All that’s right in the world…

He walks with a bit of a limp; I don’t know the origin. But his gait is one of effort and determination. His eyes alternate, studying intensely, monitoring and dancing, twinkling even. His smile is a burst of warmth and light on the coldest, darkest of nights, a hot loaf of bread to a starving man, a burst of color on a blank canvas. His demeanor is at once, protective, fierce, nurturing, precise, quirky, seasoned, wise and overcoming. And when I look at him, I see all that’s right with the world.

The first time I met him, I was opening the door to leave my urine sample in the restroom. But there he was mid stream. It’s not an ideal first encounter with one’s world renowned physician. But when he came out and said, “We have to stop meeting like this,” I knew we’d be okay.

His story gets me every single time. He lost TEN YEARS of his life to chronic fatigue syndrome. Unable to practice, or live the life he wanted, he began to research the origins of these illnesses, the ones that leave you with crippling fatigue, too tired to breathe, think, live. And he got himself better, and spent the rest of his career making others like him better.

At 85 he’s still doing it. Still giving his years away to folks like me. And it gets me every time. Every time I scan the waiting room filled with pictures of him practicing medicine before I was even born. I think about how easy it would have been for him to give up hope, accept his fate. And I know that his fighting was for more than just him. It was for me, and all of the others like me. And I look at him and I see all that’s right with the world.

I think about how easy it would be for him now to decide that he’s given enough, to give these years to his family instead of me. To rest, to enjoy, and to stop giving others their lives back.  But instead I see him walk down the hall with determination. And I see everything that is right with the world.

When I couldn’t sleep at night because the pain behind my eye was so intense, he took my hand and with the sternness of a father said, “You must promise me you will never do that again. If you are in that much pain at two am, you call me then, please. Do you understand”? After so many doctors who just want you to take a piece of paper and go away, it heals something deep within your soul to know that your pain matters.

When the insurance company refuses to pay for things he knows I need, his voice, incredulous, becomes filled with fight on my behalf. And suddenly, someone is in my corner and I am no longer fighting alone.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with all that is wrong with the world, but every time I look at this man I am overwhelmed with all that is right with the world. All that is long suffering, all that loves justice, all that protects the weak, all that overcomes, all that is noble and wise. I see all that I long to be. I see me, late into my life, giving my years away, that others might live, might thrive. I see me not quitting when the going gets tough, but pushing through so that I might push others through.

I see you, I see me… stepping up and being all that’s right with the world. Maybe we’ll carry a limp and maybe that limp will make our sacrifice mean more to others.

It’s time for us to be all that’s right with the world.

Bring Your Willing Heart

It happens to all of us. If we are still enough, we’ll hear it. The call to do something absolutely insane, for which we are seemingly unfit and entirely unqualified, will come.  It will leave us breathless, exhilarated, feeling more alive than ever before and perhaps scanning our resources and wondering, HOW?

It’s possible that we’ll look at our own smallness in comparison to the calling’s vastness and begin to panic.  We may even become paralyzed with self doubts and fears of all that could go wrong.  But I believe that it is right here, where focus must be shifted, eyes must be lifted and a foot must come out of the boat. God didn’t call us based on our resources, but on his. He knew who we were and what we could bring to the table when he called us, and he called us anyway.

I love what Stasi Eldredge says about this in her book, “Becoming Myself” – speaking of Mary, the mother of Jesus, being chosen to carry the savior of the world she says- “ She knew better than anyone else her weaknesses. And God chose her. He chose her to bring the Savior of the world to our world just as God has chosen us to bring the Savior of the world to our world.” Knowing my weaknesses and resources, he chose me anyway. He picked me on purpose, for such a time as this.

I am reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. God tells Abraham to offer off his son, Isaac to him as a sacrifice. We hear no bargaining, complaining or whining, just immediate obedience. Abraham complies the very next morning. When Isaac inquires about the whereabouts of the sacrifice, Abraham’s reply gets me. He says, “God himself will supply a sacrifice” In other words, my job is obedience, God’s job is resources.  As I lay my dreams on the alter and I offer them back up to the one who has planted them in my heart, I realize that this is what it all comes down to. Obedience is my job; resources are God’s job.  I just bring my willing heart, and the rest is up to him.

As I continue to lean into Jesus, to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, I am learning to redefine success. It looks like this for me: Was I obedient? Did I grow closer to Jesus? Then I was successful.

So today, I am reminded, I am challenged, I am encouraged to bring my willing heart and leave the rest up to Jesus. Regardless of outcome, if in the end I was obedient and I grew closer to Jesus, then it was a success, worthy of celebration.

What boat are you stepping out of today? What wild calling are you pursuing? Whatever it is, don’t worry about the resources. Just bring your willing heart.

10 ways to love your friend with a chronic illness well:

Let’s be clear. This guide is meant to be just that, a helpful guide. I hope and pray that you will never find yourself walking the lonely halls of those who struggle with chronic illness, but perhaps you know someone that is. If I know you well, it is your heartfelt desire to love them well, with purpose and intentionality. But it can be tricky. Those who are fighting illness on a daily basis most likely have very little time and energy to nurture your relationship, despite how precious it is to them.  This means they also have very little time and energy to express to you what they need in this season. There’s something else at play. They already feel like not enough, a disappointment. The last thing that they want to do is tell you that they need more or that the relationship needs to change. So today, I seek, in the smallest way, to be their voice and to guide you in some practical ways to love them well.

1) Talk or don’t talk but let them lead the way. I remember very early on in my pregnancy with my daughter—the dark days of physical suffering and the emotional shame and hiding that came with it seemingly never ending—my dear friend stopped in to check on me one day after she got off work. She found me on the couch, tears of shame and fury streaming. I was violently ill most days (in addition to my neurological issues), and each time I got sick I also wet myself. I hated myself but also hated the rest of the world which I perceived as being happy and carefree. “You okay, momma?” she asked. “Rough day.” I said. “Want to talk about it?” she asked. “Not that much.” I sniffed. With that she picked up the remote and asked what I’d like to watch. I said I’d prefer something without happy people and she suggested Moulin Rouge, noting that she died in the end and he was miserable and alone but that there were a lot of really good songs before that. I declared that a winner. That was the last we spoke that afternoon. But before she left she made sure that I was well fed and clean and comfortable. I am not saying that we should always leave people in their gloom. There is a time for taking people by the hand and gently calling them to get up. But that day, that was the day for providing a safe landing place, free of judgment, full of love and without the pressure of talking or entertaining someone. Sometimes talking just requires more energy than is available and other days all of the emotions must be vomited out. Either way, let your friend take the lead and when in doubt, just ask.

2) Bring Food. I can’t tell you how far this simple, practical act of care can go.  I have a friend who says “Breakfast is love.” But I would suggest that food is love, a warm meal is love. How often I have stayed hungry instead of forcing myself from the bed, or asking someone else to inconvenience themselves to feed me. “Can you feed me?”  Can be a humbling request to make. Many medications must be taken with food. Feed the ones you love, and feed them well.

3) Offer up the nap. If you have asked your loved one what they wanted for Christmas or their birthday and they laughingly said “a nap,” I will bet you five dollars that there was no actual joking involved. How I long to kiss folks on the mouth who free me to nap, who watch kids so that I can sleep, or who set me free from rest-guilt. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving. Not sure what you can do for your friend? Feeling helpless? Offer up the nap.

4) Do not create pressure to meet your expectations. I know this is hard because try as you may- you do have expectations and it hurts when they aren’t met. As in any relationship, the way around this is going to be open communication. Often, what was realistic one day, will not be realistic on another. Managing expectations may be tricky as limits fluctuate daily.  Your ill friend will be doing his darnedest not to beat himself up for continually not meeting his own expectations. Feeling as though he’s also failed you will be too much to carry. He’ll need consistent reminders that you love him for him, NOT what he does or does not do. Your actions and attitudes will need to support this.

5) Allow room for grieving the daily losses along the way. I know, I know, you don’t want them to be sad. You want them to see the bright side, that life is still good and there remains much to be celebrated.  And they will, and they should see that, but they still need room to grieve the fact that they didn’t make it to the concert at school or the event at work celebrating the accomplishment of their spouse, the family reunion, the beach trip, whatever. Maybe they need to grieve their hair loss or job loss or whatever illness has taken from them today. Let them. Join them. Meet them there in their grief. Let them know that they are not alone in the grief. Validate the loss. This grieving along the way has to happen, intentionally. Otherwise it all piles up inside and the grief rots inside, turning to bitterness and anger over time. And after they’ve cried their tears and let the grief go, meet them in their gratitude, choosing to see all that is still right, worthy of being celebrated. Don’t rush the grieving, don’t forget the celebrating.

6) We sleep a lot. Don’t shame us for it. Don’t tell us you wish you could sleep all the time. No, you don’t. Not like this. And neither do we. We want to be productive people, living productive lives.  Unless, it’s an extreme emergency or you know our specific sleep schedule leaves us awake at crazy hours, assume that we sleep at least twelve hours a night and make room for it without making a big deal out of it.

7) Let our friendship be a guilt free, judgement free zone. Does this one require explanation? I hope not.

8) Lay off the make-up and pep talks. I say this as lovingly as possible. When I was giving birth to my son, two days into labor and three hours into pushing my well intentioned husband who kept dropping my leg turned to me and said, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”  After I killed him with death ray eyeballs, I thought, “I’d love to see YOU do this through Christ who strengthens you.”  After I had my daughter, I meant to make a rule that no one who came to visit me in the hospital was allowed to wear adorable trendy clothes, have a perfect blowout do or wear make-up, but I forgot. So don’t you know, I have an album full of super models straight off the runway and then me with my so swollen I-look-like-an-alien head and my perfect baby. When you are in the fight of your life every day, fashion and perk aren’t always at the top of your priority list and having someone meet you right where you are—in your pajamas—can go a long way.

9) Be about the details. This looks just like it does in any relationship, it’s just the sick version. Stopping at the store and picking up the prescription because you know it’s time for it. Bringing the bag of jolly ranchers from the store because you know they help with nausea, not cooking that thing because it causes nausea. Asking how that doctor’s appointment went because you know it was today, or not asking about that doctor’s appointment because you know they don’t like to talk about it.

10) Beware the product pushing. Know that your person doesn’t make their health decisions lightly. More than likely many hours of research, prayer and discussion led them to where they are. I know you believe in your product. I am going to tell you a secret. There are at least five more of you, who also believe in their different product with equal passion. And eventually all that passion can just feel like a lot of pressure and being pulled in a lot of unnecessary directions by a lot of well-intentioned people. Leave your information. Let them make the decision. And in the end, let your friendship be a guilt-free, judgement free zone. Thanks for loving your people so well. We’d all be lost without you.