faith

Coming Up To Breathe: Rediscovering Grace

Coming Up To Breathe: Rediscovering Grace

It honestly does not even feel possible that we are into the second week of February. And its 2015. Where have I been?!

The holidays were a blur and I feel like I have been trying to play catch up ever since. While I will share more of the specific details tomorrow, it has by far been the most challenging period in my life and considering my journey the last ten years, I feel like that is saying a lot. The cherry on the depression cake was losing my Charlie last month. The depths of loneliness I have felt have shaken me to my core.

My saving grace has been my family and music. My husband has always been my rock and my Godsend but to say that he carried me through this rocky time would be an understatement. He kept me from losing hope when a part of me felt wasn’t sure that there was any left. He has had to carry things that no one should ever have to but the depths of his strength, faith, and love have sustained me in ways I cannot describe. I could never, ever put into words how much I thank God for giving me such an amazing man as my husband and best friend.

Of course I cannot leave out Abby. There are so many times that I have been blown away by her tender compassion, and quiet spirit. She is a wild and hilarious little girl but her spirit is so gentle. To know her is to see the embodiment of the childlike faith written about in Scripture. Of course as her parent, I could give you 48296263 reasons why I have the most amazing little girl on the planet but all that aside, there are times where I watch her and the immense care she has for others, I am stopped in my tracks and I feel like she has a greater understanding of faith, grace, and mercy than most (myself included). We read her school newsletter together a few weeks back and they shared about a little boy in her school who has diagnosed with cancer. The school was going to host a penny drive to support his family and without any hesitation (or prompting), Abby immediately went to her room and grabbed her piggy bank as she wanted to help.

I have shared many times how adoption has taught me so much about God’s love and grace and to know my daughter has saved me these last few months. God has worked through the heart and hands of this amazing five year old little girl to remind me that though my problems can often feel so big, I serve a God that is so much bigger and He has a plan, a purpose, and a love for me that surpasses all understanding.

In the midst of the chaos, there were times I felt like I was drowning but I finally feel like I have been able to come up for air. The last two weeks have been refreshing and a reawakening. Its as though a weight has been lifted and like I have been able to breathe fresh air for the first time in months. I went to church yesterday (for the first time in way longer than I wish to admit) and the pastor shared from Luke 8 about the Parable of the Sower. He shared how there are so many people along the path that have allowed things in life (such as anxiety, relationships, and even religion) to harden our hearts but how the love of Christ can soften and change our hearts and when the seed of the Word falls on a receptive heart, it flourishes.

We can flourish.

I can flourish.

All I have to do is drop my defenses, allow my heart to open, and God’s love will do the rest.

As a humorous aside- while the pastor was quoting “Jesus’s love can change hardened hearts,” all I could repeat in my head was “Jesus’s love can thaw a frozen heart” in the voice of Olaf. You know you’ve seen Frozen too many times when . . .

It was important for me to write this post not as a way garner sympathy or to put together some type of explanation or excuse for why the blog and social media have sat gathering dust the last weeks/months. It would be easy to write a post with an apology for absence with a promise to kick-off the new year with exciting new things and pretend like I have it all together. After all, the tagline says “tackling chronic illness with a fierce dose of hope” right?

As I sit in bed writing this, I have tears streaming down my face and a massive knot in the pit of my stomach as this may be one of the hardest things I have ever written.

One of the most important things for me in writing this blog has always been transparency. I want to be completely honest and completely real about life with chronic illness. The good, the bad, and the ugly. My life has been about as ugly as it gets.

But thankfully, my story doesn’t end here.

God has amazing things in store and that hope, even when I have felt like I had lost it, continues to be ever present. This last chapter of life may have been dark but the One who writes my days promises that the best is yet to come. He has more in store for me than I could have ever imagined for myself. Love and mercy are around every corner. This is just the beginning.

Last year, my goal was to be fierce but this year my goal is to be brave and being brave starts with being honest.

Being brave starts with putting myself aside.

Being brave starts with grace.

For those of you that are reading this and have stuck by me, I want to thank you for the depths of my heart for your support, your prayers, and your love and to say that the community of warriors I am blessed to be a part of has been keeping me fighting would be an understatement. There aren’t enough words to say it properly so I will just say it again, thank you.

I do hope that this post is a kick-off of exciting things to come and hope you will join me for the ride! God has amazing things ahead and the fire He has placed within my heart is eager to make 2015 a year like no other. Endometriosis Awareness Month is just around the corner and plans are underway for the 4th annual Blogging for Endometriosis Awareness campaign so I hope you will mark your calendars (and drop me an email if you want to jump in on the planning!).

As I mentioned in this post and in my Thank You Letter to Skillet, music has been a saving grace and one of my favorite lyrics has been, “This is how it feels when you take your life back, this is how it feels when you finally fight back. When life pushes me, I push harder. What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

How does it feel to take my life back? AMAZING.

Have you chosen a word for 2015?

 

 

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Dear Skillet – Thank You

Dear Skillet - Thank You

Dear Skillet,

I know you more than likely not see this but just in case you happen to find yourselves in this corner of the inter webs, I wanted to say thank you. You have no idea how much your music has carried me through some of my darkest moments. Your music keeps me dancing, your lyrics keep me fighting, and your message keeps my heart focused on the reality that I am never alone. As dark as it feels at times, I have a Savior and Hero that has created me with a plan and a purpose that surpasses all understanding.

I have struggled with chronic illness for over ten years. I was a panhead before my first diagnosis but as time passed and the diagnoses started piling up, it has taken my appreciation for your music to a deeper level. It would be nearly impossible to pick out favorites but I thought I would share how three songs in particular that have carried me when I needed it most.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Luke 8:43-48. So many times I feel like that woman going doctor to doctor looking for help. When you spend years hearing “we know you are sick but there is nothing we can do to treat it,” it is easy to become discouraged and wonder if life is worth living if every day is spent in pain. It can be easy to allow your faith to be swallowed up in your grief. I think this is why Come My Way is so close to my heart. I have learned that sometimes healing doesn’t come in the form we expect or want. While I still yearn for physical healing and believe that God has the power to do so, I have learned that true healing comes from the inside out. God has healed my heart and has overcome my life with a power that goes beyond anything physical.

In this journey of healing, I have had to redefine my understand my relationship and my understand of who God is. I grew up in a church where you didn’t ask questions. The hand you got dealt was the one you got dealt and if you are sick, then God must have wanted you to be sick. I could not understand how that made sense. It just did not align with what I knew in my heart. So as time passed and the diagnoses started to pile up and my husband and I were knee-deep in our battle with infertility, I had to wrestle. For the first time, I began asking questions and sought to find out for myself what faith meant on a deeply personal level.

I wanted to understand not only what I believe but why I believed it. I learned many of the answers I was looking for but I also learned that there would be times where there were no answers. I learned to put my trust and hope into something much bigger. When I didn’t understand the why’s of life, I could understand the Who. I learned that I would have times that I wouldn’t know why things were happening or what lied ahead but I could trust in the One who writes my days. It is that trust that would carry me. Even when the path seemed dark, God would put reminders in my path to remind me that I am not alone. Whispers In The Dark was one of those reminders. I cannot put into words how much this song has meant to me. God has used the words to help me understand that God still has a plan for my life even when I cannot see it just yet. Every day I must make a choice. I can allow my illness to make me bitter of I can choose to honor Him in spite of it. He can give purpose to my pain.

The last year has been the hardest. Treatments that once worked have failed. Despite second, third, and fourth opinions, the conclusion is the same. My daughter is old enough to recognize that I am sick and asks why the doctors can’t make me feel better. My husband has had to take on the role of caregiver much too soon. Even though God has brought me on a beautiful journey of a deeper understanding of who He is and what faith really means, I wish I could say that the struggle was over. I wish I could say that I never had moments of wondering if things would be better off without me.

I really wish I could but that would be a lie.

Thankfully, my journey doesn’t end here. I serve a God much bigger than anything the Enemy tries to dish out. It is not my strength that gets me through each day but His. Christ came to break my chains and set my heart free. Not Gonna Die has served as a reminder to keep fighting. It would be easy to give up but God does not always call us on a journey that is easy. He does, however, promise that we do not have to go on this journey alone. Not only is He with me but He has placed so many amazing people in my life to fight alongside of me. God has surrounded me with reminders of His love and His power and God has opened so many doors that have allowed me to share my testimony of faith and triumph with so many people that I would not have otherwise been able to share it with had I not been diagnosed with my illnesses. Through the roller coaster of infertility and adoption, I have been able to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be adopted through Christ. By watching my daughter’s birthmother love her and be selfless enough to place her in our arms has given me such a deeper understanding of God’s grace and love.

While life has been full of trials, God has blessed me so deeply and I know I would not have the relationship I have with Him without those challenges. I would not have compassion without the suffering and while I would never have signed up for this life, I would not change anything because of what God has allowed me to be a part of through it.

Again, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your message. Thank you for your music. God has used you in an amazing way to change my life. To save my life. I could not be more grateful.

P.S. We definitely have a little Pinhead in our household. Her favorite song is “Monster” and she wanted to be “Skillet Girl” (her reference to Jen) for Halloween so thank you for sharing music that not only teaches the message but that we can also rock for Jesus!

Dear Skillet: Thank You

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Finding Peace At Christmas

Today’s post is the last guest post in the Surviving the Holidays with Chronic Illness series and it couldn’t come at a better time! So often we can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we forget to take the time to sit quietly and reflect on the true meaning of the season. Finding peace at Christmas and taking refuge in our Savior knowing the HOPE and PROMISE that was given to us to many years ago. Today’s post is written by Claudia from Until I Rest In Him so be sure to visit her blog! P.S. I am working on recovering from our trip to Disney and cannot wait to share our experience and pictures with you guys!

Finding Peace At Christmas

Almost within a week of having our Christmas tree up, something I could not quite put my finger on was calling to me. Every time I would look at the tree, something just kept calling to a part of me that I felt so detached from yet still something SO familiar.

As the days went on, and that “something” continued to call to me, I began to get creative visions. I would have visions of this beautiful tree that had a “woodsy” feel to it but yet still elegant. A tree that had earth tone hydrangeas throughout its branches and somehow had a vintage feel to it a tree I could keep up ALL year round that I could decorate to reflect each individual season.

I kept the vision to myself for quite some time as I allowed the feelings of confusion to stir. I slowly began to get clarity on what it was I was feeling more and more each day. Something inside me felt as if it were shifting. It felt as if there was a deeper part of me that was trying to communicate with me but somehow there was still this disconnect…and the more I felt it, the more I yearned to connect to…”it”.

I began to pray for clarity and ask God why this felt like more than just an idea I had to keep some tree up all year round. Why did this idea speak to me in a way nothing had in longer than I could remember? My mind was racing with what this was all about and how I would make this happen among the countless other thoughts whirling around my head…and then…a whisper…not in my ear…in my body…my whole body. It was an invitation to be still. Be still…and just allow the thoughts to whirl around…and see what happens.

I tried over and over and over again to….be still. I couldn’t do it. So, I continued to research on the computer all the elements I would need to make this “seasonal tree” trying desperately to piece together all the fragments of thoughts, ideas and feelings that would bring some wholeness to this…”thing” that was beckoning to me.

As I continued to ask for God’s help still not yet successful at being still, the pieces began to come together. Next thing I knew, I was finding discount stores online that carried the elements that once again spoke to me and felt as if they were each a missing puzzle piece in this creative endeavor…whatever it was to come to be in the end. From there I went on a website designed for independent artists to showcase and sell their work, found a bunch of very talented artists who made homemade gift tags that were just the right size and style, and went to town! I was thrilled to have also found a gorgeous handmade burlap tree skirt to match the burlap ribbon I used on the tree (For a list of the artists I purchased the tags from, as well as the artist I purchased the handmade burlap tree skirt from, scroll to the bottom of the blog post). I felt so blessed that God had given me the idea that if I decorated the tree with artistic gift tags, I could do the entire tree for EVERY season and EVERY holiday within my budget. Awesome! I had a BLAST picking these out. The tree was still decorated for Christmas and the research was just getting started but the creative juices were flowing!

Soon, Christmas had come to pass and the tree stood there completely stripped of all decorations and the only thing I had expressed to my husband was that I wanted him to please leave the tree up because I had an “idea” as I called it at the time. Now, to my husband this was music to his ears because at that point, he didn’t care what the idea was. All he knew was that he didn’t have to take the tree down and that alone was a wonderful idea to him! 🙂 

Day after day, my husband would see these small packages arrive in the mail from various etsy shops and discount floral stores online and my eyes would light up like a little kid…on Christmas morning. It wouldn’t matter what kind of day I had. When those packages would arrive, “it” lit up…that “thing” inside me came alive.

My husband had no idea what any of this was at this point. All he knew was that it all had to do with this idea I had to keep the tree up year round. Since I just kept the vision at bay with “you’ll see” as my standard response to any questions he had, he just let it go and said “ok, whatever makes you happy” Happy…hmmm. Well, it was more like…alive. I felt…alive. For that brief moment I held the packages in my hand each day they would arrive, and the vision began to take shape….something in me that had laid dormant day after day – would come to life. It didn’t matter that it was only for a short time. I still cherished what it felt like to feel something other than weary.

With each passing day, the racing, whirling thoughts began to settle down and were replaced with a peace…a silence from within where I began to feel what would be normal to describe as “lost” in putting this seasonal tree together piece by piece. What I find so ironic about that phrase is that this project allowed me to silence my mind. It allowed me to put the whirling thoughts to rest…it allowed me to find stillness…I FOUND STILLNESS….I FOUND SILENCE….only when I listened to the calling from within and allowed myself to get LOST in following the whispers did I FIND….MY SPIRIT.

The self-defeating thought I chose to believe was…

“A tree that you would leave up ALL year round…what?! That’s such a stupid idea. Only you would think of something so ridiculous like that. Besides, nobody’s going to get it. How are you going to explain yourself when people walk in your home and they see a tree up? Ridiculous. Besides do you have any idea how expensive something like that would be? Forget it already.”

If I were to allow myself to receive the gift of God’s grace and place all my faith in the Word, then in God’s eyes, the truth is…

John 10:27 (ESV)
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Today I recognized Jesus…

Ok, not to sound like a broken record here but let’s look at this from another perspective. I had to LOSE myself in order to FIND my SPIRIT, right? Well, what’s even more intriguing to me is that I did it while putting together my first ever seasonal tree for…
Valentine’s Day

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
– Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

My spirit chooses to trust it’s intuitive nature and interpret that as yet another sign from God that this journey for me personally, at this time, is not about trying to be like everybody else and beating myself up day after day because I can’t seem to ‘join the crowd’. No, it appears to me that this journey is at this time, about learning to LOVE MYSELF THROUGH MY FULL ACCEPTANCE OF WHO I AM IN CHRIST.

In otherwise, it’s not my job or my calling to ‘fit in’ right now. It’s my job to…

‘make peace with the silence.’ MY silence.

It is MY personal belief that then and only then, can I begin to heal…REALLY heal. So, for me, putting those hearts up on the tree one by one, started off as just decorating the tree around a theme. Now that it’s decorated and I’m able to step back and take it in day after day, I see the irony of it all.

I cannot sit here and FULLY embrace that I am a child of God in one breath if in the other breath, I’m going to turn around and continue allowing this self-talk to weaken my spirit.

I MUST continue to pray EVERY DAY that God keeps me focused on the very thing that is giving me life…MY SPIRIT.

What’s another way to perceive our spirit?
AS THE VOICE OF GOD.

So, for me, it appears this might be the toughest part of my journey now…making a decision that may take me some time to surrender to. Will I continue to allow the voice of the trauma to define who I am…or will I accept and EMBRACE who I AM and ALWAYS have been in Christ…and listen to the voice of my spirit?

“I will no longer wound myself with the thoughts and questions that have surrounded me like thorns: that is a penance You do not ask of me.”
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas

So, why did I not post this on Valentine’s Day?

Well, having gotten in the habit now of paying a BIT more attention to my spirit, I felt this post wasn’t quite ready. However, what strikes me about that is that Valentine’s Day itself is all about focusing on showing those around us just how much we love THEM…and that’s what it should be…on Valentine’s Day and EVERY day. I get that. I really do….but I have another theory as to why God didn’t settle my spirit in regards to posting this until AFTER Valentine’s Day.

As many of you know, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can often rob us of feeling ANY LOVE for OURSELVES. Now, I know that sounds like a very selfish statement. I get it….but it’s not. Why? Well, because it is my personal belief that THAT is what MY journey is all about AT THIS TIME. Discovering who I am in GOD…REALLY embracing his unconditional LOVE for ME and learning to RELEASE all other thoughts that I am less than worthy of His love.

Closing prayer to Jesus:

Dear Jesus,
Wow. Between the creation of the tree which included hours of searching online for just the right decorations, creating and recreating the tree over and over again until it FELT in alignment with my spirit, the confidence I had to allow you to build within me to SHARE this endeavor, the photography and countless pictures I took before finding just the right ones to post, etc…(deep sigh)…AND the hours it took to not only write this post but again, tweak it where it felt it was in alignment with my spirit’s message….well, it’s safe to say this tree…this post…is ALL a TRUE reflection of MY spirit…of YOU living within ME.

I now call it….my Spirit Tree.

So, for that reason alone,
the tree is perfect…just the way it is…until St Patrick’s Day 🙂

“Make peace with silence, and remind yourself that it is in this space that you’ll come to remember your spirit. When you’re able to transcend an aversion to silence, you’ll also transcend many other miseries. And it is in this silence that the remembrance of God will be activated.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Personal Reflection

Have you ever had a moment where you felt connected with your spirit through a creative endeavor of any kind? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Claudia De Mauro is a 42 year old woman with Spina Bifida/Chiari/Hydrocephalus/Tethered Cord Syndrome/Complex PTSD/Gastroparesis and struggles with extreme isolation due to the PTSD as well as the deep grief of being childless not by choice. Claudia is the author and creator of Until I Rest In Him (you can also find her on Twitter). The mission of “Until I Rest In Him” is to be the stepping stone on a path that leads another to trust in and rest in Jesus.