Challenges in the midst of blessings

What are your favorite childhood memories?  Are there reoccurring times you remember fondly?  Did you have a fort in your backyard?  Did you go to camp each summer?  Did you go skiing each winter?

Photo Credit: caribb via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: caribb via Compfight cc

Yesterday morning we were blanketed in 11 inches of white.  The entire day was spent living in a beautiful snow globe.  This morning we woke to another 12 inches on top.  It’s truly beautiful.  Even more so because I no longer have to leave the house on days like this now that I’m a stay-at-home mom/grandma/trophy wife.  (I like the trophy wife the best, except when my son reminds me that everyone gets a “thanks for playing” trophy these days.)

Where was I?  Ah, yes, snow!

These multiplying inches bring back great memories of playing outside when I was a kid.  Growing up in Michigan usually meant snow in late November/early December that remained through February.

We lived on a dead end road and the snow plow would push a glorious mound of white playground and leave it three feet past our driveway.  We spent hours as kids digging holes in that mountain, climbing to the peak, and sliding back down on our bellies.

Having fibromyalgia has changed winters in Michigan for me.  By this evening the temperature will be -40 with the wind chill factor.  (That is extremely cold, even for these parts, and we haven’t seen this much snow at one time in quite a few years.)  It hurts down deep in my bones.

Saturday my daughter and I shared the shoveling duties.  I was having a pretty good pain day and my husband was helping friends move and my son was battling the flu.  That left all the scooping to us girls.  My wrists and shoulders are still sore today but the job had to be done.

Despite the aches and pains, I really enjoyed getting outside in the snow.  I bundled up more than usual and shoveled a few scoops into a pile and then stood to watch my breath leave me like a cloud of smoke in the midst of falling flakes.  Trying to remember to P.A.C.E. myself!

The best part of being out there was the memories replaying in my mind.  As kids we played outside until we were called in to thaw.  We’d drink some hot cocoa while our gloves and boots dried over every heating vent in the house.  Once our noses had turned from bright red back to their normal color we’d venture out again!

I think sometimes in the midst of our illness and the pain it can bring we need to stop and remember life before.  Not to make us sad or angry at our current state; but to be thankful for what we once had.  Each phase of life has its blessings and its challenges, its comfort and its pain.

I always try to remember there are so many that are so much worse off than me.  Not to sound pious but I’m thankful I have fibro when it is compared to a number of other illness or diseases.  I’m thankful for the strength to shovel some days when there are so many that cannot leave their bed, home, wheelchair, etc.  I’m thankful for the warm house that was waiting for me when so many are out in the cold this winter.

So today as I’m hoping this flare caused by the shoveling is on its way out, I’m trying to remember that it was caused by something I’m able to do that so many others are not.  The challenges in the midst of blessings.

Stay Well! ~ Live Joyfully!

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POST CHRISTMAS MESS

Here we are.  Monday again.  Not just any Monday, the Monday after Christmas.  Our family had our last Christmas gathering over the weekend.  My sister and her husband will head back south tomorrow morning.

I look through the house I’ve been wanting – no, needing – to get organized and I find it a disheveled mess.  The holidays are so hectic we normally aren’t able to keep up.  Then throw fibro/chronic fatigue in there and you find yourself doing just enough to survive.

My fake pre-lit tree did get put up but remained undecorated.  Yes, we had a bare tree this year – call the North Pole on me.  That has to be a huge tradition violation.

But with a 17 month old in the house it wouldn’t have been decorated for long anyway – at least the lower half.

We concentrated on the birth of the Savior and time together as a family – watched some movies and ate too much.

Next year will be better!  I’m adapting fly lady’s holiday control journal to work for those of us with FM/CFS.  But for now I’m left with this year’s mess.

So we go back to keeping the P.A.C.E.Keep up theP.A.C.E.

I think the most important thing to remember is to get back to healthy eating and staying hydrated.  Try to keep up with the daily chores and when energy and pain levels allow spend a few minutes on the mess.  If you let the daily chores go so you can do the Christmas undecorating your daily routine will suffer and you’ll get all out of sorts.  It will add to the stress and thereby increase your pain.

So turn the Christmas music on if you need it and watch a few more classic movies.  Whatever you need to extend the holidays until you can get the undecorating finished!

Stay Well! ~ Live Joyfully

When mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy!

Well that’s a lot of responsibility now isn’t it?  Can the same be said for joy?  If mama ain’t full of joy, ain’t nobody full of joy.

We’ve all heard this analogy before; when you’re on an airplane the flight attendant lets you know that in case of an emergency you’re to put your own air mask on before you help children, elderly or anyone else needing assistance.  The whole point is if you stop breathing you’re not going to be any good to those around you.

How does that relate to joy?  If we don’t grasp ahold of true joy (not happiness or pleasure) we aren’t going to be able to pass that along to our kids or share it with those around us.

In the last part of Nehemiah 8:10; Nehemiah was telling the Israelites to stop their weeping because the joy of the Lord would be their strength.  You see, the nation had been celebrating the Feast of the Trumpets.  It was supposed to be a party atmosphere, kind of like our upcoming New Year’s Celebration.  It marked the clean slate and fresh start for a new year.  So why were the people weeping?  The priest had been reading to them from God’s word and they were upset because they knew they had fallen short when it came to following God’s law.  Don’t we all?

Nehemiah noticed the weeping and told the people to stop crying and celebrate.  There’s a time to evaluate where you are in life and make necessary changes, but this was not the time.  This was a celebration!  It was a time to remember all the Lord had done for them.  It was time to jump for joy!

Photo Credit: rAmmoRRison via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rAmmoRRison via Compfight cc

So where do we get our strength; same place, it’s the joy of the Lord.  It’s sitting and remembering times, people, places and events in our lives where we could see God’s hand.  The joy in knowing He’s been there through it all and will continue to be.  The knowledge that He wants a relationship with us and isn’t turning His back on us.

As women I know sometimes we feel selfish taking time for ourselves.  After all, if we take a break who is going to do all the work that needs done?  Well guess what mama; there’s always going to be work that needs done.   Taking a few moments to remember what the Lord has done in your life could mean the difference between you having a lousy day, working in your own strength, or a great day, because you are relying on the Lord the way you have in the past.  Remembering what He’s brought us through builds our joy in current difficult situations because we have a history with Him.  He’s carried us before and yes, He’ll do it again!

While we’re approaching the end of a year and looking ahead to 2014, it’s a good time to celebrate!  Take a few minutes and write down a list of things the Lord has done for you.  Better yet; start a gratitude journal that you can look through this time next year and remind yourself of a year worth of God’s blessings.  Then share it!  Tell your kids and your spouse.  Let them read the journal; pass on the goodness of God to those around you.

Don’t keep it all to yourself!  Spread the joy mama!

WHY I AM NOT CHOOSING TO HAVE JOY IN MY LIFE

I know what you’re thinking. “Really? Isn’t this what this blog is all about; finding joy.”

I certainly thought I was searching for the illusive. To be honest, most of us want some magic pill or glorious epiphany. We desperately search for the new job, house, perfect marriage, group of friends, or life purpose, thinking that once we find it our eyes and hearts will be opened to joy. (Queue the spotlight and orchestra as angels jump on the stage and present “JOY”.) It will never leave us and will stop any negativity from getting back into our lives.

Well I’m certainly disappointed here, but I have found out through my research,  joy is a choice. I know, let’s just throw in the towel now, right? If we’re going to believe it’s a choice, and we don’t feel joyful, we didn’t choose joy.

Could it be that simple?

No. Knowing it’s a choice is not simple at all! It means each day, multiple times each day, we have to decide to rise above our circumstances and draw from this internal spring of joy we possess as believers.

Think about it this way. You’re dying of thirst. You walk into the kitchen and God is standing there with a sparkling glass of refreshment and tells you that drinking from it will quench your thirst. You decide the bottle of Coke in the fridge is the better alternative. So, chug, chug, chug, and the Coke is gone and you feel refreshed. For a while. Soon you’re thirsty again. You’re family and friends are all gathered sharing sweet tea in the backyard and you head out there, passing right by God extending His glass. Surely tea shared with friends and loved ones, is going to be just the ticket to quenching your thirst. You definitely enjoy the time together, and the tea. Now you’re refreshed and this time it’s for good! Nope, again it’s fleeting. Now you’re out shopping. You go to the food court at the mall and there is God, again with His glass. Nice, but you see Orange Julius is right behind Him and that’s looking mighty tasty. Now you’re actually paying for something you think will refresh you more than the free drink God offered. The cycle repeats. Will you ever chose the glass from God?

The choice for joy works that way and God is the only source of true, lasting joy.

So how did I get so lost in life, searching for joy, when it’s been right there all along? It’s wasn’t my choice. Daily, and often multiple times each day, we have to reach out for that deep, centering joy from God. In the midst of family feuds, work stress, financial problems, loneliness, etc.; we have to turn to God time and again. He’s the only one that can provide true joy.

In her book Choose Joy, Kay Warren defines it like this…

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

In Galatians 5:22-23 we read about the fruits of the Spirit; the actual character traits that can be cultivated in our lives as Christians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

As believers, those fruits are in us as a deep resource to rely upon. Did you notice joy is the second one listed? But did you also notice the word fruit? Have you ever planted a fruit tree? In order to get the most appetizing fruit it takes some work. It takes returning to the tree often to keep the weeds and bugs away. It takes watering and fertilizing. It takes care; repeated care. It’s not a “one-time grow the joy-apple and you’re set for life” thing.

So why am I not choosing joy in my life? Because I’ve looked for other things to give it to me instead of looking to the Lord. I’ve tried changing careers, having toys, relying on family; all which gave a temporary sense of joy but not the true lasting joy I desire.

What am I going to do about it? The same thing I hope you’ll do. Before we try to produce it ourselves, purchase something we think will give it to us, or rely on someone else for it, we need to turn to God; take the glass and feel refreshed. Don’t worry that you’ll ever reach out and He won’t have a full glass. He will. He always will. You just need to reach out and take it. Again and Again.

What do you think?  Are you ready to accept God’s refreshing gift of joy?

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Need Help Finding My Elf!

The day I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue the doctor left out one very important item.  My worker elf.  You know, the one who cleans the house, does the laundry, grocery shops, walks the dog and makes dinner.  Yeah, that little guy.  The doctor forgot to give me one.

Of all the problems that come along with my illness the fatigue is the one I despise the most; at least for today anyway.   My house is never all clean at the same time; and I don’t mean ready for a House Beautiful photo shoot, I mean just clean enough that I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed if someone stopped by.  If I go grocery shopping I certainly won’t have the energy to cook a meal that night, quite possibly I won’t even have the energy to put the groceries away.  Cleaning the bathroom has to be done but then you can forget going downstairs to do any laundry.laundry

I started writing this little post last night, but due to some pain creeping in I wasn’t able to focus enough to type anymore.  I would have appreciated the help of my little elf yesterday; he would have made all the difference in the world and this “Fibro Friday” post may have been written on time.  I woke up feeling pretty good and had quite a bit of energy compared to normal.  But by the time I had gone to breakfast with my friend, watched my grandson for a few hours, did a load of laundry and ran to the grocery store for 5 items the pain and exhaustion had crept in and I was done for the night.

I NEED MY ELF!

I know when I was working full time I always joked that I needed a clone.  I did.  But I don’t think you can grasp the way chronic fatigue invades your life unless you’ve experienced it.  The doctor told me that my body was almost totally depleted of vitamins b and d; I wasn’t retaining those nutrients at all.  Now I have to take vitamins three times a day to even function with the small amount of energy I get.  And you can just chuck the whole day away if I forget to take the vitamins just before bed; I wake up exhausted.

Christine Miserandino wrote an excellent article call the “The Spoon Theory” and you can find it at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/If you’d rather watch it as a video it’s also on here on youtube.  Through her Spoon Theory she has come up with the best way I can imagine to explain chronic fatigue to someone who has never experienced it.  I urge you to read it if you’re not familiar with it already.  Whether it’s you who suffers from fatigue or someone you love.

I think the saddest thing for me is that it makes me appear lazy and possibly like someone who doesn’t enjoy being with people or doing fun activities.  I know my family and close friends understand enough, and care about me enough to know I’m not faking it; but sometimes I can sense frustration in them because this affects them too.  By all normal standards I should be able to accomplish a lot more in my day than I get done; things they’ve asked me to do for them or go places they’d like to go.  There’s even a lot more I want to get done for myself.  I used to do all sorts of crafts and would love to do some now, and I’d love to get my house organized better and I’d actually love to be making meals to take to my friend who struggles with her health but when you’re given such a limited amount of energy in a day you have to prioritize and it always seems like chores win over recreation or self-interests of any sort.

I guess that’s one of the things I have to learn how to do.  Accept the way it is now and prioritize.  However, making sure that I make time for things I enjoy isn’t going to be as easy.  I don’t feel I play the martyr; but I was brought up that work is done and the house taken care of before there is any time set aside for personal interests or fun.  That’s just how it should be.  So I have overwhelming guilt if I get out a craft project of any kind when there are still dirty dishes in the sink and a load of wet clothes still sitting in the washer. dishes

So that’s going to be my biggest battle this year.  You know, this year, turning 44, my bucket list and trying to have a more joy-filled life.  My birthday is definitely creeping up (this week as a matter of fact) and it sure is a hard one for me like I said.  I need to get this figured out.  It’s definitely not the way I planned for my life to be when I was a kid lying on my back in the grass looking up at the clouds.  My future looked awesome from there.  There was no chronic illness in that script I was writing.  But I need my life to look awesome from here!  It’s going to take some work, some refocus and some steps toward joy.  It’s the only life I have, it’s the one God has blessed me with and I intend to start living that way – like it’s a blessing!  Takes me back to my joy workout – gratitude and contentment!         

The “Joy Gene”

Are some people naturally more joyful than others?  Is joy part of our genetic makeup? We all have times in our lives when we feel sad, down, despondent, but can it be that some people were created to be full of joy and others were not?  You’ve met them; the people who can dampen the moods of everyone around them.  Do our circumstances dictate our joy or is it truly similar to a muscle, like I mentioned before?  A muscle some were possibly born without.  Can we decide to build joy in our lives despite our circumstances?  Is it an underused resource??????

I’ll let you in on a little secret here….  I’m not a naturally optimistic person.  In fact, I can be quite cynical.  Today for instance, I was watching a youtube video with my daughter.  She had come across this couple that pulls practical jokes on each other, films them, and then posts them on the internet.  My initial response, “Looks a little staged to me.”  Ok, so it’s not a big deal whether the video is scripted or not, but what is a big deal is that my initial response to things can be quite cynical or negative.

Really thinking lately about how I view my life and having more joy , I even asked my husband if he thought some people are just meant to have unhappy lives.  You know, the poor sad souls of this world; are some chosen to live miserable lives?

So then I happened across this article.  I had my answer!  It stated that a recent study in Germany found that more and more Germans had a harder time having fun and enjoying pleasure due to what seemed to be a broken “joy gene”.  That was it!  I had my answer!!  You see, I have German ancestry.  It was all making sense!  My cynicism, my pessimism – it’s in my blood!

In further review (meaning I actually read the whole article) it seems that 46% feel increasingly unable to enjoy life due to being constantly reachable and being under extreme everyday stress.  Jealousy over life in nearby countries seemed to fuel the discontent as well.  The younger the study participants the worse it became.  55% of those said they seemed to have lost their ability to “feel good.”  Looking for a cause, researchers feel there was a cultural shift that occurred around 2008 that can be linked to the European debt problems and currency crisis.

What?  If I’m reading this clearly it seems that this life view and attitude are completely based on circumstances and things.  Money, connectability brought on by physical things like cell phones, jealousy, state of the economy; these are all circumstantial things.  The whole point of joy is that it remains consistent regardless of the circumstance.  In Philippians chapter 4 the apostle Paul says he’s learned in whatever circumstance to be content. The whole book of Philippians is noted as having a theme of JOY.  So this kind of contentment despite circumstance must be a critical step toward joy.

They didn’t come up with an actual joy gene.  They were able to pinpoint circumstances that brought down the average “happiness” of individuals.  So that leaves me with what I’ve already learned about joy.  It’s a life view that is rooted down deep in our souls; one that I am trying to unlock completely so that it overtakes my being.

So far I’ve learned that to increase joy you have to begin living a life of gratitude and remain content no matter the circumstances.  Building up my joy muscle!  What things do you focus on to remain joyful?  I’d love to hear!  Next week we’ll start exercising the joy muscle!joy workout 

I DO WISH THIS ON MY WORST ENEMY – I EVEN WISH THIS ON YOU!

Call me evil – that’s ok because I DO wish this on my worst enemy and I even wish this on those I love the most – I wish it for you and I don’t even know you!

I dare you to read past what you’ll feel is a self-pity trip, through the depressing impressions and read this whole post to figure out just what it has to do with joy.

Sorry if it offends you but sometimes I do.  Sometimes I do wish that the people that say Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue are not real illnesses can live a few days in my body.  I even wish my wonderfully loving husband and kids would spend a few hours in this skin.  At some point and time I’ve wished this on everyone except my beautiful 14 month old grandson…. So far.

I wish you could wake up with your legs and back so stiff that it is agonizing at times to get out of bed.  I wish you could feel the humiliation of having to yell out to your 19 year old son because you need help walking to the bathroom.  I wish your thoughts would be so clouded and jumbled that you can’t understand the words spoken to you or the words you want to speak.  I wish you could sit perfectly still while stabbing pain rages randomly throughout your body like exploding fireworks, each blast in a different place.

I wish you could walk your sweet baby through the mall and have people laugh or point and comment because he was born without eyes or a sealed palate.  I wish you could sit in your high school English class while the other students make fun of you, slap you, or call you embarrassing names until you slump into total humiliation.  I wish you could sit in your closet, door closed tight, while you listen to your dad scream at your mom in a drunken rage and all the while praying he doesn’t come through your door again.  I wish you could drive your minivan to a grocery store fifteen miles away so your kids aren’t embarrassed as you hand the cashier food stamps.

I wish you could look at that filthy glass of dirty water that you have no choice but to give your child to drink, knowing full well it might kill them.  I wish you could pack your kids up and what few belongings you can carry and walk miles on end in search of safety and freedom that you’ll take, even though it means living under a single tarp held up with four poles.  I wish you could gather with others in a dark basement with only a few cherished pages left of your bible and quietly pray and worship for fear you’ll be caught and beat and imprisoned.

I wish you could live under any circumstance that you’ve failed to open your eyes and see.  Put your feet in the shoes of another who can’t even lift their face up because life has smacked it one too many times.

Why?  Because there is always someone worse than you.  Run with me on this thought for a second – there has to be that one person on this earth who is actually worse off than any other human.  Isn’t that true?  It has to be.  There is one meager soul who sits at the bottom.  But guess what; it ain’t you!  I know that for a fact because you’re reading this, you’ve been blessed with the ability to read and understand print.  In one way or another you have access to the internet when some haven’t even had the fortune to hit the power button on a computer.  Yep, it ain’t you!

I think a lot of people are running pretty low on the compassion meter in general.  Go ahead and say you’re not like the others.  But you are.  At times.  We all are.  Me included, among the worst offenders at times.

I’m on a year long study of joy right now and I’ve come to realize that joy increases right alongside with your increase in compassion.  Compassion isn’t pity; it isn’t feeling sorry for someone and offering a smile as you walk by.  Compassion is acknowledging someone else’s difficult or even horrific situation, and seeing if you can help even if the help comes in the form of your heartfelt prayers.

Compassion is a forerunner of gratitude.  How can you not be thankful after seeing the plight of the less fortunate?  Gratitude leading right to joy.

Step one in living a life of joy; live gratitude.  This may seem too trivial and you may be thinking I’m nuts by now; but if you can’t see the many things in your life that are gifts, blessings, treasures around you, I don’t see how you can live out a joy-filled life.  If your eyes are closed to the apparent good a deep-seated joy can’t begin to grow.  Going further; if you think about it, there should also be gratitude in our hearts because of things we don’t have or haven’t experienced.  I haven’t had to experience the loss of a child or our home burning down – I personally know others that have – I am grateful for those that I haven’t had as well.

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

If you need a little help getting started as you search for bits of your day for which to be grateful I had previous mentioned author by Ann Voskamp; on her web site she offers pages you can print with daily prompts of things to look for and see the little things you normally might miss in your busy life; things that are worth a moment of heartfelt gratitude.

So go ahead and enjoy your day – search for the things you are truly grateful for – and enJOY your day!