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

What do you do when there is no cure? When the doctor says there is nothing more that he can do?

That is what I faced last fall, when an MRI showed complex tearing in the meniscus of my left knee and no remaining cartilage. My orthopedic surgeon said with the severe nerve damage to that knee, knee replacement surgery had a high risk of making the pain even more severe than it already was. He suggested corticosteroid injections in the joint and physical therapy, both of which did nothing to reduce the pain.

Medical science was basically out of options. It was time to accept that the deterioration was most likely permanent. It was time to examine self-care options that would allow me to live the best I could with this new normal.

The February focus for our Reclaiming Your Life Challenge is on self-care. Self-care could be defined as the actions individuals take to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible with their current chronic pain and diseases.

Self-care is important for every part of us, body, soul and spirit. Remember, our heavenly Father cares about our whole being. Let’s start with the most obvious area, our bodies which are so greatly affected by our chronic illnesses.

SELF-CARE FOR THE BODY
God cares about how we care for our physical bodies – which if you are a Christian is the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

What changes do you need to make to take better care of your body? Are you getting enough sleep? Eight or more cups of water daily? Do you need to eat a more healthy diet? Perhaps add more fruits and vegetables to your daily dietd? Do you need to lose weight? One thing I’ve found helpful in this area are keeping a daily log of what I eat using the MyFitness Pal app.

How about exercise? Is there a way you can become more active, in spite of the limitations caused by your chronic illnesses and pain? As 2020 began, this was an area I knew God wanted me to add back to my schedule. I was able to put together two 20-minute routines of exercises physical and occupational therapists have recommended for me over the years, some that I do in bed and others sitting on the side of the bed. 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 household responsibilities. As this new year began, I felt the need to take over a little more of the daily and weekly housework our daughter had been doing. 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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When There Is No Way To Make a Way: Five Things We Can Know

During times when we can’t see or understand what God is doing, it’s easy to become so focused on what we can’t do or on what isn’t working that we lose hope that God is still able to work in and through our circumstances. That’s where I was earlier this week when I learned that another door I was hoping would lead to some relief from the pain and swelling in my left knee had closed.

If you are a born-again child of God, even during times when all you see are the overwhelming circumstances you are facing and the closed doors that are keeping you from making progress, the truth is God is still at work. His hand may not be easily visible, but if we understand His heart toward us we will be strengthened to keep moving forward in His plan.

Today, I wanted to shift our focus off of the unknowns concerning our present circumstances to some things we can know if by faith we take God’s Word as our guidebook through life. Today I decided to use the New Living Translation as the Bible version, simply because it presents these truths of Scripture in an easy to understand format. These are some of the truths I have been personally holding onto during these difficult circumstances that I can see no way out of.

  • We can know God will go before us and be with us no matter what happens. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭
  • We can know God is faithful and loving. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭7:9‬ ‭
  • We can know God always keeps His promises. “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” Hebrews‬ ‭6:18‬ ‭
  • We can know we will see God’s goodness in our situation. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭27:13-14‬ ‭
  • We can know nothing is impossible with our God. When we can see no way, He can make a way.  “He (Jesus) replied, ‘What is impossible for people is possible with God.’” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:27‬ ‭

Remember, no matter what you may be currently walking through or what uncertainties lie ahead, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you haven’t been left on your own. You and I have the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and the written Word of God as our guidebook through life. Our circumstances may look impossible, but remember the God we serve is the God of the impossible.

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Are You Weary in Doing Good?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Sometimes life is filled with emotional ups and downs. This has been such a week in my life. On Tuesday, after over six weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from the home health agency my doctor’s office uses to schedule my physical therapy assessment. Then on Wednesday, this long-awaited appointment finally happened. I was encouraged and ready to get started as I waited for the therapist to arrive.

The therapy supervisor started by going over my medical history to get a clear picture of what was going on. He did the routine exam, then we started talking about what to expect as a result of therapy. I totally agreed with what he shared – I’ve had many sessions of physical therapy over the years, so I already knew this would not make major changes in my condition. The goal was to gain some strength in my leg muscles and help in setting up a daily exercise plan that would be safe to continue on my own. Yet by the time he left, I was feeling discouraged, thinking “what’s the use of going through the pain of doing PT when it’s not really going to make much difference anyhow.”

The temptation to grow weary and give up in the midst of my recent health challenges has been one of my biggest struggles. It’s also a struggle Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced and wrote about in her devotional book Holiness in Hidden Places, which I grabbed off my bookshelf this morning to encourage myself in the Lord.

“It happens whenever we find ourselves on an interminable, straight stretch in the same direction… it’s hard not to become weary. Someone once said the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we bulk when patience is required over the long haul. We don’t much like endurance.”

So how do we keep going when we become weary? The key is a change of perspective. Stop focusing on what we’re walking through and turn our eyes onto the Lord and onto the fruit He is developing in our lives during this season. See your circumstances from an eternal perspective. Joni concluded her devotional on Galatians 6:9 with the following words.

”Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s turn our focus off the trials and onto the fruit that is growing in our lives as a result of them. As I shared on Tuesday, we are to “count it all joy” and to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James‬ ‭1:2-4‬) Let’s look at the daily struggles of life with an eternal perspective, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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Count It All Joy!

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭(from Eugene Peterson’s The Message)

It started on Friday, with another call to my doctor’s office trying to find out why I still hadn’t heard from anyone concerning the home-based therapy my doctor ordered six weeks ago. Finally heard from the office this morning, only to learn the homecare agency had no record of the referral. So the process starts again.

Then on Saturday, car problems were added. My husband just had the car in the shop last week for some routine maintenance, but on the way home from grocery shopping on Saturday, it stopped running. After having a new battery put in on Saturday, it broke down again Sunday afternoon. We had to have the car towed to the repair shop yesterday to get the alternator replaced, and we’re still waiting to get it back and make sure it’s really fixed this time.

In the midst of all of this, on Sunday our internet went out (a broken connection), and this morning our electricity has been going off and on, which didn’t build my confidence that I’d finally be able to get today’s Teach Me Tuesday post written and on line.

None of these have been life threatening problems, but when tests and challenges come at us from all sides, as they have for my husband and me the last few days, I’m grateful God’s Word tells us how to handle it.

Problems come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing is true in the midst of it all. GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL. And in His love, He uses the things we go through, big and small, to accomplish His purposes in our lives. So how do we cooperate with God during these challenging times? Here are a few simple steps.

1. Recognize God is at work in your life through the trials you are walking through, and choose to “count it all joy.” Counting our trials as “all joy” is the opposite of living by our feelings. It is taking control over our emotional reaction to the circumstances and choosing to rejoice. I will count this flood of trials all joy, because God is using it to help me grow to maturity in my faith.

2. Spend time in God’s Word, asking Him to show you any special message He has for you in the midst of this challenging time.

3. Take time to thank God in the midst of the circumstances. In our recent situation with the car, for example, we gave thanks that we had money in savings for all the unexpected expenses, that God sent a stranger over to help Mitch on Saturday so he was able to make it somewhere to get a battery, and that God worked out the details so Mitch was able to get home while the cold items in our groceries were safe.

4. Remember to leave the timing in God’s hands. When we walk through difficult circumstances, the natural desire is to make a way for them to be over as quickly as possible. As Eugene Peterson said above, “don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.” Give God the time to do to finish the work He has started in you.

5. Finally, learn to fix your eyes on Jesus, and to remember how He faced a much bigger trial than most of us will ever face. He endured the Cross by focusing on the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember that the trials God allows to touch our lives are not without a good purpose. God uses trials to make us more like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But the only way we benefit from our trials is by walking through them God’s way.

What trials are you currently walking through? How do you typically respond to trials? Is your reaction based on your emotions or on your desire to learn the lessons God has for you? Is your focus on present comfort or on the joy set before you as you mature into the person God has called you to be? These are a few questions to ask ourselves in the midst of times like my husband and I have been walking through in recent days. And if your answers show you’re not handling the little frustrations of life the way God desires us to, review the five steps above.

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Never Alone: Help for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34 is one of my favorite Psalms, from it’s opening verses that encourage us to “bless the Lord at all times,” to its reminder in verse 8 to ”taste and see that the Lord is good” this is one Psalm I go back to frequently when I am needing to shift my focus off of my sometimes overwhelming circumstances and on to my God who rules over everything that touches my life.

Since last November, when we lost our son David, verse 18, today’s I Am Not Alone verse, has also become a favorite. Because suddenly, I knew what it was to walk around daily with a broken heart.

God has never promised His people that we won’t experience a broken heart. Life is full of circumstances that cause us to feel like our hearts are being crushed to the point that the thought of facing another day seems beyond our ability. The death of a loved one, a miscarriage ending a long-awaited pregnancy, a devastating diagnosis such as cancer, broken bodies, dreams and relationships – all those and many other things can result in a broken heart that makes it difficult for us to keep going.

So where is God in the midst of circumstances that break our heart? What does He do to help us through such times? I am currently reading a recently published book by Elisabeth Elliot, a book based on one the her final teaching series before dementia took her memories and finally her life, entitled “Suffering Is Never For Nothing.” In a chapter called “Acceptance,” she spoke of the need for accepting the painful circumstances God allows to touch our lives and moving forward.

Elisabeth Elliot said, even in circumstances that crush our hearts, “We’re not adrift in chaos. We’re held in the everlasting arms. And therefore, and this makes a difference, we can be at peace and we can accept. We can say yes, Lord, I’ll take it.”

And she goes on to say, acceptance is possible because suffering is never for nothing. God is at work in our lives during times of suffering. We may have many questions, whys that He does not answer. But there is one thing we can be confident God will do during those times when life leaves us brokenhearted. He gives us Himself, His sustaining presence that gives us peace that passes understanding.

As I read these words spoken by one who was well acquainted with grief, I was comforted. Because even now, nine months after the loss of our precious son, I had to acknowledge that was exactly what God did in the days following that devastating loss. I cried out to Him for help, and His presence sustained me through the tears.

On this Thankful Thursday, I don’t know what you are currently walking through. You may be facing a situation that has you feeling crushed and unable to move on. Or you may simply be feeling stretched emotionally by the daily challenges of life. But in every situation we face in this life, if we cry out to Him God answers by giving us Himself. When we walk through difficult seasons, we can be assured that the Lord will never leave or forsake us, that He will walk at our side and sustain us by His presence. And that’s a good reason to give Him thanks!

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Never Alone: God’s Presence & His Rest

Early in July, on the day before I was scheduled to go in for an MRI on my left knee, I heard the still, small voice of God speak a very clear message to my heart. Since the pain in that knee had gone from very mild to extremely severe overnight over a month before, I was ready for some answers. But what I heard wasn’t exactly what I was asking for in prayer. Instead, the Lord clearly spoke two verses of Scripture to my heart, with the strong impression that I was going to need to hold onto these to make it through the following months in victory. I immediately opened the Bible Memory app I use as a part of my daily quiet time, entered these two verses, and began memorizing them.

The first verse was Deuteronomy 31:8, which says (in NIV84, the version I frequently use when memorizing Scripture), “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The second verse was today’s I Am Not Alone verse, Exodus 33:14. In the same version, it reads “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Since that day, though God has given me several other verses that have been helpful during this time of dealing with multiple health issues, these two verses have been the ones that I’ve returned to over and over and over again. So on Wednesday morning, when I looked on our list of verses for the I Am Not Alone Bible Reading Plan to find today’s verse, I didn’t need to stop first to look up the verse in my Bible.  After reviewing this verse nearly daily since July 8th, I immediately recognized the Exodus 33:14 reference. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into the meaning of today’s verse. It contains two promises from God, first to the children of Israel to whom it was originally addressed, but as we’ll see later, also promises God has given us.

First, it says, “My presence will go with you.”

The children of Israel were on a journey. God had delivered them from bondage and oppression in Egypt, He had gone with them through a wilderness experience characterized by disobedience, dangers and drought, and now it was time for the final stage of the journey to begin, actually entering Canaan, the land of milk and honey God had promised His people.

But as Exodus 33 begins, God is not exactly happy with His people. Read these words God spoke to Moses at the beginning of this chapter.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1-3 ESV

‭‭So what happened between verse 3 and verse 14, today’s key verse? Moses interceded before God for the stiff-necked people he had been called to lead. A part of Moses’ prayer is recorded in verses 12-13.

“See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

Basically, Moses was apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of leading God’s people into the promised land without God’s help, and he appealed to the mercy of God. He told Almighty God, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” And today’s verse is God’s response. Moses’ prayer of intercession changed God’s mind.

As God’s people under the New Covenant, He has made the same promise to us, as the verses we have been studying this month have confirmed over and over again.

‭‭The second promise of today’s verse: “And I will give you rest.”

First, what exactly does the word “rest” mean as it is used in the Bible. There are several words both in the Old and New Testament, but for today I’m going to stick to the three that most directly apply to us.

The Hebrew word used in the Exodus 33, “nawach,” means “to rest, settle down and remain; to repose, have rest, be quiet.”

When Christ taught on entering rest, He used the Greek word anapauō” which refers not to a “rest from work” but rather to a “rest in work.” Christ’s rest is not the rest of inactivity, but rather the inner rest of living in harmony with God.

But the word used in the Hebrews passage I’ll refer to later “katapausis” more closely parallels the Hebrew word used in Exodus 33 and includes the idea of “to cease, refresh, be quiet.”

God’s presence and His rest are inseparably joined in today’s verse. But there is also something required of us to enter God’s rest. Let’s look in the book of Hebrews for a clearer understanding of the process of entering God’s rest.

For the children of Israel, this was a promise of rest from the toils and dangers of the wilderness wanderings as they entered their promised land. Unfortunately, Hebrews 3:18-19 explains that they failed to enter His rest for two closely tied reasons, disobedience and unbelief.

The good news is that the account in Hebrews concerning entering God’s rest doesn’t end with these words. Hebrews 4 begins with a promise that the possibility of entering God’s rest still stands. These verses also include a warning for us, a reminder that entering God’s rest has the same two requirements for us that it had for Israel, faith which is demonstrated through obedience.

If it’s your desire to enter God’s rest in the midst of the sufferings and conflicts that are a part of life on this earth, take time today to open your Bible and read Hebrews 4:1-13. Remember, rest is found in God’s presence, but it also requires something from us.

As you read these verses, thank God for the gift of rest that He is offering you today, but also take some time to pray and ask God to show you if there is anything in your life that needs to be dealt with so that you can enter His rest. Any unbelief? Any disobedience to something He has clearly instructed you to do in His Word? God’s rest is one of the richest gifts He has offered His children. As Hebrews 4:11 (NLT) says, “So let us do our best to enter that rest.”

‭‭On this Thankful Thursday, let’s thank God for this gift of His rest and do our best to enter that rest.

Refined – Not Defined – By Trials

Last Thursday, I shared an important lesson God reminded me of as I was reading the book I Still Believe, an autobiography written by Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp. Before I put this book aside, I wanted to share another truth that I learned while reading this book. It has to do with the purpose of trials in our lives.

“The Word of God never promises that we won’t go through trials. Actually, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we will go through them. In fact, James exhorts us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ We aren’t guaranteed a perfect life. We’re going to struggle and endure hardships.”

But that’s not the end of the message. Jeremy continues:

“And yet God does promise that in our trials, He will stand right next to us and be there every moment. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us, to breathe life into us and heal our hearts.”

But honestly, the statement that touched the deepest place in my heart from this book was the following one. Frankly, it opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t seen before, the difference between being refined by our trials and being defined by the difficult circumstances God allows to touch our lives. One is a part of the plan of God in allowing suffering in our lives on this earth, the other was never meant to be.

“What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me – this is not who I am, ‘the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because if that’- but it has refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.”

As many of you know, we lost our thirty-four year old special needs son David last November. And after his death, one of my biggest struggles was feeling like I’d lost a major part of who I was. Suddenly, I was no longer the mother of a child with special needs. For thirty-four years, my life (and my husband’s as well) had centered around meeting David’s extensive medical needs. When that was no longer my responsibility, I felt lost.

Until I read the above quote, I really didn’t understand I had been allowing the suffering in my life to define me, to determine how I saw myself. Trials that don’t just come for a short time and then go away can do that if we aren’t careful. But I was not primarily the mother of a child with special needs. My identity is found in Christ and my relationship with Him.

Yes, trials are a part of life on this earth. Yes, they refine us, changing us from within. But, no, the difficult circumstances we walk through are not meant to define who we are. Unfortunately, when trials drag on and on and on, they have the potential of doing just that. What we are walking through becomes so much a part of who we are that it can become how we see outselves, our identity.

Ladies who are reading this on our GLG page, remember your chronic illnesses do not define who you are. You are a child of God, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), who happens to have one or more chronic illness. If you are reading this on my personal blog, perhaps your prolonged trial is of a different kind, but the same lesson applies. Life on this earth and trials go together but the suffering we go through does not determine who we are.

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember our trials do refine us, but they don’t define us. We are God’s beloved children who will one day be whole, when we see Him face-to-face. Allow your trials to remind you of this truth, and look forward to that day when we will leave behind these broken bodies and live in the future God has promised us, when “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 ‭21:4‬ ‭ESV‬)‬