Tell Someone You Care

A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.

The chronically ill walk a fine line between honesty and duplicity.

Loving, well-intentioned friends and acquaintances frequently ask us how we’re doing. But “How are you?” is typically used as a social greeting in the same category as “Good to see you.” and “How are the kids?”

Most people who ask the question “How are you?” don’t have the time or interest, at least at that moment, for people to talk about how they’re truly feeling.

We may mean it when we say those words, but hearing a literal answer to the literal question is usually not our intent when we ask, right?

Which can feel disheartening to the chronically ill person, since at any moment in time we’re probably not feeling fine. In fact, we’ve learned to push through our pain if we want to interact with family and friends.

Feeling “fine” is often a memory the chronically ill grieve.

In many ways, our lives are not like the lives of our healthy friends and family. We do not have the same choices. Illness may have taken a toll on our finances and career. I may have eroded family relationships. Living with chronic illness means dealing with feelings and circumstances that healthy people are often unaware of. Talking about how we truly feel can sound like complaining, and if we tell people how we really feel every time we feel that way (which is often awful and exhausted every day), we run the risk of sounding like ungrateful, unspiritual wimps and whiners.

So we choose something polite to say, which is usually “Fine.” And we smile and push away resentment for the question. Especially if we’ve been saying “fine” for years when we’re really not so very NOT fine. Besides, if we’re or a social event, we’ve come to enjoy the event and the people. We don’t want to be defined by our illness.

If we’re lucky, we have friends who know what living with illness looks like for us. They probe beneath the surface because they want to help lift the burden, whatever it may be for us. They understand that compassion is an expression of love. They understand that suffering and pain are not to be borne alone.

I appreciate one dear woman who sits near me at church on Sundays. I don’t know her well. She always asks me the dreaded “How are you?” question. Then she tilts her head and follows it with one word: “Really? How are you really?”

The simple question “Really?” tells me she cares about more than a superficial answer.

I don’t go into detail, but I’m always honest when I answer. “It’s been a rough week. My walking has been pretty rough.” “I’m having increasing cramping and pain in my legs.” “My fatigue has really put me down this week.”

She always takes my hands and promises to pray. In less than a minute she has reached out and helped bear a burden.

I’m grateful for this woman who cares enough to ask me for more than a polite answer. It’s not necessary for everyone to do what she does every time they approach someone with chronic illness or who may be suffering in other ways, but it means a lot to know that people will pause and ask about our pain.

Last summer I went to our local zoo with my son’s family, who had come to visit. I knew I couldn’t walk the zoo, so I rented a motorized scooter. Even though I was using a scooter, I was exhausted after several hours and needed to find a place to cool off and rest. I drove the scooter toward the front of the zoo and pulled off under a tree to rest. People passed by me by the hundreds as they headed toward the exit. After I’d been sitting for about thirty minutes or so, a young black man approached me with a concerned look on his face.

“Ma’am, can I help you with anything? Are you all right? Can I get you something? Do you need assistance?”

I reassured him that I was waiting for my family and thanked him. But for more than a year, I’ve pondered what drove that one person to approach me and ask if I needed help. What gave this young man eyes of compassion when hundreds of other people never considered that a lone, obviously exhausted handicapped woman who appeared to be looking for someone might need help?

Do we see the crowd, or do we look for those in need in a crowd?

Who’s in need in your crowd? How can you help the sick and hurting in your community? Perhaps you could bring a meal, grocery shop, do yard work, run to the post office, watch their favorite TV show/athletic event with them, fix their car, help with home maintenance (no one in this house can change light bulbs), purchase their favorite fruit or flowers, or simply stop by for a visit.

Ask God to place one or two people in your life to occasionally look in the eye and ask “Really? You know, it’s easy to look good on the outside and still hurt like crazy on the inside.”

In body, soul, or spirit.

Who has asked you about how you are? What has it meant to you? Who have you helped to encourage and how?

 

One woman who

Winning with Meekness

 

Topeka 021

 

What are your first thoughts when you hear the word meek?

For most of my life, I was a foot-dragger when it came to the thought of being meek. Yeah, yeah, I know the Bible says “the meek inherit the earth.” And I certainly wanted to be blessed–both in my life on earth and in the next life with God.

But I believed meekness meant being a doormat, handing over my rights to someone else, walking around with downcast eyes and a lowered head, and submitting to everyone else’s opinions.

Of course, this was stuff I made up in my head, but the word meek sounded so wimpy.

My fears about meekness didn’t make sense because Jesus was never a doormat.

He did exactly what He needed to do every moment of His life to glorify God the Father. No one obstructed Jesus in carrying out His purpose and plan or sharing His love. He expressed anger, as well as strong and unpopular opinions. He stood against the status quo. He broke tradition. He subsumed every thought, word, and action to glorify God, no matter the cost.

So if Jesus is the true picture of meekness, what is it?

In biblical times, two things had to be present in order for someone to exercise meekness.

  1. A conflict or difficult situation
  2. Inability to control one’s circumstances

When we find ourselves in tough circumstances that we’re unable to control, we typically become frustrated, angry, bitter, and manipulative. But the meek person, like Jesus, trusts God’s ability to guide events without his or her intervention (Gal 5:23 ; Eph 4:2 ; Col 3:12 ; 1 Tim 6:11 ; Titus 3:2 ; James 1:21 ; 3:13)

Meekness is strength that chooses weakness, perseverance, and resilience, in order to glorify God and serve others.

An example would be a wild stallion that chooses to submit its strength to be tamed and serve the needs of its owner. The horse doesn’t relinquish its strength but allows it to be harnessed for the profitable use of a master. This is the kind of life we should seek as Jesus-followers;

  • Meekness in our words
  • Meekness in our actions
  • Meekness in our thoughts
  • Meekness in our motives

So how do we win when we build meekness into our lives?

  • We learn to trust God more. The meek don’t expect to see justice here and now. They trust God to work things in His time and for our good in ways that we may not see in this life. They can rest in the character of God.
  • We learn that our circumstances don’t define our lives. We sing all kinds of songs about God being in control, being Lord of all, and being sovereign. But when a crisis hits, we often default to panic. The meek understand that we can’t see what God is doing behind our circumstances. The meek rest in knowing they don’t see God’s Bigger Picture.
  • We grow to be more like Jesus. Once we understand the true power of meekness, things in our life begin to fall away: worry, fear, anxiety, anger, bitterness. We become more like Jesus.  
  • We love others more selflessly. Meekness directs our hearts toward others and helps us look at people through the lens of love. Love always moves us to action on behalf of others.
  • Meekness builds resilience. It requires perseverance through difficult times for a greater good. Meekness teaches endurance and the ability to endure pain for a deferred reward. This requires strength, courage, and fortitude.

To hear more on the topic of meekness, listen to Freedom Girl Radio on Monday evenings at 7:00CT with host and Freedom Coach Pastor Dawn Damon at BlogTalk Radio. And I’d love to here your thoughts and experiences.

 

When It’s Time to Take Away the Keys

CarThruWindowWe knew we had a problem when we discovered Mom was accelerating through red lights.

And forgetting how to get to church and the grocery store.

And not realizing that her reaction time had slowed a few seconds…or a dozen.

Other tell-tale signs include not recognizing appropriate speed limits, ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, getting lost in familiar places and fender-bender accidents or near-misses.

But the big problem was that Mom didn’t recognize the big problem.

She thought her driving skills were fine. And the simple truth was that our family’s greatest concern wasn’t for Mom. To be honest, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness–Alzheimer’s–and faced years of diminishment. We had a strong faith that if she died, she’d go to heaven and see Jesus and finally be healed of her suffering.

The bigger problem was that if Mom had an accident while driving, a very real chance existed that she could be responsible for the death or impairment of an innocent person. Some child’s mother. Some mother’s child. A young man’s fiancee. A beloved friend. The grandmother who was raising her child’s children.

No difficult conversation or display of hurt feelings was worth the risk of someone else’s life, much less my mother’s life.

So what does a family member do when it’s time to take the keys away from a loved one?

Especially if they don’t understand, become angry, or refuse to cooperate?

  1. Assure them that you’re on their side. Reassure them that you support their independence and driving as long as they are safe and not jeopardizing the safety of others.
  2. Speak their language. What resonates with your parent? My parents had worked and saved all their lives so they could give an inheritance to their children. When we told my dad that risking an accident could put their assets (as well as their children’s assets) at risk for a possible lawsuit, he quickly understood the gravity of driving if his skills had eroded.
  3. Make a third party the judge. Physicians and driving assessment centers can play a key role on taking pressure off family members. Write a brief letter to your family member’s physician and explain your concerns about their driving. Follow up with a call and ask if they can make a recommendation for a driving evaluation with a local agency or the Secretary of State in your area. For help finding a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist, click HERE.  Explain to your parent that if the agency determines that they are fit to drive, you will support their decision. However, if they are found to be lacking necessary driving skills, their license might be revoked or limited, or they may need to work to improve their skills.
  4. Offer options. Losing the independence of driving is an enormous transition. Discuss alternate means of transportation with your loved one. Research options in the area where they live. You may find many options available. Have them talk to friends about options they’ve found that have worked. My father moved to an assisted facility that was within walking distance to stores and restaurants and provided transportation to a large shopping facility to residents several times a week. The home was also within several miles of family members who took Dad out several times a week. A dedicated bus also took residents to a fabulous senior recreation center each week.
Discovery House Publishers, 2008

Discovery House Publishers, 2008

How have you navigated taking the keys away from a member of your family? What was their response? What would you recommend to others?

For more practical advice on tough caregiving topics, check out Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey.

Encouraging Ourselves Through Truth Talk

vineandbranchesLately I’ve been focuing on the the truth that Jesus is the vine and I am a branch. This means that I’m connected directly to Him. My life flows from Him. My nourishment comes from Him. I can’t do anything that isn’t connected in some way to Him.

I have to admit that I don’t always feel spiritually connected. I need encouragement. Aches and pains, financial challenges, relationship heartaches, and other frustrations can infect my attitude before I have a chance to figure out what day it is (sometimes that takes ALL day). One of the key aspects of practicing my “vine life” has been remaining in conversation with Jesus. To do this I literally envision Him standing beside me (because He IS with me) and telling me all the things He’s said to me in His Word that apply to my life in that moment or in my hurts and challenges.

Conversing with God is one of the best ways to encourage yourself. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10.) This means that I sit quietly as Jesus tells me who I REALLY am. Who He REALLY is to me. What my REAL purpose is in life and on this particular day. What I am responsible for (obedience, loving God and others, trust, repentance) and what He is responsible for (loving and taking care of me).

The more we converse and stay connected to the vine, the more encouraged we become because we focus on truth and Jesus.

For more help on transforming your self talk, check out The Silent Seduction of Self Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God. and to hear more from me and author Wanda Sanchez on the topic of encouraging yourself, tune in to the Freedomgirls Sisterhood blogtalk podcast with host Dawn Damon Monday nights at 8:00ET.

 

Dealing with Depression

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

 

One of the common side effects of multiple sclerosis is depression. Not long after my most recent relapse, I recognized symptoms of depression and discussed appropriate treatment with my family and my doctor. Read more about MS and depression HERE.

On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

There are different types of depression, and they can be linked to different causes. Symptoms can range from minor (but still disabling) through to very severe. Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of loss, disillusionment, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping,

My first experience with depression was following the birth of my first child. I called these the “years of the brown robe” because I pretty much never got dressed unless I was going to church because “good” Christians can’t be depressed or shopping for groceries–a necessity of life. This depression was profoundly deep and lasted several years.

Looking back, I believe that during these years I experienced depression related to the trauma of a sexual assault when I was nineteen years old. I felt enormous guilt for not being a “good mother” to my children or a “good wife” to my husband. Unlike the church I attend now, the church I went to during this time in my life didn’t talk about how the Bible related to practical issues like mental and physical health. I believed I was supposed to be in-right-out-right-up-right-down-right happy all the time.” To learn more, read the article “How Trauma Can Lead to Depression.” 

My second period of depression occurred approximately five years later. It seemed to be linked to a medication I was taking for migraines. Once I stopped taking the medication, the depression disappeared.

The depression I’ve experienced with my MS has seemed persistent yet more manageable that my two previously episodes of depression. I’ve found several key factors to be helpful in beating the blues:

  1. Talk to your doctor about whether or not medication may be right for you. Chemicals and hormones in your body may be burnt out and need a re-boot to recover. Anti-depressants are a tool to help you make better choices–they do not make choices for you. There is no shame in taking medicine that addresses biological illnesses. Your brain functions chemically and sometime may need medicine in the same way your pancreas and heart need medicine.
  2. Try to get out into nature at least a little every day. I have trouble walking, but I walk to the mailbox. I pull a few weeds. I’m not supposed to be in the sun or in heat, so I spend my time outside in the morning. Read a book in the park. Take your lunch break outside. Drive to the beach, a lake or river. The beauty of flowers, the scent of the grass, the sound of birds lifts our spirits. God wired us this way.
  3. Do something to lift someone else’s spirits. Send a card. Pay for someone’s lunch. Send an anonymous gift. Write a letter of appreciation. Tell someone how beautiful they are. Thank a police officer, fireman, teacher, pastor, nurse, doctor, social worker, or other people helper.
  4. Remind yourself who God says you are. Beautiful. Chosen. Flawless. Forgiven. Beloved. His child. Depression often produces negative self-talk. Be committed to mindfulness in the battle against stinkin’ thinking–about yourself, others, your circumstances, your future, even about who God is and His role in your life.

What about you? Have you or someone you love struggled with depression? How have you dealt with it? Who or what has helped you most?

When It’s Love and Not Throwing Someone Under the Bus

 

volkswagen-158463_960_720People sometimes use the phrase “throw someone under the bus” when referring to holding friends or loved ones accountable for their actions. I’ve recently heard the term used in circumstances where churches have been reluctant to require legal or other consequences for the immoral or illegal activity of their leadership.

I’ve also heard the phrase used by Christians who don’t want to hurt friends or those they love by causing them to experience the consequences of their actions (lying, cheating, stealing, immorality, abuse, etc).

But what is accountability anyway? Most people think of the word in terms of negative confrontation and discipline. But accountability is a necessity for believers. It’s simply a willingnesss to be transparent and open to questioning, challenging, admonishing, and confession, in order to receive encouragement and growth.  The purpose is to help one another grow spiritually.
Scripture is clear that as Christians we are to hold one another accountable.

  • Galatians 6:1-2 states that as Christians we are to go to those who are caught in transgressions (sins) and gently restore them. This verse refers to this as lifting a burden from them–an act of kindness toward them–as well as fulfilling God’s law or expectations for us. The word restoration implies action on their part, fixing what was broken. In order to be restored, we must first admit that something was broken–something inside and about us.

    Holding one another accountable for our sins is an act of love. 

  • Matthew 18:15-17 tells us that personal disputes should be resolved face-to-face. If those attempts fail, we should enlist the mediation of Christian friends, and if that’s not successful, we should consult the church or its leaders. In other words, we can’t simply sit back and say, “Confrontation is too hard.” “I don’t feel comfortable doing this.” Restoration is part of family life for Christians.
  • James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” We need one another–to hold each other up so we don’t stumble and get tripped up by sin. Accountability means that we question, challenge, admonish, confess, and encourage each other for love’s sake, not for ourselves.

Not long ago an extended family member came to live in our home. Our relationship had always been strained. I
struggled with the idea of telling them there would be a need for boundaries in our home. No one had ever laid down
boundaries with my loved one before, and I didn’t expect our conversation to be positive. But my desire was
that they grow beyond their constant criticism of others, I would implement consequences if they criticized other
family members, our church, people they didn’t approve of, or our family’s personal choices. I expected the same
standard of conduct expected of other family members. Much to my surprise, after several pouting session, this
loved one complied. The entire balance of our relationship shifted as a result.

“Throwing someone under the bus” is an act of abandonment. Confronting someone in love is an act of mercy done on their behalf. Never in a spirit of pride. Never for one’s personal good. Always for the spiritual benefit of the other and in a spirit of humility and grace.

I thank God for the people who’ve come to me in this place in my life. They snatched me out of the path of the real giant busses that have nearly crushed my soul. I was simply too oblivious to see them.

Thank God for accountability and love and relationships and love that cares enough not to leave us where we are. Just like Jesus.

Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart

 Music

I’m so excited…

A phenomenal new book is releasing May 11th–a book written by one of my best and most respected friends, Steve Siler, founder and director of MusicfortheSoul.org.

I don’t want to brag, but I just received my copy of Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart. While the book chronicles the miraculous story of Steve’s Dove Award-winning songwriting journey that ultimately culminated in his founding MusicfortheSoul.org, the book is much, much more.

Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart captures the captivating, healing, God-inspired power of music to reclaim and transform lives. 

Using the evocative vehicle of sstory, this book gives a glimpse into the healing power of music. MusicfortheSoulMusic for the Soul, Healing for the Heart relates the true-life events of how God called Steve from among West Coast’s musical elite to Nashville’s gospel and contemporary Christian music scene, where Steve would win the highest awards in Christian songwriting. But he would leave that world to follow his passion and create a ministry that focuses on soul-healing music that binds the broken and hopeless.

Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart tells how God led Steve on a journey through pop music and culture, to contemporary Christian music, then to ministry-focused music that focuses solely on songs crafted to help the broken heal. Steve’s songs are written for parents of special needs children, for those who have lost their homes to natural disasters, for those who have been sexually abused, for those who have been trafficked, for those who have experienced cancer, for caregivers, for military and law enforcement officers, for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, for those who have lost children to the pain of abortion.

Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart is not a book simply about music or ministry. It is a book about broken people, hope, and healing.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt broken, known or loved anyone who has felt broken, or who works with broken people. I recommend this book to those who love music, to those who love musicians, and to those who want to better understand the God-given power of music to restore hearts. I recommend this book to anyone who has felt called to follow God’s passion for their life and followed that call in spite of the risk. And I recommend this book to those looking for well-written inspirational, God-honoring reading.

Shelly Beach

Multiple award-winning author, speaker, consultant
ShellyBeachonline.com
PTSDPerspectives.org