Friday, September 5, 2014

Hope in the midst of struggle

 Happy Friday morning! I think I like these 4-day work weeks and am looking so forward to having the weekend off to get caught up with a few things.  I had a bit of a treacherous drive into work yesterday, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I had just finished my morning walk and was heading up the driveway when it began to pour. The rain continued for the entire ½ hour drive to work, but about half way into the drive, the sun came out and was literally blinding me because most of my drive is due-east. At one point in the drive, it was raining so hard and the sun was shining so brightly that I had to pull over and literally inch my way down the shoulder.  It was really strange but I was rewarded with a spectacular rainbow; my first of the summer.  I made it to work safely; the storm turned passed; and it turned out to be a gorgeous summer day, but WOW…what a way to start the day!

It was quite easy for me to see God’s hand in the moment and to recognize the connection to my personal journey; past and present. While it’s much easier for us to look back at a difficult time in our life and say, ‘Yes, God helped me through it” or maybe even connect to the famous/popular “Footprints in the sand” story (google it if you aren’t familiar with it), it’s often harder for us to get to the point where we are able to recognize God’ presence IN THE MIDST of the storms and difficulties in our life.  Yesterday was a potent reminder to me that, “YES….God is present in EACH and EVERY moment of my journey”….during EACH and EVERY struggle and temptation…..EACH and EVERY time it seems so hard to “keep on keeping on” and I want to give up. 

It’s not always easy to recognize God in our journey, though, especially when things seem unfair, unbearable, or hopeless. It’s hard to believe that life will ever be any better or we will ever reach our goals when it seems like things are not happening as fast as we want them to or we keep failing time and time again. Our human nature wants to focus on the storm at hand; on the emotional or physical pain of illness or loss; on the rain pounding on our window; or the despair threatening to overwhelm us. It’s hard to dig deep and realize that we are not alone when life gets really, really tough.

 While I never lost my faith in the midst of some pretty tough losses in my life, I admittedly didn’t handle them as well as I could have. I was angry at the “institutional church” when I lost my job. I was resentful at others who didn’t seem to struggle as I was. I was frustrated when I was given the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and told that there was no cure, and the ways to treat it involved medication with unpleasant side effects. I was agitated and felt that I had drew the “short straw” yet again in life.  I was overwhelmed with grief, loss, and the struggles in life and for a while, I lost focus on the blessings and instead dwelled on the storms.  I coped the best way I knew how: withdrawing from others and comforting eating.  And yet…like the blinding sunshine in yesterday’s storm……through it all…. God was there….waiting for me to be ready…..truly ready…for change.

As I’ve said many times before, changing the way I THINK has been a key part of my journey.  I believed from the earliest days of my journey that God was going to be with me and that He was going to do something really big in my life….primarily because of my grandmother’s death. I honestly believed then….and now… that through her death, I was going to experience great blessings….and I did.  Because I “believed that” from the beginning… I began to LOOK FOR IT and EXPECT miracles. I started to look at things in a new way. My focus changed from pity and hopelessness to anticipation and gratitude.  Even at 400 pounds, I began to feel hopeful because I was losing weight, even though I had a couple hundred pounds to lose and couldn’t hardly stand or walk. I started to express gratitude and see the good in situations…even when life really “sucked” (pardon the slang). Instead of grumbling about how hard it was to get to work when I was in such pain and unable to walk, I began to think about how grateful I was to have a job that I liked after years of unemployment. Instead of feeling sorry for myself for my inability to walk, I began to feel thankful that I had good health insurance that paid for a bariatric walker with a seat so that I could go to places that didn’t have mobility carts. Instead of saying or thinking, “poor me, I can’t eat that pizza or have a piece of birthday cake,” I began to realize that “Yes, I could eat it….but I’m choosing NOT to because it will make me feel better.”  I began to look for God’s intervention and pray to recognize His presence in my life and my journey…..and you know what..... THINGS BEGAN TO CHANGE…..very quickly!  I was losing weight at a rapid speed….with not a lot of struggle or temptation in the beginning. I was focused; motivated; and strengthened….and I was seeing results.  Through it all…. I was grateful….and my mantra became, “Thank you God, Thank you God, You have set me free. Thank you, God, Thank you, God….for this Vic-tor-y!”  I say that over and over and over in my mind all day….everyday…..and I believe it. 

My life has changed so much in the last few years. Many things have become easier because of the weight loss, but other things have become more challenging. I now have to deal with things emotionally, spiritually, and mentally that I never had to before.  Weight loss doesn’t eliminate storms in life; it just makes them easier to handle….but the thing that makes EVERYTHING easier to handle is changing one’s focus from anger; fear; bitterness; and hopelessness….to gratitude….and trying hard to focus on the positive and be grateful.   Life is not easy for anyone….at any weight….at any age, marital status, state of health.  Storms happen to ALL people…..but yet…..through it all, God is always there amidst the rains.  Sometimes we just have to look REALLY HARD to recognize it…..but as we proceed through our journey, it becomes easier to be peaceful in the midst of grief; hopeful in the midst of illness; trusting in the midst of crisis. And……every once in a while…..when we least expect it, but need it most…..God will show us his presence….just like yesterday in the midst of my storm drive. His light and warmth will often times blind us as the storms rage around us and rock our world.

So many of you are in the midst of some really tough storms…..chemo, grief from the loss of a loved one, unemployment, marriage/relationship difficulties, addiction….and so many other burdens.  I encourage you today to look really hard for the signs around you that you are not alone; that your higher power is there; that things will get better and change is possible.   My prayer today is that you may find a sign today…..like I did in yesterday’s rainbow and continue to see day in and day out.  Be strong in your commitment to change; be hopeful in the possibility of new life; and be grateful for the blessings in the midst of the struggles.  I’m here with you….and for you…..  I hope you have a wonderful, peaceful day today!