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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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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Surrender

Throw in the towelLife can take us by surprise, can’t it? Oftentimes those surprises are hard, rather than sweet celebrations. You only have to open your email or your Facebook to see someone going through a hard time. We all know people suffering–maybe you are suffering.

Our culture preaches preparedness. From natural disasters to retirement, you’ve got to have a plan. You’ve got to stay on top of things–you’ve got to stay in control. Have that escape route ready, that insurance policy up to date. Keep going, never say die, never surrender, never throw in the towel. You’ve got this!

While it’s irresponsible not to do our best to be prepared for the unforeseen–I shouldn’t get comfortable with my own preparedness, the illusion that I’m in control. Because even when I’ve got my helmet on, my shelves stocked with food, my legal papers all in order, I can still be blindsided by events. The death of a loved one, a devastating injury, a new illness–the unexpected can literally take our breath away. So, what do we do then?

There’s no easy answer to that. Even as I type, names of people going through the unimaginable race through my mind. All I can say is God knows what you’re facing and, if you are His, He is with you. In my own experiences, the more I try to hold onto plans and ideas of what life is supposed to look like, the more I end up feeling embittered, frustrated and depressed. I lose hope. After all, wasn’t I ready for what life threw at me? Obviously not. Conversely, the more I pray for the Lord’s will in my life, the more I give up my scramble to control, the more peace I have, the more satisfied I am with life. One definition of surrender is to give oneself up, to yield or submit to another. We just finished reading a book the other day, and there’s a quote at the end that’s really stuck with me:

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” ~C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity

A verse from the Bible shares the mystery I’ve come back to many times is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Are you suffering? You are not alone. I’m not saying, “There are people the world over who are suffering, buck-up camper.” No, I mean, “Take heart, YOU are not alone. He is with you.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

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Count Your Blessings

Here in the US it’s Thanksgiving week. It’s a time when a lot of people sit down and consider their lives and give thanks for what they have. I’ve struggled with this a lot since the diagnosis of my illness. It’s hard for me to thank the Lord for things that other people don’t have. Well-meaning people were telling me to be thankful I wasn’t sicker. But, when I joined support groups for my disease, there were plenty of people who were more ill than me. Did I feel I was more blessed than them?

People thank God for their houses and cars and their health. They thank Him for their secure job, their wonderful marriages, and their perfect kids. I mean, we’re told to count our blessings. But, what if what we think of as blessings aren’t limited to these things?

There are millions and billions of people who don’t have a laundry list of what the world would consider to be good things in their lives. They were just diagnosed with a scary disease, their spouses have betrayed them; they might be losing their homes, their jobs, their kids. Does this mean God doesn’t love them as much as the guy in the big house in the fancy neighborhood next to you?

Very simply: no. God’s Word says He loves His children and cares for them.

So, what if blessings aren’t all about these things; what if the Father’s ‘good’ is something different? His ultimate goal for us isn’t that we live in cushy houses and have everything we think we want. Rather, it’s having a personal, real, intimate relationship with Him.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not bad to thank God for all the good things in your life—our hearts are to be grateful. But, we’re told to be thankful in ALL things. Thankful for suffering? Yes. Thankful for heartache? That, too.

Think of this: if we’re only thankful for the things we like, then when we hit on hard times (and there will be plenty) then we’re going to be tempted to think that God is displeased with us. That maybe He doesn’t love us as His word promises. That maybe He even hates us.

I can stand here today and say I’m thankful for my illness. I mean it. It’s not easy to say—but it’s true. I’ve seen a lot of blessings come out of this. I’ve met some amazing, encouraging people. I’ve been astounded by their faith in the Lord. Most importantly, I’ve become more assured than ever in the reality of the Father and His hand in my life.

So, as the song says, when we count our many blessings—maybe you should be thinking about the friends you’ve made during your trials; about your ability to come alongside others in their sufferings; and ultimately about the closeness you feel to the Father when He carries you through another day.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (full text here)

John 3:16-21 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (full text here)

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Lean On Me

I took my son to see his specialist the other day. While we were sitting there, he played with his Lego men and another mom sat reading a book to her son. Across the room, a couple held their daughter and made little jokes. It’s unspoken that we’re all there for a reason—our kids suffer from some sort of gastrointestinal illness. As we pretended we were there for ‘normal’ reasons, a woman entered, pushing her disabled young son in a raised wheel chair. As soon as the door opened, the boy made himself known. He wailed in a most heart-wrenching way.

As she checked in at the receptionist’s desk, his wails grew louder, more intense. He sobbed, screamed and then began a rasping gag. I surmised he had lung issues, with whatever other health issues he had. And he was one unhappy boy.

Everyone in the room immediately got quiet and tried looking at anything in the room except for the crying boy. My son’s hands stilled over his toys but, instead of looking away, stared openly at the other boy, his own eyes filling with tears. Mine soon followed. He looked up at me, face full of fear mixed with compassion. We’ve had a lot of moments these past four years that have made the frailness of life very apparent to us—but seeing someone so young suffering really hit home with Seth.

The boy’s sobs and rasps quieted as his very patient mother took off his coat and brushed her hands down his arms, adjusting his legs and shifting his Spongebob pillow behind his neck to make him more comfortable. It was then I noticed the boy’s earplugs. As the patients were called, they left the room with relief. I have to admit, I was hoping for our turn—as the boy still had not quit crying and gagging on phlegm. I felt tense from his screams and it’d only been fifteen minutes—and then I looked at the mother’s face. She seemed so alone. I wondered if she had anyone to lean on.

I put myself in her place, isolated, care-giving for her son all day long, and probably all night long as well. Exhausting. For them both.

Instead of acting like they weren’t there, I engaged her in conversation past his wails and rasps. I asked if he had breathing problems, and she said he’d suffered a brain injury so his lungs and muscles didn’t do what they were supposed to, to help clear things out. He was five. As she spoke, he calmed a bit and then another person entered the room and the door buzzer went off—and so did the boys cries.

I said, “He hates his chair, does he?” I don’t know what made me think that. I remember my own son, hating his car seat so much that he’d scream the entire time he was in it. He wasn’t uncomfortable, he wasn’t hurting, but he hated it and would scream bloody murder.

Her eyes lit up. “Yes, he does. And loud noises, they frighten him.” She motioned to the ear plugs. For a moment, we were just two mom’s visiting, sharing notes about our boys. Then it was his turn, and she gave me a grateful smile and wheeled her son into their appointment.

I looked down at Seth, still sitting quietly, thinking. “That was hard, wasn’t it?” I asked him, knowing full well he’d be thinking about the boy and how hard his life was for days. He nodded. “Let’s pray for that mom and boy, okay?” And he nodded again. We took some time right there to pray.

It’s our nature to avoid suffering. It’s hard and scary and it makes us feel insecure. Life can be like that.  But I think worse than suffering, is pretending it doesn’t exist. There are people in pain all around us, even if they aren’t crying out—it’d do us all well to stop and listen, to be there and be compassionate. To come alongside them, a shoulder to lean on. And pray.

Romans 12:15  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (full text here)

Mathew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (full text here)

1 John 4:7-12  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (full text here)

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