Lessons God Has Taught Me About Parenting

Recently, I was asked if I gave talks on parenting. I laughed! Me? I am still learning how to parent and most of my kids are still being raised. I have no advice! I am still in the “I need all the advice I can get” stage. I am the last person that wants to give advice on parenting in any way shape or form! However, I also watch parenting in society, and even in our churches, that leave me scratching my head wondering where they are getting their parenting skills! Or…at the risk of sounding snarky…are they even parenting at all? I digress.The lady asking me asked me to come home and please email her any thoughts I had. Since I had a 2 hour drive after that conversation, I had a lot of driving time to think about this. The following are my thoughts that I have learned in my 20 years of parenting. Give me 20 more years and I am sure I will have learned SO much more! I pray I will have.

HUGE Disclaimer:

I wish I could say I have this down. I don’t. When I can keep Alicia out of the way and let the Holy Spirit rule my life, things run so much smoother. When things aren’t going well, I pull out the mirror for MY heart! These truths are what I know are right – not truths I have managed to live consistently each day. It is my desire to, and so I find myself apologizing a lot to my children and praying often for the Lord to show me my true heart towards them and for Him.

And now…my thoughts….

1. Our Foundation

We often think as parents that we need help with child training when in reality, we need parent training. Many times, children are just mirrors of the home. Because of that, it is vital that we don’t even enter the thought process that we can “train these kids to turn out,” In reality, we can’t. We can only model and pour God’s Word into their lives and pray that the sowing and watering of His Word will bring forth the increase since it is God that brings the increase.

There is no formula that produces godly children. Oh, we may produce some moral heathens, but godliness is a choice that each one of our children must make on their own. Thus it is so important that they see the rawness and realness of the Christian life and what it means to be a follower of Jesus…and that life must be shown to them as worth every single moment…in the good and the bad.There is no way that we can “show” that life and live it as a fake or a facade. Our children see right through us. They will see every glaring crack and they will see every single time we are hypocrites. Since we will be guiding them towards righteousness, they will point out every time we are unrighteous! And…since we will make mistakes…over and over…we must enter parenthood with that clear understanding and humility….that we are ALL (parents and children alike) on the road to being more like Jesus and less like our flesh, and that we are ALL fellow journeyers on this road…ALL disciples of Jesus Christ to continue maturing and learning and growing. We need to admit to our children that just like them, mommy and daddy are also desperately in need of Jesus and His sweet love and forgiveness for when we mess up – just like they are. And that we do NOT have all the answers nor do we pretend to have it all together. But that together, we will all go to God for our help…a very present help in our time of trouble,,,and that we will seek His Word and His wisdom to guide us as parents as we help guide them as children.If the foundation is not Jesus….for ALL of us…we are already setting ourselves up for failure because there are no perfect kids, and there are no perfect parents – but there is a perfect Savior!God is the perfect Heavenly Father and if we could all parent like Him, we would feel so good about this all! He is our example, and while we are not perfect like He is, He does model godly parenting that we can learn from.

  • God gives unconditional love.
God has loved us first (like we have our children), God has loved us without conditions (He created us and has a plan for our lives since conception) and it is His will and desire that none perish but all come to Him. His love is not moody like ours, nor is His love based on how we treat Him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He never squabbles with us about His role as our Father. He just is. He is confident and stable in His position to our lives. We are the ones that get bigger than our britches and have weird emotions with Him. But our wild mood swings and temper tantrums don’t phase Him. He just deals with us with a perfect love that is always balanced in His perfect truth.
The practical application can be seen in our homes. Many times, our great insecurities in our role as parents leave our children on a roller coaster where sometimes we are the big bad boss yelling our commands and wanting obedience while we count to 3…or 20…., other times we are soft teddy bears wilting at their tears, or we are just so weary we give in to their constant begging and pleading. We go back and forth and our children really never know “what” parent they are going to get today because we are so easily swayed by our emotions.This ought not to be so. We need to look at our children through eyes of love that asks what they truly need…not what they want (they don’t even know half the time). We need to rest in the fact we do know what they need as the mature adult and make our decisions known to them – not with anger, but assertively and confidently in the authority and trust that God has placed us in for their well-being.
Example: “Mommy, I want some candy.”
Do they need the candy right now? Is it best for them? Do you want them to wait until after supper? What is the right thing for them. Then answer with confidence and assurance that you ARE loving them by acting according to what is best for them.God always chooses what is best for us. We don’t always agree or like it, but it does not change the truth that He abides in. It is in His great love that He does NOT give me my way….for that would not always be what is best for my life. It is a wise leader who will walk in truth and not be swayed by emotion. Emotion makes a wonderful caboose, but a terrible engine. Keep them in their place.
  • God gives choices and consequences.
God says that He sets before us life and death…so choose life! As a parent, there are certain things that are non-negotiables in our house. As they leave our home and live in their own, they may not make choices that we have. However, as long as they are under our roof and we are paying their way, there will be non-negotiables. These are the choices we are making to do in our home, and if you live in our home, this is what you will do. If you choose another way, and you may, but the consequence will not be to live in our home. This is referring to being over the age of 18. As long as they are minors, they don’t even have a choice not to. I have been shocked by church members I see that give their 14 year old children the option to attend church or not. They come and ask prayer for their children to attend church, yet they don’t make them. Mind blown.
How do choices and consequences work in younger kids we are trying to teach this God principle to?“Johnny, I would like you to clean your room thoroughly this week. I don’t care what day you do it, but it must get done this week.” So Johnny procrastinates (as most Johnny’s do) because that is just not his thing. He keeps putting it off and he really does forget. So, now that it is the weekend, Johnny wants to have a friend come over or wants to go over to the friends house on Sunday afternoon. What do you do?
You help Johnny understand choices and consequences. You gave Johnny liberty in the when, but you were clear on the what. If Johnny did not do what you asked (even if he really forgot – which he really didn’t forget…he kept putting it off….which is procrastination…which is a bad character quality…so many parenting opportunities here), you ask Johnny if he cleaned his room. When he says “No, I forgot all about that!!” You say, “I hate that you made that choice Johnny. I know that I was clear in what needed to be done and my responsibility is to communicate clearly, but it was your responsibility to remember. Since you didn’t, I have no choice but to say no. You aren’t going to be able to go or do anything else until that room is clean.This may seem like such a silly exercise, but it is SO easy to just let these things go and we are not helping our children learn accountability, or character, or work ethic, or personal responsibility, or anything. 90% of us will know we shouldn’t let him go if he didn’t do it, but Johnny’s begging and promises to do better next time will have most of us caving. And you know what we taught Johnny? We taught him that our word doesn’t have much value, and that his bad choices don’t have any consequences. Scripture is FULL of God telling us our choices and setting before us the choice and path He desires for us to take, and Scripture is full of stories of many who disregarded His words. But let’s not forget that Scripture is also full of many examples of the consequences that were given to them because of their choices. So, we must NOT let that lesson slip past teaching our children these very serious truths.
  • God is a God of grace.
Our children can never understand grace if they do not understand consequences. Grace is God giving me what I do not deserve. It is so important for our children to grow up knowing that the world is not about them. We are to love and serve one another. We are to prefer one another. We are to submit to one another. We are to be kind to one another. We are to not only love our enemies, but are to do good to them in return!There are two life views…one looks in a mirror and only sees themselves. The other looks in a window and although he can see his reflection, it is a part of the world outside. Our children need to know they are fearfully and wonderfully made! God has knit them together in our wombs for their work in His kingdom and for His glory. Sin knocks that plan in the head and so our children need Jesus to follow Him for the purpose they were created! It is a glorious calling, and they cannot know that they are hear to serve Jesus, if we make life all about them. We love them unconditionally, we encourage good choices and have consequences for bad choices, yet we also must help them see their place in life. To do good, to love others and to be servant leaders in the kingdom of God.
These opportunities will arise all throughout their childhood….from every friendship that they get hurt in, every conflict they are engaged in, every rotten attitude they partake in, every sin they are enticed by….over and over and over we have opportunities to share the power of Gospel – not only for our home in Heaven, but for our presence on Earth.
The very best we deserve as sinners, is hell. That is the consequence I deserve. Yet God, in His amazing grace, took that punishment for me and gave me life. When I receive that gift of salvation, it is a heart of gratitude…and knowing what I deserve….that should put my heart in a humble position that compared to hell, nothing I will ever endure or go through is as bad as that. That heart gratitude keep me from being a “victim of life” and instead keeps me victorious in Jesus! THIS needs preached to our children! Children!! Jesus loves you so much, He took what we deserved. Because of that great love, we love. We love first in our home, and we love others outside of our home. By this shall others know you are my disciples….IF you have love for one another.
Once we have this understanding as our Foundation of thoughts….we can now move on to what this looks like in our homes as mothers….
2. Our Families
They say that more is caught than is taught. I don’t know about that, but Scripture does tell us that our life is like a book and it is being read by men. Since that is true, then that means the first people that get the first edition of our lives, is our families.
Our families know the real us. They know our hearts, our attitude, our desires, our like and dislikes. They know when they get on our nerves. They know if we really like them. The question is….if your family is reading the story of Jesus in your life, what would they think of Him? If we gain the whole world (which we project to them what we want them to think of us), yet we lose our own soul, what good is that?
Likewise, if we give everyone the good Christian impression…except for our families…are we frauds? I am a failure as a follower of Jesus if my own family cannot see Him in me first. So many times, we spout the right words to our children yet we model just the opposite.
“JOHNNY!!!!” we scream. “I HAVE TOLD YOU 20 TIMES TODAY TO BE NICE TO YOUR SISTER!!! I am sick of telling you this!!!”
What we said was to be nice. What we screamed was that we are being ugly while telling him to be nice. We are hypocrites. He knows it.
We say to our husbands…”Ugh. I hate how I look. I look like a fat slob and my nose is too big.” He says, “Honey you are beautiful!” You say, “Stop lying.” Our daughter comes and says (at 12 years old), “I am fat and ugly.” You say, “You are NOT!!! You are beautiful….just the way God made you!” She doesn’t believe you believe that….and neither will she.We want our children to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We want God to be real to them! We want them to love God and not rebel against Him, yet, how often do we intentionally talk with our children about God. When do we pray over little things with them? When do we stop throughout the week and point out things in nature or life and draw a spiritual truth for them? Jesus was ALWAYS pointing to nature to teach his truths (the olive tree, the vineyards, the fig tree). How often, in our daily lives, do we just add a sentence or two about God and His goodness? Do we make God personal to our children? Do we walk in God’s truth? Do we live in the light of who we are in Christ and that WE…as women…are strong and beautiful daughters of God? Do we grumble and complain and gripe and gossip? Do we daily have the joy of the Lord as our strength or do we play the martyr card that our lives, our marriages, our church, our kids…are all just straining and stressing us to the max….and we just need a break! A break….from the precious family that God has given to us because He knows that we, as mothers, have the strongest influence on our children.
Our lives are telling our children a story about God. What story is it telling?
  • That God isn’t really a big deal in our daily life? If we never make Him daily, that is what we are saying.
  • That God doesn’t know what He is doing in my life? When we grumble about every trial that is what we are saying.
  • That God made a mistake in me? That is what we are saying when we complain about our bodies.
  • That God isn’t enough to fulfill me and bring me joy? That is what we are saying when we allow any circumstance (from minor to major) rob us of our joy.

Do you see how major this is? This is not “how to train my children.” This is “how to discipline myself in truth” with God as the foundation leading us in truth and humility and showing us the way as our example.

Our families are the only possession we will ever have on this earth that we can take to Heaven with us. They are the greatest mission field. They are the greatest investment we can make with our lives. They are pieces of us that will continue on after we have gone. Our children are not a status symbol. They are not a “thing” on the American way of life checklist. They are living souls. They need Jesus. They need discipled. They need us to lead the way, and like Paul said, our prayer should be that they follow us as we follow Christ. And let that also be a warning to us…they may follow Christ as they see us follow Him…which could be really lousy if we are not serious disciples and followers of Jesus Christ.

Does this all sound really complicated? It isn’t. Walk humbly, seek wisdom moment by moment from God, grow together with your children, and constantly point one another to our sweet Jesus!
Does this sound time consuming and intentional? Yes, it is. But, their lives are worth every single moment of it!

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10 Years Rolling Today

10 years…a decade…1/4 of my life…these definitions of time…all rattle me a bit! Today is the day that these thoughts haunt me a bit and at the same time make me feel so very thankful. It is an unusual cocktail of emotions that the anniversary of me waking up completely paralyzed leave me with.

I write to remember. I write to reflect. I write to make all the swirling thoughts in my head and the emotions in my heart to make sense and be right.

I feel that my life is divided into before paralysis and after paralysis. It feels like two completely different worlds yet they are connected. I feel that I am two different people at times! The Alicia before…and the Alicia after. It really is a weird feeling.

As I think about the word “sanctification” and in its simplest form means “more of Jesus and less of Alicia“, I feel that perfectly sums up the transformation in my heart and life…physically, emotionally and spiritually. As crazy as it seems, becoming paralyzed has been the greatest catalyst for this work of sanctification that God is working in my life as I journey with Him on this earth. 

  • 10 years ago…I thought I was at a strong spiritual place. Paralysis taught me I was NOT and how very weak I was.
  • 10  year ago…I thought I was confident in who I was as a wife and mom. Paralysis taught me my identity was not where it should be.
  • 10 years ago…I thought I knew what my future would look like. Paralysis taught me to live today because we have no clue about our future!
  • 10 years ago…I was concerned and worked up over little things. Paralysis taught me to let the little things because they are truly nothing in light of big things.
  • 10 years ago…I thought I would be all better and back to normal. Paralysis taught me patience and how to live in a body that I have no control over.
  • 10 years ago…I was content in being told what and how to believe about things and just recited so much of God’s Word. Paralysis taught me that puppets are not real and that I needed to know my Creator and His relationship in my life.
  • 10 year ago…I hardly knew anyone else in a wheelchair. Paralysis has taught me of the sweet bonds of friendship that can be found in relationship with others who live life just like me.
  • 10 years ago…I wasn’t sure if this would destroy my kids and if I could even help them grow up. Paralysis has taught me that a disability in itself has been a wonderful teacher to my children in how they view and love others with no reserve.
  • 10 years ago…I wasn’t sure my marriage would make it or if my husband could hack this new life. Paralysis has taught us both that a marriage with a disability is really tough, but true love sticks it out anyway…and loves and forgives and learns and cries and gets angry and fights and loves and forgives and learns….all over again.
  • 10 years ago…I thought my friends might go away. Paralysis has taught me that true friends love you no matter what.
  • 10 years ago…I thought my work in ministry was greatly diminished. Paralysis has taught me that my ministry didn’t diminish but now expanded to understand a whole new category of life.
  • 10 years ago…I thought I knew how to pray. Paralysis has taught me that prayer is crawling right up in the lap of Jesus as His girl…and just sharing my heart….whether broken, crushed, hurting, terrified or celebrating…and feeling His comfort.
  • 10 years ago…I wanted answers to so many things. Paralysis has taught me that finding the answers to my questions aren’t necessary, but that looking unto Jesus….Who is the Answer…and just trusting His work in my unanswered questions is where contentment and peace is found.
  • 10 years ago…I honestly never thought I would be here today.  I never thought I could ever live paralyzed for one year….let alone 10! Paralysis has taught me many surprises and that yes, life does go on, and is good!

Less of Alicia? Yes!! I have SO much of Alicia left, trust me, and I know God will keep doing His work in my life, but I can most definitely see over the past 10 years of God removing me piece by piece.

More of Jesus? Oh I pray so! I definitely believe that being open to His work in my life leads to the Spirit of God having freedom to work. I believe that less activity leads to more time to dwell on Him, to abide in Him, to think on Him, and that my lack of movement has brought me running into His arms in prayer and need of Him. I think that is why so many people with disabilities in the NT were so open to Jesus. They knew they lacked and were needy and He was there for them! I am fiercely independent, but I am not without much need. He has been there for me and I believe that hearts of gratitude are hearts that follow after Christ.

The longer I am paralyzed, the more I feel paralyzed. Physically, I am aging with a severe disability and it is very much felt every single day. Pain, spasticity, and less function are daily reminders that our physical bodies, our outward man, does perish. But I LOVE this verse, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” II Corinthians 4:16 I truly feel this. I feel the outward man perishing. Every year it feels that my C5-C7 incomplete spinal cord injury is becoming less incomplete from just wear and tear and overuse. It has been lifestyle changing and I have had to deal with the emotions that come with even less ability as I know the reality of the next 10 years on my body. But…my inward man is so happy in Jesus. I am so at peace with my limitations. I can get frustrated…and agitated…and grumpy with constant pain…but the Lord gives me a good talking too, and off we go with a new day…new mercies…and His great faithfulness.

Yesterday, my family took me out on a special day to just enjoy being together and we celebrate life together. While driving and talking, one of my older children said, “I wonder what our lives would be like if Mom had never become paralyzed?” My youngest child quickly answered, “Miserable.”

Y’all….that is ALL Jesus!

Thank you sweet friends for your love, support and encouragement. May the Lord continue to work in this family to be less of us and much, much more of Him!

Holly Payne: Gratitude Moves God’s Heart

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Holly & Alicia – April 2018

In this season of being thankful, I find myself thinking back over the major transitions that have happened in my own life in the last two years. Since the age of 19, it had been in my heart to travel and share the Gospel, but growing up as a diehard Georgia girl, I always figured that I would call Georgia my home base. However, in the summer of 2016, my life changed dramatically. After a very painful family conflict, I found myself living in the Carolinas, waiting for my house to sell back in Georgia, and wondering what my future held. I could not see an hour into the future, much less a week or a month or a year.

Over the course of the next few months, I faced an intense internal struggle. I greatly desired to live an independent life, yet I was so dependent upon the help of others for pretty much every daily activity. At 15 months of age, I had been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a neuromuscular condition that was predicted to kill me before the age of three. But God had other plans! So now, in my early 40s, I still have to depend on the help of others because my body is weak, but my spirit and my soul are very strong.

But in those first few months of transition, although surrounded by people who loved me and who had chosen to be a part of my life, I still battled my deepest inner fears. What if these people who had so willingly taken me into their lives changed their minds? What if I became more than they wanted to handle?

As winter passed and spring came, my house sold and I moved into the home of my best friend. Her granddaughter had just moved out into her own apartment, and both of us were single and very involved with ministry. It was a good arrangement for both of us. For over a year, I was able to find a new level of peace and rest. During that time, things that had been hidden came to light in the comfort of a place where I was finally safe to let my vulnerabilities be exposed.

I realized very acutely that it wasn’t the physical disability that had been my biggest challenge. Having a significant physical disability is not what causes trauma and suffering. It is only a visible canvas upon which a picture is painted.

See, trauma and suffering are peculiar things. In and of themselves, they are nothing. It is in our response to them that we see what we need to see.

And during that year of growing and healing, I began to see the value of perspective more than I ever had before. What I chose to focus on would become the reality I’d create. If I chose to allow trauma and suffering to paint the picture of my life, I would be handing over the paintbrush to the results of a fallen world. Instead, I had to re-frame the experiences of my life in order to let the picture become a reflection of the One in whose image I was made.

And what could be the key to the re-framing of my perspective? Gratitude.

Being grateful to the Lord for His blessings instead of amplifying my painful experiences was a game-changer.

I began to see the Lord bring miraculous provision into my life. It was so powerful. My friend, Sandy Renner, says it like this: “Faith moves God’s hand, but gratitude moves His heart.”

When His eyes rest upon us and He sees our response of gratitude to Him for His blessings, He is moved. On the flip side of gratitude is a dangerous reality. Romans 1:21 (NKJV) says: “…although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

When we do not acknowledge God as God, glorify Him and give thanks, our thinking becomes futile and our hearts begin to lose the Light that His love so freely gives. In other words, gratitude is what helps us think clearly and respond with a healed heart.

So as I continued to grow, that season began to change as seasons always do. Change is necessary to take us to new levels. One level of glory must always yield to the next, but that means we must be pliable in God’s hands. When we remain pliable in a spirit of gratitude, what would have been a traumatic brokenness under our old perspective becomes only a reshaping, and what would have been suffering becomes merely a bend in the road on the great adventure God has planned for us.

Amy Foster: A Mind On God’s Goodness

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Hi, my name is Amy Foster. On April 3, 2015, our family was in a car accident that changed our lives forever. My husband and six small children (8 1/2 yrs. old down to 9 mo.) came away from the accident with only minor cuts and bruises, but my neck was severely broken. I was in the hospital for almost three months before getting back home.

It was hard not picking up where I left off before the accident. For the first two years, I was bedridden due to stage 4 pressure wounds that I received during my hospital stay after the accident. My baby boy hardly wanted anything to do with me for those two years. He would cry when my family put him on my bed. I remember putting a tune to the Scripture verse: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” That helped during some of the more difficult times. Three and a half years later, we’ve come a long way. Garrett (my baby) loves to sit on my lap now and runs to me for kisses.

With each day comes its challenges though, and I often have to pray to God for help and strength. Life is definitely different than it was before the accident. I can’t do the things I used to do. God knew all along my life would change. It is helpful to me knowing God is in control and accepting His plan for me, though I am still learning to give it all to Jesus. I am thankful to know God is forgiving and His mercies are new every morning.

Oftentimes, it is a daily or even moment by moment surrender. I have the choice each day to go down the road of negativity or cheerfulness, discouragement or thankfulness. I have six children watching me seeing the way I choose. They are depending on me. I may not be changing diapers, cleaning the house, making the meals like I used to, but I AM guiding our home and shaping their lives. I am thankful to have the chance to still be able to read to them, pray for them, teach them to read and write, play games with them, hug and kiss them, teach them to sew and bake, and so much more!

God requires of me to give thanks in all things. Even if and when I don’t feel like it, God wants me to be grateful.

It is amazing how much happier I am when my mind is on God’s goodness to me rather than on what I don’t have or how I am feeling. Thinking of others and doing something for them or praying for them is helpful. God has many verses in the Bible that mention our minds and thoughts. It is so important to keep my thoughts pure and clean and right.

Elisabeth Elliot said,“Refuse self pity. Refuse it absolutely. It is a deadly thing with the power to destroy you. Turn your thoughts to Christ who has already carried our griefs and sorrows.”

I find joy now in the things I used to take for granted: being able to feed myself, feeling the sunshine on my face, warm blankets, not having to stay in bed all day, being able to see, read, and write. I am so blessed to be home with my children, watching them grow. I have a wonderful husband who loves and cares for me. I have family and friends who pray for me. God has been so good to me! I pray that I will please God, so one day He will say, “Well done!” We may not understand it all right now, but in heaven it will be worth it all!

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Read more thoughts on Thankfulness…

Alicia Reagan…Thankfulness In Suffering

Thankfulness From Those Who Suffer…

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It is the season of Thanksgiving…a season that should never stop in our hearts, but is especially celebrated right now! While we work our way towards Thanksgiving, I want to  write on being thankful…especially when you are suffering in life.

Suffering is universal. No one escapes it. We suffer differently, but we all have suffered, are suffering or will suffer. Suffering is hard. Real hard. It can get real ugly. Especially if it doesn’t go away. When I get ill, I don’t like it but I am okay with it for a little while. I will take meds to get me through the worst symptoms knowing that in a week or so, I will be back to my old self. But what about when suffering isn’t going to go away?

How do you “get over” a loved one dying? How do you “get over” your spouses continued unfaithfulness? How do you “get over” your own painful consequences to sin in your life? How do you “get over” a chronic health condition that constantly changes? You don’t get over these kind of things. They are now a part of your daily life.

As we are in this season of thankfulness, I am often reminded in my suffering of this verse: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This is SO hard!!! I don’t FEEL thankful for suffering. I don’t want it. I want to be rid of it. When I think of my suffering being so very daily and never going away, it can consume you and destroy you. But…God didn’t ask me to feel thankful. He told me to BE thankful. Not only did He tell me to be thankful, He told me to be thankful in EVERY thing. What?!!! Then God takes it even farther. He tells us that this thankfulness in every thing is the very will of God for my life.

God’s will…for me today…is to be thankful in every. single. thing. Tomorrow, I do it all again. THIS has me in God’s will.

So how do we do it? How in the world can we choose to be thankful?

  1. It IS a choice. Do NOT wait on your emotions to “feel” thankful. Over time, in some cases, you do feel thankfulness. But many times, I cannot say “I am thankful for….” but I can say “Thank you Lord for this in my life because I know You are allowing it for my good.” The longer I live and grow in my walk with the Lord, the more I realize how very much He pulls us away from emotion and to intentional choice.
  2. It CAN BE a habit. Over time, this will become a good discipline in your life. If you will just obey this verse, when you suffer, you not only start listing the blessings in your life, but you already say thank you to God for allowing this in your life.
  3. It WILL BE rewarding. The point is not so we will eventually like suffering. That will never happen! The point is so that we will learn to obediently live in a thankful heart to God for every single thing in our life because He has already ordained it to be so…for His purposes and glory through our lives.

I will have two guests in the next week who are going to share their stories and God’s goodness:

  • Amy Fostera precious wife and momma that was in a car accident that left her with a serious spinal cord injury.
  • Holly Payne – a sweet friend who has a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy that doctors said should have killed her before the age of 3.

Both of these godly women have chosen to be thankful in their lives and I think it will be a blessing to you all, as it has been to me, to read their stories. I can’t wait for you all to meet them. So stay tuned!

When Disability Makes Your World Feel Small

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This year has been a year of learning for me. Obviously, when I became paralyzed my whole world was turned upside down as Every. Single. Part of my life was affected. But…over time, you find a new normal…until your spinal cord injury plays a trick on you and decides to add more changes! That has been what I have been dealing with for over a year now with less function, and much more pain and spasticity. I have already written about this several times over the past year and I am not going to again, but what I want to write about is how to handle it when your world squeezes you just a little tighter…and you feel like you can’t quite catch your breath. When your normal…isn’t normal anymore. Maybe your health is declining…or you are just at a new level you weren’t at before. Regardless, I think you will know what I mean.

I have multiple friends with disabilities, and at least in the spinal cord injury world, I have learned this past year that changes ARE part of the norm. Knowing what I was able to do, and now knowing how I struggle to do them, and feeling held hostage by your body has been SO frustrating!! So what do you do about it?

One solution:

Curl up in bed. Cry. Get angry. Quit Trying. Be done with it all.

Although I have had the times of being in bed angry and crying, I have never been ready to just quit trying. I am always afraid of getting to that point and I refuse to let my mind go there. That solution just won’t work, and since ALL humans – disabled or not – have absolute value, this isn’t a good solution for any of us.

I have asked some of my friends to join me in a few helps I would love to give for when your world starts feeling smaller. Here is what we recommend:

  1. Know Jesus.

When you know the Lord, and you truly believe that He has planned and ordered our days, then whatever happens in your life, you can cling to the fact that this IS God’s plan right now. This doesn’t mean you like it, and it doesn’t mean you understand it, but it does mean that you can know it is truth and that you can have faith that somehow these things are working for your good. It gives you a hope that your life story has a greater purpose and the lie in your head that is telling you that you have little value is just that – a lie. You can trust that your story is valuable in the Kingdom story that God is telling through your life.

2. Keep your mind busy.

I remember in the early days when I was still bed-bound and suffering from terrible panic attacks, I would truly think something was wrong and I was dying. The problem was that I really couldn’t nail down symptoms to even go to the ER. I just knew I was dying!! I wasn’t dying but that was what I thought. Those attacks were so debilitating and discouraging on top of everything else. I asked my hubby to buy me some old funny sitcoms so I could keep my mind engaged. I was really too ill then to read much of anything or to do any type of work on my computer. So, having something to just watch and entertain me helped me. I also believe in Scripture and there is a verse in Proverbs that said a merry heart helps like medicine. I took that literally and asked for comedy. Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, The Real McCoy’s, and Just For Gags on YouTube became my daily routines. And it totally helped!! Laughing feels good, and not having to think about how bad you feel feels really good! So, that became part of my prescription for health! I still absolutely love to laugh and on my worst days, I try to find something that makes me chuckle. Having six kids in this home sure help with that!

3. Take care of yourself with no guilt….

I have really struggled with feeling selfish with this one! Because of my health struggles, I felt STRONGLY to turn down almost every speaking engagement last year. I only accepted two – one in Florida because our family likes to take vacation time there and I can work it around a meeting, and one that was only a couple hours away here in South Caroline. I knew that I had to take this year and figure some things out for me. I felt strongly that God wanted me to do that and so I had no guilt about that.

However, other decisions left me feeling some guilt:

  • I started taking some meds (I have tried for 9 years to stay off all meds). I felt like I was being defeated and felt guilty, but it has truly been a blessing for me to get rest at night. My neuro system had to be made to calm down at night and not spasm all night long keeping me awake. It has been wonderful finally getting to rest!
  • I started using a power chair…a lot…especially outside or for longer days outside. I felt guilty that I was being lazy, but I just do NOT have the strength to maneuver independently off of smooth level floors much anymore. So, I just wouldn’t go. The power chair has really opened up more independence for me to get out and around by myself and not be absolutely exhausted and in bed the entire next day. I just want to go around singing “I’ve got the power…” when I am out now! 🙂
  • I applied for a waiver to get attendant care at home to help me. This one was HUGE! I was SO emotional about it and once again, felt like I was losing SO much independence. But…I realized that I could be more of a help to my family to GET help to have things get done around here, then to try to do it all and be no count, or things not get done because I felt so guilty asking my family for all the extra help. The waiver gives me 40 hours a week for help. I hire my own attendants and they help me from whatever I need help with personally to helping with cooking, cleaning, shopping, exercising, etc. It has been WONDERFUL! My friend, Kattie, helps me and so does my daughter Briley. They get paid to help me. Knowing that they are getting paid keeps me from feeling guilty for asking for help. It has been such a huge blessing to me.
  • Good doctors and Physical Therapy. The only guilt I have here is that there have been a LOT of appointments and it makes me feel like a hypochondriac! However, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be proactive with your health. Especially when you really can’t feel most of your body, you have got to stay on top of things. I have been blessed with a new neurologist and neurological PT’s who have been working with me all this year to help eliminate any more decline and to try to help get my quality of life better. It has been a slow process, but it is working. I am not being promised any improvements, but they feel confident that if we are proactive and cautious, we have slowed this down.
  • Rest. Ugh. I HATE holding still, but my body demands down time. This has been one of the hardest things on me honestly. I feel SO useless when I have to rest! But, I know budgeting what I have to work with is important. One doctor told me that I have to pretend I have $200 in my account for today and I have to be wise how to spend that day. So, if I have a busy evening, I MUST rest in the day. If I have a busy day, I MUST rest that evening. If I have a busy day ALL day, I MUST have the entire next day or two to chill. I watch people…and remember…how I used to go and go and go and I feel SO lazy!! But…I just can’t. No more than I can move my legs on my own anymore, I also cannot go. I have to rest. 

Do you see a recurring word here? GUILT!! But you have to let that guilt go. We have quality AND quantity of life. To have both, we must let guilt go for what we need to do. I assure you of this: PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND, AND WILL SAY THINGS. It will hurt your feelings and make you feel like a dog…only if you give them that power. I have given them that power, and it still didn’t change anything. So, I decided a better way was to just say in my head “until you have a spinal cord injury and deal with what I do (and I hope you never do) then you have no clue about my life and therefore what you say doesn’t matter a bit to me.” I can’t tell you how freeing that was!! Now, if people say something, I just smile inside my head and go on with my life. I really don’t care and I mean that!

4. But don’t lose sight of others….

Having to focus and take care of yourself so much…on a daily basis…truly can lead to selfishness. So, make sure to combat that, you find a way to be helpful to others. I firmly believe that we find purpose and value in serving others. It IS more blessed to give than to receive. Find a way to give back! In this day of online connections, there really is NO excuse not to find a way to give back. 

Are you stuck in bed or inside a lot? Can you find an online community for your specific disability and just decide to be an encourager in there? Can you volunteer to make phone calls for your church or a non-profit? Can you pray with and for others? Can you do online research work? Can you do graphic design for others? Are you able to get out and about? Can you volunteer? Can you serve in your church? Can you just be the community smiler? Do you know how many people just need a smile and a kind word? 

I have a couple of girlfriends who also are struggling with health difficulties. They have spinal cord injuries and they are strong Christian women. We have a private messenger thread where we stay in contact with one another, we pray for one another, we check on one another, and we encourage one another with truths from God’s Word. This is one way we can serve one another and gives us encouragement and purpose in our pain. And, we are each reaching out in our own ways to serve and give back to those around us in whatever capacity we can.

Find something to reach out and help others. I promise you that this helps.

In conclusion, they say when God closes a door He opens a window. I know that many times, we can feel that when that door closes, we are stuck in a tiny room without oxygen. But…we must remember to go open the window and stick our heads out in the fresh air. We may still be in the room, but there is still a big wide world out there.

Go open your window and take a big deep breath. It’s okay.

 

 

Why I Needed the MRI…for Those Who Asked!

The MRI. I am getting some questions why I needed the MRI so I thought I would just post an update.

My spinal cord was injured because a virus attacked it. The virus caused swelling and the swelling damaged the spinal cord. My spinal cord was damaged at the C5-C7 vertebrae level. It was not severed by trauma like a bone or a bullet. It was damaged by swelling. Therefore, I am an incomplete injury. Some signals from my brain still get through to my body parts…some are great, some are weak, and some are extremely scrambled and confused.

I have always had a deficit in my arm strength (mostly my triceps) and would only have more trouble in my fingers when I was really tired, but overall I had good movement. If I had been a complete injury, I would have had very limited arm movement and no hand function at all. So, from my shoulders down, my muscles were weaker, but I was totally able to overcompensate weaker muscles with my stronger ones.

For 9 years now, I have tried extremely hard to not only be independent, but to learn every possible wheelchair skill I could. I have taken much pride in “doing it all by myself.” I wanted to work hard to be healthy and strong for my long-term health! I have always enjoyed being active and have enjoyed finding new activities from my wheelchair.

But…it is possible I just may have overdone it.

The past year…really well over a year now…I have had a lot of issues. My pain levels have been much higher, my spasms have been much more intense and more often, my fatigue was overwhelming and I have had much more trouble with my hands and arms…especially my left side. I am able to move but I am not able to do much with any sort of weight or resistance. I was doing adapted cross-fit at one time, I loved weight lifting…and honestly, I really struggle with just light therapy bands right now and even getting 3 pound weights over my head. It has been really frustrating!!

I am thankful for a good neurologist, a physical therapist who has expertise in seating systems, a neurological physical therapist who is working with me every week, and a personal friend who was a spinal cord rehab doctor before he retired. Together, everyone has come to the same conclusion…they think that I have overused my weaker muscles all these years and they have just sputtered out from being overworked. Bummer. I am still an incomplete. I am just much less incomplete. I still have much function to be thankful for!

In rare cases (about 2%), people with spinal cord injuries can develop a cyst or syrinx in their spinal cords in the area of the original damage that can cause loss of function over time. So, my neurologist just wants to make sure that is not what is going on and that is the reason for the MRI’s on my cervical and thoracic spine. He does not expect to find any problems, but to be safe, he wants to rule out the cyst or syrinx.

Things that have helped me function better lately….

  • Hasci Waiver. I swallowed my pride and applied for the HASCI (head and spinal cord injury) waiver. It gets me help in my home. My hubby and children have been absolutely wonderful for all these years, but I have needed much more help this past year and I don’t want that falling on them. Jimmy is a busy pastor and my kids are growing up and moving forward in their own lives. They love and adore me and would do anything in the world for me and never once have any of them every complained. So, this is something I can do FOR them! My friend Kattie Hallman, who has always been willing to help me in so many things already, asked for the job to be my attendant and I gladly agreed! Also, my daughter Briley is over 18 and is allowed to also be paid to be my attendant. Between Kattie and Briley, I get 40 hours a week of help. Kattie has been a huge help to continue to help me with therapy both at the house and in the pool, and she is a working machine with anything I need help with here at the house. Briley has been so wonderful to help with evening suppers and anything I need during the daytime or evenings. They both share in helping with my daily stretches (which take 30 minutes! Ugh!), but that is SO helpful to my spasms the rest of the day. I had just lost heart to ask my Jimmy to do this every day and take so much of his time. He is so happy to do it, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. So, it has been very helpful to be stretched again daily.

 

  • Baclofen. This muscle relaxant has helped me tremendously! I have not been on any meds long-term since I have been paralyzed. I was told early on by my neuro at the time to try to stay off all you can and I took that seriously! But, my spasms at night had gotten so intense, I was getting very little sleep and the pain the next day was keeping me in the bed more than out of it. So all of my medical team strongly recommended that I start a nightly dose to see if it would help. It has most definitely helped! I still have spasms, but they are not so violent and I am most certainly getting sleep now! I always wake up multiple times in the night and have to re-position because of pain, but I am able to go right back to sleep and that has been such a blessing.

 

  • A power chair. The seating specialist barely even allowed me to get a manual wheelchair. She was very concerned with the overuse that had already happened and I am not pushing with good dynamics anymore and so she gave me a one year probation to try a new manual chair. To this day, I am still only able to be in my manual chair about 4 hours without intense pain and discomfort which triggers spasms and the cycle just gets worse. So, I have to get out of my chair. A power chair was given to me and it has been wonderful. I will confess right now that it was once again a pride thing for me. Why? I have no clue. I do think in the disability world, there is a little bit of old school wheelchair philosophy that science and research has now proven wrong. The idea is that if you are able to use a manual chair at all…even if your body dynamics are awful…that you should do it. The old school thought…that I certainly bought into from peer mentors…was that if you don’t use what you have, you will lose it. There is truth that power chairs take less effort…no doubt about it! But…you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. I use a manual chair almost every day in my home. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to roll my chair on my smooth wood floors and I certainly don’t live in a mansion so I am not rolling miles a day in my home. However, let that flooring be carpet, or have a grade to it at all, or be a rougher uneven surface and that is another story altogether! I can’t keep my balance, it takes all my weaker upper body muscles to even push myself, and I can have some strength for a few minutes and then I totally tap out and I just can’t do it! The muscles won’t work. And in just a couple hours, I am SO exhausted I literally cannot even keep my eyes open, my entire body is burning and lightning bolts are jolting through me making my body do crazy things. So instead of getting exercise and movement in my manual chair, instead I am in it shorter times, which means I am in bed or not out and about enjoying my life. But in the power chair, I can go where I want with very little effort. I can tilt it back taking pressure off my backside which eases my pain. I can lift my legs up and keep swelling down and stretch out my legs when they start acting up. All of these things have enabled me to be out and about and enjoy my days so much better! It truly has helped my fatigue tremendously and my pain which has also helped calm my spasms down during the day. To me…pride can hit the road because the end result has been well worth it.

 

  • Physical Therapy. PT has brought back some emotions I haven’t felt in 9 years! When you are in PT, they isolate muscles and work on them. I don’t see every individual muscle in my upper body and how they work. I just know they aren’t working right. But when they isolate certain muscles and I am not allowed to overcompensate with other muscles, it really amplifies what I cannot do and that has been pretty emotional to me. I haven’t felt depressed. It is more like a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that is quickly followed by a sense of anxiety wondering if I will get any of this back or not. But…it has been good to get a good refresher, learn how to do some things a new way for where I am, and to be able to consistently work on things at home that can only help and not hurt me. They keep telling me that it is not the big quantity workouts that I need. It is the small and precise quality workouts that work specific things. The athlete in me has a very hard time wrapping my brain around this, and many times I feel like I am doing piddly squat in my therapy routines, but I am going to trust the professionals and just obey.

In conclusion, no matter what, I am going to be okay. When I start to get gripped with fear of my future, I remind myself of the truth of God’s Word and how He already has my days planned and that He doesn’t allow anything to come into my life that He has not carefully decided would be for my good. I can trust Him.

Sometimes, the struggles of a disability can be pretty lonely and it truly encourages my heart to be prayed for and so I truly appreciate your prayers for me and your love and care. It truly helps to know that my friends care enough to pray for me. Thank you!!