What People Living With Chronic Illnesses Think But are Sometimes Afraid To Say

 

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I’ve only lived with Fibromyalgia for just over three years now – at least, with the diagnosis of it. I will say one thing about that ~ knowing what had been ailing me for a lot longer than just the past three years did help. It helped to know I wasn’t crazy (totally) and just imagining it. But it had been lurking there – right under the surface – for a lot of years. It also is probably a BIG PART of the other stuff I have contended with in life – we just didn’t know what to attribute it all to before the diagnosis.

What did rear its ugly head early on in my life, however, has been depression and anxiety. Chronic. Life long. And I don’t like to talk about it sometimes, but it’s the truth and I have to be honest with you. I’ve lived with my own sort of depression (and anxiety)- mostly chemically/hormonally/biologically driven – for the better part of my life. I am fifty years old, by the way.  That’s a long time. Don’t feel sorry for me about it – there’s a point to this story that’s about something much bigger than that.

I know it for what it is – I no longer buy into the stuff that others, including myself used to tell me about that second part of things. I will say it over and over again until the day that I die – when it comes to depression or anxiety, there are two MAIN kinds. The kind that is about perspective, attitude, outlook, behaviors – (semi-controllable with life changes) and the kind that is chemically driven (not so much controllable). I have both, but mostly the second kind is what takes me over sometimes. Yes. The two can co-exist. Yes – it’s hard for those around us to see which one you can do something about and which one is beyond your control.

It’s the same way with Fibro and the way it manifests itself (mostly invisibly) in your life.

I’ve learned one thing throughout all of this – but it doesn’t mean that I’ve perfected living it out. Feeling like we have to hide it from the world is still VERY PERVASIVE in our society. And I get that. I do. It sucks, but I understand it. It’s all about not being able to understand something if  you don’t go through it yourself. We are only human.

So, here is a PARTIAL list of things that I suspect most people who are struggling with chronic illness, chronic pain, chronic depression or anxiety or a host of other chronic things that make them “different” than who they really are inside, would like to say.

I share this with the heart of letting you know, that although there are some of us that do not feel this way, many of those I have met that struggle with things like this DO feel this way. We may tell those in our near and dear circle these things, but often we don’t feel that you truly believe us. More often, you hear us, but it just doesn’t STICK, because life clutters stuff up, man. And we are SO BUSY managing our chronic-whatever, (IT’S A FULL TIME JOB), that things like this – things that need to be said over and over and over again in order to stick, well – they get lost.

So, here we go:

Most of us realize that life is not all about us. Most of us deal with a lot of guilt when we think about how much worse things could be and we find ourselves crying in our Cheerios about our own situation.

Most of us feel selfish for having to focus so dang much on ourselves. Yet, we don’t know what to do, because we HAVE TO think about our situation so much – especially if we have chronic pain. There’s no where to run and little distraction from something like that. At least, there’s none that is lasting for much longer than a small stretch at a time.

Most of us were not always this way – it may have always “been there”, but we used to be able to do more things, have more good days than bad, and be more focused on others. Our whole lives didn’t used to always revolve around our illness and managing it. You probably remember that too.

Most of us still remember what it was like before. And we are in the cycle of grief. We know that you are too.

Most of us know this is hard on you. We know that we know that we know. And we feel responsible, even though it’s not “our fault.”

Most of us know that you have your own problems – some of them big ones- too. We want to be there for you. We want you to know that we get it – that you matter to us.

Most of us feel we are alone to a certain extent. Even when you help us – even when we pray. We KNOW we are not alone, but we FEEL alone. A lot.

Most of us realize there is a fine and messy line between knowing when it’s time to fight and when it’s about growing in surrender. That is very hard to discern. Why wouldn’t it be even HARDER for YOU to discern when you aren’t living in this skin? We get that.

Most of us feel pressure to act/deal with/look at things the way that those closest to them would want for them to. We try to look up, but sometimes, we just can’t. Then we feel like we have let you down. Again.

Most of us know that you are doing the best that YOU can in the face of this. We actually appreciate all the grace you extend to us, but feel bad about it all at the same time. It’s easy to say “it’s okay” but sometimes, we can’t help but think we are nothing but a pain in your butt. It’s part of the deal, man. We need lots of reassurance.

Most of us still find ourselves just wanting to be understood and to be sure you know we understand you as best we can. We also realize that part of surrender is giving that all up. That is H-A-R-D.

Most of us would snap our fingers and move this out of our lives (and out of YOUR life) in a hot second if we could.

Most of us want to do more for you and have the center of our lives be ANYTHING other than managing this junk. We are sick of ourselves. And that makes us even more sick. Dig it, man.

Most of us feel lost, even when we press in to God. We are reeling, spinning, and doing our best to try or not try – depending upon where we are at. We aren’t comfortable living in our own skin – but we keep trying to keep perspective in the midst of the fog of it all. For us, for you. For everybody’s sake.

Most of us feel all the same pressures as “normal” people have, along with knowing we must dedicate a lot of hours to managing this crap – we feel like failures and losers, even when we know it isn’t true. We know we are not martyrs, and that there are starving children digging through dumpsters in the world. We don’t want to try to explain our illness and situation to you in order to make you feel we are “one-upping” your problems- rather, we find ourselves desiring SO DEEPLY to help you understand. Not just for our sakes, but for YOURS.

Most of us finally shut down and stop sharing our feelings because when we see that it can’t be understood and it doesn’t help much to explain, that’s what we feel we need  to do for everyone’s sake.

Most of us know it’s more about surrender than fighting. You can’t know that until you are living in our shoes. You just can’t. It may look like we are giving up, when we are “practicing” surrender. It’s a process, yo. We don’t know how to do it any better than the next guy would.

Most of us try 99 percent of the time to keep perspective and look at the upside. But we have days where we can’t see straight, even when we turn our eyes upward. We know it hurts you when we share with you on those dark days – and yet….we feel we need to speak to someone who loves us about all of it.

Most of us would give anything to jog again, have a clear head again, and be able to hold a convo with you that’s all about YOU and NOTHING about our illness.

Most of us know that our identity SHOULD NOT be defined by our illness, but that so much of our lives are spent managing it, that gets murky and muddy too.

Most of us know you miss the old us. Newsflash: We do too.

Finally, most of us know that the world does not revolve around us, and that this completely sucks for everyone involved in our lives. But we have to hang on to the fact that God has a purpose in everything – that He is teaching not only us through this ugly hot mess, but that He may be trying to teach others in our circle a few hard truths  as well.

We often laugh at ourselves, because in some ways, we feel like test subjects. We are reminded thousands of times a day of what failure looks like, and we have to WORK HARD to keep that in perspective and realize that what looks like failure (not being able to have any stamina, having to lay in our bed to protect our bodies and minds so that we can be productive for the 6  hours a day that we can, saying too much when we are in a very dark and unreasonable place mentally, crossing the line between managing our chronic condition and letting it define us and take us over), is just topical.

It’s what is inside our hearts that matters. Truly. It isn’t what impacts the world around us right away – all the junk likes to take on that role. But it IS what truly matters.

So, if you live with someone or around someone who struggles in these ways, please know that as much as we can, we get it. We don’t want to be a burden to you. But MOST OF US are fighting against completely shutting down to “protect” you.

Most of us want to be real with you, yet let you know that we are okay.

Most of us know that you miss us. That’s not lost on us. But please know, that although this has changed us on the outside into something that can seem MONSTROUS and UGLY the vast majority of the time – if you look a little deeper, you just may find that the inside is being transformed into something of beauty.

And we want to share THAT with you too. You see – we get to understand something now (so do you) and use that for the glory of God!

So I will leave you with this verse. If you ever feel lost, not sure what to do with your chronic friend or family member – not knowing whether you are helping or not…remember this one thing, if nothing else. It’s all worth it if we use this to comfort others in the name of Jesus.

It’s all worth it.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4

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Sliver

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Here’s another one of those tight rope things to consider, friends. It’s about hopes and dreams and walking in line with God’s will for us. It’s about dark and light and which one is truly more powerful. It’s about the pull that seems so strong, but is really just trying to fake us out.

It’s about God’s power to overcome all of it.

In the Bible, we find many stories of men who had hopes and dreams. Some of those dreams were crushed, but God still worked out His perfect plan for those guys. The dream they thought they had became something much bigger, much greater, and most importantly, something that lined up with God’s will for them.

God’s plans are more important than our dreams.

The walk toward the “dream” was always one of hardship. Was this a dream that God planted inside of their heart, or was it one of their own making? Finding out is usually what brings on the challenges.

Most of these guys went through some type of process of captivity first – look at Joseph – look at David – look at Paul, and many, many others. Dying to self is always an aspect of bringing about GOD’s plans for us.

And it hurts. A lot.

If not actual captivity (being bound in chains), these guys experienced some serious obstacles every which way they turned – ailments, iniquities, sin as stumbling blocks, people trying to murder them, being beaten, flogged, swallowed by a big fat fish!

Nonetheless, God took what started out as their dream or their desire as to where they wanted to be or go, and used those challenges along the way to change their path – correct their course – so they would end up on HIS path and doing HIS will.

God’s compass seems confusing to us, but it’s always right.

I struggle all the time with the desires of my own heart and sacrificing all of that and laying it at the feet of Jesus, friends. What are my dreams, and do I even have any left any more? Should I even have dreams or are they just dangerous things that lead me down a path to self satisfaction? Usually my own dreams are things that will help me escape my current plight – that’s why they are often quite unrealistic. Although God can do ANYTHING and nothing is outside of His power and reach for us, I feel that He is trying to help me learn to be content – Under some pretty rough circumstances too.

Chains make it hard to do that. I’m a comfort creature, friends. I’m like that person in the Princess and the Pea story – I will notice ANYTHING right now, due to the Fibro that doesn’t “belong.” They feel like heavy chains to me – weighing me down. And I don’t know how to do contentment in the midst of discomfort.

But Jesus does.

Lately I have struggled again with some of the ugly depression that creeps into my life every so often – it is a clinical type of depression, mostly physiological – in other words, it doesn’t start with emotional or mind-type stuff, it starts because of the neurological issues going on in my body. But mine then does impact (once it sets in) my mind, my heart, and sometimes it FEELS like it even touches me deep in my soul. So the emotional things – the attitude, the perspective, the thoughts, the heart – they all follow.

And it HURTS. (Please don’t pity me – I’m just stating a fact here)

It’s the double whammy of depression, friends. The physiological cause, and the emotional and mental effect. Compound depression. Anyone out there who experiences this knows EXACTLY what I am talking about. And it stinks!

During these times I have to walk a line between surrender and fighting to even walk each day in the face of that surrender –

  • In giving it over to God and asking Him to let it run whatever course it is supposed to and trusting Him to remove it.
  • In giving it over, but not laying down and letting your bones dry up.
  • In not struggling tooooo hard, because if you do, the chains are going to bite right down into your flesh.

You can’t fight it out of the picture. You can’t fully give up, either. You just have to ask the Lord to help you know when to move and when to stay still. And most of all, you have to ask Him to keep fear from setting in, because that will completely immobilize you.

During these darker times, (this should go without saying) I feel an even greater sense of being in prison. You see, the “normal prison” is one I have made the best of, friends. I have found, along with Jesus, how to live inside of it – the light can burst out from the inside and still move outward in the world. Even though I am “in here” I am not confined by these walls. Jesus can do anything!

But during the depressive times, the beauty of my prison fades….it becomes a darker and more “dried up” place. I have to search for drops of His water more fervently, because it’s hard to see. I want to run, but my chains seem even  heavier. It feels like the light has gone out, although there’s still a sliver of it living inside of me. It feels like it wants to burst free, but it isn’t time for that right now.

Talk about discomfort. It’s hard to just lie there and hug your chains when you fear you are wasting away.

The dreams you had left die a little more….

Death to self becomes a whole lot more real and talking about it becomes an actual acted out, very real, and very tangible thing in one’s life.

The pain associated with that is not even something I can articulate. I am sure many of you know it all too well.

But we can’t buy into the lies of the enemy. He wants for us to believe that because the dark cloud seems more pervasive than the Lord’s sliver of light, that it is actually more powerful. The enemy wants us to believe it is going to overtake us and extinguish ALL the light. And he makes it seem very likely and very imminent and very, very real.

We MUST remember that the light in the midst of that darkness is there -it is Jesus – and it’s pretty clear to see that it’s there if only we lift up our heads. It doesn’t always make the depression or the chains disappear – it doesn’t always make the black and threatening cloud go away immediately, but it does give us peace, comfort, and even some joy.

It extinguishes any doubt as to whether we are alone.

He is always with me. Always.

So yes….it’s hard not to “dream” during these times – dream of the things that would take us away, if only for a moment. Dream of the things that would  help us escape the cloud of darkness. Dream of the things that would offer a fake sense of lightness, satisfaction and freedom from the prison or the chains. Dream of light and bright places that aren’t really bad things, but also aren’t the real source of light, freedom and living water we are to be seeking after at all times.

I find myself wanting to be on the beach and hearing the waves crashing around me – my toes in the sand feeling it wrap around me like a cocoon – the sun hitting my skin and melting away the chains that bind up my muscles and tissues on a daily basis – the melatonin (oh what beautiful stuff) that helps our mood and lifts away the heavy and dark…..these are all good things.

But none of them are Jesus.

The beach can’t meet me in the dark places. I can’t make it magically appear to help me feel better. The sun doesn’t really shine in the dark corners of our hearts and can’t melt the chains that are wrapped around us so tightly during dark times. It’s all a temporary “fix” if you will.

But the Son of God can.

He is my sun – He is my light – He is my freedom.

Is He yours? Are you allowing Him to meet you in the dark places? Do you cry out for Him all the time to help you walk through whatever might come your way? He is here for you too, you know. One sliver of His light can penetrate the death cloud the enemy is trying to use to threaten you. Do you feel it melting away? The burden can be turned right over to Him – He can bear it for us. He wants to take the weight of it all and lift it from us. We have to open our hearts and our eyes to Him. He is here.

I do believe that when I go to live with Jesus in eternity, there will be a beach there. I just think He knows the desires of my heart and will far surpass my own idea of a beachy life. He builds palaces instead of mere houses. He fills us with light from the inside out instead of just tanning us on the surface. He ebbs and flows through us more powerfully than the depression or ailments of our bodies and hearts and minds ever can.

He is with me in the dark and He is always there for me when I come out the other side of that darkness.

I don’t have to walk in darkness, although it comes for me some of the time. I get to walk with Him no matter where I am. No chains can ever stop Him from penetrating all of it. A sliver of God’s light is more than enough to penetrate through that cloud of dark.

He looks at me and smiles and tells me to bask in the light with Him. He says it is time to dance with Him on the water. He wraps me into Himself and shows me without question that He will hug me far tighter than the sand ever can. He warms me with His light in a way the sun can never do.

He is my rock. He is my salvation. He is my freedom from all the chains that try to bind me.

He is God.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:5

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More than 24 More

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Once upon a time, there was a girl who decided she would get married, have three or more children, and live happily ever after by the time she was about 20 years old. She wanted to have her children young, so she would be able to be a hip and fun grandmother some day.  Her husband would be handsome, fun, and reliable (loyal). He would take care of her until the end of her days on this earth, never cause her harm, and make her feel loved. Always.

She had it all planned out: She would keep herself pure for her husband, always be beautiful and the perfect partner for him, never be mean or angry, and then, maybe she would be worthy of the love she knew he would provide for her. She didn’t want to mess this up; not before she met him, and certainly not after.

But she did. She messed up all of her plans.

Yes, something happened to the girl along the way. She searched for love in all the wrong places. She gave up thinking that she would ever find the guy – the one who would love her unconditionally, support her in the good times and the bad, and be her best friend at the same time.

She gave up.

So she threw in the towel. She screwed up in her search so badly, that she felt even more unworthy by the time that she actually got in touch again with the man that she had met at a younger age…the one who would be her husband.

She was happy when they reconnected again, but had already made the firm decision that marriage would not be in her future. She was done…finished. And besides ~ she was tainted goods. How could this guy ever love her for who she was now?

But God made it clear: this is the one. This is the one for her to marry, as much as she didn’t want to get married after all that she had been through.

So she did.

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I am so thankful for 24 years of marriage with my guy. But I have a newsflash for you, dear friends: He’s not THE ONE.

  • He does love me unconditionally.
  • He does take care of me in sickness and in health.
  • He is loyal, reliable, handsome and fun.

But he wasn’t THE GUY.

He is not the One that my soul was thirsting for. He’s not the One who could make me pure again after all the screw ups from my past. He’s not the One who will FOR CERTAIN be with me until I take my last breath.

But He is the one I was meant to marry ~ thanks be to God!

I’m so glad that God lent him to me. I’m so thankful that he is right next in line behind my Lord and Savior for me to love. I don’t always love him as well as Jesus would have it done, but I try.

And the girl does get to live happily ever after. And so does the boy. With The One!

#morethan24more #whoohoo #eternitywithChrist

As I look back over the years of our marriage, I find myself not only grateful, but enjoying a moment of clarity as well. There are two main things that I truly think have carried us through and drawn us closer together over the years, in spite of how we can be in different places regarding different things at the same time.

  • Our mutual and individual love for Jesus Christ.
  • Our desire to be good friends above all else.

The first thing has to be there, or we start placing our expectations upon our spouse for love and acceptance. We start living for that, versus allowing Christ to live in and through us. We start trying to glorify ourselves, worship our marriage instead of the Lord and what He wants to do through our marriage, and live for self instead of for Christ.

We start seeing “love” as what we get out of it instead of what it really is meant to be by God’s design.

And to me, the friendship thing is soooo important because all the other stuff fades anyway, friends. We get old; can ya dig? We stop being so sexy. We can become sick, even ugly in some ways. Just ask my husband how I look during one of my Fibro flares first thing in the morning…ha ha. (He probably won’t tell you though – cuz he loves me too much – so there!)

But because he is my next-best-buddy-second-only-to-Jesus ~ he simply laughs at my disarray and lack of charisma. And I love this about him a whole bunch. It’s one of my favorite things.

So Happy Anniversary to my best husband ever! You are my favorite friend on this earth and I am so grateful that you love me for who I am, even when I’m a messy monster.

God displays his sense of humor frequently in our marriage. But He also shows us His unending grace and mercy.

Once upon a time there was a girl who became, in many ways, quite the opposite of what she thought she’d be as a wife, a friend, a mother. God took her and married her to a wonderful man of God who showed her without question, Jesus and His grace, love, mercy and compassion in physical and tangible action on a daily basis. He showed her through this man that she can be loved, flaws and all. He made it clear that with the help of Jesus, she can love better than she ever thought possible too.

  • 24 years of beauty mixed in with some ugly too ~
  • Loving moments coupled with some scrappy, nasty conflicts ~
  • Impossible-to-verbalize joy and palpable painful seasons ~
  • Blatant imperfections all overridden by gracious and unmistakable gifts from God.

24 years of blessing and time to understand God’s kind of love a little bit better right here on earth – together.

And here’s to more than 24 more!

Above all, love each other deeply; because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

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Life Requires a Leaf Blower: Get One With Lots of Power!!!!

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During my return drive home from taking the kids to school this morning, I saw leaves; dried up, crunchy, brown and ugly leaves. They were everywhere! All over the ground, blowing in the street, creating mountains of crunch on everyone’s yard.

Leaves: They seem to be taking over everything in my view. Cluttering it up…getting in the way of seeing green. They bother me.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.   John 15: 1

I was praying over the day to come – another day at work. Another day of stalled weight loss, which is crucial (twenty more pounds, and they are STUBBORN) to my health improvement. My two kids and the struggles they are having in Math class, and with teenage hormones, but who both love God and are trying to figure out how to let Him reign in their day-to-day. My eldest beauty ~ the one who has been an adult all her life, but is loving her Jesus and trying to wrap her mind around the fact that “balance” is elusive. And my husband ~ learning to love Him the way Jesus would have it is a daily learning process. My husband: His work, His heart, His patience with me. And the many, MANY folks whose hearts are hurting…who have entrusted me to pray specifically for them….for them to know Jesus and be wrapped in His peace and comfort.

During this prayer, I did not have my eyes closed (gotta drive, yo), and so I kept on seeing the leaves.

Then, in a flash of a second, He put it there: The Spirit of the Lord reminded me. He reminded me through the leaves.

 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:2

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Our lives here on earth and the walk we take with Jesus are much like the leaves. We treat them as such too. But we have to remember ~ we must look at the leaves through Jesus’ eyes. We tend to see only the outside. We look for that which is obviously beautiful, or we tend to see just the crunch and the brown ugly once they have fallen off the tree. And we don’t want to have to do the work involved when it comes to the leaves. We just like to sit back and enjoy them.

But that is part of embracing Ugly Love. The brown crunchy stuff that seems useless is a major symbol of God’s TRUE love for us! It’s part of what He does to make room for the really good stuff He has for us.

The whole cycle needs to be seen for the beauty that it is! Every stage is part of what the Lord is working within us.

And we must remember:

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. John 15:3

So our trees in the Spring, as they bud, excite us. They almost relieve us. Because we feel we have looked at barren sticks for so long that we are ready for some action! We are ready for growth.  Ready for flowering. Ready for the warm sun and the cool breeze to ripple through all that is new and fresh and make beautiful sounds. We’re ready. We’re ready for the smells, the sights, and for our senses to be tantalized through the beauty and the newness of it all.

Of course that would be exciting for us. We are creatures filled with senses that beg to be satisfied and utilized.

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Did we abide in Him during the harsh winter time? Did we still nurture and care for our barren-seeming tree? It’s still alive, I hope.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4

But then, deep in the middle of the Summer, although the trees are still in full bloom, we tend to get kind of used to them. We can become complacent about that new and beautiful blooming growth we saw as it was first popping and coming into fullness in the Spring. We take it for granted. Aside from that, some of the leaves are getting ugly-fied by the heat surrounding them. It’s too hot. It’s no longer “perfect” weather to sit back and enjoy the newness of it all. Lots of the flowery parts have turned just all green.

Too much uniformity. Too much “sameness”.

Are we neglecting to water the tree because it seems fine just all by itself?

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

We are fickle and we tend to get bored even when the fullness of growth comes in ~ we lack appreciation. We forget what this stage stands for in the face of all the new things God has done in us. We forget or refuse to abide in Him.

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In the Fall, everyone gets excited about change. We got tired in the Summer of all the same sea of green and seeing new colors excites us. Hopefully, we aren’t simply happy because of the change and the fact that it breaks up the monotony, although I fear that is often the case for us. But if we begin to appreciate the beauty in the ugly of love, growth in Jesus, and changing to become more like Him, we can appreciate this season all the more. The turning of the leaves into beautiful colors can be a clear sign that all that we prayed over – all the good work that we asked Him to do in us – it’s coming about. He is helping us to discard that which is no longer meant to be part of the vine.

He paints beauty in the midst of the ugly on last time before discarding it. That which needs to go, shall go. Hopefully, we don’t lose any branches!

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. John 15:6

And then: It’s dump time. It’s time for the last vestige of beauty to be surrendered. Does our Savior not know us? He knows we need a small transition in order to let go sometimes. But some leaves are tossed right off the vine immediately. Others, he allows to change in the Autumn and let us look at them a while before they turn brown and fall down. It’s about letting go – all the way. Dump time. Time to get rid of everything that doesn’t belong.

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This stage is painful. It doesn’t appear to be beautiful, but it truly is! Because we are left with a clean slate, we get to experience the grace and mercy of Jesus in a very special way. We are left with a living tree that is stripped of all that wasn’t meant to remain and a beautiful clean canvas upon which the Lord can work His divine wonders!

This is the place where ugly really shows. This is the place where we feel overwhelmed because we no longer have use for the brown crunch that surrounds us. We are ready to discard. We are ready to clean up. Every last leaf is bothering us. We can’t seem to catch them all. They need to disappear forever.

Have we come to the Father and cried out for help in the mess and the aftermath of our sin or unwanted and unfruitful baggage we have been carrying around?

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7

After pondering this, I realized: I am a hater of the brown crunch. I love the buds and the changing colors of Spring and Autumn. I have learned to embrace new growth, just as I look forward to the beauty to be found in getting ready to let go of that which doesn’t belong. Yet I haven’t fully embraced dump time.

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I struggle with seeing the mess of me all over the ground.

Just like the next guy, if there’s stuff that needs to be purged, I am all for it. Get it outta there! But I hate clean up time. It’s tedious and never-ending. It never seems to be efficient. It’s ugly to look at – all that junk on the ground. It’s not nice and neat and perfect and doesn’t fit in my little box. The tree looks great – the bare sticks reaching up to the heavens ~ ready for their new blooms after a season of rest. But the ground? It’s a hot mess!

But this sea of brown and ugly is living proof that our God saves! And we will bear good, better and beautiful, luscious fruit again!

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:8

Rakes don’t work all that well – not for the little pieces, anyway. You know…the ones that break into a million more little pieces when you try to rake them away?

Picking them up by hand and placing them in a trash bag is good, but you might break your back after a while. That hurts.

Mowing them up can be a good thing, but you’ll have to make several endeavors at this before they are all gone.

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I say let Jesus be our leaf blower. Let Him clean up the crunch in our lives. Let Him take the trash out with us. We have to partner with Him. Doing it on our own is not productive and not even necessary. We have to be willing to take steps to turn the power on and get out there and face the mounds of brown ugly. We have to invite Him to help us. But it’s worth it. It’s part of the process of embracing the really ugly stuff we no longer need and then discarding it – forever. Only He can help us truly do it the right way.

There’s beauty in every cycle – but some of it is not meant to remain. Some of it is the process of getting rid of it. Some of it looks very, very ugly and is a real pain in the rear. But it’s there.

And so is He, dear friends. So is HE!

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15: 9-11

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The Husband From The God Who Answers

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Today my husband is 48 years old. I sit here pondering the fact that I met him 35 years ago. He was thirteen and I was twelve. I started thinking of all the things I may wish to write about today to honor him and help to make his birthday special, but nothing seemed just right.

So I prayed.

“God, I want to honor my husband today and write something special for him and share it with my friends. Would you lead me as to what you would have me share today?”

And God answered…..

I think that I was made for Mark and Mark was made for me. Not too long after we were married I did the math in my head: “Wow…Mark was born in the beginning of ’66 and I was born about 9 months later the same year. That’s kind of cool.”  So in a way, Mark’s birthday is my own birthday as well.

Around the age of 12-13, we met at school. During Junior High and the beginning of High School, I had Snoopy spiral notebooks in which I wrote my name as Mrs. Anne  Birkelo, or “I love Mark.” I will never forget that.

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But what I think about the most when I think about Mark and his birthday today is how thankful I am that I am married to a man who truly understands that every single day, we are living out a born-again life in Christ Jesus!

Every single day that we walk this earth is a gift from God. Every day, we are faced with challenges, obstacles, battles of the flesh, heart and mind. And each day, we have to make choices about those things. Every day we must choose, “am I going to follow Jesus and cry out to Him or go my own way?”

Mark chooses to follow Jesus. And not just on his “birthday.”

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Today I’d like to share some attributes (and there are many more, I can assure you) that I truly appreciate about my husband. Because of all of these wonderful things that are Mark, I have a leader in my life that I can follow after and who helps me to draw all-the-closer to my One true King, Jesus Christ. I also get to celebrate who Jesus is in and through this wonderful man.

To say I’m blessed by my husband is an understatement. I can’t believe that I get to open the gift of him every day – even on his own birthday!

Boo: Thanks for making every single birthday of yours a reminder of the many blessings the Lord  has bestowed upon me and our children because of having you in our life. Thank you for having birthdays and displaying fully and clearly what it is to walk in Christ on a daily basis; drawing closer to Jesus every single day.

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DEVOTED: And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Mark it utterly devoted to His relationship with His Savior and all of his priorities from there fall right into place. He holds true, faithful and strong to keeping God first in his life, and then his commitment to me and our three children is right next in line. Mark will give his all to every single thing he is committed to in life. I know I am blessed because of his devotion to his Savior, our marriage and family. The fact that I can stand and say that I know this man would never leave me for another love is beyond a blessing.

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HARD-WORKING/PERSEVERING: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

This man amazes me in this regard. I really do stand in awe at how hard he works. He puts his everything into his work, sticks with it when the going gets beyond rough, and has stamina I don’t think I have ever seen in anyone else my whole life! He used to work too much, but he was able to see that and change his work hours and lifestyle so that he could still work to capacity, but keep his priorities straight. Anyone that has Mark on their team, whether in the workplace, serving at church, or just helping someone move or get things done, has the bulk of the workforce that they need on their side. If there is one trait I wish I had of Mark’s it would probably be the perseverance piece of things. It’s the way that he perseveres through things that I admire. This is the dude who back in the day of the disciples, would have left everything and done anything Jesus asks regardless of physical boundaries. He lives that today. He’s been gifted with an amazing ability to plow through and remain effective, efficient, and committed, with minimal or no complaint along the way. Whoa! To be made of that stuff! I can’t fathom it. He has to work at this, sure. But there’s something in his makeup – something God gifted him with in this that I cannot explain. It’s unreal to me. And oh, how I appreciate this about Mark.

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PATIENCE: Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

There may be occasional times that Mark loses  his patience, but let me assure you, it’s not after  having displayed more of it than I’ll possess in my lifetime! This man puts up with a wife who needs to vent… A LOT. He and I balance each other out so well, but to do that, he has to have this never-ending reserve of patience. See, he’s not built that way (like me) at all. He doesn’t need to vent out his thoughts, feelings or angst in order to not “get toxic”. I don’t know how the dude does it, but he just gets that stuff out in some other way or sucks it up without becoming a beast. In turn, while dealing with his own stuff, he patiently listens to me during the times I need to discuss the same issue for the 100th time. I can’t even do this one justice….just take my word for it. The dude is beyond patient!

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GENTLE AND MELLOW: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

As hard working and persevering as Mark is, he has an uncanny knack for being very go-with-the-flow about certain things. His overall day-to-day demeanor is very laid back and mellow. I don’t know how a person lives both traits simultaneously – being so hard working and tenacious, yet being laid-back at the same time. The only thing I can say is it truly must be of God. By gentle, I mean he has a pretty gentle spirit. He is certainly not meek and mild (wimpy) by the world’s standards and definitions. But he is quietly under control. “Meek” by the Lord’s definition; that’s Mark. That strength under control? It. Is. Powerful. It makes me feel safe. Yet I know that he will be chill most of the time, rather than exert that power and strength in ways that are demoralizing to us. He lives a lot of the time in the day in and day out moment by moment. I love this about him so very much.

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CONFIDENCE/SELF CONTROL: In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. Proverbs 14:26

Spinning off of that, is his inner confidence in who he is in Christ Jesus and out of that comes self-control. I can’t say the man never gets angry or loses his temper – he’s not perfect. But I can say that he is certain of who he is in Christ Jesus and he has such confidence about it that it alone is a testimony to others he encounters. Overall, he has far more self-control than most people I have ever met. I think that has to do with the fact that he is patient and the perseverance piece of things. But the bottom line, is that again, these are things I believe God gifted him with – no man gets the real stuff, the God-given stuff that has to do with these traits on his own. Mark is obedient to the Lord, and the fruit of that shows. Clearly.

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SERVANT: If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. John 12:26

Mark has a servant’s heart and lives a servant life. I believe he has been given the spiritual gift of giving. The dude will sign up for worthy things, even when he doesn’t want to. I don’t hardly ever see him rest or do things for himself. I do think he needs to recharge more often, but it’s possible it’s not that season in his life (to need that or be less effective without it) just yet. Mark doesn’t sign up for every little thing just to do the whole “I am involved in this and that” stuff. He truly serves. He finds the things that others don’t want to do and he signs up to do that stuff. On top of that, the dude remains faithful to that task. When he feels like he is tired, he still goes. When he wishes he could just stay home, he goes. When no one else wants to show up, he’s there. And here’s the kicker: He does it with joy and without complaint. Unbelievable!

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RESPECTFUL:  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the  emperor.  1 Peter 2:17

I can’t quite put into words how rare this trait is these days, especially from a husband to his wife. But Mark is beyond respectful. He truly understands and appreciates what he has in his relationships and life and gives that the respect that it deserves. He respects and loves me for the person that I am in Jesus and the things that make us different. He treats me with kindness and care even when I am not easy to get along with sometimes. He would never say a bad thing about me, his wife, to anyone! And he would not disrespect me or our relationship by acting in impure ways at all. The man is faithful, and to me, that is the ultimate show of respect aside from honoring the person you are with for who Jesus made them to be.

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STRONG: The God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. Psalm 18:32-34

This may seem silly, but Mark is probably the strongest man physically that I have ever met. He doesn’t look like a body builder, isn’t 6 feet tall, and doesn’t seem like one of those football players out there at the superbowl, but after having lived with him all these years, I can tell you that man is built for hard work. I have no fear that if anyone ever approached me or our children with the intent to harm us, that Mark could take them down if necessary. Again, I think it’s that power and strength-under-control thing that gives rise to this physical-strength-thing. Truly, I know I am guessing here, but I think Mark is built a lot like Jesus in the flesh might have been. He’s got that calm and gentle spirit, but he is filled with a power that is harnessed perfectly and kept under strict control.

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HUMOR: A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones. Proverbs 17:22

This one is my favorite. To me, part of having good humor is being able to understand other people’s sense of humor. It’s being strong enough to laugh along with others and be slow to be offended. It’s about being able to let go and have some fun in life. Mark lets me play with him and be silly and understands my strange sense of humor. He plays along. He is funny all by himself and doesn’t even know it. I swear, if God hadn’t given me a husband who had this trait, I’d possibly be dead. Sometimes Mark does or says things that he doesn’t even think are funny, but when I crack up about them, he goes along with me for the ride. As serious and hard working as Mark can be, he fully understands there needs to be fun in life. I think God gave Mark this trait so that we would stay married, and do so happily! Ha Ha!

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PRAYER: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18

Mark has a TRUE gift regarding prayer! I have watched it emerge and it just continues to blossom. I don’t understand it fully, because it’s not my gift. I pray, but the way Mark prays brings a peace over the room that I can’t explain. Truly, the Holy Spirit just flows out of him when he is praying. I don’t think many folks fully understand what a gift this is. The Lord tells us of the power of prayer and what happens when two or three are gathered together in worship and praying in His name. I never experienced it or understood that until Mark began to be asked to lead prayer in groups a lot. It amazes me. I have been praying about how to write about what I see when this happens, but words so far just fail me. I am so beyond thankful that the Lord has blessed my husband with this gift.

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Will you help me to celebrate my husband and his special day today? Would you, dear reader, say a prayer thanking God today for Mark and the way that he lives Jesus out in this world for others to see? Will you pray that he continue to grow and flourish and have great effect on bringing others closer to Christ? This man prays for so many others and does so in such a selfless manner. It is my greatest hope that the best gift of all I could give to Mark this year is to get others to pray for Christ to continue to shine brightly through him.

Happy Birthday to my wonderful and Christ-like Husband, Mark!  I love you the MOST!

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You’re Crampin’ My Style, Bro!

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“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.'” Genesis 2:18 NIV

I haven’t discussed much about my marriage on the blog and there’s a reason for that: I hold it pretty close to my heart. And, although I like to share those things which are near and dear to me with others, the sanctity of marriage, well, it’s just that – pretty darn sacred. However, the Lord is now telling me that He is okay with it, and that it may be beneficial to share some things about my own marriage with others. So I’m listening, and obeying.

My husband is aware of this and is behind it and supportive of it all the way; me sharing what the Lord lays on my heart or his through this blog adventure. I think that is MAJOR, friends! Having a husband who has no fear about his wife sharing it all with anyone who wishes to read about it? Whoa. He’s a cool dude.

Hubby’s Name? Mark.
Kind of Dude He is? Rad – and a true man of God! (It couldn’t get any better than that!)

I met Mark when I was 12 years old, but it’s not what you think. We didn’t grow up together, stay just with each other, and then get married, only to live happily ever after. A LOT of stuff happened between the age of 15 and 25 before we actually got married. Stuff that didn’t include Anne and Mark in the picture as a couple, much less one committed to the Lord together. THAT story, is a miracle in and of itself, and I shall share it another time.  But we did have a good puppy love kind of foundation from a very young age. We just weren’t yet “One.”

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But we did reunite by the grace of God after I graduated from college, and we were married within six months after that. The Lord did a lot in that time. We spent a TON of time on the phone (Kansas to Colorado and vice versa) talking, crying, and laughing. We essentially “phone dated”, friends. I always say that was as good as any other kind of dating foundation before an engagement. We talked more in those phone conversations than we may have over the first ten years of our marriage. The hours of talking add up to be quite extensive that way. No interruptions, no physical distractions getting in the way, and the phone bill we had between us added up too! It was worth it.

I remember when we were newly married, we went to the store and ran into one of our old bible teachers that we knew in junior high. He pulled Mark aside and said “Guard your marriage with your life.” I will never forget that. Those words have stuck with me all through this 21 year awesome union that we have been blessed with, for sure.

But what I want to share today, is how Satan used those words, and that concept to twist things up in my own little mind – and we still came out all the better and all the stronger for it.

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Picture This:

  • I move to Colorado to marry the man that I know the Lord had planned for me all along – no question about it.
  • He loves me and I love Him – we do all the “right” things: Premarital biblical counseling, making sure God was the core of our marriage, and making our plans accordingly.
  • Mark has a highly demanding job. He works hard, sometimes into the night, because the job simply requires that.
  • Anne starts to feel really sad – really lonely – really lost- pretty angry. No friends of her own, her family back in Kansas, and the few friends we had that were mutual, well, it just didn’t work out for us to spend much time with them.
  • Mark feels unsupported as Anne is always complaining. He is working hard, has the best of intentions, and doesn’t fully understand why she is being so unsupportive.
  • Anne decides to try to embrace it rather than fight it as a way to protect her feelings toward Mark – she wants to support him, and she seeks a job of her own.
  • Mark and Anne decide to do their best to live in peace and accept the circumstances. It doesn’t really work out too well.
  • Mark and Anne begin to live somewhat separate lives.

So there’s the beginning. I found a great job at a Christian ministry, and Mark and I found a way to make things work so we would fight less. We still had arguements sometimes, make no mistake, but this seemed to help in that arena. But the enemy had gotten in – we didn’t even realize just how far in he actually was.

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Kids came into our life and we were (still are!) blessed. At a certain point, I had to give up my awesome job at the Christian organization. This was hard for me. It probably shouldn’t have been, but it was. I see now what caused that to be so difficult, which I will explain.

After a couple of years, we felt I needed to go back to work. We made changes in regard to Mark’s worklife, and one of the consequences of making that good change was that I strongly felt I needed to bring in some income and get a job with relatively inexpensive insurance benefits to help Mark feel he could make this change. This change was definitely for the better for our family, friends. Mark would still be working a LOT, but have a life. What he had been doing before was just sucking the life out of him, our marriage, and our relationship with God. So, we didn’t take this lightly – me going back to work.

The Lord blessed us and allowed me to find a job in which I could work at night, when everyone else in the family was sleeping. We felt this was good, because it enabled me to still be with the kids in the mornings, keep them out of full time daycare, get them to school, their activities, run the household, all that good stuff. It also removed some pressure in regard to the change at work Mark needed to make. (I think we were still relying far too much on ourselves for our sense of “security” at this point, yet we learned from it all)

As I write this, I truly wonder how we pulled this off. But then I have to remember: I was ten years younger when this started. It really wasn’t hard until I started to go through this middle-age, hormonal stuff a few years ago. Then the hammer came down. Anne could no longer handle this kind of schedule. We struggled for about three years in regard to this and, as you know, finally made the decision for me to stop. Tonight is my last night there. We are starting a new chapter – it’s taken a while to turn the page, but we’re there.

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As you know, even more than that, the Lord has called us back to having me being with my family at night now – and to spending the time that I work in ministry – that is as big of a factor in this as the physical stuff. Honestly, it’s the main factor, friends.

But what I really and truly want to share with you the most is this……….

We are so blessed that this is happening, friends. We are looking forward to getting to spend time together in the evenings again, having sit down dinners as a family again a few times each week, having time to actually have discussions, lay in bed and read our bibles together, pray without rushing, all that good stuff. Many people don’t realize just how a schedule like we were operating on really, really looks. Let me describe it:

Mark gets up at 5 am, just right after or right around when Anne lays down for an hour or two before taking kids to school. Mark and Anne don’t see each other’s faces at that point. Anne sleeps after taking kids to school, gets ready, and goes to work without seeing Mark the majority of the time. We would go three days or more sometimes without even seeing each other’s face.

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So, to cope with that and not have it completely tear your marriage apart, what do you do? You can continue to blame one another and fight, or you make the best of it. We decided to make the best of it and pray about making the very change we are making as of today.

During those three years from when we started praying until now, I realized something. We had started to actually make this work too well. I won’t speak for Mark, but for Anne, she found a way to embrace it rather than fight it, because fighting it sends Anne to a very, very bad place. See, I think we got tunnel vision and thought that we had only two options: work at night, or quit and have no insurance or income.

There were actually more than two all along – God is not that limited. We just weren’t looking up and looking to Him for what He wanted for us. We weren’t all the way in – and in a sense, we were approaching it all wearing our little smarty pants! It’s been quite humbling.

I started to make my little love list of reasons why this was actually good for us – me working at night. I’d tell myself things like “That’s probably why we are still married” (joking, but kind of not) – “if we were around each other too much, we’d start to fight.” Or, “this is good, because it’s kind of like dating and makes us appreciate one another.” Or, if I was really being honest, “I don’t want to risk not liking him much by getting in each other’s  hair and space too much after all these years of doing it this way – ug, what if it makes us fight to be around each other too much.”

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Uh-huh. See how the enemy did that in my mind? He took the “guarding your marriage” thing and twisted it up. He took the good intention of not wanting to look at the glass half empty, make the best of something that just no longer seemed right and in line with God’s will for us, and turned it into selfishness, fear, and no matter how you cut it, bondage. It became “guard Anne’s heart” more than “honor and guard your marriage.”

So, we are excited, friends. But if I am really honest with myself, I am nervous about it too, and that is why the Lord is nudging me to share today. I have work to do with the Lord in that area, for sure. I want to guard my marriage, and I know the decision we are making will do just that. But I also know we are going  to cramp each other’s style now that we will be around each other more. We are going to get in each other’s “space”, yo! And that, sadly, after almost 22 years of marriage, is something we don’t quite know how to do yet: how to live with each other and actually be around each other a LOT, but still get along. It’s never happened. We’ve never been in that position.  And that’s kind of scary.

But guess what?  God can handle scary. (poof!) He will teach us. And I have great peace about that. Mark and I talked about this last night. He was doing the dishes, something he has taken over for the last several years. That dude has a serious system worked out, man! I will be the first to tell you that I am not as methodical as he is about how to properly load a dishwasher. My goal is just to shove them in there and run it and then put them away. Mark is utterly gifted when it comes to maximizing the use of space, something I have always been terrible about! He can get more into one trashbag or suitcase than I could ever even think to imagine! I love this about him, as it doesn’t cause waste. I don’t mean to waste, but I just have never been good about learning how to do stuff like that. I like lots of room to move.

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So as he was doing those dishes last night, I mentioned it: “You know, we are going to need to be on guard about how we speak to one another now that we will be around each other more.” He looked at me and I could see it in his eyes: he’d been thinking the same thing.

He will, for example, share an idea with me about how to load the dishwasher better. And sometimes, I get upset if he doesn’t say it just the right way. This is because I am a thoughts-driven person – what goes on in my head is the following….”wow, I took the kids to school, filled out 18 forms, turned  them all in, made 10 phone calls and appointments,  managed the family calendar,  cleaned the whole house, spent sometime getting the blog done, answered prayer requests, went to the doctor’s office, stopped by the store, did three loads of laundry, still have an entire shift to do at work tonight, and you are talking to me right now about one dish I didn’t load properly into the dishwasher? Really?”

Ha Ha!

And here’s what I do to him: He tells me about a situation and  I say, “when you talk to him, you might say _____ so that he doesn’t feel bad.” To Mark, if I am not careful, it comes across as me telling him what to do or as thought I don’t think he is smart enough to think of that himself.  This is a tough one for me, because I am just trying to help, him, just as he is only trying to help me about the dishwasher.  But a lot of times, I realize that the way I can help him best is to ask some questions after listening, instead of just sharing my thoughts on what might help him. He is an intelligent man and I don’t make sure he knows that I know and appreciate that enough!  Then I realize just how dumb I actually still am sometimes when it comes to how to share thoughts and ideas with men. Dufus!

Not so Ha Ha!

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Anyway, friends, we can go the wrong direction as far as “guarding our marriage” goes in the sense that we can start to fear letting anything in that may make things uncomfortable, can’t we? And that is based in fear, not honor and love. It’s also rooted in self-sufficiency.

Just like everything else, we need to trust the Lord about all of this – yes, we need to put on the armor of God every single day and guard what is holy, pure, and true. But ultimately, we must trust Him and remember it is He who has the power, not us. He gives it to us as we seek it. He will guard our marriage and help us to take the steps we need to carry that out. If we try to do it, we will screw it up just like Mark and I did.

And “cramping” can be good, you know. It makes us a bit uncomfortable, and causes us to take a look at why that discomfort is there. I want Mark to “cramp my style” a little and take some of “my space”, because I want it to be “our style” and “our space” now. It’s just not going to be an easy change. I am so blessed and thankful that we get to do it together though, with God right there in the center of it all!

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The giving up of self never ends, does it? And I thank my Lord, my God every single day for making it clear to me that I still have a lot to learn from Him, as well as many blessings to reap and share with others. We know there will be snow. We know there will be sunshine. There will be rain, and clouds, flowers and warmth. We don’t really care what the weather is – we are just glad we will be together. Actually, it feels a lot like Christmas; the Lord giving us gifts and blessings to celebrate all He can do in us because of Jesus Christ.

Here’s to all God can do as He helps us turn the pages and start new chapters in love and in life!

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV

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