Chronic Illness: Things I Miss

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Photo Credit: personal.psu.edu

Photo Credit: personal.psu.edu

t’s been four months since my brain surgery on December 30, 2014. I’m actually surprised I can remember that date without asking someone. My life has changed a lot in the past few months. I’d like to share a few things I miss. I hope it will help bring understanding to those who have friends with chronic illness and/or brain illness.

1. I miss my memory.

I forget things easily. It can be embarrassing, and I can never predict when it will happen or what kinds of things I’ll forget.

Like how to count change at the grocery store.

The name of an old friend.

How to use my phone.

I’m not sure if my memory loss is related to my illness, my brain surgery, or other factors like exhaustion and medications. Doctors haven’t given me a good answer, which is disconcerting. So if you meet me somewhere and I don’t refer to you by name, don’t be offended, Bub.

2. I miss eating.

Not that I can’t eat, but a lot of things about eating have changed.

My mouth hurts all the time. This is because the lesion in my brain stem is pressing on nerves in my face.

Foods with texture can be uncomfortable and difficult to eat. For instance, salad is a challenge. And rice and chips and crackers. It’s also difficult for me to eat and carry on a conversation because I need to focus on swallowing and where food is in my mouth.

Because portions of my mouth and the back of my throat are numb, I choke all the time. I choke when I’m not eating, and the choking makes me cough. So I’ve become a bit picky about the kinds of food that feels “safe” for me to eat and doesn’t hurt my mouth.

3. I miss walking. 

I am able to walk around my small house. And I do walk through Dollar General. But larger spaces are a challenge for me. I’m unable to “walk the mall” or do the kinds of walking others do.

I plan my activities around the limited strength and function of my legs. I’m on a plan to increase my endurance and get on my treadmill as often as possible. But, unfortunately, dizziness and nausea are part of life on a regular basis for me. When they strike, I walk as little as possible and lie on the couch to help keep my tummy under control.

Often my legs are “gone” by one or two in the afternoon. Apparently they hike off somewhere on their own and leave me behind on the couch.

4. I miss church. 

I go as often as possible, but my illness makes my life unpredictable.

I’ve missed the last three weeks, and I’ve cried about it. Yep. Cried. I LOVE my church and being with the people there. We’re an army for Jesus, and I need to see my friends’ faces and be reminded of their stories.

I need to worship.

I need to be broken. Encouraged. Blessed. Humbled. Given the privilege and to express my gratitude.

5. I miss life. Simple things like…

Any activity that involves walking more than twenty-five yards.

Going out for lunch or coffee.

Seeing friends I haven’t laid eyes on in months.

Attending events after 7pm. (This has meant not seeing many close friends since before Christmas.)

Anything that happens after 8pm.

This is NOT a complaint list, but a description of some of the ways life has changed and the things I grieve.

If you know someone with chronic illness or who has experienced personal loss, they grieve every day of their lives. This does NOT mean they do not have joy or trust God. We are allowed to say that challenges are hard and bring that pain to God.

Pray for them. Show compassion and curiosity. But most of all, consider how God might be calling you to enter into their story. 

A great resource for families, caregivers, and friends of those living with mental illness, offered free of charge from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Family to Family 12-week educational course.

If you or a loved one has experienced chronic illness or loss, what resources or assistance has helped you?

Faith, Depression, and the Truth about Mental Health

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

Photo Credit: Fandango.com

One of the hardest things Dan and I ever have done was admit Dan’s dad to a mental health unit. 

You see, we were raised in churches where clinical depression wasn’t talked about. And if someone was brave enough admit they struggled with depression, they were told to trust God, read the Bible, and apply their faith.

Admitting you had any kind of mental illness meant spiritual failure.

But the biology and chemistry that apply to medical science don’t stop at our neck. 

I prefer to talk about mental illness as brain illness because I think the term better describes the true issue. My brain is an organ that is susceptible to illness–in the same way my pancreas or liver or heart or appendix are susceptible to illness.

Illness is rooted in biologicial and chemical processes that take place in our bodies.

Brain illness has been stimatized because it has been misunderstood and feared. As Christians, we known that God loves us in our deepest need and certainly in our health challenges.

He graciously created laws and principles that can be applied to the production of pharmaceutical cures that help us in limited, imperfect ways while we’re living on earth. I take medication for my diabetes. While my mother lived with me, she took medications that would give her the greatest quality of life during her battle with Alzheimer’s–a horrific mental illness.

If you or someone you know struggles with depression or other forms of mental illness, please don’t listen to to messages that shame, stigmatize, or throw false guilt in your direction. 

1. In the words of Cinderella, “Have courage and be kind.” Forgive those who don’t understand your struggles. They are very likely ignorant in the true sense of the word, meaning they don’t have a clue what life is like for you. Unfortunately, the church has done a poor job of reaching out to those with mental health struggles. But the good news is that steps are being taken to change that.

2. Advocate for your mental health and find your tribe. It’s common to think you’re the only one struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, or some other aspect of brain illness. But the truth is that many Christians are fighting the same illnesses. Seek out advocates who understand your struggles, effective medical therapies,  and will fight for you.

3. Consider the role of your church and support team. Does your church support those with brain illnesses? Does it provide support groups? Does it help you find mental health services within your community? Do friends and family provide assistive roles and advocate for you?

God is ALWAYS our ultimate healer and provider.

But we must first admit that we have an illness that merits medical attention before we can seek effective treatment. Admitting that brain illness is a physical reality is often the starting point in the church.

For more information about mental health and Christian therapy information visit ChurchTherapy.com.

The Hardest Book to Write: The Story Behind “The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk”

silent Seduction Cover Image JPG low resI arm-wrestled with God about writing The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk.

Obviously, he won.

I‘ve compared writing this book to stripping down to my “spiritual Underoos” and walking a fashion runway in front of the world.

Except I was exposing the stuff everybody tries to cover up: our/my silent seduction into self-deception through self-talk.

Our innate ability to believe we’re loving God and others while we rationalize pushing ourselves to the front of the line.

My journey began in a self-revelatory flash.

I was sitting in the office of a Christian school. A mother was standing at the counter, yelling at the secretary. Apparently, the school had enforced their late policy and issued the woman’s daughter a detention for her tenth tardy.

I watched the woman–a church leader–scream at every employee in the room. Suddenly the realization dawned on me that she thought she was doing the right thing. She had no idea that everyone watching her shared a much different opinion of her and her actions.

If they were thinking what I was thinking, they felt sorry for her daughter. Mom’s behavior was embarrassing. Rude. Disrespectful. A poor reflection of a Christian.

And she had no idea. Why? Because she was self-deceived.

Flash. Could I be just like her?

Could I believe I was loving God and people and, instead, be living life to fulfill my own selfish agendas?

Did I actually take pleasure in proving my husband wrong, shaming him, using sarcasm and tone as weapon?

Did I quietly manipulate and control? Did I justify my behavior–things like screaming at other drivers while I was behind the wheel on the interstate or making a co-worker’s promotion all about me?

The truth is, we all plunder and powerplay our way through life, seduced by the monster within.

The good news is that our self-talk was created to be God’s gift to us.

We are hard-wired directly to God through the words that run through our head at 1,300 words a minute.

Our self-talk can be the single-most resource for our spiritual growth if we learn how to harness its power.

Discovering that truth changed my life.

Slowly, life became a moment-by-moment exercise in worship. 

I learned to lean into the power of the “if”–living in expectancy of change and growth through the power of the Holy Spirit. This can be your journey, too. God’s greatest gift to us is that he loves us so much he doesn’t leave us where we are. He changes us. Discovering the power of self-talk is the key that unlocks intimacy with God.

Join me Thursday, April 9th, as I talk more about how self-talk and how it influences our relationships on Focus on the Family.

 

Six Ways to Help the Hurting

LamentMost of us want to help friends who are suffering and grieving. The problem is, we often struggle to know what to say or do. And so we say things that make sense to us.

The problem is that we’ve probably never experienced the pain our friend is going through and don’t have a clue what their suffering feels like.

Most people who are hurting can tell horrifying stories about the insensitive and sometimes cruel ways people have responded to their pain. So what can you do?

1. Open lines of communication. 

Send a note. Mail a card. Express your love and concern without offering advice and let the person know that you care.

2. Be present.

Show up–physically and through other means. Keep the lines of communications open. People who are hurting, grieving, and suffering feel isolated and alone. It’s common for people to walk alongside them for a few weeks or months but seldom for the long haul, which could mean years or even a lifetime (imagine a widow raising children or someone diagnosed with chronic illness–their grief will overshadow the remainder of their life).

3. Listen with compassion and curiosity.

Don’t provide easy answers and solutions. Ask how you can show support. Don’t quote Scripture–your friend most likely is already clinging to those verses in ways you can’t understand, and they’ll sound trite. Your goal should be to listen 80% of the time and to speak 20%.

You may want to ask them what they miss most, grieve most, fear most. Allow them to express their memories and share their story.

4. Don’t be afraid of emotion and tears.

Many things are worth sorrow and tears. If your friend cries, don’t be afraid to cry with them. And don’t feel pressured into saying something intended to be positive–for instance, “Your husband’s in a better place” or “You can always have another baby” or “At least you look good.”

5. Ask your friend what support looks like to them and offer to help.

Be specific. Offer specific kinds of help–financial, home maintenance, errands/shopping, vehicle maintenance, etc. Or perhaps you can help with party planning for children or decorations for the holidays.

I live with chronic illness, and I’m still learning how to get dinner on the table at night. By 2:00 in the afternoon, it’s difficult for me to walk. But many people assume that because I’m diagnosed and under treatment that I no longer need help. But I’m not alone–many people with chronic illness live with challenges that healthy people do not understand–and those challenges can be isolating and discouraging.

6. Don’t stop checking in.

Dr. Benjamin Mast has written an insightful book titled Second Forgetting (Zondervan 2014). “Second forgetting reflects a spiritual forgetting experienced not only by the person with Alzheimer’s [or other illnesses or who has suffered grief or wounding], but more broadly by their family, friends, and even the church who seeks to care for them.” Birthdays and anniversaries are especially painful for those who have experienced loss.

I was brokenhearted when I was too ill to attend Easter services this past week. My body simply wouldn’t cooperate. And I was grieving the fact that I’d missed out on Christmas and New Year’s, due to emergency brain surgery. I’d looked forward to being with my church family at East with enormous anticipation.

Instead, I remained at home–ill.So I was particularly grieved when a dear friend of mine–a young widow–texted me late that night to tell me her heartache at others’ expectations about how she should be grieving.

Supporting others is a lifetime role. It does not involve placing our expectations upon them but, instead, being Jesus’ hands of mercy to them.

We always help the hurting most when we display gratitude and grace in our own lives as we remember God’s faithfulness, His presence, and His promises in OUR lives. We do not have to preach–living faithfully and loving others gracefully will point them to hope.

Self-Talk and Suffering: What to Do When Our Attitude Slips

silent Seduction Cover Image JPG low resI just spent ten minutes trying to open a package a friend sent to me in the mail. In the past months, I’ve grown frustratingly weak. At the end of a long, hard box war, I was in tears, and I’d flung my cardboard enemy to the far side of the room.

But here’s the bigger picture. I’m in more than a battle with illness right now. I’m in a battle for my soul. And it’s played out in my self-talk every day.

The instant I let my attitude slip, a negative script began to play in my head–one of several favorites these past months. 

Interestingly, David was familiar with similar feelings. He wrote about how his attitude slid when he experienced suffering. In Psalm 73, Here’s the pattern, and if we’re honest, I think we all can relate.

Psalm 73:3: We envy others’ prosperity.

So here’s how it goes for me. I’m living a lot of life on my couch right now. When I go out, I’m going to a medical appointment. And I’m often in a wheelchair. But my friends are still visiting their kids and grandkids, planning parties with one another, even grocery shopping. Right now I can’t unscrew the cap from a bottle of water. Envy creeps into my self-talk, if I allow it.

Psalm 73:4: We become bitter about other people’s lack of struggle.

It’s easy to fall into this “poor me” mentality. And popular culture tells us we’re entitled to it. After all, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Right? In other words, it’s the world’s job to satisfy my needs and desires. WRONG. My identity as a Christian is rooted first in my Sonship (this is not an issue of gender, folks), then my role as a Servant of God and others, and finally as a Soldier in this world.

Psalm 73:5: We compare circumstances.

Okay, let me just say that chronic illness can bring out the worst here. I’ve been to church only twice in three months, and if I go, my husband Dan takes me in a wheelchair. I’m unable to walk the distance to the bathroom and back. I struggle to button buttons. I have a hard time thinking or finding things. I fall down. And I choke just drinking water or on nothing at all. So it’s hard to listen to friends talk about flying off to conferences or vacationing. My vacation is sitting in the car at Sonic. I need to be deliberate about my self-talk, or it will overtake my attitude.

Psalm 73:6-16: We place blame, judge, and slip into self-justification.

We take the focus off of OUR motives and actions and become obsessed with what other people are doing. When this happens, we lose the opportunity for God to use our circumstances to change and mold us. What a waste. We sink into self-pity and self-justification and become deaf to God speaking to our hearts.

Psalm 73: 17-20: The solution: Wisdom comes as we sit in God’s presence.

Perspective and understanding in suffering come as we spend time with God. We will always sink into bitterness and anger if we focus on circumstances, other people, or search for justice. Only the character of God and his unwavering love for us bring the wisdom and peace we need in times of suffering.

If we look for these things on our own, we’ll end up with answers limited to our own knowledge. Our perspective is earthly, temporal, and influenced by our sin-warped tendencies (yes, you). We’re all driven by self-centered motives and desires, as well as wounds and hurts that have been inflicted by this world. Unless we seek a perspective greater than our own, we are limited by our innate human myopia.

Psalm 73:25-27: God is the strength of my heart and gives light for my path.

God gives everything we ever need in suffering if we come to him–strength, wisdom, perspective, guidance. We only have to ask. He never withholds the things we need.

So what should we do when our attitude slips? 

  • Hang out with God.
  • Talk to him.
  • Bring him your concerns, complaints, fears, and sorrows.
  • Be honest with him.
  • Ask him for wisdom.
  • Remember the good things he’s done.
  • Trust his character.
  • Spend time in Scripture, and ask him to talk to you through his Word.

What about YOU? How do you handle your self-talk during hard times? When are you tempted to fall into a similar pattern?

 

 

Tips When You Suspect Your Loved One Has Dementia

carsharblogpic

Like most people, my family was unprepared for my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We saw the signs, but we didn’t want to admit that such an awful thing could happen to our mom.

And so we didn’t talk about the hard things for too long. By the time we were ready to make a plan, we’d already hit crisis stage.

Many of my friends are now in a similar position, and you may be, too. Here are my top recommendations for how to best care for your loved one if you suspect they may have or be heading toward dementia.

1. Get them under the care of a gerontologist. 

A gerontologist is a doctor trained in illnesses in the elderly. My mother had heart problems, a seizure disorder, diabetes, was a stroke risk, and was sensitive to a number of Alzheimer’s-related medications. We needed ONE doctor who understood dementia and could best advise us regarding her medications and long-term care. Gerontologists understand with the various forms of dementia and what medications can best help your loved one, as well as drug interactions and how best care for those with dementia-related needs.

2. Have your loved one assessed by the Area Agency on Aging in the area where they live to find available services.

For a number of years, my mom and dad lived with my husband and me. We found an amazing adult day care program for my mother that offered me respite three mornings a week. A bus came to our home and picked up my mom (and dad) at our doorstep free of charge. The day care program offered programming specific to my mother’s needs, and they also bathed her. This was hugely helpful to me, since Mom was terrified of water, and bath time was a battleground. I’m convinced that this program (one of several that we accessed) extended my mother’s cognitive abilities, as well as the time we were able to care for her (and my dad) in our home.

3. Consult an elder care lawyer.

Our family has never regretted this decision, even though it meant an initial financial “investment,” which was returned over and over again. This decision saved my mother and father tens of thousands of dollars. It preserved funds that are still available for my 93-year-old father’s care. Elder care lawyers can help you and your family make the best possible decisions regarding your loved one’s, your parent, or your parents’ estate. If you live in Michigan or West Michigan, I recommend Tim Alles, who practices in the Grand Rapids area.

4. Begin talking and planning ASAP. 

I recommend Jolene Philo’s Caregiver’s Notebook (published by Discovery House Publishers) to help you begin the discussion and make appropriate preparations. It’s a great tools. Of course, my books are also helpful, especially Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey. This book is packed with valuable websites and resources for caregivers who may feel caught off-guard.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Bring your loved one’s physician, pastor, or trusted friends into the discussion. Work to put together a long-term plan with flexible options. What works today may not work tomorrow. And above all, turn to God as your ultimate resource. We can never be enough to meet the needs of our loved one. God is with us. He will supply the wisdom and strength that we need every step of the way.

What about YOU? If you’ve been a caregiver for someone with dementia, what would you recommend to others?

Prayers While You’re Waiting

grieving

Waiting is one of the hardest things we’re called to do. And yes, I believe as Christians we’re all CALLED to wait. This is because waiting accomplishes valuable goals, if we allow it to:

1. Waiting can shift our focus from the superficial to the eternal. 

Waiting usually makes us impatient. We want to see results NOW. We usually have our hearts fixed on getting things our way. And God uses those longs pauses to remind us that we’re not running the show. That there’s a bigger purpose than what we see in the day-to-day. That our view is limited.

2. Waiting can help us see our priorities.

Tough times usually reveal our hearts. And waiting for answers during those times show us what we REALLY think is important in life. If we’re wise, we’ll use this time to study our hearts, motives, and goals. But learning more about those things is only helpful if we grow in wisdom as we do it. This means learning to think more like God and to see life from his perspective.

3. Waiting can help us draw closer.

To people and to God. It opens our eyes to things that are truly important, if we allow our hearts to be sensitive to the Spirit of God. As we learn dependency on God, we learn to love people better. Waiting isn’t a passive thing. We wait with expectation and hope that God is at work, that he is working out the details of our lives for our best interests and to his glory, and we can therefore PRAY and ACT with gratitude and faith.

PRAYERS WHILE YOU’RE WAITING

1. Pray for wisdom, and ask for wise counsel. Spend time in the Word of God, but don’t be afraid to ask godly mentors for their opinions and advice.

2. Ask God to reveal what he’s saying to you, then pray, meditate on his Word, and journal. Don’t expect to hear from God if you’re not listening to him, and the best way to listen is to spend time in Scripture.

3. Cast your fears on God. That means throw them in his direction, then turn your back and walk away. Refuse to go back and pick them up again. And if you do, throw them back to God and turn away again. And again until it becomes easier to trust him to pick up those worries for you.

4. Be grateful for where God has you today. I can do this because today has a purpose–even though the circumstances may stink. Even though it hurts. I don’t think God expects us to be grateful for pain–but I CAN be grateful because I know God takes the horror of this life and creates purpose and even beauty from it.