Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A lesson in Acceptance

As most of you know by now, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I've been pretty transparent about it but I still struggle with shame and fear related to my diagnosis. As a 39 year old ambitious woman I have gone through a long, painful journey of acceptance. I definitely feel that I am more accepting of my condition now as I approach 40. This is probably because I've struggled with the diagnosis for 22 years or perhaps because of an overall growth in confidence, spirituality, and submission to God's will for my life. Still, like any human I struggle with insecurities, anger, sadness, and even self-pity at times. I've learned not to beat myself up about it anymore because like I said "I'm human!" 

Recently, after years of hip pain and a recent decline in my mobility I made the decision to have a total hip replacement. It was a tough decision because of the financial impact, work responsibilities, fear, and all of the many reasons/excuses we use to not take care of ourselves, but ultimately I HAD to get the operation because I wasn't living anymore, the pain was literally killing me. I'm not the type of person who looks at anything in isolation. I'm very introspective and I'm always trying to see the purpose of what is happening. It's funny that 22 years ago when I was diagnosed I recall going to a support group for people with RA. I just sat there and cried and cried because I was the youngest person in the group and everyone was talking about various joint replacement surgeries, disability, and all kinds of depressing things. It was the guts! Fast forward to a week ago and I was in a class for individuals about to have joint replacement surgery, again I was the youngest person in the class. Again I began to think about how unfair it was, but this time I didn't cry. At 17, some 22 years ago I felt like I had lost control of my life...now at 39, I felt like I was taking control of my life. I had made the decision to do what I could to get my life back. 

Some people may not think it's a big deal, it's not like I have Cancer. However, this is my BiG deal and it's my cross to bear. Having a chronic condition is not only debilitating physically but it is draining emotionally and mentally. And despite ALL of that I have managed to live in spite of it. Ive had a successful professional life, great friends, wonderful experiences, and finally a special love. I have rough days, but I've managed to remain positive and face life with a smile, even when that smile is a mask. Along this journey I've met amazing people and read amazing stories about other young folks who have shown amazing perseverance and determination dealing with chronic conditions. I've seen faces of babies, children, adolescents, young and old adults who have faced their condition with such grace and courage. Their stories have inspired me and reminded me that I'm not alone. It also reminded me that the first step to freedom of any kind is acceptance. With acceptance, shame loses it's power. With acceptance, you learn to take control of what you can and let go of what you can't. It helps you identify what you need in your life and what and whom you have to eliminate from your life. For me acceptance  taught me to stop comparing myself to others, how to say no, to be comfortable in my own skin, to educate others about RA, to take care of myself, and most importantly to love myself in spite of my imperfections. Having RA had been a major roller coaster, but I thank God for my journey. It has made me more humble, compassionate, and empathetic. It's helping to define my purpose. It reminds me everyday that without God I can not function. He is the source of my strength. The last 6 weeks I have had to function without my medication as I prepared for surgery. I know it was God that sustained me because the amount of pain I was in was indescribable. The closer I got to surgery, the more the pain intensified. I literally felt like I was not going to survive. Just then, God spoke to me and said, "who will you believe. Me or the enemy?" I knew in that moment I was just on the other side of my breakthrough. Still, I'm human so I was in a spiritual battle all the way up until I was about to be put to sleep. Right before being sedated, I said, "God it's in your hands." Due to my RA I couldn't have general anesthesia, therefore I was aware of everything happening around me. I could feel my body being tugged, I could hear the saws cutting through bone, the hammers banging in new parts, I could hear the surgeon becoming frustrated because things weren't going perfectly. I felt the oxygen burning my nose, I felt like I couldn't breathe and at one point I even became nauseated. I was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down...this could have been scary stuff but I was at such peace. Within hours of the surgery, I felt like a new person. Everyone said I looked great, the doctors and nurses were surprised and my family and friends were enthusiastic. They expected me to be groggy, in pain,lethargic. Instead I was vibrant, happy, alert, and in minor pain. I didn't look like what I had been through.  Now I'm on the road to recovery. I'm taking an even more introspective look at my life. I'm a little less fearful and a lot more determined. I plan to get my other hip replaced in the near future. I don't plan to waste any more of my life in denial. I've submitted to God's will for my life. At 40, I still have a lot of life yet to live but I refuse to live it just existing, I plan to LIVE. 

At 17, I was diagnosed with RA right as I was supposed to start college and begin my life. I allowed RA to steal alot of time. I wasn't mentally or spiritually prepared or experienced to deal with what was happening. At 39, I've had a lot of experiences which have prepared me for this very moment. It's no coincidence that I had to have a hip replacement right before turning 40. This is my time. I feel it. Not only am I on the verge of a breakthrough,but I'm on the cusp of total restoration. It all started with acceptance.

What are you not accepting in your life? How is it holding you back? Are you living or existing?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

HE gives me Courage....

Last night I watched a popular movie, one that I have seen many times. However, this time a particular scene really struck me. In the scene one of the main characters performed a spoken word piece about the courage to love. As she said the words, tears filled my eyes.

It takes courage to love again. When you've been hurt.
It takes pain and strength again
to pack it all away.
Somewhere, in all the pain,
someone has to have the courage
to be okay.
He gives me courage
to Love. (Excerpt, Madea's Family Reunion)

I know all too well about this courage it takes to love...again. Actually, I probably know more about the fear that exists which summons the courage. Like many women (I speak from the perspective of a woman because I am one) I've been hurt, abused, misused, and tossed aside at some point in my life. Four years ago, I went through a divorce. I must admit it was one of the hardest things I've been through in my adult life. Despite all of my professional accomplishments that were occurring simultaneously, I felt like a failure. People like to compare a breakup to a divorce but there is something different when you make a covenant with another and GOD. When it ended I felt such a huge sense of disappointment, loss, and shame. I felt like I let myself, my family, and more importantly God down when it ended. It took many years and lots of prayer, but today I'm much stronger. It is a daily walk, but I thank God for the lessons. Often in the midst of pain we focus on the pain or the tragedy and not the lesson or the grace of God. We often look at life through our human eyes and not our spiritual eyes. God says, there is nothing the believer can do to separate themselves from His love. God says in your weakness, I am made strong. God says, all things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to his purpose. God says, I love those who love me. There is NO greater love than the love of our God. Yet, I also believe God placed us on earth, in relationship with one another, to be an EXTENSION of HIS love. Despite all the pain, mistakes, and shame of the past I was blessed most recently with a love, that I once believed was out of my reach. A love that I once believed I didn't deserve, couldn't happen for me, or was unrealistic. Through introspection, prayer, faith, family, and friends the dark veil of shame lifted and I began to see myself how God sees me. Despite it all, HE loved me. Who was I not to love myself or to feel unworthy of love?

When watching the movie, hearing the poem, my initial response was to think of my Love, my man. Because yes, he does give me courage to love. His patience, kindness, compassion, and unconditional love have given me courage. Why? He is an extension of God's love. "love is patient, love is kind..." When I really reflected on the poem, the "HE" that gives me courage to love is my Father, my Redeemer, the first to ever love me...God.

If you are going through, have gone through, or if you eventually experience heart break, I pray you know God's love. Let it strengthen you to maintain the Courage to love AND be loved.

LOVE..."...it always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails"

When in doubt, I encourage you to reflect on these scriptures:
1 Cor 13:5-8, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 2:4-5, 1 John 4:7-8, 1 Peter 5:6-7

Be Blessed!