April McGowan

Timing is Everything

file000683881360Timing is everything.

I haven’t blogged for a while. Months really. I’ve been in a period of physical and emotional recovery. This has taken up all my mental energies for the past year. While I’ve been journaling, trying my hand at poetry, working on scant chapters of my next novel, and copying books of the Bible (Psalms, Revelations, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Ephesians and now working through Romans so far), my blog has come to a standstill.
I’ve had people write to me and ask me to keep going. I’ve had lots of encouragement in this period of downtime–you know who you are, and I thank you!
But, timing is everything.
20160611_111536I’ve got this rosebush outside my living room window. It used to be huge and unmanageable. It rambled all over the place–despite aphids and other critters using it for meals. Then we built a fence. I truly gave no thought to the rosebush when we built that fence. But in doing so, we unwittingly blocked its light source, and it began to shrink.
I grew sicker, and as I did, I watched it die back more and more, to a stub.20160611_143723 I considered moving it several times. But making the decision and mustering the energy to do so seemed out of my ability. Truly, until last year, I’d given up on flowers and the like. It felt like too much to handle. But last year one of my dearest friends encouraged me and brought me starter plants and I made my porch a flowery haven rekindling hope in my spirit. It’s now my favorite place to sit and read and visit.

 

This year, when I looked out the window, I thought that rose was surely dead. I felt rather bad. In 20160611_111530the midst of illness and depression, I’d let that poor thing die. And then, seemingly overnight, it sprang to life. Whatever water source it found, whatever trace light it horded, it still had life.
So, today I decided to move it. But when I looked up how to transplant a rosebush, the article said, “Wait until very early spring, before it has any growth, just after the ground has thawed.”
So, I might have to wait again, another season before I dig up that poor thing. But I can assure you, I won’t forget about it again.

Now, God doesn’t build a fence around us and forget us–we’re the likely ones to do the forgetting. But He might build a barrier around us to protect us. He might put a hand on us to keep us still while we recover. He might put us in situations where all we can do is wait–wait on the gardener to be pruned back, to be nurtured, to rest. He could bring you to a place where you have no where else to turn because He wants to meet you there.  It might be a hard spot, one we can’t see a way out of, but He’s there, waiting for us to turn to Him and ask Him for help, waiting for us to rely on Him solely. Waiting for us to turn our lives over to Him so He can take the lead. Waiting for us. Loving us.

Timing is everything.

Jesus said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit. For apart fromm me, you can do nothing. (John15:5)

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Fighting For Rest

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Fighting For Rest

For the past few months I’ve been learning to rest. Or fighting for rest. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference!

Our society teaches us to fight. Fight for freedom. Fight for your rights. Fight illnesses. The best publicized battles have to do with cancer. Having that positive attitude of overcoming with cancer can oftentimes make the difference between life and death for the patient. It’s good advice. However, resting is also good advice, so your body can recover.

Rest is not looked upon positively in the US. We’re to push through, get stuff done, and overcome. But you can’t overcome chronic illness. There’s no cure. There’s no end. So, what do you do with that???

There’s not a lot of advice out there for the chronically ill. When all the info out there says FIGHT and push through and your body can’t do that then fighting is often counterproductive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean roll into a ball and give up. I mean not forcing yourself to keep going when you know you shouldn’t. Not fighting against your shell. Against your illness. Against your limitations.

Fighting is Hard Work

Fighting, mentally and physically, taxes your energy reserves. When you are chronically ill, you only have a small allotment of energy every day–and there’s no daily consensuses on what that amount is. You could do four small tasks. You could do one big task. You might not be able to do any. For days.

But if you are fighting, you will do less. Trust me. I’m living it.

So for the past couple months I’ve been laying low. I’m recovering from years of this battle. I’m learning to rest. Which strangely enough also takes a fair amount of mental energy. Because at first, it felt like giving up. At first it felt like quitting. At first it felt like losing. Lazy. Worthless. Nothing. Sometimes it still does.

Lies.

I’m learning to let things go that don’t matter. I’m worrying less about other people’s expectations.

I’m still working on my own self-expectations. An ongoing theme of this blog! That’s a tough one. That’s harder than everyone else’s expectations all put together. But I’m getting there. I might never arrive–baby steps! This has taken a lot of prayer. A lot of submission. A lot of reliance on the Lord.

Do you know what I’ve learned? Sometimes it’s harder to NOT FIGHT than to fight.

I thank the Lord that He’s there, guiding this process and as I lean on Him, I’m learning more about His amazing providence, His loving supply for all my needs, and His wonderful grace.

Through Him, I can do abundantly more and less.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (read here)

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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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Living Well: What Parenting Means

copywrite AprilKMcGowanChronic illness has taught me what parenting means:

Point One: You can’t do it all. We know on the inside that we can’t do it all and stay sane. But the outside world and all its pressures are tremendous. Trust me—my oldest is finishing up her senior year of high school and all I can think of is those huge lists of MUSTS to get into her schools of choice. Clubs, groups, classes, AP classes, teams, volunteer work, studying, learning, growing. I’m so glad I’m not a kid anymore, because those MUST lists are exhausting. Could you do all the things on those lists? The message is that if we don’t make sure they’ve got all those musts, we’ve let them down.

Is it possible to prepare your child for every contingency?

We can only do our best. Did you tell them how to have a relationship with Jesus? Can they think for themselves and cook well enough not to starve? Do they know how to wash their clothes? Personal hygiene in good shape? We give them the tools, but it’s their responsibility to put it all in practice. Because I can’t hold their hands through it all, I’ve had to learn to let them go and trust that God’s got this. They are their own people with their own successes, heartbreaks, failures, and joys.

Point two: My child is not my accomplishment. My child is not my trophy. They are not my pride and joy—or they shouldn’t be.

Their failures and successes are not mine. They are people trusted to me, loaned to me for a time. Will I always be there for them? As long as I can. Am I always the best person to be there for them? Maybe not. But I can trust God will bring the right person along to fill in the gap. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us—or our kids.

As God has His hand on my life, He also has His hand equally on my children’s lives. Not just when they are ill or injured and we’re praying for their protection, but all the time. All the time. Isn’t that mind-blowing? He doesn’t just take over when they turn 18 and we’ve done all we can to prepare them. He’s got them covered even now. He’s shaping them into the people He knows they can be—way better than we could ever hope to.

They are His pride and His joy. As you are.

Chronic illness has taught me that parenting is not about me, it’s about them. Chronic illness has taught me that my limitations are not my children’s limitations.

In fact, my limitations might be building something inside my children in the way of empathy and compassion that I could have never taught them on my own. Most of all, chronic illness has taught me that I am not the one they need to turn to and lean on for the rest of their lives. The Father is. And as much as I love them, He loves them more.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (in full here)

 

 

 

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Living Well: What Marriage Means–Sacrifice

IMG_7192_pChronic illness taught me what marriage means: sacrifice.

I’ve always loved romance. Even as a kid, the episodes of television I connected to the most had romantic elements. One of the first I can remember was an episode of the Incredible Hulk, where David’s wife passes away…sniffle. Remember when he carried her through the hurricane after a car accident, desperately trying to save her? Oh. My. Heart. I was nine and devastated. However, the episode made an impact on my mind that stuck with me: Love came with risk and sacrifice. It still does.

Thirty years ago, my goal for a marriage partner was someone who shared my faith, someone who would want to be married forever, who I could be around without make-up on and still feel comfortable, and (this was the biggie) someone whose underwear I would be willing to wash by hand. That last one? Yeah. No idea where that came from…but 25 years in, I think it’s a good check-off point. Although I have yet to do that, you never know where life might take you.

Or how soon it will take you there.

I didn’t plan to be disabled by chronic illness. No one does. But, to be frank, statistics say 50% of people are temporarily or permanently affected by a chronic condition in their life—so when you draw the line, either you or your spouse is at risk.

Marriage comes about via romance and love, but romance is just part of the roller coaster ride. Marriage, once you’re on board, becomes primarily about sacrifice and your willingness to lay down self—or not. When one of you is ill, the other ends up sacrificing their ideas, their personal goals, their dreams. And the one who is ill must do the same for the other. Being ill all the time can shift the focus to the illness’s needs. This is natural for a time until you find your new normal, but then it must stop. Because if it doesn’t, your marriage will become lopsided and your partner’s needs will be of secondary importance. Before you realize it, your marriage will be in trouble.

God created Biblical marriage to be the combining of two into one. Illness and other circumstances can claw away at you, trying to separate the whole into two distracted, broken individuals. But you can’t let it. No matter how tired or sick you are, it’s possible to think of that other person before yourself. When you do that, it gets the focus off the illness and back on your relationship.

My husband and I have been married for close to 25 years. In our relationship we’ve been in a boating accident, been hit by a semi, survived college, survived poverty, had surgery, and more surgery, had sick kids, lost loved ones, and shared eight address across four states. We’ve faced a lot of trials in our lives, but none more debilitating than chronic illness. And yet, we are stronger together now than we were before. Not to say we haven’t had rough moments or times we wished the burdens of illness could be completely removed from our lives. But when you face the hard trials and keep your eyes on the Lord, putting your dependence on Him rather than each other, you come out battered, bruised, but stronger than you were.

Chronic illness taught me that marriage is more about us than about me. It’s about giving up selfish desires and teaming together in daily battles. It’s about long conversations whenever and wherever we can grab them. It’s sharing our joys, laying down selfish desires, building each other up, having each other’s backs, and staying focused on the Lord and His plans for us. Because, even when life seems to be about illness, you have to do your best to still make it about the two of you. You have to be on the same side of the battle. It’s you both against the illness. It’s about our commitment to one another and God more than our commitment to our own happiness. It’s about giving the other grace and showing mercy.

It is sacrificial love for one another.

John 15:12,13 (Jesus said) This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 

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