THIRD: PERSONAL TESTIMONIAL SERIES, 1-3
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any of us who have been transformed by Christ,
tell our own stories,
we’re telling the story of who God is.
~Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet, p238~
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~today we will hear from the hearts of Louise, Carolina, Rachel~
Ladies, thank you for sharing these glimpses into your lives,
these windows into your hearts.
Thank you for giving me personally an opportunity to see where you suffer,
to see where the Lord is working,
to see where my prayers can be directed & my hands may serve.
Thank you for suffering with grace, joy, endurance, and dignity.
Please know that you and your families
are particularly in my prayers this week.
1. What kind of ministry(ies) does your church have for those who have chronic needs?
Louise~ Our church supplies meals more than any church I have ever been a part of – it is amazing. They never ask questions like, “shouldn’t you be done needing this by now?” It is phenomenal. Praise the Lord for this. I couldn’t be more thankful.
Carolina~ We are blessed with a church that preaches and teaches the truth of scripture week in and week out without a worry, but they have no idea how to help families with chronic needs—and it isn’t because we haven’t asked.
Our church does not have a ministry set up for chronic needs; although they have tried, it hasn’t worked yet. They have said they will jump in a crisis like if one of us were in the hospital, had lots of nights in the ER, so on and so forth. They are amazing at jumping in when there is something acute like that, but what they don’t realize is that I’m pretty much in a crisis every other day. If I have a long doctor’s appointment I’m usually down and out for a few days and very sick that night, so it would be nice for my husband to have some freezer meals on nights like that. We have a church of 500 people and I know they don’t want people to get burnt out with making meals each week, but it’s not sinking in that my husband is hanging by a string being both mom and dad, and it grieves me to see him so exhausted! I know this could be the issue anywhere we go, but as a chronically ill mommy, I’m seeing a huge gap in people having no clue how to help—it makes me want to jump in and teach.
I have heard it said that chronic needs become a normal part of a person’s life which needs to be figured out by those individuals in order not to burn out those in the church who are helping. However I don’t believe this is biblical and this is probably an area where our individualistic culture in America has bled into the American church and told us that people are to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and not expect handouts or freebies, and expecting such means you are lazy rather than hard working. Paul tells us why not rather be defrauded and to bear one another’s burdens—and Christ tells us when someone asks for something, to give more. The early church in Jerusalem had a system set up where everyone brought their resources together and it was distributed back out to the brethren according to their needs. It would be naive and too American to believe this just refers to critical sudden needs that are not ongoing.
I have poured my heart out of my need for help—with my kids, meals, groceries, and my longing for an older Titus 2 type woman or pastor’s wife to check on me weekly (even if it was just a call or prayer over the phone for emotional & spiritual support). When I was asked about freezer meals, I said two a week would be amazing but even one would be a huge blessing; but we were told this was too much to ask for the church to do indefinitely. We are thankful for a very few women who have sacrificed their time, and even asked my forgiveness for not realizing we are in true need sooner! We are thankful for these families that have given of themselves.
The Church seems to want to help spiritually but they don’t know how at times and give up. Helping people with chronic needs is messy, painful, and takes great sacrifice. I’m sure we can find many Scriptures that teach us just that. Romans 12:1-2 comes to my mind, because our pastor preached about using our bodies as sacrifices to others, in serving the weaker brother.
Rachel~ Nothing specific is set up. A few times someone has given me a meal, one of which was recently when I was dealing with something that would fall under “critical illness/need.”
2. What kind of specific things would you find personally helpful for your church body to step up for?
Louise~ Our church has offered us anything we need. I think of how in a time of great need, our church supplied ladies to come and stay with us for extended periods of time. Praise the Lord for this! It was so beautiful.
Carolina~ So many specific things would be extremely helpful while keeping in mind the family with these needs should have an individualized plan that is approved by the family in order to implement it in a way that is helpful rather than more stressful. One thing we find difficult is that many times the same few people who want to help have many needs of their own and are the only ones helping—they are getting burnt out while those with no needs are getting fat on life. One of our pastors said we cannot use busyness as an excuse—God will not take that excuse on judgement day. Many of us waste time on Facebook, watching stupid television shows (many of which we would be too embarrassed to invite Jesus over to watch with us), or doing too many things that are good in and of themselves but we are using them to avoid obedience to Romans chapter 12 verses 1 through 2. This mentality must be defeated through direct preaching, good examples set by those who help, and much prayer. I think people are amazing if someone is dying: they just give and give until that person dies, and the same way if someone has cancer and gets better. But as someone that has multiple chronic diseases that I will most likely have forever on this side of heaven—people have no clue!
Rachel~ I had two people just recently ask if I needed housecleaning or meals set up through Helping Hands (where people can sign up to give a meal – used for critical needs). But I was caught off guard and didn’t voice my thoughts that with my current dietary restrictions it felt too complicated, awkward, and inconvenient to have people give me meals. Alternatively, I’d love to have help prepping a bunch of meals to stock my freezer. That way I could figure out the recipes that fit my current dietary restrictions.
If we weren’t getting our house cleaned already, I would have taken that offer! When we had someone start cleaning our house weekly, I gained back the 3-4 days per week that I used to spend in bed recovering from cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming! That time regained helps alleviate some of the practical, emotional and relational challenges.
I am so thankful that I have found a doctor closer than my previous one, and that my husband is able to drive me. If that were not the case, I’d be in trouble, because sometimes I cannot safely drive.
Housecleaning, meals in some form, and transportation can be very important.
One creative way a friend blessed me was saying she had something for me and asked if she could stop by after she put the kids to bed. She showed up with cheerful gerbera daisies, a yard and home magazine, fancy cheese and crackers, and a chocolate bar. Then she stayed a bit and we talked about decorating and books. It was super fun, super sweet, and definitely something I remember fondly.
This spring I am once again reminded of another church families’ special, creative kindness to us. A gal and her daughter came over to our rental house and together they planted tulip and daffodil bulbs in the beds around our yard. Each spring I drink in the pink and yellow blooms. Their color and beauty brighten, refresh and enliven my world, helping make my home feel like a sanctuary.
3. What do you wish your church leaders knew about chronic need? In what specific ways would you be particularly blessed by your church leadership?
Louise~ I need to hear more of a message of hope and the power of the resurrection for vibrant living. Having a chronic illness makes me low emotionally, so I need to hear about my identity in Christ from the pulpit. I hear about my sin, my weaknesses, my shortcomings, but I need to hear about the victorious life I have in Christ—even if I am to live disabled for life and cannot accomplish 1/10th of what I think I should or want to. This would minister to me more than any physical thing. I need my self esteem to be built up so my eyes are put back on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith—but in a positive light. I know that hard teaching creates soft hearts, but sometimes when life is hard day in & day out and our bodies waste away, I need to hear more good news from the pulpit. No holds bar—just the power of life in Christ—that it can be just victorious.
Carolina~ It should be a church burden not just an individual burden.
Prayer during the service would be good, and could be a continual reminder that there is a brother or sister that is prevented from being there with them every week.
A small study that is simple with little homework in the home of the sick person would be helpful: this should be with a few people that are completely trusted by the sick person. Also, don’t forget the caregivers (spouses), as they have very unique particular needs as well—It would be good for them to have a confidant.
Elders coming to lay hands and pray for healing, read Scripture, and try to strengthen the sick person’s face without lecturing, finger pointing, or being theologically nitpicky about the sick person’s words.
If you don’t know what to say, it’s okay: say you’re sorry, you just don’t know what to say. That lets the sick person know you recognize the gravity of their situation. It’s okay to be silent and just mourn. Job’s comforters were not considered miserable comforters while they were silent and wept for 7 days, but rather when they opened their mouths in response to Job’s painful expressions of grief.
It would be good for elders to read on chronic illnesses and for presentations to be given on suffering families’ needs and limitations so everyone will not jump to conclusions on what’s really wrong, then judge based on bad information or assumptions.
Rachel~ I make it to church most Sundays. If I didn’t, communion delivered would be welcome. (However, my first thought when I read that suggestion was that on some days I can’t even predict when I’ll be okay enough to shower, so setting a time for someone to come by with communion could be stressful. I guess if I was in that situation, we’d figure something out.)
Early on, I really appreciated my health being prayed for during corporate prayer (especially when we were at a bigger church and others’ specific health needs were being prayed for also). But at our newer, smaller church after a few months of medical answers being elusive and treatments having little effect, I can understand why they stopped. Illnesses with elusive diagnoses and treatments are awkward, so why keep praying for this or that treatment to hopefully work? (This shows the unintended ignorance about the other aspects of chronic needs.) I have learned, however, that I am not the only one with ongoing physical pain/needs. Someone has frequent bouts of migraines, another has Hashimoto’s and fatigue, one family has a handful of things they are dealing with. At least 5 of our 40-some adults have ongoing health difficulties.
One of the things I would most appreciate is prayer for us as a group—I don’t need to be singled out. To have our ongoing physical, emotional, relational and spiritual challenges bathed in prayer would be a huge encouragement!
4. What do you wish your friends and fellow congregants knew about asking how you are, praying for you, helping with practical needs, etc?
Louise~ Don’t ask how I am if you aren’t ready for a torrential rainstorm.
Don’t ask how I am if you are in the space to compare yourself with me.
Pain makes the flesh strong – it makes the spirit weak.
Don’t preach to me: when I read the book of Job, my first temptation is to think, “well, what Bildad or Zophar, or Eliphaz said sounds right: they were just defending God.” The fundamental problem was that they put themselves “on the same side of the table as God”—as one wise lady told me. God doesn’t need a defender—a falling brother needs a hand up. We are to run this race together, which disallows me from striving with you. I will stop running altogether if you judge me. Job’s counselors made it appear to Job as though they were on God’s side while he was across the table.
There is a helpful old saying by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Advice is like snow; the softer it falls the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into, the mind.”
Don’t feel pity for me. Help me find a way to feel valuable. Help me find a way to be useful. Help me find a way to be a part of your life and needs—even though I am very limited. Don’t decide for me what I can or can’t do based off of what you think my family needs. That is for my husband and me to decide, not you. It only hurts and it isn’t helpful.
Carolina~ Don’t abandon your friends just because they can’t do all the fun things they used to be able to do.
If you are going to offer help, offer specific things that you know you can do to help instead of giving a blank cheque offer and later having to retract your offer, which can discourage the sick person. Even the small things help, like giving a kid a ride to school, dropping off takeout for dinner, calling on the phone for 5 minutes to pray for the sick person, offering to mow their lawn, taking the sick person’s kids over to your house for a playdate so the sick person and caregiver can take a break.
Give random money gifts if God is giving you extra as it is always safe to assume there are extra medical costs, and there is likely a shortage of money since chances are only the caregiver is working but missing some work to begin with to help the sick person on really bad days.
Be willing to accept the sick person’s new limitations and don’t expect him/her to be the way they used to be and do the things they used to do. This is who they are now, and we are called to accept that and help them in whatever way we can.
When you see a need, help be their voice to others (with their permission).
I am hurt and pushed when people don’t really know how sick I am and how much it hurts—that’s probably what I’m struggling with most of all right now.
We pray the Lord will use our pain and suffering to help others who are suffering, and also to educate others on how to help families with chronic needs. Many hands helping would make a lighter load for many families suffering with chronic illness or children with severe disabilities.
Rachel~ Realizing life with chronic illness is not well understood, I’ve begun talking about my challenges more with people I see on Sundays. Some seem to understand because they are dealing with something similar themselves. Others appear to think that since I am there and standing, I must be okay. Sometimes just getting out of bed and getting ready to go somewhere is an event in itself. They don’t know what it takes out of me to simply get out of the house.
“How are you?” can be difficult to answer. Do I say that I am not doing well; or that it’s been a hard week; or that I’ve been struggling emotionally, spiritually or physically, especially when it’s the same truthful answer week after week? Sometimes I sense the expectation that this time I should feel better. And what do I say when the truth would be that I just feel like quitting; or I’m feeling guilt and stress about not being able to meet my husband’s needs; or I just feel so alone in this? But the kindness of a genuine inquiry is endearing and builds confidence and trust.
A good way for someone to get a peek into the life of someone with chronic needs would be to ask “When you are feeling unwell, what does your day look like?” or “What is it like to live with your chronic illness on a daily or weekly basis?” Because there can be much loneliness, the sincerity of someone seeking to understand our situation can be encouraging in itself.
Chronic illness affects not only the individual who is physically afflicted, but also the spouse and family. We had no “honeymoon period.” Frequent bouts of being house- or bed-bound, coupled with low tolerance for sound, light, or touch during these times, and just scraping along with managing the home has greatly affected both the quality and quantity of our time spent together. My husband has the extra, often invisible, role of caretaker for me, as well as picking up the slack with household duties that I often cannot do.
If someone in the congregation has learned to live well with chronic illness or the pain of broken dreams, sharing that would be a gift to those of us who struggle daily with these challenges. Even while we continue to search for answers, I want to learn how to live well and be fruitful where God has placed me now. Is there someone who can teach us how to do that?
My husband says he struggles with empathy, not knowing what to do to help, nor understanding how my fatigue affects our physical relationship.
We don’t often initiate doing things with friends. I tend to hesitate because I’m not sure how I will be feeling when the time comes, or I’ve worn myself out trying to get caught up during a period of feeling okay. It has been hard on my husband to become somewhat disconnected from his friends. Since we don’t do much socially as a couple, he needs to get out of the house and meet up with a friend or two a couple times a month for some fun and refreshment.
For some with chronic illness, it is difficult to host but would be lovely if other couples initiated.
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~tomorrow we will continue the personal testimonial series,
hearing from the hearts of three more dear women~
In the meantime, would you join me in praying for the Lord to
reach His hands into these homes, touch these suffering saints, and uplift their souls by the power of His Spirit?
Pray for our church leaders to be full of grace, and speak the truth in love.
Pray for our congregants to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Pray for our burdens to be shared, and in so doing,
multiply the strength of our local church bodies.
Pray for eyes to be opened, hearts to be humbled,
bodies to be healed, tears to be bottled,
hands to work diligently, prayers to be offered as sweet sacrifices.
For the glory of Christ’s Kingdom
and for the blessing of His people
while we await His Heavenly Jerusalem
and in the meantime toil in His kingdom on earth.
Good duties must not be pressed and beaten out of us,
as the waters came out of a rock when Moses smote it with his rod;
but must freely drop from us, as myrrh from the tree, or honey from the comb.
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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~
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