April McGowan

Thankfulness In Shadow and Light

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If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that thankfulness is a manner of being. It’s something you either shroud yourself in, or something you try and pull on like a tight pair of jeans straight out of the dryer. I find the former much easier!

All around me are posts about thankfulness—because at this time of year in the US, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving. I could list a thousand things I’m thankful for—but someone else might not have one of those, and I’d leave them feeling less. And confusing monetary and health advantages with being blessed by God is fraught with issues. So instead of being thankful for singular things, I’m going to encompass them. No…that’s not cheating!

The other day, outside of my bible study class (Bible Study Fellowship—if you’ve never attended, you need to!), I was waiting for my friend to pull her car up for our ride home. The sun, having been in hiding for well over a week, blazed down, blinding us all.

As I waited, enjoying the musky smell of fall leaves and wet bark dust heating in the sun, a grandmother walked by, holding the hand of her sweet toddler grandson. As soon as they left the shade of the building, the little one grabbed his face, covering his eyes from the blinding light. She gently pulled away one of his hands and led him from the building, across the parking lot.

His free pudgy hand still clumsily covered his clenched eyes, and she smiled down lovingly at him, encouraging him on with her kind tones, leading him. He didn’t peek in between those fingers. He didn’t pull back and ask what she thought she was doing leading him into traffic without his being able to see. He didn’t panic. He just toddled along, his hand in hers, completely trusting grandma to take him wherever he needed to be.

I was immediately reminded of the lesson I’ve been learning in Bible study (on my own and this class): God is completely trustworthy. Not only when I can see where I’m going. Not only when I’ve got an inkling of the future—but always. Even when I’m blinded by my circumstances. Especially then, I’d say.

So that’s what I’m thankful for most of all. My Father’s hand leading me and drawing me, with love in His eyes, compassion in His touch, and gentleness in His voice. He never lets me go.

The happiest of Thanksgivings to you and yours!

Psalm 139:9-12 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (complete passage here)

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Living Well With Chronic Illness–intro

Have you heard of the books titled All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Or learned from my dog, or from the Wizard of Oz, or from Star Trek (that’s my personal favorite). They list all the positive and negative things the author learned about life from those experiences. But I have a new take.

This past year, I’ve taken stock of a lot of things in my life, and I can honestly say I’m more whole now in this broken body than I was before I got much more seriously sick. Illness affected my life from birth. Little did my family or doctors know, but my body had a genetic break that kept me from making antibodies to colds or infections that, over time, got worse and worse.

April McGowan

April McGowan 1973

This is me in the hospital, age 3. Raggedy Ann is peeking over my shoulder (I still have her) and that bear seems to be doing an excellent job of standing guard!

Here’s what no one tells you. Chronic illness doesn’t just change a few things in your life, it changes everything. Part of those changes extend to the very definition of what quality of life, happiness and joy mean–and their effects on every aspect of our lives. And although I’m riding on a hard road I wouldn’t wish on anyone at all, I’m thankful for it. I never thought I’d say that.

For the next several weeks, I’m going to be sharing about how everything I needed to know to live well, I learned from being chronically ill. I’ll make a helpful tab on my blog to chronicle them all in case you miss any. Here are some of the highlights I’ll be covering (the order may change as I go along):

  1. What marriage means
  2. What parenting means
  3. What suffering means
  4. What friendship means
  5. What loss of friendship means
  6. What living in the moment means
  7. What submission means
  8. What support groups mean
  9. What life goals mean
  10. What work means
  11. What helping others means
  12. What plans mean
  13. What hope means
  14. What dreams mean
  15. What acceptance means
  16. What boundaries mean
  17. What grief means
  18. What being tired means
  19. What giving up means
  20. What hanging on means
  21. What honesty means
  22. What commitment means
  23. What sacrifice means
  24. What trusting God means

I’ve learned a lot in the past 45 years from chronic illness. Especially in the past five years. Lots of hard things. Lots of good things. But those hard things, when I let them, helped shape me into a different form—into a person I like a whole lot more, and into a faith deeper and more intimate with Jesus than I could have ever imagined. I venture to say that any challenging experience you have can do that, if you let it.

So I hope you’ll join me as I blog, and take part in conversations along the way, sharing your heart with me, too.

Until next time,

April

 

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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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