Monday, December 5, 2016

Why I Can't Hide

Every morning is a challenge right now. 

My friends with auto immunes know this. These nasty things do a number on your insides, whether it’s achy muscles and joints, or wacky stomach issues. Either way, there’s always something trying to keep you down. And while you look okay on the outside, the struggle on the inside remains. 

Auto immunes attack each person differently and my body had a very outward response—the loss of my hair. For me that created another trial. Not only was I getting up, getting kids off to school and going to work while fighting my body, I was wrestling with looking in the mirror and resisting the urge to hide. Yep. Just stay home and hide. 

Every day I confront that issue. The image I see in the mirror is not me, not who I am at my core. But after much prayer, I realize that if I did hide, I would be letting illness win. So I fight. I fight the aches and pains, I fight the changing foods I can handle, and most of all I fight my pride in the form of vanity. 

Because if I don’t fight, I have found I’m missing out on where other people might need me. Whether it’s helping a student with a bloody nose, or listening to another who’s had a bad day, my interaction with humanity is what I’m being called to do as a Christian. 

I’m not na├»ve. If I wasn’t there to help that student with their bloody nose or bad day, someone else most likely would, but it’s the sharing in human suffering, the camaraderie of those struggling on the same life journey that allows me to live freely. That solidarity is what feeds my soul. It feeds us all.

Stories and movies based on someone’s epic journey to help others are always in demand. Why? Because they show humanity at its best. We are meant for relationship, we are meant for each other. Everyone needs to be reminded of that human bond at times, especially during our times of tribulation. 

I recently talked with a friend who’s in charge of personnel at work. She had to lay off some employees and it hurts her heart. Another friend is watching her mother and father slowly deteriorate and can’t do a thing about it. Yet another friend is facing a pregnancy in which they have been told their little one will only live a few short hours after birth because of a defect. And yet another friend is suffering the death of a spouse lost too early in their relationship. 

What can we do in the face of so much pain? More specifically, what can I do—especially on those days when I feel achy and can’t move or vanity strikes me and I want to hide?

Matthew 16:24 quotes Jesus as saying, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

My cross right now is this auto immune and I have no recourse except to bear it. But I can do that for others. If Christ suffered for me and asks me to walk alongside him with my cross, then it follows I can suffer for others. I can turn that suffering into prayer. 

Each and every one of us has a different way in which we talk to our Creator. We have different ideas about our God and how He connects with us. But we all have something in common. We are all created by God for God. 

With that knowledge comes power. Our common power is prayer. Whether it’s prayer by laying hands on someone, prayer in community, or prayer by ourselves because we are sick, it’s everyone’s secret superpower. 

And here’s another secret. Suffering itself can be prayer. When we offer it up for another, we are saying, “Jesus, I recognize your suffering. I could never suffer as much as you did in your Passion, but I am suffering, and I offer it for my friend who suffers. Please take this suffering as prayer and help them.” 

So the next time you feel useless, you are sick and cannot move, or you are feeling alone, use your superpower. You may never know how your prayer in suffering will affect another, but leave that part up to God. If Jesus asks us to pick up our cross, certainly he will not ask us to do it in vain.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Wall I Hit

We all have different ideas about beauty. And we are all vulnerable when those ideas don’t meet reality. Plenty of us fight that extra weight that if we could just lose would help ego just a bit. Some of us struggle with skin or other body issues, but I don’t know one girl or woman who believes that they are beautiful just the way God made them. 

I am no different. That elusive five pounds I wanted to lose, the thicker hair I wanted, the thinner eyebrows, etc. Even when I looked my best, to me it wasn’t enough. I wanted more.

Then life changed. Twists and turns I couldn’t even begin to plot if I was writing fiction came about. The biggest surprise was my body telling me I’d done too much for too long. To make a long story short, my body rebelled. The first six weeks, I was desperate, frantic. I’ve visited doctors of all kinds, always asking the same thing, “Why is my hair falling out and how do I stop it?”
The answers varied, “Sometimes this just happens,” or “it was just a perfect storm,” or “some women after menopause lose their hair,” or “it’s an auto-immune, but we may never know what kind.”

The sense of vulnerability I felt was beyond anything I’ve experienced before. I was powerless to do anything and no doctor seemed to be able to help either. Powerless. And I had no explanation for friends and family, or the students I teach. 

Soon people were asking me what type of cancer I had. Others were wanting to know all the details. But I couldn’t claim the warrior battle I’ve seen so many others go through. I have a new respect for those women who’ve gone through cancer and come out the other end with no hair. They have no idea if their hair will grow back and all the reassurance in the world doesn’t quell the torrent of emotions inside. My guess is every woman who has battled cancer has had to confront the illusion of the word “beauty.” 

For weeks, my prayer was desperate. “Please Lord, stop my hair from falling out.” But that was not His Will. Instead, not only was the hair on top of my head falling out, but also my eyebrows and eyelashes as well. It was clear I was going to need to define a new idea about myself. I remembered a prayer of surrender I was given and I started praying it. 

I had loved ones telling me I was beautiful on the inside. However, I had heard that line more times than I care to remember when I was growing up. I was a homely kid, braces and glasses didn’t help. So I came to think whenever someone said I was beautiful on the inside it meant that I wasn’t on the outside. 

Those weren’t the words I was hoping to hear. One day, while cleaning the hair out of my drain, I began my prayer of surrender. Perhaps the Lord was trying to tell me to focus on my inside beauty.
Then God whispered to me something completely different than I ever expected. It was that His beauty was different than the world’s idea. Humans believe beauty to mean something physical and sometimes emotional. Lambasted by the media, we are never quite happy with ourselves.

But it took a second grader to remind me of something else. She told me she was praying for me. But then she told me, “God doesn’t make junk.” While I’ve never thought of myself as junk, I have always had that nagging thought that I’m not enough. People have verbalized that I’m not good enough throughout my life. And all this time I’ve believed it. 

To add to my journey, I ran into a sign. Literally. I was looking back, not looking forward and I hit a wall with a sign on it. My dad always told me, “Never look back, you can’t go back there anyway.” (God’s sense of humor gets me every time.) And what was on the sign? 

"God’s idea of beauty is not ours."

It took a wall to remind me of something I’d forgotten. God makes us for Him…not to be a runway model or to be desirable for each other. We wander through life believing the lies of what outer beauty can do for us, all the while forgetting that no matter what our looks are, we are all headed on the same journey, being with God after this life.

Looking in the mirror is still painful, I can no longer hide behind the long brown locks I once sported. The prayer of surrender is all that I have. But I am confident. While I’m still coming to grips with the whole surrender concept, it’s the first time since this hair saga began that I have peace. The prayer of surrender is working. What does it all mean? No clue…but I’m guessing I’m about to find out.