Tag: faith

How to keep fighting after years of suffering

How to keep fighting after years of suffering

I first became ill back in spring 2014 and between then and the beginning of December that year when I had emergency surgery to enable me to eat and drink again, I had lost a lot of weight, strength and friends but my ability to keep fighting was strong and seemingly unbreakable. Looking back now, I can see how ill I was but only because my parents have told me stories from that time and from their perspective because when I was going through that tough time, I wasn’t looking at how bad my situation was because I was too busy fighting! 

Almost 5 years later and my diagnosis list had grown and my time spent in bed has increased, I’m on more tablets and find day to day life much harder yet most of the time, I can eat and drink okay and I can walk short distances which back then I was not physically able to do. I am technically healthier now yet every day is much harder than it was before. Can you relate? Have you lost your fighting spirit? 

I think we need to look at why that is and what we can do to get it back! 

So firstly, why do we lose our fight? 

When I was in school, I struggled to do as much as others in my class when it came to physical activity but if I had to choose between short distance running or long distance I would always choose the sprints – 100m using all my strength, energy and power for a few seconds rather than using 3/4 of my energy for an even longer period of time. Simply put, my endurance is rubbish! It always has been and I don’t like pushing myself physically or starting a task that I know is going to take a long time (but maybe that’s due to impatience more than anything else!) I do think that this has a large part to play in my struggle with continuing to fight. At the start, I knew I was ill but I was so ill that I couldn’t do anything else. Without a goal, there is no expectation and no endurance required – all you have to do is simply keep going. Now I work and have expectations placed on me, I have goals to meet, one after the other, and therefore, endurance is required to meet them time and time again. Fighting non stop is hard so no wonder I’m losing my fighting spirit.

So now we know why but what can we do about it? 

  1. Be real and relational with God – within the Psalms we see the Psalmist crying out to God and telling him about the pain they’re going through but then continuing to maintain conversation with Him which leads to an answer from God and peace within the person who cries out because they kept up the conversation even after getting angry or upset about their circumstances 
  2. Rest and rely on God – when going into battle David said ‘No king successes with a big army alone… horsepower is not the answer; no one gets by on muscle alone’ (Psalm 33:16-17 MSG). 
  3. Remember the growth within – suffering is horrible, particularly when you wake up in pain over and over again without any sign of improvement. But suffering produces growth and maturity and can even plant seeds of faith in others who see what we go through and how we manage. All we need to do is to turn to God in our periods of suffering and listen and respond as we are instructed. 

There is a reason, a purpose, a goal.  All we need to do is rely on God, trust Him and His plans and rest in Him when it becomes too much knowing that He is always there for us. 

Finding comfort in the quiet

Finding comfort in the quiet

I had been thinking about what my next blog post would be about and then I got caught up in the chaos of Spring Harvest and the Easter weekend. The only day I had to stop and think was on Saturday just gone, also known as Holy or Easter Saturday. I had logged into my Twitter account (twitter.com/youbelong_2019) when it first struck me that Holy Saturday was one of the only days in the year that the Church didn’t have much to say about or speak into because on that day 2019 years ago, ‘the heavens went silent’ and what is the Church without God? Nothing. So instead, more often than not, churches don’t talk about it and instead they jump forward to Easter day and the excitement of Jesus’ resurrection.

I completely understand the desire to do this because we know what is coming and like children on their birthdays, we just want to run downstairs and open our presents of hope and eternal life. But on the very first Holy Saturday, Jesus was dead in the tomb, the disciples were all alone and they thought it was all over. The plans they had put in place had fallen apart, their best friend and teacher was gone and they couldn’t see a way out.

This feeling is very relatable for me and other members of the chronic illness community and no doubt, for many others who perhaps are grieving the loss of health, a job, a person, financial stability or a dream. Every morning I wake up tired and in pain and I know that tomorrow will likely be the same because that’s what being chronically ill means — it doesn’t just get better. This is difficult as someone who identifies as a Christian to be in because I believe Jesus died for me, I believe He rose and I believe He will come again and that I will ultimately be relieved of my pain and suffering but I don’t know when. It could be tomorrow or it could be in 70 years when I die on earth and enter into eternity in Heaven. My life has become a waiting game, a continous Holy Saturday. I know something better has been promised for me but the reality doesn’t seem to be pointing toward it.

So how do we live in a world where all hope seems lost, accept the suffering and find comfort in that yet be ready and willing to step forward and embrace a life without pain and suffering as and when the time comes?

My immediate thought is ‘I won’t look to the disciples for advice on this as they thought all hope was gone when Jesus died even though He told them to their faces that He would die and come back again and even when He was standing right in front of them, alive again, some of them doubted.

Whilst at Spring Harvest, I had the opportunity to hear Pete Grieg speak about his family’s time of suffering and waiting when his wife was ill with a brain tumour and the effects of that and how he knew she wasn’t going to die but the doctors had said there was a high chance that she might and to prepare for that. He said he couldn’t prepare for that because he wasn’t going to let God take away his wife and his children’s mother. This leads me to my first point — when we get to know the character of God, we can learn His will and desire for His people. God doesn’t His people to suffer so Pete knew that this was not of God and therefore, he could pray to God, according to His will, and God would be listening and doing His part. When we learn God’s will, we can pray into and against situations and if we pray believing God can do it, you will be surprised at just how often He acts in the way we want, because it is also what He wants.

Sometimes though, God doesn’t act in the way we want and I am sure that many of you, like myself, have prayed for your physical suffering to go away and it hasn’t and that isn’t because God wants you to suffer because He doesn’t. He loves you and cares for you and seeing you suffer hurts Him too. But sometimes, God has other plans for our life and healing our physical selves isn’t part of it — yet! I have prayed many times for healing and although there have been times it has lessened or temporarily improved, I still deal with pain and physical issues on a daily basis. So lesson two, remember God’s faithfulness even when He doesn’t act how or when you want. This can be a struggle but by remembering God has answered your prayer in the past, whether in relation to your health or something else entirely, can really help you to remember He can, and will, do it again. He is a faithful God. Even when Jesus had been dead for 3 days and the people thought it was all over, He came back to life. Jesus promised He would rise from the dead, and He did. He promises us He will heal us and comfort us, and He will. We just need to be trusting and believe He will be faithful like He promised.

Finally, finding the balance between being comfortable with the current situation but not so much that we aren’t open and ready for healing. This is a constant struggle for me. Some days I am so confident that God will heal me any day now and some days, I accept my situation and won’t be open to others praying for my healing because I am not ready for it. How can we be comfortable but also wait with anticipation for when God wants to act in our lives?

I don’t know the answer that will work for everyone but there are a few things that have really helped me that I hope might help you too:

Patience is a fruit of the spirit so it will not always come easily as it will take time and practice so don’t get angry or upset if you struggle with this — most people do

Learn to rest on God’s promises — remember all the things God has done for you whilst in this period of waiting and recollect the times when He has acted on His promises to remind you of His power, goodness and faithfulness.

Be still — it’s so easy to get frustrated or worried about our situations that we don’t sit back and listen to God but when we do this, we might just hear something that brings us closer to an answer to our prayer.

Be comfortable resting on God and waiting BUT always ready and willing to step forward should you feel God telling you to do so as it might just be the way that you will be healed and you don’t want to miss that!

I am not perfect and I still have times when I fight with the anxiety of not knowing, when, where, how will I be healed. Sometimes, I am too scared to act when I feel God is calling me as I am scared it won’t work or will be difficult, but I keep pushing on and trying to get closer to Him to understand His will and ways. I hope to always be ready and waiting for Him to act but also content just to be with my God and I hope these pointers can help you get to that point too.

Being held captive by the mental aspect of physical illness

Being held captive by the mental aspect of physical illness

As I write this, I am getting ready to go out with a new friend, someone I only met a few weeks ago and have only spent a couple of hours with in total. I am telling you this because I am feeling very anxious and being alone with someone who I don’t know that well is the reason why.

Just a couple of years ago, the prospect of meeting someone new and getting to know them brought me a normal amount of nervousness but mostly, I felt excited about the getting to know someone new who might become a good friend. The new levels if nervousness, and I guess, anxiety, are as a result of being increasingly unwell. My body hurts all the time and my fatigue can be overwhelming to the point I need to rest immediately or become very unwell. I also experience spasms of my oesophagus (the most intense pain I have ever felt), digestive issues which can cause me to need the toilet very badly, very suddenly and low blood pressure and high heart rate which can cause me to pass out and feel nauseous and dizzy. On a bad day, I could experience all of these together and when I am with family who understand, that is fine because they know how to help me and understand that if I move away to y room, it is because I need a break or to take medication and lie down. When you first meet someone, they don’t know all of this, nor do I want my health issues to be the first thing I talk about in a new conversation with a new person. I want them to know and for me to get to know them without health problems getting in the way. However, my hobbies mostly involve being out the house; going for a walk, going to the beach, going ice skating, exploring or eating out. Without a wheelchair, lots of walking is out of the question and therefore, so is exploring and ice skating. Being on the beach requires a certain amount of warmth in order for anyone to enjoy it but my body does not cope well with heat so that’s out and eating is not great for my oesphagus. As you can probably tell, finding something to do that I can do and myself and my new friend will enjoy is incredibly hard and this brings a certain level of anxiety before I have even left the house!

Getting ready also brings a level of anxiousness as I work out what to wear that will keep me warm, comfortable and will still make me look like I am trying and packing also requires some thought as I try to work out what we might end up doing, how long we might be out for and whether I will need braces, more medications, TENS machine, wheelchair, snacks to take my medication with etc. Then, once I am out, this starts all over again as I will be in the car, and therefore control, of whoever I am with and therefore they must choose where we go, how long we are out for etc.

By the time I get home, I am shattered partially just because I have been out but no doubt it is also partially because I have been worrying so badly and stressed myself out. The bible specifically reminds us that being anxious does not do us or our situation any good— “And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span?”

God does not want us to be ground down by anxiety. ‘Anxiety prevents happiness, energy, and in some cases it can try to prevent faith.’ Thankfully, our amazing, caring, loving Father has something to say about it _ “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears”. When we are fearful and afraid, nervous, anxious or down right terrified, God is with us and he can take that fear away. All we need to do is trust Him.

Anxiety = a fear of the uncertain. Faith = a certainty that God is there and loves and protects and cares for us. I am not by any means saying that anxiety is the opposite of faith because I still believe in God, but in the times when I am struggling to leave the house due to the weight of fear on my shoulders, I need to remind myself that God IS there and will be watching over me so I will be okay. If you are struggling to, I urge you to remember this also and if you want someone to talk to who can relate, please comment or DM me on my social media (YouBelong_2019).

When physical disability affects faith…

When physical disability affects faith…

As a young child raised in a Christian home, I must have appeared very strangely to the children around me who saw me holding hands with no one (even though I was convinced it was Jesus next to me). They laughed at me when I gave my life to God and got baptised aged only 11 and told everyone that when I grew up, I wanted to be a missionary.

Although I was embarrassed then, looking back now I am jealous of the faith I had as a child. I still very much identify as a Christian but can also remember the moment when that deep seated, unwavering faith changed and yes, it happened after I became ill. I don’t remember actively swaying from it but I do know that the continual ups and downs of chronic illness including the pain, fatigue, loss of independence and friends and the recognition my life would, and could, never be the same again had a large part to play.

Over the next few months as I continued attending hospital appointments, trying new medications to control pain and help to ‘fix’ some of problems, I became very much aware of how far away God felt. Further than ever before. At this point in time, I was 2 years into one diagnosis, months out from surgery recovery and just stepping into new issues and diagnoses and I came across this quote and others like it:

‘Never let an Earthly circumstance disable you spiritually’ — Donald L. Hallstrom.

This was the kick up the backside that I needed and I started actively seeking God again, desiring strongly to be standing on a firm faith foundation again and get as close to God as I was before. For many months I prayed whenever I could, read my bible every day, talked to others about God and went to church every day but the spark just wouldn’t return. It still felt like God wasn’t in arms reach, let alone holding my hand like He had when I was 10. I had done everything so what was I missing?

For months I reflected on this, trying to work out what I had done wrong or what I needed to do to find God again and it wasn’t until I met with my life coach at uni that I found the answer — ‘You will never get that faith back and should stop looking to be back there again. You have changed and so has your faith and that’s okay.’ This was not the answer I was looking for or wanted and although I reluctantly took it on-board, I didn’t agree. It didn’t feel like it had changed, it felt like my faith had dwindled even though I had tried everything I could think of! It was when thinking about this that I realised yes, I had done everything in my power, but not in God’s. I had prayed to God because I thought I should and gone to church because it was the thing Christians did and I didn’t not want to but my heart wasn’t in it. I had let my Earthly hurts damage my relationship with God even though I had never blamed Him for any of it.

2 years and I am still working on building my faith by building my relationship with God up again and that’s okay. It isn’t a one step process, it will take time and there will be ups and downs but I am more aware of where God is in my priority list now and I take time out not to the things a good Christian would/ should do but to be with Him. Sometimes that means talking, sometimes that means listening. Sometimes it means shouting at God and telling Him how annoyed or angry or hurt I am due to my chronic illness but whatever it is, the connection is there. Not a religion but a faith.

In the last few weeks, we have been introduced to a new song at church called. ‘Raise a Hallelujah’ which was written in a place of desperation and belief after a church leader’s child became seriously unwell. There are a couple of lines in that song which really speak to me and hopefully, also to some of you:

‘I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies, I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief, I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody, I raise a hallelujah, Heaven comes to fight for me.’

I am not perfect by any means and still have periods of unbelief and fear and anger about my situation but this song reminds me that not only is it okay to pray to God in the unbelief but that EVEN when we are struggling to believe, God comes down to fight for us and for that, we should raise a hallelujah to Him in thanks and celebration for His power, goodness, grace and mercy.

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Whilst at uni, I studied a small amount of ethics and part of that was the ethics of person-hood. When I started YouBelong, I knew I would have to deepen my ethical studies and over the last week, I have been reading about the ethics of person-hood from a disability perspective

From a very simple, biblical point of view, a human is someone who is made in God’s image by God and put on the earth to love Him and those around us. The argument put across by some people is that those of us who do not look or behave in the same way as the majority are not made in the image of God and therefore, are lesser in His sight and in the sight of others. But Scripture does not say However, that interpretation is insinuates that God is either wrong about us ALL being made in His image or that His image is flawed. But that brings us back to the question of ‘how do we know which of us is the purest form of God?’ The answer — no one and all of us. We are ALL made in the image of God. God is not a visual being so His definition of ‘image’ is likely to be different to our own. People with one less finger or an ostomy bag or a feeding tube, a PICC line, a prosthetic leg or arm, scars. There are no two people EXACTLY the same so how could we ever think that there are a group of people who are more like and deserving of God than the rest?

We are reminded in Psalm 139:13–16 that what the world views as ‘disability’ is not unknown by or shocking to God. “He saw our unformed bodies before we came to be.” He saw them AND celebrated them!

When we judge someone to not be in God’s image, we are saying that we are know what God ‘looks’ like and that we are more like that. How can we possibly know?! We cannot. To get a better idea of what ‘made in the image of God’ means we need to pull ourselves away from our human mind set and try to put ourselves into that of God’s — impossible indeed, but we can and should try.

Yes, Jesus healed many people with physical impairments and disabilities but we only read about a handful of people in the bible and not all people then or today were or will be ‘cured’ during their time on earth. Some of us will die young or struggle in the fallen world we live in for many years to come but that does not mean we lesser ‘in God’s eyes’. Although Jesus was perfect (and I am not arguing against that!), He rose from the dead miraculously but still had scars in His hands and side. I am pretty much 100% sure that if God wanted to make Jesus physically perfect, He could have done that, but I don’t believe that it was important to God for this to be done. He doesn’t look at our earthly ‘imperfections’, whether as a result of disability or injury or any other factors, and see His creation as flawed. We are made fearfully and wonderfully made, in God’s image, and part of His creation that He called ‘good.’

New Every Morning

New Every Morning

My first diagnosis (achalasia) came about in the Spring of 2014. I started journaling after receiving a journal as a gift from my parents in November that same year and found it very cathartic that I was able to express every thought or feeling without the possibility of upsetting anyone.

In the first entry in my journal, I express my frustration at having not been healed despite numerous people praying for me, including my entire church congregation during a service set aside solely to do just that. As I read back down the pages of emotions, I can see my confusion, anger and frustration turn to realisation as I come to the conclusion that God knows I love Him and that I have a good, strong faith already. I had this strong feeling that God was saying healing me would do nothing to strengthen my faith, but by enabling me to go through a touch time of pain, my faith would be tested and ultimately would be stronger than before. After thinking about this for a while, I texted my Mum to tell her what I was thinking about and she replied with 2 Corinthians 4:16 — ‘Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’.

As achalasia is a digestive issue making my oesophagus totally useless and making swallowing almost impossible, I lost a lot of weight so this text was pertinent as I was literally, physically wasting away! The challenge was to not prevent God from changing me and making me renewed inside whilst I was going through this struggle.

Despite being chronically ill, I have depth to my character. I am not just chronically ill but I am also a child of God, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a creator, a bibliophile, a lover of films and a minister (although my ministry looks quite different to how I had planned it to be when I started my degree in theology 3 and a half years ago). In order to truly live (not just survive)with a chronic illness, I have had to remind myself there is more to me and the person God intended me to be. In order to do that, I need to work out who that person is and the way to do that, is spend time with Him who made me and has plans for my life. I must remember to spend time with Him in whatever way possible that day. If I cannot open my eyes to read my bible, I can pray. If I cannot concentrate enough to pray, I can listen to worship music and listen. If I can get outside that day, I can go to church and serve others or just take in the beautiful surroundings our Creator has made for us.

Perhaps our weaknesses are what God wants of us even more than our strengths, talents and gifts. Let’s surrender it all and see what can happen!

For I know the plans I have for you…

For I know the plans I have for you…

As I step out into this new venture of YouBelong, I felt there was only one blog post that I could share with you first. The reason I am here.

I cannot honestly remember the moment it happened. I wish I could tell you that there was a massive ‘aha’ or ‘light bulb’ moment but there wasn’t as far as I remember. Instead, there have been lots of little signs and stepping stones along the way. The most recent of these came up shortly after setting up my twitter page and getting an amazing response from so many people both within the chronic illness and disabled communities and from church leaders who are aware of the gap there is in their churches but who do not know where to start to make the church more accessible. This has been of great encouragement so if you have been a part of that, thank you so very much!

Prior to that, I remember preparing to leave university and being told by my course director that just because I struggle physically, it doesn’t mean I cannot be a minister (when I started my degree, I was working as an active youth leader which involved a lot of physical activity and long hours which were just not possible anymore).

Throughout the course, we had discussed some disability theologies in class and I had done my own research out of curiosity as I couldn’t understand why God had allowed me to suffer and miss out on all I had dreamed of doing after I graduated as a youth minster. This became an ongoing area of personal study and to this day, I grab hold of every resource, whether a book, podcast, video or sermon notes, and try to get my head around different points of view and how that fits in with my understanding of my experiences, God and the Bible.

The dots all joined up and I realised that I could combine my experiences, gifts, love of people, personal study and training to create a worthy ministry for me to carry off with God’s help and guidance. I have been doing so apprehensively for the last 2 months but have been nervous to take the next step for fear of rejection, causing offence or sounding like I know better than others (which I can promise you now could not be further from the truth!) I am terrified but I feel that I have been called into this. A few days ago, I might have said that I think this is what God wants me to do as I enjoy it and don’t know what else to do but after reading back through my journal from when I first got ill back in 2014, it could not be clearer…

“Well of course there is a good reason for this… 1) I get a glimpse into the lives of what others like me who are struggling with illness are going through (so) I can help, inspire and encourage them. Maybe God intends for this to become my area of ministry? Who knows at the moment (other than God!)?”

This was written before I really got ill, before I started training at Ridley Theological College, before I had even considered YouBelong. Even if we don’t know what our future will look like or how it could possibly be brighter, God knows and He cares. For years I have continued to wonder why God wouldn’t reveal His plans for me, and maybe He won’t, but looking back, I can see now that He had. I just hadn’t really listened and trusted. I am so glad I cottoned on eventually. What do you feel God calling you into? How can you take the next step to getting closer to Him to discover your purpose and what can you do to get closer to that?