April McGowan

Living Well with Suffering

Suffering and prayer

Can you live well with suffering?

Suffering can mean many things to people. Instead of trying to come up with a universal definition we’ll all agree on, I’ll tell you what suffering is to me, within my own illness, CVID.

Suffering for me is near constant body aches like the flu, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fevers and severe, life-altering fatigue. It’s the inability to comfort my kids when they are sick with hugs or kisses because I could get their illness (this one bothers me a lot). Medications which keep me alive, but make me feel lousy for two days every week. It’s having to plan my life around my illness.

No. It’s not______ (insert whatever horrible disease/injury you can think of). But it’s life-altering and (in some cases) life-threatening. If I let it, it can be joy-stealing.

So how do I go about living well with suffering? It’s tricky. I often fail. I will be rolling along with my illness only to get slammed by a new symptom, or event, and tailspin into depression and oftentimes self-pity. Although, these tailspins get shorter every time. In fact I had one last week that only lasted six hours. A new record!

Saturday, I went out to prove that I was still the woman I thought I was and tried to change the headlight on my husband’s car as a surprise. My parents raised me independent and with a working knowledge of tools. I enjoy working with my hands. But you know what? I couldn’t do it. I spent over an hour trying. My back went into spasms. I broke out in cold chills. My hands ended up bruised. I pulled just about every muscle I had trying to prove something to myself, my husband, and maybe even God. I failed. Miserably. I tail spun. I slammed into the house, disgusted with myself and everyone else, but especially the evil car company who made it so ridiculously hard.

I was angry at them, at my husband who said, “You shouldn’t be doing that,” (but…he was right) at myself and at God—couldn’t He have given me super strength to get the job done? I couldn’t change this stupid ten dollar bulb. Then that became the only thing I wanted to do. I obsessed of ways to do it. But I’d ruined the bulb, and I didn’t have the energy to drive and get a new one, let alone try again. Plus, my husband said, “Stop it.” You can imagine how well that went over. Defeated, I tumbled into a mess. I wasn’t who I wanted to be. Not even a shadow of who I once was.

I’ll tell you a secret. I’d known five minutes in that it wasn’t going to work. I knew I had no business being out there leaning over the engine. But my inner voice screamed that if I just wanted it bad enough, I could. Uh…No.

I had to repent of lots of things on Saturday.

I was in over my head because I’d skipped a step I learned years ago: Pray first for guidance. That one hour of independent stubbornness ruined my day. It stole Sunday from me, too.

Light bulb.

So, how do I live well with suffering? I pray. I ask for wisdom, strength, grace, comfort and mercy. I pray for help to persevere. I stay mindful of the Holy Spirit and His hand in my life. Where I might lead myself astray, He never does.

Does that mean I get to do whatever I want? Hardly. But the Lord grants me the peace to get through. And if not to be totally okay with it, to at least learn to live with it. He’s not done with me yet.

James 1: 2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

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All You Had To Do Was Stay

If you’re like me, the American dream was drilled into your head through television. That dream is slightly askew these days, but I think it’s still holding fast in our psyches. It goes something like this: I’m going to marry the person of my dreams. We’re going to live happily ever after (whatever happily means by your definition). We will be married forever and die at a ripe old age, painlessly, holding hands in our sleep. Marriage is all about love and romance and passion and having my needs met. Right?

It doesn’t include driving your spouse to the hospital at 2 AM because he can’t breathe, and then sleeping in the hospital parking lot in the car with your baby because you can’t trust yourself to drive home. It doesn’t include holding your spouse’s head while he or she vomits, or wiping up the floor because they’ve missed the toilet. It doesn’t include watching your spouse fade from the person they were because of chronic illness a good forty years ahead of schedule due to a genetic disease. It doesn’t include going into debt to pay for medications and specialists. Or watching them spend thirty plus hours of each week curled in a chair because their life-saving medication makes them feel awful.  Or surgery. Or accidents. Or any of those uncomfortable things that reminds us this life can be one trial after another.

But it should. I feel like petitioning every premarital counselor out there and asking them to change their quizzes. What will you do if you can’t take that trip you’ve always wanted to take? What will you do when your spouse becomes disabled (we all seem to at one point or another), or if your spouse gets cancer and loses a body part or goes bald? If they lose their minds to disease? What will you do if your loved one is suffering? When you need to bathe them or change them? Will you leave because you can’t bear to watch them suffer? Or because your needs aren’t being met and they’ve become a burden (whatever burden means by your definition)? I sure hope not.

This blog post honors those who stay.

The world says self, but God’s Word says sacrifice. God created marriage as a sacrificial covenant. It’s not just a safe place to have kids. It’s not just an expensive party where your friends and family come wish you well and and give you awesome presents (we got 12 clocks…is there a hidden meaning in that?). Or about tax write-offs (and thanks to the government, that’s about to end anyway!). Contrary to popular belief, it’s about loving that other person sacrificially. It’s about putting them and their needs before yours. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

So. If you have stayed when it was messy, painful, heartbreaking, perspective shifting, expensive, inconvenient, dream-killing, hard, sleepless, tiresome: thank you. You mean the world to your spouse who feels like a burden, who wishes they were different or circumstances were different. You are showing them and the world what it means to die to self. You are reflecting the sacrificial love of God to your spouse, your kids, your friends–even strangers. And in that, the sacrifice Jesus made for us all.

Thanks for staying.

 

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Let It Go

Let It Go

I could let the stresses of life eat me alive–but I don’t anymore. I’ve had to learn to let it go. Everything comes to a halt when I’m ill. Or when I’m editing. I’ve had weeks of both, which eventually came to an end. Huzzah! During this time, I implemented the “don’t put their clean clothes away until they’ve discovered all the clothes that don’t fit” clause. Well, really, that’s just a fancy name for “if you want clean clothes, they’re probably piled on the floor in our bedroom.”

I used to like methods and schedules. I’ve discovered with chronic illness, the schedule looks more like this: I’ll try that if I have the energy and if I’m not sick. I’ve had to become okay with that. Instead of numbered lists, I do an amalgam with check-off boxes. I’ll even add things to the list if that thing interrupted my day. Like yesterday, my daughter called me to the kitchen.

“The fridge doesn’t sound right.”
Indeed. “Whirrr……whirr….sputter…whirr…” Then, nothing. Rut-roh. As we pushed the fridge away from the wall (yes, I unplugged it! We don’t want another “Mom electrocuted herself on the dryer” event do we? … That’s a story for another time…) I thought to myself: Didn’t I just vacuum this thing out? Taking off the panel proved me all sorts of wrong. I’d never seen so much fluff and dust in one spot.

I grabbed a face mask (I’m reporting this mostly to my mother who is reading along with you and would be sure to warn me of the dangers of dust—my #1 allergy) and started cleaning it out. An interrupted hour later, plugged it back in and TADAH! Worked. I immediately wanted to put “Vacuumed under fridge” on my list and check that off. But I was too tired. So I did it mentally.

My son loves his schedule. But when Mom is down with an illness, or editing, or cleaning the fridge, he’s got to adjust, just like the rest of us. It’s harder for him because of his personality. I can only hope this is training him for life, learning to roll with it, learning to stay fluid. Learning to let go.

Letting go is the theme for my life these past several years. Letting go of plans and responsibilities was tough. Letting go of preconceived ideas was harder—letting go of that picture of what life was supposed to be about. However, I think there’s freedom in that. At least I’ve found it to be so. Now my lists are more focused on relying on God for what I can get done, for where He’d like me to focus my limited energies. Some days, I erase far fewer things off that list than I’d hoped to accomplish (most days, frankly), but that’s okay. I might not be moving fast, but I’m moving forward!

 

 

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