Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

 

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A Peace That Transcends Everything

“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; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

“Awesome”

When did it happen? When did the word “awesome” become a throw-away word?

Here’s what I mean by throw-away.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “awe” this way: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration (respect), and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime. For example, “stood in awe of the king” or “regard nature’s wonders with awe.”

But now, it’s an everyday occurrence for people to refer to the most common things as “awesome.”

That t-shirt with the clever saying on it. “Oh, man, that’s awesome.” A program on TV, the actor in that TV show, a video someone shared on Facebook or YouTube, or hey, just about anything can be “awesome.”

But are they really?

Do these things invoke the kind of inspiration felt when we’re in the presence of something or Someone deserving of the definition? God, His creation and any of His works are truly awesome. There are few things that compare.

A.W. Tozer, a theologian and author of many books about worship, living in the presence of God and knowing Him personally, says this:

“What comes into our minds when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”

What comes to your mind?

If our God is all-knowing, ever-present, sovereign, mighty, and constantly and impartially loving, the truest form of “awesomeness” is Him.

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Hubble telescope view of the Horsehead Nebula

Whenever I go stargazing, I’m in awe. When I think of how a baby grows and is born into the world, I’m in awe. Seeing God work through people who are broken and imperfect puts me in awe. God’s revealed message to us through His Word is awesome. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary brings me to a state of humility and awe.

I stand in awe of the King.

The other day I was listening to a song by one of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters, Rich Mullens. In “Awesome God,” he writes

“Our God is an awesome God. He reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God.”

That chorus is repeated over and over, a technique in songwriting I’m usually not fond of. But in this case, I don’t mind singing like that. Matter of fact, I was singing at the top of my lungs how awesome God is.

In my van. In front of God and everybody.

Because God and His creation are the truest form of the word “awesome

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

I happened to be reading a Highlights magazine in the waiting room at my doctor’s office last week. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.whale shark 3

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. The story of Jonah is often referred to as “Jonah and the whale,” but that’s not the animal name given in the Bible.

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.” (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

It’s obvious to the intelligent reader this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals. Fish are not. Not only that, but scripture says God caused this to happen.

Imagine how thrilled I was today to find a story in some online news about whale sharks. The basic information about these animals is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. But their migration patterns, among other aspects of their lives, are still a mystery.whale shark distribution

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It even becomes captivating when we’re adults because of the very idea of someone surviving inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some have said this story can’t really be true.

God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes many mysteries. Perhaps the mystery of the whale shark’s lifestyle will never be known in total. I believe it’s nice to have this gentle giant to fall back on as a possible answer to where Jonah spent those three days where he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

Being Found

“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country to go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“Amazing grace–how sweet the sound–
That saved a wretch like Me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”

Being found. It implies that we must have been lost. It implies we might have been lonely. We don’t know which way to go. Maybe we’re in darkness and we’re frightened.

Imagine being found by Someone who loves you deeply; without measure.

The truth is, God seeks us even as we may be seeking him. In fact, his Spirit seeks us out when we may not be actively looking for God. He knows we’re lonely, frightened. He’s aware that we don’t know where to turn next. Like sheep who’ve gone astray, we wander without purpose.

Once the Shepherd finds his sheep, he rejoices to have it in his arms, taking it home to green pastures.

What joy should fill our hearts knowing that he celebrates in having found us. What joy should fill our hearts knowing that we no longer need to be alone. We don’t have to be afraid; we know the darkness is gone. Forever.

Gratitude Breeds Contentment

Oy! My body aches. I had surgery six days ago and have two incisions in my back. Swelling in my feet and legs has stretched the skin so badly I can’t wiggle my toes without pain. Because of the pain associated with the incisions, sometimes I tense up. Then my shoulder and back muscles ache.

Not only that, but when I sit in my chair, I must take a deep breath and slowly lean back until I’m in the right position. Then, because I’m now monitoring my blood pressure every day, I must take some deep belly breaths and relax before I push the button on the cuff. It all hurts.

But–

The surgery I had has proven already to be a success. I know the incisions will eventually heal and won’t hurt anymore. I have medicine now to relieve the swelling in my lower limbs. I’m beginning to relax more when I move to avoid aggravating the site of the staples and stitches.

I can breathe. I’m able to cook for myself. I can climb the few stairs to get mail from the mailbox. I don’t need help getting dressed or bathing.

I’m grateful for those things that I might often take for granted.

During November I’ve been posting each day on Facebook and Twitter something for which I’m thankful. It would be easy to say I’m grateful for that parking space I got close to the grocery store yesterday. I could say I’m glad I have a good book to curl up with. The list of simple things like that could go on and on. I am grateful for those things.

However, I’m trying to post things I’m grateful for that are true promises of God or things which I know come from the truth of scripture. In fact, I’ve been including scripture in each post or tweet.

This time of year, people are thinking about Thanksgiving (yes, Christmas already too) and they’ll be more apt to look at a gratitude list. My practice is to include thankfulness in every day. At the top of my daily To Do list the words “Be Grateful” appear in a thick blue line written with a Sharpie.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. (James 1:17) My breath, my healing, the ability to dress and cook for myself are only because God provides. I also know the pain and inconvenience I’ve experienced are allowed by him.

Knowing this, I’ve learned to be more content over the years. Of course, I don’t like pain and inconvenience. But nothing that happens to me is a surprise to him. He uses it to perfect me. How could I not be grateful, knowing this?

My prayer for you is a Thanksgiving Day spent in a way that you see all the goodness in your life. Praise God for it. Then look at the trials and inconveniences and praise God for those too. You know why. (James 1:2-4) Because through them you’ll realize you’re growing. One hopes to also be more content each day.

Be grateful for a good meal, friends and family if you celebrate with them, a warm home to live in and, most of all, for every promise God has made to you.

Facing Adversity

The journey of spiritual maturity isn’t always easy. From the first tentative steps we take as Christ followers, we experience hard times. Adversity comes to everyone, not just those who live in obedience to the sinful nature.

Yet with our eyes focused on Jesus, adversity doesn’t have the power over us it once had. If we’re living in his presence and listening for his voice, we understand more about who Christ is and we grow deeper in our relationship with him.

As we stay in step with the Holy Spirit, we experience less of the troubles we once made for ourselves. However, when those inevitable times of adversity come, we’re promised that they’re only for a specified time, which God has already ordained.

We also know that God is present in any circumstance, good or bad, and provides the resources we need to get through. The resource may come in the form of another person’s assistance, finances, a specific need for our health, or the prayers of the saints.

When hard times come and put us to the test, God always does his part; what is expected of us? In my experience, relying on God and deepening my conscious contact with him brings peace. Rather than running full-tilt to try and solve a problem, he’s shown me it’s better if I slow down. That doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means I slow down enough to hear what he has to say to me.

“I tell the Lord my troubles and difficulties, and wait for Him to give me
the answers to them,” said one man of God. “And it is wonderful how a
matter that looked very dark will in prayer become clear as crystal by the
help of God’s Spirit.” I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their
prayers because they do not wait long enough on God. They just drop down
and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them.
Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s doorbell,
and then running away as fast as he can go. ~ E.M. Bounds

Scripture says we can rely on the power of God to help us through times of adversity. “We are struck down, but not destroyed.”

Jesus warned that in this world we would have trouble, then assured his disciples that he himself had overcome the world (John 16:33).

Following the Master means denying ourselves, which is to die to our rights; carrying our cross, which is to die to our old nature; and to follow, which is obedience.

What does that mean for us? Trials are bound to come in life even with our new life in Christ. But with the power of God working through us, we can overcome any situation and live the abundant life promised to us.

Without God, we’re helpless; but with him all things are possible

Finding God in the Picture

While visiting my hometown several years ago my sisters and I decided to take a walk through downtown. An acquaintance who was also out walking met up with us at a corner of town. She asked if I’d be attending the funeral of a high school friend. I was shocked. I told her I had no idea my friend had passed.

The next day, as I walked away from my seat at the graveside, my friend’s sister rushed up to me and hugged me tightly. “I knew you’d be here,” she said. Strange; I hadn’t planned on attending a funeral when I left home to go visiting. But apparently God was working in the background and had planned it for me.

I’ve come to believe God has a way of finding us and taking us where we belong.

Several times in my journey with God, he reminds me how important it is to acknowledge him in the circumstances of my life. For me, it’s been a process of knowing his ways (as well as a small person can know the ways of a sovereign God) and recognizing his voice when he’s speaking.

Back when God orchestrated the events that took me to my friend’s funeral, I just shook it off; I didn’t think twice about how it happened. Now, I see a little more clearly how he works. It’s no coincidence that I happened to be out walking and saw that particular person. It was no coincidence that she was the older sister of my best friend from high school who had passed away a couple years earlier.

Sandy, my best friend, and this woman who was also now gone from our lives, had been part of a foursome of teens that was almost inseparable. As much as my friend’s sister needed me to be there for her, I needed to be present for my own sake.

God in his sovereignty cares for and works out all aspects of my life even if I don’t see that work immediately. He may be working in the background and through unlikely people.

Events happen in my life that tempt me to question God. But I know better than to do that. Even during those times, because I’m his child, I’ve learned from experience he is always as close to me as he’ll ever be.

I’m reminded of the book of Esther. God’s name is never mentioned, but his presence is certainly there in the citadel of Susa. If we know what to look for and if we’re really looking, we can’t miss him. He’s guiding, providing for and protecting his beloved people. The young Jewish woman who was born Hadassah, became queen and influenced the king in a way perhaps no one else could.

One might say the book of Esther is a story of God finding a young Jewish maiden and taking her where she belonged.