Taking Heart

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One of the difficult things about living with a chronic condition like cystic fibrosis is that the struggle is never-ending.  It’s not a matter of waiting it out or getting through the next few days. There is no surefire promise that tomorrow will be better. There are bad days, there are better days, but there are no free days.

And so after a difficult year, these past weeks I have found myself in a place of fatigue. I’m not only referring to fatigue in the physical sense, although there has been that too.  The fatigue I’m feeling is a mental weariness that comes from the constant battle and the effort it takes to survive and thrive in spite of the relentlessness of my physical struggles. There are days when I feel I don’t have any fight left in me.

One way this fatigue has manifested itself these past weeks is in my exercise. Several months ago I reached my goal of running two miles in 25 minutes and since then have been working to maintain that time and distance. I’ve struggled physically these past few weeks as the weather has changed and the winds have blown in allergens that have attacked my system. I tried an inhaled antibiotic which caused my asthma to flare uncomfortably and I’ve wrestled with extra congestion and exhaustion. In spite of these symptoms I’ve kept up my running, modifying my workouts on the days when my lungs refused to admit the extra air I needed for the increased activity.

I headed out for a run the other day.  The conditions were perfect. It was sunny, the air was clear and mild, and the fall colors formed a kind of rainbow against the brilliant blue sky. All this beauty I was observing with my eyes as I started my run. But my heart was heavy and remained closed to the splendor around me. All I could focus on was my labored breaths, the strain I felt as my body rebelled against what I was asking it to do. It took me less than two minutes to give up. I knew I should continue on. I knew I should push through. I knew I should persevere. The physical struggle was nothing new, but I couldn’t find mental strength. I stopped, turned around, and headed for home.

As I walked in the door I was greeted by a message from Jaime wishing me luck on my run and offering support. I stared at his message for a few minutes before sighing deeply, putting the phone down and walking back outside. I made myself start again. Just one mile I told myself. I can do one mile.

The same thing happened my very next run. This time I was on the treadmill. I started coughing and rather than jogging through it as I usually do, I got off the treadmill. This happened three times during the first twelve minutes. The third time I sat on the floor and dissolved into tears. I just couldn’t take hold of the strength I needed. I didn’t want to finish. I didn’t want to triumph. I just wanted to quit. I prayed for strength. I gave myself a pep talk. I told myself I could do one more mile, this time no stopping. Just one miserable mile.

Even though I was able to run one mile those days, I didn’t feel a whole lot of satisfaction. It’s hard when I feel I’ve lost the mental fight. I want so badly to be joyful and give my best on the bad days, not only on the better days. But sometimes I fall short.

A line from that song Shirelles sings keeps popping into my head: “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this, Mama said.” It’s true.  My mom has told me there’ll be days like this. And weeks like this. Sometimes even months like this. Jesus said it too in John 16:33. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Some versions say trials and sorrows. It’s not you might have trouble, or if you’re unlucky you will have trials and sorrows, but you will. We all do. Struggle, fatigue, hard days, it’s a part of everyone’s experience. But thankfully that’s not the whole story. First He said, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me,” and continued with, “…but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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Taking heart means receiving courage, or confidence, or comfort from some fact. In this case, my courage, confidence, and comfort comes from the fact that Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome the ultimate battle over sin, death, and disease. I have trouble, but I have peace. Because He has overcome, He gives me the strength to overcome. That doesn’t mean that I will win every battle every time. There will be days when I give up. But because of Jesus there is a surefire promise that a better tomorrow awaits. Whether my healing comes in this life or the next, one day I will again run, uninhibited, free from this struggle, complete and whole again.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail. There’s an anchor for my soul. I can say ‘It is well.’

Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won. He has risen from the dead.

And I will rise, when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise, on eagles wings, before my God, fall on my knees, and rise.  And I will rise.

Lyrics from “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

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Fifty Years

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This August, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. What a milestone! Our entire family gathered on Labor Day weekend to celebrate with them.

My parents’ marriage has been marked by much joy–six daughters to raise, sixteen grandchildren, wonderful friendships, and rich experiences. They have weathered significant storms as well–caring for children with chronic illnesses, a job that was at times very stressful and demanding, the death of a newborn son and a 35-year-old daughter. The loss of a grandson at birth. Through the sunlit days and the dark storms, they have remained faithful to their vows to love and support one another. Their marriage has been a source of joy and strength for them and for our whole family.  Their example of love has breathed life into my marriage and those of my sisters as well. We are so grateful.

The weekend was wonderful. It is difficult to get such a large group together since we hail from many different cities and states. But when it happens, it’s fabulous–a time full of joy and celebration. Our family has been so blessed.

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The happy couple (and Lucas). 

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Dad and Mom with all 16 grandchildren!

Cousins!

Lucas loves his cousins!

Jaime and I were talking about the experience one evening, a few days after we returned home. After a brief silence, he asked, “Do you think we will have 50 years together?” I felt my throat tighten. We don’t often have these types of conversations. They are frightening. And of course, we can only guess at the answer. But sometimes, those questions that weigh on our hearts but rarely make it to our lips, have to be voiced.

When Jaime and I were married, I was experiencing excellent health. My lung function was comfortably in the 80s. I had very few limitations, if any. I knew my health could change. Jaime knew my health could change. We had front row seats to the devastating effects of cystic fibrosis. But my reality was so different at the time that it was hard to imagine the struggles that have since invaded our lives and our marriage. At that time, 50 years seemed possible. But now?

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139. It speaks of God’s intimate love for us and His faithfulness to us throughout our entire lives–from the moment He gives us life until our last breath. Verse 16 says,

Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

I don’t know how many years of life I will have or how many years of marriage we will enjoy. But God does. My days may be cut short by human standards, but it will still be a full, complete life. I will live not one second more or one second less than what God, in His sovereignty, has already ordained. I will be here until the work that He has set out for me on this earth is done. That brings so much comfort.

Will Jaime and I have 50 years? I hope so. I want to experience the same type of long, satisfying marriage my parents have enjoyed. I want to pass on that legacy of love to my son. I adore my life, my husband and my boy. I want to be here to experience all the joys and all the struggles–to share those sunlit days and dark storms together. I want to see my hair change to gray, the lines on my face deepen, to have the joy of holding a grandchild in my arms.

We pray for miracles–that God might heal me, and that a cure might be found.  We pray that medical advancements will be made that will greatly extend my life, or that God would simply give me the strength to continue on with a compromised body. In the meantime, we give thanks that our lives are safely held in God’s hands. Fifty years seems unlikely right now. But no matter how many years we have, we are so grateful to spend them together fulfilling our vows to love and support one another in sickness and in health.

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To have and to hold, until death do us part.

Mother’s Day a Few Days Early

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Mother’s Day is just around the corner and I wanted to take the opportunity to honor my mom. Being a mother myself now, I can better appreciate the sacrificies she made on behalf of our family. As you might imagine, keeping a family of eight afloat was a round-the-clock job. She bought groceries, wiped noses, dried tears, packed lunches, and washed countless dishes, diapers and daughters. She was efficient and organized.

Although she was busy with house work and driving us to and fro, she always had time to spend with us one on one.  I have early memories of reading stories after lunch, resting on the couch together when I got home from Kindergarten, going for walks around the block, playing “Sorry” or “Go Fish” or having a tea party with a special little tea set she had. Sometimes as a special treat we would look at the dolls she had from her childhood or she would bring out her wedding dress to show us.

When we got sick she would kiss our foreheads to check for a fever, apply cool washclothes, rub our backs, put on relaxing music, and of course set the timer so we had plenty of fluids to aid in our recovery. There was always a place for me on her lap and I remember her holding my hand and stroking it with her thumb. Ah, the sweet comfort.

As an adult, I still call my mom when I’m sick, or sad, or excited, or I need advice. Her opinion is one I highly value and she is a great listener. She’s pretty wise too, and always helps me gain perspective. Mom has weathered many storms, but she has come through with a strong and beautiful spirit. When I think of her I think of gentleness, love, strength, and Godliness. I love her so much!

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Mom holding me when I was four months old.

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There’s that cozy spot on her lap! (I was four here)

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Mom and her girls at Christmastime (1983).

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Mom, Aunt Dianne, and the girls. I’m the one with the poofy hair. Oh wait, it was 1989, we all had poofy hair! I’m the one Mom is hugging 🙂

Visiting Sheri's grave together last fall.

Visiting Sheri’s grave together last fall.

Happy Mother’s Day to my special mom and to all you great moms out there! ❤