April McGowan

Happy Valentine’s Day to our Others

Happy Valentine’s Day to our Others

Chronic illness and pain really stink (or insert your own adjective here).  For the person suffering,  it’s rough. It’s hard to find empathy from others because to find empathy means you have to share about how you really feel, and that means opening yourself up to possible pity,  unwanted advice, or criticism. And when you find people who are good listeners, you risk wearing them out. So, if you’ve been at this for a while, you’re cautious. You’ve lost people. But at least we know we need people. (I know this is a strange way to start out a post on Valentine’s day but bear with me.)

Today I want to talk about the others. Our others.

For the spouse or significant other of the person with chronic illness, I want to tell you that the road is hard and isolating. Possibly just as much as the sufferer. I want to acknowledge your pain.

When illness hits one of you,  the other often goes unnoticed. People ask how the ill partner is and if they need anything, etc. What those outside the relationship (and sometimes the others themselves) don’t realize is that, as a couple, both of you are hurting.  All the times you have found empathy? Your other is not even looking for it because they don’t realize they need it. But they do.

This wasn’t what your husband or wife—your other—signed up for.  It’s in the vows—for better or for worse. When you’re newly married, therepent idea of worse isn’t on the radar. Forgive me for speaking in generalities. There are people who marry someone with a current illness or disability and are a bit more prepared. I say a bit because our imaginations just can’t do it justice: watching the one you love suffer is hard work. It’s painful.

There’s a certain amount of helplessness that occurs when your spouse becomes permanently hurt or ill and you can’t do anything about it. You can’t make them well, and you can’t take away their pain. This doesn’t change your desire to do so, though. You begin a fight you don’t know how to win. That you can’t actually win. Sorry.

It’s maddening and frustrating. It’s agonizing and life-altering. You get angry. Rightly so. It’s not fair. Acceptance comes and goes like the tides. There’s one thing no one seems to expect, though: Grief.

Grief is a daily part of the illness process for the sick/suffering—mourning who you aren’t anymore, learning to adjust to the new normal, the new (less improved) you. It goes up and down like a roller coaster. One day you are managing, at the top, looking above the clouds, and the next you are building speed toward the bottom that’s engulfed in fog, not sure if you’re going to stop before you hit something.

It is also this way for your other.

You as a couple can’t do the things you used to. Long strolls, spontaneous events, and big days packed with activities are done. It used to be about the two of you (and possibly your kids). Now, it’s entirely about one of you and deciding on what can they manage. Doing things in succession is in the past. Maybe one or two hours, or a half of a day is possible, but long weekends of jumping from one thing to another are out. You, our other, are not now the equal partner, but the caregiver.

This is a huge shift. And it hurts.

Unless you’re practiced in being self-sacrificing, it might become unbearable. As Christians, my husband and I count on the Lord giving us extra peace and strength and joy. The Holy Spirit has an unending supply. On our best days, we remember to pray and ask. On our worst? I’ll just say it, those are the worst.

My message is this: It’s important for us to realize that our significant other is suffering, too. Differently, but they are on a similar path that intersects yours. It weaves back and forth across your way, under you, around you in a pattern that reveals pain and love and hope and all that in between.

So while you need time to grieve, give your other the space to do so, too. It’s real and necessary. It takes patience and love and forgiveness. For both of you. Every day. The good ones and the rough ones. You’re really in this together. Talk to each other. Share your disappointments. Find your new path. And then find another new path. And another. Don’t give up on each other. What is meant to be a curse, can turn into a blessing that ties you closer together than you ever imagined you could be with another person. It’s not easy. But it’s true.

To my other, my sweet husband: You are not forgotten. I see you. I see your sacrifices. I see the worry in your eyes. I see your pain. You are appreciated and I’m so grateful. I’m blessed that I can face this with you. You are by my side—and on tough days at my back pushing my wheelchair. Even so, you never make me feel disabled. You never make me feel less. You see me as I used to be, and through your eyes, I see myself in a new light. I don’t know how you do that, but you do. I love you. Happy Valentine’s day.

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On Gratefulness and Gratitude for 2016

85faffdb5ec7d00b5a8b63296d5ab885Yesterday I took some time to ponder this past year. I began compiling a mental list of things that happened in 2016. There were so many blessings.

However, I was quite startled to see a different account on social media. There are more memes and gifs of 2016 blowing up, being burned, and stomped out of existence than I ever remember seeing before of any years in the past. “Good riddance,” was the tamer of most sentiments.

The United States presidential run, the loss of life to terrorism, and the deaths of entertainment icons seem to be garnering the most outrage right now. I’m upset about those things, too, don’t get me wrong. But, I’m always left wondering as we watch remembrance lists of those who have died in the entertainment industry about the others who died. Those in less auspicious careers in ministry, literature, arts and sciences who are even more impactful in our daily lives that no one bothers to compile a list about because they aren’t famous. Or even more importantly, our own loved ones.

And even as I’m pondering these things, and the struggles I’ve faced this year with illness and disability, with loss and unexpected occurrences, I’m still overcome with a spirit of gratitude.

Every day is, truly, a gift. Lest that sound trite, know I spend many hours of those days in bed from illness, but still, they are gift I’m thankful to have.

So as I think back over 2016, the losses aren’t in the forefront of my mind as much as the gratefulness for what has happened. In 2016, after homeschooling her for her whole school career, we graduated our daughter from high school and she stared college. We’ve watch her grow greatly in maturity and responsibility—in compassion and grace. My son entered the last year of middle school, started a blog, grew many inches, and has become a source of comfort when I’m not feeling my best. Despite losing his closest local friends to an out-of-state move, he has found joy and grown in his sense of humor, and is finding new connections. My husband and I grew closer to God through trials and deepened our intimacy with our Savior and one another. I’m grateful for my sister-in-law, the blessing she is to us, and that she’s someone I can count as sister and friend. I’m thankful I got to see all my parents this year and made sweet memories with them. Daily, I’m blessed by good friends and sisters in Christ in countless ways—but mostly by their prayers and words of encouragement.

So, while life moves on, trials come and deep losses are experienced, I’m still grateful to the Lord for the blessings He brings, for the strength He extends, and for the small, sweet moments I enjoy in His company.

I hope and pray that each of you can look back and see pockets of unexplainable joy and peace that Jesus has brought to you despite your circumstances. And I pray that in the coming year you will be even more mindful (as I’m practicing at!) of seeing His gentle, guiding hand in all the hours of your days.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

 

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On Writing: Writing Conferences

Writing Conferences

Type-TypeOnce people discover I’m an author, they inevitably ask how I got published. I think everyone is hoping for a rags to riches story. When I start talking about the hard work of writing, their reactions vary between eyes glazing over, eyes filling with sympathy, or eyes filling with fear.

It’s those fear-filled eyes I want to address today. Those are the eyes of a secret writer: Someone who wishes they could be published one day, but sees little hope in the dream so they don’t dare hope. I used to have those eyes.

Some eighteen years ago, I began writing my first novel. I’d written a lot of short stories and loads of fan fiction (if you don’t know what that is, no worries. Those who do will nod. It’s a conversation for another time). But a novel was this seemingly insurmountable mountain. Many years and many drafts later, I had what I considered to be a brilliant piece of work and didn’t have a clue what to do with it. So I began searching on the internet for ways to contact publishers. Little did I know you needed an agent to do that, and in order to get an agent you had to be published. Talk about frustrating! And then, one publishing company took pity on me and wrote suggesting I find a local writer’s conference.

Writing conferences were an unknown to me. As I’d written an inspirational fiction novel, I figured I should find a Christian conference to attend. So I searched for OREGON CHRISTIAN WRITERS and low and behold, a group with that very name existed!

Do you know what I did? I said a quick prayer and wrote directly to them. Sue Miholer, of Oregon Christian Writers, wrote me right back and told me about their summer conference and suggested I attend.

And that, dear friends, is how I began this writing-toward-publication-life. Now my first novel wasn’t published. Neither was the next one (although I had publishers ask to read it, so I knew I was on the right track). BUT the third one was. You know that novel as Jasmine. I wouldn’t have ever been published, however, if I hadn’t honed my craft, studied the market, networked with other authors, found beta readers, joined a critique group, practiced pitching to professionals, and approached agents and publishers in person (the only place you can do that is at conferences!). ALL of those previous things were offered to me through my local writer’s conference.

My favorite writer’s conference, Oregon Christian Writers, is now registering for their 4 day summer coaching conference. So if you’ve ever dreamed of telling a story, writing articles, and being in print, now’s your chance to get serious about that dream.

Oregon Christian Writers

Summer Conference Post Card jpeg

Come join us as we encourage one another in pursuing the dream God has planted in our hearts. Click here to register: http://oregonchristianwriters.org/sc2016-vision-voice/ .

I hope to see you there!

 

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