to relax into a meditative state and then guide you through the meditation.

Sometimes guided meditation uses imagery, asking you to picture specific things in your mind. Guided meditation may include Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), when you focus on relaxing each part of the body, one at a time, to take the tension away from each muscle.

All of these are recommended by some physicians and counselors, so it’s important to decide ahead of time what you will do if mindfulness meditation is recommended as a part of your pain relief.

Opinions about both individual and guided mindfulness vary within the Christian community. Focus on the Family mentioned the following cautions to those considering any secular kind of meditation therapy.

  • Secular mindfulness is based on an unhealthy degree of self-focus.
  • It supports emptying the mind, which can expose people to demonic influences.
  • It encourages escape from reality.
  • It sometimes promotes a one-with-the-cosmos worldview.
  • The concept of “mindfulness” is rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation.

All of these concerns are valid. Secular mindfulness encourages you pay attention only to yourself. In contrast, Scripture teaches us to have the mind of Christ and to evaluate everything in light of our vertical relationship with God and Jesus.

Mindfulness meditation can be compatible with a biblical worldview if it is rooted in Scripture and has a vertical focus on connecting with the God who created us and loves us with an unfailing love. Some faith-based counselors use this form of mindfulness meditation as a therapy tool. If you are considering mindfulness meditation for pain relief, make sure you work with a genuine Christian therapist who will guide you to the truths of Scripture. For me, personally, the decision has been made. I don’t want to use any kind of mindfulness medication, because even when it is wrapped in biblical principles it’s still rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation.

Next week, we will be looking at Biblical Meditation, the kind of meditation the Lord clearly calls us to participate in.

El Roi, The God Who Sees Me

Life with chronic illness can make you feel very alone.

You go to a new doctor and leave the office feeling like you were not listened to. After being diagnosed, your earlier dreams have been sidelined. Your life now feels as if you have been assigned to a place of insignificance, and you are powerless to change it. In other words, chronic illness often causes us to feel marginalized, overlooked.

There is a story in the book of Genesis about a young woman who was very familiar with these emotions. Her name was Hagar, and she was an Egyptian servant, purchased by Abram for his wife Sarai. Her story is told in Genesis 16.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” Genesis‬ ‭16:1-2‬ ‭(all verses are in ESV‬ unless noted)‬

A woman’s fertility—her childbearing ability—was of great importance in Bible times. A woman gained a sense of value by her ability to give her husband many sons. Those who could not conceive suffered greatly emotionally.

But Sarai had a plan to give Abram the son he wanted. Basically, instead of asking God to heal her barrenness, Sarai decided to take things in her own hands. And Abram went along with her plan. The story continues:

“So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” Genesis‬ ‭16:3-6‬

Sarai now decided Abram was to blame for this whole situation. Abram’s response: “Hagar is your servant, so do whatever you want with her.”

Sarai mistreated Hagar so badly that she ran away from her mistress. As Hagar flees from Sarai, God reveals to this lowly servant the name of God that is the focus of today’s blog post.

“Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Then the angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, And you will bear a son; And you shall call his name Ishmael, Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.” Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?””Genesis‬ ‭16:7-13‬ ‭NASB1995‬‬

This is the only time that this name of God is used in Scripture. But we see this name demonstrated if not used in many other portions of Scripture. One of my favorite is Psalm 139, which begins with these words.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Psalm‬ ‭139:1-4‬ ‭‬‬

Yahweh is the God who sees us. He knows our every thought and hears our every word, and He is acquainted with all our ways. He is ‘El rŏ’î, the God who sees you and me!

El Roi, the God Who Sees You and Me
The God Who Sees

Prepare the Way for His Coming

People get greedy, grabby, and grumpy at Christmastime. We’re greedy when we obsess over excess while others go without basic needs. We’re grabby when we insist on drawing attention to ourselves when the glory belongs to God alone. And we’re grumpy when we forget that our worst day is often a thousand times better than most people’s good days. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves over-indulging, over-spending, and over-committing, none of which are healthy, helpful, or healing in any way for us or others.

This quote from a YouVersion Bible devotional based on Susie Larson’s new book Prepare Him Room: A Daily Advent Devotional, stood out to me this morning. Christmas is a time when we need to guard our attitudes, especially when our circumstances are less than ideal. The weeks of Advent are a time to prepare our hearts for Christmas, the celebration of His first coming.

This Christmas is an unusual one for our family. It’s a season I’ve looked forward to, fully expecting we would be settled in our new home and decorating for the holidays as part of the process of setting things up.

But that’s not how things turned out. Hours before we were to close on the sale of our new home, the buyers backed out. Because of this, the family we had planned to buy from had to put the property back on sale. This Christmas, another family is living in the house we had fully expected to be ours.

God pushed the “pause button” on our plans, and as a result our Christmas plans were changed. Even decorating our house for Christmas underwent change, since every open space is filled with boxes we had packed before our plans changed. Decoration had to be minimal, with a tabletop tree to bring some color and our manger scene to help us remember the reason for the season.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the first coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This season is a reminder that we are never alone, that Jesus came to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came to bring light to our darkness. He came to die as the Lamb of God, paying the price for our sins. And now He lives in us through the Holy Spirit. His love is constant. And we are never alone, no matter what circumstances we may be facing.

Advent is a time for heart preparation. Many of my readers deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness, and when you add other undesired circumstances having a right attitude doesn’t come naturally. I think that’s why this devotional really touched my heart. I needed to make a choice to face this holiday season with an attitude of gratitude instead of grumbling, a time of giving thanks for the good things we are partaking of in the midst of less than desired circumstances.

Even as John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus’ first coming, let’s prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is a time of remembering the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We prepare our hearts by choosing an attitude that reflects the One whose birth we are celebrating. Let’s make room for Him to work in our lives, humbling ourselves and allowing Him to continue the good work He has begun in us.

A song to remind us to prepare the way for His coming:

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Coping With Emotions During the Coronavirus Pandemic

“Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.
They may blow up, like clouds, and cover the
eternal things that we do most truly believe.
We may not see the shining of the promises—
but they still shine! His strength is not for one
moment less because of our human weakness.”
– Amy Carmichael

As I sat down to have my quiet time this morning, my feelings were definitely not where I wanted them to be. These stressful circumstances all of us have been walking through for the last three months and the uncertainty concerning what lies ahead have me feeling numb on the inside. Weariness, along with the physical pain of a flare of sciatica, made staying in bed today much more appealing than getting dressed and spending time reading God’s Word and praying. But I knew from personal experience that would not have been a wise choice.

I’ve learned that how I start my day sets the direction for the whole day. I have a morning routine that usually begins with half-an-hour of gentle exercise. It only took me a couple minutes to realize this wasn’t going to be a part of today’s routine. So I got dressed, prepared and ate a quick breakfast, and drank a cup of coffee. Then I took some unhurried time in God’s Word and prayer.

God created us with emotions, they are a gift from God, one aspect of our being created in His image. Jesus, who lived a perfect, sinless life, experienced a wide range of emotions. He was angry at the Pharisees because of the hardness of their hearts (Mark 3:1-6), yet had compassion on the crowds who came to hear Him speak (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:23). He wept with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazurus (John 11:35). He experienced deep agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, even while choosing the will of the Father above His own (Mark 14:32-34). Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature.” In Jesus, we see what our Heavenly Father is like, including the emotions that are a part of His nature.
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Emotions are a part of our regenerated nature and a vital part of connecting us to other people and to God Himself. But unfortunately, emotions are also wired into our fallen nature. Sin and Satan have access to them and will try to use them to manipulate us to act in ways that are not pleasing to God. That’s why we can’t allow our emotions to determine our choices, to rule our lives.

In her book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, Lysa TerKeurst wrote:

“Feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate where your heart is in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to dictate your behavior and boss you around. You are more than the sum total of your feelings and perfectly capable of that little gift . . . called self-control.”

By their nature, human emotions are highly variable. They were never meant to determine how we walk. God has provided His Word and the Holy Spirit as reliable guides. The only way to overcome the ups and downs of our emotions is to fill our minds with God’s Word, our source of truth. And remember, God has also provided the Holy Spirit to guide us into His will for our lives. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

We can’t control the things that happen to us each day, but we can control how we think about them. Emotions are rooted in our thoughts, so the only way to bring them under control is to change how we’re thinking. Sometimes, we just need a change of perspective, a decision to look at our circumstances through the lens of God’s Word instead of through our disappointments and anxieties. Romans 12:2 calls this renewing our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ‬

I’d like to close with a prayer I received in my email, a prayer from New Life Ministries that helped me get on track this morning when I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster ride. This simple prayer helped me to change my perspective and not allow my emotions to be in charge. If you’re struggling emotionally, I encourage you to make this your prayer.

“Heavenly Father, You are my strength and my refuge. As I journey through this day, I will encounter events that cause me emotional distress. Lord, when I am troubled, let me turn to You. Keep me steady, Lord, and in those difficult moments, renew a right spirit inside my heart. Amen”

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Growing in the Grace and Knowledge of Jesus Christ

“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

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If you’ve watched the news on television recently, or read a newspaper or even posts online, the reports have been full of warnings concerning the Corona Virus. It’s wise to be on guard and take seriously what we hear from dependable sources on how we can protect ourselves. But to do that we first have to sift out the lies from the truth.

Today’s Scripture begins with another kind of warning, one that is the theme of the book of 2 Peter. This letter was written just before Nero began his persecution of Christians. ‬‬Peter recognized his time on earth was coming to an end (2 Peter 1: 13-15) – shortly after this, he was martyred for his faith – and this final epistle was written to both warn and comfort the church in a time when their future looked unsettled. It was a time when the church also needed to recognize the lies and stand on the truth.

After encouraging the believers to remember that God’s power had given them everything they needed to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3), even in the midst of the problems they were facing, the beloved apostle closed the book with the above two verses. To these who had been entrusted to his care, Peter was saying it’s time to be on guard, to both the dangers from without and complacency and heresy from within.

After warning the believers to maintain their secure footing in the midst of the false teaching that had infiltrated the church, he says the words that I’m focusing on today. “Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In essence, he was reminding them to become aware that the main business they were there for was growing in God’s grace and in their knowledge of Jesus.

GROWING IN GRACE

Dwight L. Moody said concerning grace, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal…Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor. It’s a way to live. The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.”

One definition I’ve read is that grace is the power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. By grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross we are saved. Saving grace is explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
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But grace isn’t only for salvation. We need God’s grace every day we live on this earth. God gives not only saving grace but also sustaining grace, the type of grace seen in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
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Max Lucado said concerning sustaining grace, “Sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage, wisdom, and strength.

David Wilkerson said, “To me, grace is Holy Ghost empowerment to become more like Jesus. Therefore, to grow in grace means to increase in Christ-likeness through the unmerited power of God’s Spirit.

As we grow in grace, we talk and think less about ourselves. We become lower and lower in our own estimation. We also come to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and sovereignty, which in turn allows us to more clearly see our rebellion, selfishness and pride. We recognize our unworthiness and see the greatness of His undeserved favor and love that drew us to Himself. And as David Wilkerson said, we become more like Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells our spirit.

GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

Knowing Christ is of incomparable worth–of more value than anything! The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippian church.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:7-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sometimes it takes a dramatic turn of events to alter our perspective. For me, that started with an accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa, and left me crippled so badly my doctors did not expect me ever to be able to walk. Because of God’s grace, they were wrong. At the time, I was already a Christian who loved the Lord and wanted to please Him. My husband and I had met each other while attending Bible College, and we were now working with a ministry group in a small town in west Texas. Everything looked promising for the future.

What had I counted as gain? My health for one thing, my ability to walk whenever I wanted to, to get in the car and drive wherever I wanted to go, a relatively pain-free life, the desire to one day return to teaching kindergarten when our daughter was a little older. In one dramatic turn of events, all of those were lost.

How could I count these good desires as rubbish? How was all of this “for the sake of Christ.” Honestly, it took me a long time to come to the point where I could look at the losses and see any gain from them.

In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote,

“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.

“Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”

It took many years before I could look at these difficulties and others that came years later and see them through the lens of faith. I still don’t know why God allowed the accident that took the life of our firstborn. I still don’t understand God’s purposes in making my husband and I parents of a little boy who lived with profound mental retardation and was completely dependent upon others to meet all of his needs for all 34 years of his life. I don’t know why in the midst of this, we also became the caregivers of my dear mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. In fact, I stopped asking “why?” many years ago.

But there are some things I do know. I know God is good. I know He is faithful. I know from experience that His grace is sufficient, even in my weakness. And above all, I know that the circumstances I’ve lived through have changed me into a different person than I was when all of this began in December 1975. My love for God is deeper, and my peace surpasses my understanding. And finally, I know a time is coming when the Lord will wipe away every tear from my eyes, when death and mourning and pain will be no more, when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5).

Until then, my desire is to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. And to continue trusting my unknown future to a God I’ve come to know.

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Living For Eternity

SOMETIMES LIFE HURTS. That’s definitely been true in my life during the last fourteen months. First, we lost our special-needs son David, then I found myself dealing with a long list of new health issues that seemed to have no simple solutions. During such times, it’s easy to become disheartened.

As I was praying this morning about this Wednesday’s RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE post, one of the first books we studied in God-Living Girls came to mind. Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, is the life story of Sara Frankl, co-written by Mary Carver.

Sara Frankl knew what it was to live with chronic pain. As a young woman, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease and form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can also attack other joints. As Sara’s disease progressed it became clear that her health was not going to get better.

The pain and loss could have easily become Sara’s primary focus, but she decided this wasn’t how she wanted to live. Sara chose to place her trust in a God Who is good all the time and to find hope and purpose in the midst of the pain. She chose joy, not happiness which she described as being “flimsy as a shirt blowing on a line in the breeze.” She chose “true heart joy, which sustains through obstacles, disease, death.” She lived with an “unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Sara lived with relentless pain, but she chose to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. She believed God had a purpose for her illness or He would have taken it away. And she accepted God’s plan, though it was difficult, and focused on what God wanted to do through her life. She wrote, “It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention and enjoy the rainbows.”

Sara made it her goal to live the best life she could with what she had been given. She knew it wouldn’t be the life she had expected to live before this disease touched her life, but accepted it as the one God meant for her to live. Though Sara may never have used the term RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE, that’s how she lived.

Sara Frankl came up with six life goals which she wrote on her wall. They were a constant reminder of what was most important to her and they became the motivation for every choice she made.

As we focus this year on reclaiming what chronic illness has stolen from our lives, I felt Sara’s Life Goals would be a good launching pad for each of us to come up with our own life goals as we press on to live in the fullness of what God has in mind for our lives. The following verses encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward fulfilling the goals God has set before us.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sara’s Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can live with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have, not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

Now, it’s your turn. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you will one day stand in His presence. Let’s look beyond our earthly desires for a while and focus on eternity. What are the goals you hope to fulfill before you see Jesus face-to-face? What principles do you go back to over and over again to guide your decisions? Share some of your personal life goals with us in the comments.

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A Mosaic of Grace

Last week, my husband was in the kitchen getting a slice of birthday cake when the cake container hit the Corelle plate he had planned to use and knocked it to the floor. He said it hit the floor like a hand grenade exploding and glass went everywhere.

In this world, broken things are usually counted as useless and thrown away. And that’s exactly what happened to that plate. It was now unusable so it was discarded. But this is not how God responds to our brokenness. In fact, He uses the breaking as a part of the process of helping us grow into what He created us to be.

On the inside, we all have areas of brokenness. Chronic illness affects our bodies, but that’s not all. Has life with chronic illness left you with broken dreams, broken relationships, even a broken heart? If so, how do we deal with the brokenness in our lives? How do we embrace our brokenness and allow the Lord to put us back together into a vessel that brings Him glory? But first, what exactly do I mean by brokeness?

One of the best definitions I’ve read of brokenness was from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in her book ‬‬Brokenness: The Heart God Revives.

“Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will – the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying ‘Yes, Lord!’ – no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness – simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.”

She says when you know God, you don’t have to face any difficulty alone. He is there in our time of need, all we need to do is reach out to Him for help. Yet so often we think we can handle it on our own.

“You can try, and God may let you try to handle it on your own. But part of what He is doing with trials and afflictions is He’s trying to strip us of self-reliance and make us utterly dependent upon Him and His grace.”

A spiritually mature life begins with acknowledging our need for help. We are not able to save ourselves. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Yet many of us think once we have experienced the new birth, it’s up to us to live the Christian life. But that’s not what God’s Word says. Colossians 2:6-7 says we are built up in the faith in the same way we came to Christ. Self-reliance is one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual growth.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Do you feel broken today, in any area of your life? If so, the answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When life pulls us down, when we feel like we can’t move forward – when like Humpty Dumpty we are beyond repair – this is the answer. Only God has the power to put us back together and make us useful. We are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Surrendered vessels to do His good, acceptable and perfect will. By His amazing grace, He can then take our shattered pieces and make of them what Ephesians 2:10 in the New Living Translation calls “God’s masterpiece.”

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

We can become what some have called a “Mosaic of Grace.”

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Importance of Prayer and Bible Reading in Setting Personal Goals

The January theme in our RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE focus is on personal growth. So what is personal growth? Personal growth is a transformational process, in which improvements are made in some area of your life. Whether the personal goal you choose to start with is physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual, the same principles apply.

Our goal for January is to choose one area of our lives where we recognize a need for personal growth. For example, do you need to learn how to control anger? Do you need to overcome procrastination? Would life be better if you changed your negative mindset and began to focused on the good things in your life? Maybe, you want to take some practical steps to improve your health or to better manage your daily responsibilities. Pick one area where you want to become a better version of yourself.

What does the Bible tell us about making plans that result in transformation? How does prayer move us forward in the process of accomplishing our personal growth goals? Answering those questions is the focus of this week’s post.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) gives some insight in the area of planning. It says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Planning ahead is something that God encourages us to do, but Jehovah is the One directing us and enabling us to accomplish what we have planned.

Jesus also spoke of the importance of planning ahead. He said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke‬ ‭14:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬) When we are planning goals for this year, we need to realistically count the cost of completing our plans so we don’t end up discouraged when the year comes to an end and our goals have not be accomplished.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER IN SETTING GOALS
Before you actually begin choosing a personal growth goal to work on, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you wisdom in setting realistic goals and to take away any roadblocks that will hinder you from accomplishing your goals. Recognize there will be times when you want to quit and feel like you can’t go on, and ask the Lord for strength and perseverance to not give up.

An important part of setting goals that we will be able to complete is making sure our goals meet five characteristics. SMART has been used as an acronym for setting effective goals. A SMART goal is one that is:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and possible to achieve
  • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date, short term goals along the way, and a finish date

Transformation is a process that is addressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This verse makes it clear that transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who lives within us. It is a part of working out the salvation Jesus provided for us, of working out what is within us by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear an trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:12-14

Notice these verses say God will work in us both to make us willing to change and also empowering us to work out the needed changes. Our attitude toward change is important. Do what you believe God wants you to do with an attitude of gratitude and contentment.

As these last few weeks I’ve begun this process of transforming an area of my life where personal growth is needed, one Scripture has come up over and over in my study. When that happens I recognize God is showing me a principle I need to take hold of the succeed in accomplishing my goal.

The verses God has brought to mind over and over again are found in Ephesians 4. It is a passage that speaks to believers in Christ, saying they are no longer to walk in “the futility of their minds.” The word translated “futility” (or “vanity” in other translations) means “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” What we need is truth that is appropriate to our goal. This is found in verses 20 – 24, which show us a better way to live.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Put off your old self. Your former way of life, in the area you are asking God to help you change. Put off your beliefs and behaviors that do not line up with the truth of God’s Word.

Be renewed in your mind. Another verse that speaks about renewing our minds is Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We renew our minds by learning the will of God, which is revealed in the Bible. The best way to do this is by reading and meditating on Bible verses that apply to the area you believe God wants you to change, memorizing one or two that deal with the problem area.

Put on the new self. ‭‭Having recognized the negative pattern that we need to change, and then learning God’s will in the area we’re hoping to change, we are ready to “put on” the new behavior. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is the process of transformation in whatever area you choose to focus on during January. The biblical name for this process is sanctification, and it is an ongoing work the indwelling Holy Spirit does in our lives as we learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Yes, we have a part. But the power to change comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of everyone who has surrendered their life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We may feel weak in the area where we are hoping to see change. But God spoke through the apostle Paul that our weakness does not keep God from working. When he struggled with what he called a thorn in the flesh, God spoke to him.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9-10‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One thing that has helped me change habits that I’d felt powerless to change is turning the truths of God’s Word into a prayer. For example, James 1:22 teaches us the importance of being a doer of the Word. Let’s turn this into a prayer.

Lord, please help me not to merely listen to Your Word, and so deceive myself. Please help me to do what it says. God’s Word works, but if I am to experience it personally, I must be obedient. I need Your help, Lord.

Remember, sanctification is a work the Holy Spirit does within us. My prayer for you as you choose to cooperate with His work within you is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
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Reclaiming Our Lives: Embracing the Life We’ve Been Given

Can you imagine what it would be like to live on a submarine? According to an article I recently read, some civilian submarines have windows – technically called “viewports” – but when the submarine is deep underwater, all you see when you look out is blackness. Without artificial light, the crew on a submarine would be unable to function.

Trying to live with chronic illness solely on human perspective can be compared to living on a submerged submarine without any artificial light. To make sense of our lives when we are struggling with the pain and limitations of chronic illness, we need the light of God’s Word to push out the darkness. Having God’s perspective is like having a periscope that allows us to see beyond the darkness and obstacles in our path and navigate safely toward our destination.

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As we continue with this year’s focus on reclaiming our lives after a chronic illness diagnosis, today I wanted to focus on the truth that sometimes we need to let go of our life plan and embrace the life we have been given. The first steps to reclaiming our lives when chronic illness and the limitations it causes don’t go away are acceptance of what is and trust that God really does love us and knows what is best for us.

As a young child, my dream was to be a teacher. After finishing high school, I enrolled in a state college in my home state of Maryland and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. During this time, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was confident I was right where the Lord wanted me. My plan was to teach kindergarten, which I did for two years before I heard the Lord calling me to attend Bible college, where I met my husband Mitch.

My life plan was to get married, find another teaching job in Texas where I was now living, and continue living out my dream of being a teacher. But it wasn’t long before we faced a major obstacle.

My husband and I, with our toddler Teresa, were on a trip to see some friends in Fort Worth and pick up some construction supplies for Mitch’s boss, when a drunk driver ran into our vehicle and forever changed our lives. My husband came out with a cracked rib and knee, and lacerations on his face and knees, but Teresa and I weren’t quite so lucky. Teresa did not survive the accident, and my doctor told Mitch that, if I survived, I might never walk again. Though we mourned the loss of our precious daughter, God was gracious and I did survive. Though the injuries I received in this accident were the beginning of a battle with degenerative arthritis and neuropathy, I was able to walk without assistance for many years.

In 1977, our daughter Amy was born, and when she was four years old I was able to return to teaching, this time in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program our church started. The following summer our son David was added to the family. We quickly noticed David had an unusual sensitivity to light, but we weren’t worried about his health.

When David was around three months old, we decided to move to Houston where Mitch’s family lived. A couple weeks later, we took him in to see a new pediatrician. She was extremely concerned that something was wrong, and before the day was over David was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for neurological testing.

To cut the story short, David was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development and left him unable to do anything for himself. Now we were facing an obstacle that was so big we had no idea how we would navigate it. It truly felt like we were in a submarine, deep underwater, and unable to see beyond the darkness and obstacles ahead.

I could go on and tell you about the next thirty-four years, which ended with the Lord taking David home to be with Him last November, but this is enough of my story to help you understand that my life definitely has not turned out the way I planned.

To continue functioning, my husband and I had to release the life we had pictured when we first married and to embrace the life we had been given. So how is this possible? Here are some steps to take, along with a few Scriptures that have helped me navigate this path that was so far from what we had planned. (All verses are in ESV)

• We must choose to let go of the past and turn our focus on the future.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13b-14‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

• Remember God more highly values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

• Do you feel like outwardly your body seems to be “wasting away”? Is chronic illness the “thorn in the flesh” that you’ve begged God to take away? For me, God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle Paul.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

• Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10

• Finally, while Jesus has already defeated the enemy, we won’t experience the full effect of His victory until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Until that time, let’s hold on to the promise that it won’t always be like this.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation‬ ‭21:3-4‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

Are you still mourning what you’ve lost from chronic illness? Are you struggling to embrace the life you’ve been given and begin moving forward? If so I hope you will join me in the following prayer.

Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me. You know this is not what I had in mind for my life. But for now at least, it is reality. I will not lose heart, even though it feels like my body is wasting away. I believe Your grace is sufficient for me, even in this situation. I will be content with weakness and hardships, because when I bring You my weakness You replace it with Your strength.

Father, I recognize life on this fallen earth is a battle. I have an enemy, the devil, who wants to devour me. Help me to be sober-minded and watchful, to recognize his attacks and resist him as I stand firm in my faith.

Lord, thank You that Jesus has already defeated the devil by His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This time of suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom. Then there will be no death or mourning, no crying or pain. These will have passed away never to be again. Until that time, help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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