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Connecting with God in the Hard Times through Praise

For the fourth Sunday of each month, I prepare and give the welcoming and introduction part of our worship service. I study the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday and prepare a short reflection and prayers as the introduction to the service.
I always start preparing ahead of time and try to listen to the particular Lectionary scriptures for that Sunday as if God is speaking to my own heart and situation. My Sunday in May was a few days after my husband’s surgery for lung cancer.
The first reading was from Acts 1 after Jesus ascended into heaven leaving his disciples praying together as they wait anxiously for the coming of the promised power of the Holy Spirit.
These Scriptures describe Christianity being born. The disciples are trying to learn to trust God even when they can no longer see Jesus. But when things are going badly, they still become anxious. Jesus has asked God to protect not only them, but all of us that follow him. So we, just like our brothers and sisters from the very beginning, can bring our fears to God. The followers of Jesus, not just in church on Sundays, but even through our internet connections, gather through prayer.
The second reading, 1 Peter, tells us to rejoice when we are sharing Christ’s suffering for we are blessed by the Spirit of God, resting on us. And after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.
Letting go of fear of suffering is a challenge that I often don’t manage until I’m overwhelmed. But, when I do, I have found that I can let go of my fear by praising and thanking God for all He has done for me. It is much better when I don’t wait for times of obvious blessings to praise and thank God. When I actually praise God in the hard times, I realize that then suffering can bring me closer to him. That praise particularly connects me to God. God doesn’t need praise, we need to praise God. It changes our focus and gives us a new perspective that opens our eyes to the blessings all around us.
Here are some generic possibilities for praise and thanksgiving in hard times that I included in my reflection and prayers for Sunday worship.
God, our father, we praise your glory. You are perfect beauty far beyond what I have ever seen. You are truth that transforms my faith and fills me with your Spirit. You are the life changing power of grace that gives me inner strength. You are perfect love that can heal my heart, mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you for the reflections of your glory that I see in the beauty of nature. Thank you for your Spirit increasing my faith by opening my mind when I seek your truth in the Scriptures. Thank you for grace that strengthens me when I pray in times of suffering. And thank you most of all for your perfect love expressed in Jesus that heals and opens my heart to You.

Since I am a devout coward and a congenital worrier, I often miss God’s call to praise and thanksgiving and have to become almost bedridden with the pain of Fibromyalgia before I remember to cast my cares on the God who loves me tenderly and unconditionally. But when I not only praise in such general things, but move on to specific large and small blessings, such as our children who give us such wonderful support, the plethora of bright red cardinals outside my window, songs of praise coming from within that lift my heart and mind to God, even strangers in doctors’ waiting rooms and people who connect with me across the world through blogs, that pray for us and I for them, and  perhaps most of all, the powerful surges of the sometimes forgotten tenderness I feel for my husband, then the grace of joy bubbles up from deep inside me and my heart joins my mind in giving praise to God.

Born Anxious with Relapses

Many of us have had physical symptoms for decades without realizing they were caused by anxiety. Sometimes when I watched a rash start and spread before my eyes as I was dealing with a sudden, obvious stressor, I saw the connection between the physical and the emotional. Other times when getting short of breath and feeling like something was squeezing my chest, if I wasn’t in touch with the triggering emotions, I thought I was having a heart attack.
Self-awareness helps, learning calming techniques, learning to laugh at ourselves, and cutting ourselves some slack in certain situations can help. Understanding that many, many people experience physical problems without ever recognizing the emotional triggers, learning to talk ourselves through our fears, finding the right anti-anxiety medicines, all can help when we quit beating ourselves up for being born anxious.
We didn’t choose it, it’s undoubtedly chemical and genetic, it’s way more widespread than anyone realizes, but self-awareness and experimenting to find what helps us can minimize the negative fallout for ourselves and those that love us.
We aren’t to blame, but we are responsible for learning ways to minimize the crippling effects. And I can personally testify that love, joy, delight, pleasure, lots of laughter, worthwhile occupations, concern for others are all possible even for us born worry warts.
PS: The other day, I found a lot of old comic strips I cut out over the years that “spoke to my condition,” letting me know I wasn’t alone, and freeing me to find humor even in my inner chaos: Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbs, The Far Side, Ziggy, Kudzu, Cathy, Zits, Dilbert, Doonesbury,Arlo and Janice, and many more. Laughter is Carbonated Grace.

Fatty, Fatty, Five Foot Four – Can’t Get Through the Kitchen Door ( or I’m Heavy from All Those Stones I’ve Already Thrown at Myself)

With some hesitation, I am entering the fray started recently by someone’s criticism of an overweight television personality.

A couple of years ago, I lost about twelve pounds, because of knee problems, surgery, and a slow recovery due to my pain being prolonged by Fibromyalgia.  The simple fact was, I was bed-ridden, sleeping a lot, and couldn’t get to the refrigerator on my own.  Encouraged by this, I went on the Adkins diet and lost thirty-three more pounds.  I looked so much better that some people didn’t recognize me.  I felt so much better that my whole pattern of life changed.

But I’m still addicted to food.  It’s just that since I like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, leafy green vegetables, and nuts, I can now pretty much eat all the time and gain weight slowly enough to have some control over it. (However, my husband dislikes most meat and all green leafy vegetables, so my grocery bill has almost doubled.)

Goodies and baddies.  Baddies and Goodies.   A reality of life: there are no unmixed blessings or troubles.

Long ago, I recognized that I have a tendency to become addicted to pleasures, because pleasure temporarily deadens emotional pain.  God helped me recognize this in time to head off serious alcoholism in my late twenties, avoid temptations to adultery in my thirties, and finally stop smoking three packs a day at age forty-eight.

Unfortunately, by fifty-five I ended up in physical pain and in a wheelchair,( but fortunately allergic to most pain killers.)  Friends, grace, and prayer helped me get through about six or seven years of this, but the delight of good food also played a significant part.   When not able to exercise, while dulling both physical and emotional pain with the only pleasure left, I gained eighty pounds. I jokingly, but truthfully, say that I didn’t quit smoking, I just switched to smoking food. I am actually five foot- two inches tall and after my fourth child weighed one hundred and four pounds.  Do the math.  I became seriously obese in my sixties.  I am still overweight for my small frame and height, just not grossly so.  But, the need for the pain killer of food is still my current challenge.

Certain personalities are susceptible to emotional stresses in different ways than many others are. They are not only over-sensitive to slights or criticisms of themselves, but imagine others are also, and take on everyone else’s presumed pain.  I remember getting stomach cramps every time a teacher got onto any pupil.

 Also, some people’s ability to visualize wonderful possibilities, makes them idealistic and inclined to judge themselves and others as falling short.

The positive side of this is that when they have enough talent and brains, to actually gain influence, they can make a difference and make life better for many.  But, the need to make a major difference in the world, produces a chronic sense of failure for many, while also tending to make them unsatisfied with the lack of vision and achievements of organizations they are involved in. Thus alienating them from others and creating an even greater sense of failure.  Some of us “do not work and play well” with others in organizations or even religious institutions.

There are obvious addictions, some more destructive than others.  But many go unrecognized or appear harmless.  An addiction to shopping doesn’t do much harm, if you are rich, but can destroy solvency and relationships, if you are not.  An addiction to judging others can pass as righteousness, when it actually simply serves to distract us from our own unrecognized pain over our failure to be the person God has created us to be.

 Not only is nobody perfect, but nobody ever manages to become perfect.  We are all different. And the areas, that we each are being called to grow free in, will not be on the same life schedule as someone else’s. In the gospel of Matthew we are called to be perfect only in forgiveness, of ourselves and others, which requires ongoing admission of failure and repentance on our part, until our last breath.  And paradoxically, I believe that takes knowing we are loved totally.

An addiction to cleaning house can seem virtuous, unless it makes life miserable for everyone else, or requires time that is needed for something else God is calling us to do or be.  Workaholics frequently end up divorced.  Addiction to affirmation leads people to be chameleons, who then have a difficult time discovering whom God has created them to be.  The list goes on and on.  Whatever need controls us, no matter how positive the results may seem, is an addiction and will keep us from becoming the person God created us to be.

Working with the elderly, it’s become obvious that many are unable to accept help and can’t find peace, when they can no longer do for others.  That may sound virtuous, but it’s not, when that is no longer whom God is calling us to be.  When we are being called to be still and not only KNOW that He is God, but to be empty enough to be filled with Him, to become one with Him, then even just hating not being able to do for others, will defeat finding that which is actually the pearl of great price we all seek.

We cannot get rid of our addictions by ourselves and we can’t get rid of them all at once.  There are seasons of life and there are times we are called to new freedom in specific areas. It takes recognizing our own addictions, however subtle or harmless seeming, so that we can accept the grace to get free.  In other words, we have to work to cast the log out of our own eye, before we even think about judging someone else.  Self-awareness is the basic need for ongoing conversion, for letting Jesus truly become Lord of our whole selves.

I am still finding that is a full time job at seventy-five, even though I accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord at thirty.  Letting Him be Lord of our whole self, even the parts we don’t want to see, is a lifetime job and only He will know when we’ve become the unique, loved, but still imperfect person, that He created us to be, so we get to go home.

Fibromyalgia: Intensifier and Prolonger of Pain with Flare-Ups Severe Enough to Make You Pray to Die

I discover more people struggling with Fibro every week. I am in remission and have only had a few relatively mild flare-ups for over four and a half years. Unfortunately most people who do not have fibromyalgia really haven’t got a clue about how crippling it can become.

I started having just mild and brief attacks of pain in my hands, when I was in my thirties.  I assumed it was arthritis.  In my late sixties I had a couple of week long flare-ups with wide spread pain so severe, that I could not sleep or find anyway to get out of pain.  I got slight relief from hot baths, but spent days and nights huddled in a recliner, wrapped in quilts, sobbing.  If someone just touched me gently on certain spots, I cringed in pain.  I am allergic to most pain medicines, including even aspirin, but steroid shots helped.  I am a devout coward about many things, but I have come through five Caesarian Sections, a hysterectomy,  gall stones attacks, and gall bladder surgery, always recouping quickly without much drama or whining.  So, I was pretty sure the pain was really bad and not just me being a wus.

Finally about seven years ago, I ended up bedridden for two months.The pain in my wrists was so severe that I couldn’t lift a cup of coffee without wearing wrist braces, my back and hip pain not only kept me from walking, but awake night and day. My ankles hurt too much to put pressure on the gas or brake pedal in the car, so I couldn’t drive. My husband decided to net-work our home computers to his office computer, so he could work from home and take care of me. The then only marketed medicine did not help the pain and made me feel drugged.My doctor had run out of suggestions.

I went on line and joined the Fibromyalgia Association, receiving their monthly newsletters. In these, there were a variety of testimonies about treatments that had helped others. I decided to start with the simplest and cheapest and work through the lists.

The simplest was taking Dextromethorphan, available across the counter. After several weeks this actually stopped the flare-up that seemed to have become chronic. I stayed on this for several months, until my blood pressure began to rise. This is not a good medicine for anyone with high blood pressure. Fortunately, since I stopped taking it, I have not had any totally crippling major flare-ups.
Partly from age related actual physical wear and tear, at seventy-eight when I have to walk long distances, I use a walker. I don’t need it to walk, I need it to sit down just for a couple of minutes to relieve pain and then I can go on. Also, since I both work and play on a computer, I end up with numbness and pain in my right wrist and hand from carpal-tunnel syndrome. I have found that wearing a wrist brace, just when sleeping, actually solves this problem. Most of the time, tylenol extra-strength handles any other type of flare-up.

The problem for me is that at my age I have some wear and tear that would cause some pain anyway, but fibromyalgia not only makes the pain worse, it tends to make it constant. Finding ways to handle stressors
is the key for me. Hating having to do physical chores triples my pain. My best way of managing physical activity is to balance it with frequent breaks. Working consciously to mentally and emotionally accept large and small unpleasant realities and to find grace in them on a daily basis has brought me the most relief.

One woman I met several years ago, who had been bedridden for over two months, got relief with the medicine Plaquenil, though it took almost three months to be pain free.

There are success stories with various natural treatments and there are new medicines on the market.  Fibromyalgia has a wide spectrum of symptoms including fatigue and confusion.  It seems to be caused by the central nervous system becoming hyper-active and sending out pain signals much more severe than any soreness,injury or emotional response merits and also prolonging the pain way past when the cause has been cured.  No one has a clear handle on it yet.

Get a doctor’s diagnosis, which generally will involve tests to rule out arthritis, lupus, and other serious muscle related illnesses.  Be proactive. Become knowledgeable through the Association newsletters about options for treatment.  Sometimes, doctors have a certain mindset about medicines and treatments, so find one that is willing to work with you to find the best for you.

Though cause and effect aren’t clear, there are some things that seem to make it worse.  Again, this can vary greatly from person to person.  Become aware of triggers for you. Changes in atmospheric pressure, exhaustion from overdoing physically, particularly when tense, are some I’ve noticed. Depression and resentment are major triggers for me.

If you have a personal relationship with God, surrendering all to God mentally or verbally over and over while in the pain, or praising God even in this time of suffering, and persevering until you mean it wholeheartedly, often can be incredibly healing. I admit that there are times I personally don’t manage this.

When in a flare-up, cut yourself a lot of slack. Mentally treat yourself tenderly, like you would a beloved child in pain. Prioritize and do only what is the most important. Allow yourself to just be. No matter what anyone else thinks, this is the a path to relief.

However, become aware of what is going on in your inner world. There may be something needing healing, resolution, or acceptance. This has the potential to bring more permanent relief than just medicines or rest.

Lately, I have been feeling overwhelmed by a difficult situation and am having some flare-ups again. It has taken over a week, but remembering what God has brought me through before, and working on letting go of my picture perfect expectations of myself, life, and others has given me relief.

I recently made a CD of favorite songs about peace, inner peace, personal peace, and world peace. Playing this when driving in heavy traffic, when needing to relax, and when going to sleep has been a great help.

Anything that relieves stress can help lessen a flare-up and allow you to get needed rest. Sex is actually a good temporary stress reliever, as long as the circumstances don’t cause resentment or anxiety.

Repetitive physical exercise,however, particularly during a flare-up, can make the pain worse.

Don’t despair.  There is help.  But it may take some trial and error. Persevere.