Feeling Guilty?

Feelings of guilt of things we cannot control are the devil's device for stealing our joy. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-GEIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from cancer, it’s that guilt won’t cure it. I’ve also realized that there’s nothing like a pregnancy or a bad illness to bring out the loads of advice from well-meaning friends, family and strangers. The important thing is to understand where the guilt comes from and know what to do with it.

Guilt comes in two flavors—justified (as in you do something wrong or hurt someone and your conscience alerts you to the fact that you’ve done wrong) and unjustified. The unjustified guilt unreasonably pokes and prods you and prevents you from finding peace.

Unreasonable guilt can pop up at any time. For example, I feel badly if I refuse a fitness tip from my Wii fitness cartoon when I’m in a hurry and want to skip straight to the exercising. Unreasonable, I know. The cartoon doesn’t really care if I follow through with its advice.

Of course, when disaster strikes, real people come out of the woodwork to offer their solutions. That’s what happened to me when my husband had cancer. I wanted to please everyone. The trauma of the situation set up an internal dialogue system whereby I would suppress my initial reaction—yet feel guilty if I didn’t take the advice. After all, those who gave the advice had good intentions.

Looking back, I see that I let everyone’s shoulds and coulds practically squash the life out of me.

“Pedro should seek treatment in Cuba, there’s an amazing shark cartilage cure that they’re doing there that I saw on 60 Minutes.”

Well, I wouldn’t mind visiting Cuba, but Pedro has no desire to hang out there as long as there’s a Castro on the throne. But I felt badly about turning down well-meaning advice and researched an article or two about Cuba’s cancer treatment programs.

“I recommend the all-raw diet. Juice everything, cook nothing, and he’ll be fit as can be in just two months.”

Um, he might be dead in two months. He has stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—it grows rather quickly! But I couldn’t help promising to check out juicers.

“Pedro needs to get admitted to the local hospital in Dallas. They have an excellent cancer center, and we’d be able to help him out when he’s not in the hospital. You could stay in Montana and not worry about a thing.”

Not worry? When I’m separated by thousands of miles from my husband? We need to be close to each other in order to survive this. I don’t care if your hospital made U.S. News and World Reports’ top ten list. That’s just too far away. But I did research that hospital.

“My aunt’s ex-husband’s sister-in-law’s neighbor found a cancer cure in Baja, Mexico. Pedro should go down there.”

I’m happy for your aunt’s ex-husband’s sister-in-law’s neighbor. But, no. Of course, I couldn’t help looking at the website, though.

“Why did you let THAT person visit Pedro? Pedro’s neutropenic!”

THAT person happens to be a friend who traveled thousands of miles just to let us know that he cared. Wait a minute! Whose cancer is this? But I did start wasting Pedro’s valuable energy consulting him about visitors.

“You know, the nurses don’t like you. They say you’re pushy and rude and don’t let them do their jobs. Why don’t you just chill?”

Really? And here I thought I sat quietly in the corner, only asking the occasional question when I didn’t understand what they were doing. I keeping Pedro’s spirits up and walking with him and helping him eat will help with his recovery. I must be living a double life. But of course I turned my internal behavior monitor up a notch—eager to prove that I could act as the model family-member-in-the-room.

I’m sure you’ve suffered like this, too, with a litany of ‘you should’ and ‘you ought’ aimed your way. They pile up and threaten to drown you, because you probably already have a fair amount of self-imposed guilt weighing you down.

But I discovered something important. Just like there are two flavors of guilt, there are two places that guilt comes from. Justified guilt comes from the whisper of the Holy Spirit, and the intent is always to bring us back into a right relationship with God.

Unjustified guilt comes from the devil and he uses it to burden us and take our focus off the One who offers peace. (tweet this)

Both types of guilt require work, though—but we don’t have to work alone in either situation. For the justifiable guilt, God wants us to come before him in faith with a repentant, sincere heart. Not only will he forgive us (1 John 1:9), but he’ll cleanse our guilty conscience as well (Heb. 10:22).

The second kind of guilt—that feeling of regret, remorse or inadequacy—requires a different kind of work. First, we need to recognize it for what it is—an attack by the deceiver. Second, we need to put the devil in his place in the name of Jesus. (Mark 8:33). Third, we need to train our minds to remember that the ‘you shoulds’ and the ‘you ought tos’ are merely suggestions.

In retrospect, I can see that my guilt and consequent actions were misplaced. Those should statements* made me feel inadequate and guilty because I worried that if I didn’t do what someone suggested, I might mess things up and Pedro would never get better. See how tricky satan is? At no point in Pedro’s cancer journey was his prognosis or healing in my hands. It never depended on me. I am not God.

When someone makes a suggestion prefaced by ‘you should’ or ‘you ought to’ or ‘you could’, simply ask yourself, “Do I want to do this?” If the answer is, “Yes, it sounds wonderful!” smile and ask the person for more information.

If the answer is, “No! Are you kidding me?” smile and politely reply, “Thank you for the suggestion.” By calling it a suggestion, you subtly remind the person that what they are offering is simply a suggestion and you have no obligation to follow through or actually do what they suggest.

God doesn’t want our view of him fouled by false humility and misplaced guilt. When we’re justifiably guilty, we need to make it right with him. When we’re unjustifiably guilty, we need to ask for God’s help to banish the insinuations of the devil and train ourselves to tackle the shoulds and oughts in an appropriate manner.

Remember that feelings of guilt over things we cannot control are the devil’s device for stealing our joy. tweet this

*Dr. David D. Burns, in his excellent book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy points out that should statements are cognitive distortions. He offers excellent suggestions for dealing with the debilitating habit of should statements.

A Letter to Caregivers

A letter to #caregivers.  You need to read this. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-FR via @caregivermomDear Caregiver Friend:

I’m sending you this letter because I used to send letters. I used to do a lot of things…

I used to be a great aunt. Well, I’m a great-aunt now, but I used to be a great aunt. I sent post cards and birthday cards and letters. I remembered birthdays and celebrated with my nieces and nephews when they accomplished something. I used to be a great sister too. I sent multiple choice and fill-in-the blank letters to my sister who didn’t write much so she could return mail easily. It was a joke between us. I used to be a great friend. I remembered birthdays, sent notes of encouragement and often corresponded with far-away friends.

I’m afraid my nieces and nephews don’t even remember those far away days. If someone were to send me a multiple-choice letter now, it probably wouldn’t get returned. The last time I wrote a letter to a friend? Well, maybe that was back in 2002? I remember birthdays if Facebook sends me a notification. Notes of encouragement might be dashed off, but usually I just write “praying” under someone’s prayer request. And general correspondence? It does not happen. Ever.

I realize that our culture has changed with emails, Facebook, twitter and texting. But I’ve changed more.

When our son was diagnosed with leukemia, our world, by necessity, shrank to the 4 walls of the hospital room where he resided. On a good day it involved the hospital corridors where we could walk and on a highlighted day I could run to the store while someone stayed with my boy. Treatment protocol lasted three and a half years and in the process of keeping my head above water, I completely forgot how to write. I forgot birthdays. I forgot to celebrate successes and I lost touch with friends and even family. I forget a lot of things!

I carry a lot of guilt for that. Don’t do that, my friend.

Let that guilt go. Caregivers have a LOT to deal with and it’s real and it’s every day and it’s a fight. Go ahead. Deal with the emergencies. Your brain can only handle so much (If you don’t believe me, read all about Chemo-brain by Proxy) and it’s not meant to handle more. Handle what you can and let go of those other things. You can’t be great at everything when you’re working so hard to be a great caregiver.

So I’m sending you this letter. It’s a celebration for me. After 10 years of being a cancer caregiver and crazy mom – I had an urge to write a letter.

Quick, I have to push send before I forget!

Ready to Rest Under His Wings

Underhiswings

I’m ready, Lord, to throw in the towel.
You know how caregiving
weighs on my soul.

You know how often I try to
provide the cure and
not just the care.

You know how I enter hyper-super-warp
speed overthinking of every detail
when disaster strikes.

Help me to remember that
you have me covered
with your mighty
wings.

You stand ready,
waiting for me to say,
“Do, Lord, do it all!”

You wait for me to relinquish my
spot as superhero (I never really had
it to begin with), supermom (I have no
claim to that one either) and superChristian
(nope, that one doesn’t apply, either)

I can’t solve the world’s problems.
I can’t solve my students’ problems.
I can’t solve my friends’ problems.
I can’t solve my family’s problems.
I can’t even solve my own problems.

I’m ready, Lord. So I’ll stand still
and stretch out my limbs and
luxuriate in the assurance that
I’m under your wings.

I’m joining Kate Motaung and other brave bloggers for Five-Minute Friday.  You can find the details and join us by clicking here!

You Can’t Cure Anyone

youaren'tthecureDear Friend,

The weight of anxiety over a friend or loved one who needs your care may have pressed the last dredges of flavor from your life. You may find the strangest things make you cry (coffee commercials, for example) at the oddest times (during a staff meeting).

You may shake your head (or your fist) in frustration over circumstances—the glacial movement of insurance company decisions or the light years it takes to schedule an appointment with a specialist when the one you care for needs help YESTERDAY.

You might wake up each morning filled with self-blame because NOTHING you seem to do makes any apparent difference in the life of the one you love. The plumped pillows, folded laundry, rides to appointments, phone calls made—none of them seem to matter to the one you slavishly pour yourself out for. If only you tried harder, you think, my friend or loved one wouldn’t be in this condition.

Or perhaps you’ve given advice to a girlfriend in crisis—and she never seems to take it and always lands back in the same crisis. Over. And. Over. Again. You might find yourself reacting with impatience to yet another plaintive plea for advice from a hurting friend. If only my friend or loved on tried harder, you may think, he or she would be well by now.

And so you suffer in silence because you either aren’t doing enough, or the one you care for doesn’t do enough—whatever the case, you feel worn out, frazzled, at your wit’s end.

Jesus offers rest for your weary soul. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). (more…)

Why It Took Me 14 Years to Climb a Mountain

right for others
Standing on the top of a mountain called Craig’s Lookout, I felt triumphant, proud and, for the first time in years, I felt like ME.

Craig’s Lookout is not like Pike’s Peak or anything famous. It’s not even all that amazingly steep, nor dangerous, nor high. It only took me one hour and five minutes to hike up and 45 minutes to get back down. Not a big deal to some; it’s just a mountain behind the school where I once lived and taught. It’s just a mountain I’ve wanted to climb for 14 years.

I had heard about Craig’s Lookout for years from my husband who hiked it many times throughout his childhood. When we moved to that school I told myself I would climb up there, but I had a hefty newborn, a toddler and a five-year-old and taking that little troupe up steep hills and across a ravine with a large drop-off just didn’t sit well with this mama. Then, around the time that hefty and healthy baby could climb too, leukemia struck him.

I dropped everything to become a caregiver mom.

Actually, that’s not true.

I was still a mom to three children. I was still a teacher. I was still the wife of a busy principal of a boarding school. I was still the Sabbath School teacher for the cradle roll division. We still had students over to our house (when we could) and staff parties to host. And I was the main caregiver to a neutropenic, restless and hurting, leukemia-ridden precious four-year-old. His treatment protocol lasted three and a half years.

Climbing mountains was not on my agenda.

In fact, I was not on my agenda. (more…)

God Isn’t Late

God Isn't Late
Each week a flash-mob of writers gather and exercise their writing muscles by writing for five minutes of a prompt that Lisa-Jo Baker chooses. We write for five minutes and then hit ‘publish’ without overthinking or editing. Join us! This week’s Five-Minute Friday prompt? Begin

Tomorrow a new school year will begin. I don’t feel ready. I’ve only been home since 3:30 this morning and so many questions hang in the air—the answers just out of reach like a sun-kissed sheet flapping on the clothesline when your arms already hold more than you can carry.

Fortunately, students won’t arrive on campus until August 11—so I have time to deep clean my classroom (it probably has a fine red dust coating everything), make lesson plans and prepare syllabi for the classes I’ll have in just over a week.

If I’ve learned anything this summer, it’s this: life doesn’t move according to my whims and specifications. When I see someone I love hurting, I want to run them to the doctor and get things fixed. But life—and the medical community—doesn’t operate that way.

The helpless feelings from when my husband first received his cancer diagnosis 12 years ago keep resurfacing as I try to help my friend navigate and negotiate the health care labyrinth. In between each frantic phone call and disappointing dialogue with yet another right hand that doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, I remember to breath.

The summer has gone its own crazy direction—like a kite in the wind—and I feel like I’ve been running along below, trying to keep up. I didn’t meet my exercise goals for the summer, and my time with God has consisted of a prayer journal and the ‘verse of the day’ from my Bible app.

But those verses always seem hand picked for ME. Each one has provided the bright light and beauty that pour in at unexpected times as I travel through what seems like a dark tunnel. The words of God truly are a lamp that keeps my journey from utter darkness.

Just this morning, I pondered a verse from 2 Peter 3:9. “God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness…He’s giving everyone space and time to change.” These words shine into my tunnel and illuminate my fears and my need for control for what they are—a lack of trust.

My job is not to change people, the medical insurance industry, the level of care for a friend because ‘I know them better than a doctor does’. My job is to do my part while breathing in the Word and breathing out love.

I trust. He works. I wait. His timing is perfect. (click to tweet)

And so although I feel inadequately prepared to begin a new school year—to focus on my students and all that they need, I know it’s all a matter of trust. I set aside my emotions of fear (what if my friend never gets the help they need?), of blame (why didn’t I see my friend’s need sooner?) and control (there’s a difference between advocacy and being obnoxious and rude).

Do I trust the creator of the universe and his timing? I must. For without Him, I know I would never have the strength to begin.

Feeling Dismal? You Are Not Alone

Jesus felt your painDear Friend,

I know the day seems dismal and dreary despite the summer sun shining brightly outside your window. I know that each breath requires a herculean effort and retreat into a dark hole seems like the only option.

I know how difficult you find it to text, to call, to reach out through your fog and find a friend (after all, you think you don’t deserve friendship). I understand your resistance when friends try to force themselves and their opinions on you and what you should do.  You think you are unworthy and unhelpable and no one has ever felt like you feel right now.

The crisis you find yourself in is deeper than a spiritual crisis (although we pray daily that the Shepherd will guide you towards the help you need). Do not feel guilty because your ‘faith isn’t strong enough.’

Do not attempt to heal yourself—that’s like telling a cancer patient to cut out his own tumor or just pray it away. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking the professional help that could start you on your journey to wholeness.

Depression manifests itself in many ways—physical illness, impulsive eating, emotional outburst or lack of feeling. Cancer manifests itself in many ways, too. You can’t cure either one on your own.

There is no shame in admitting that you need help. There is no shame in taking medication or participating in counseling or even going to a hospital. Do whatever it takes to discover the causes of your condition. Explore the treatments and the healing and embrace them wholeheartedly.

And just as I pray for my friends that face cancer, know that I hold you up in prayer as well. I have a friend who felt just like you do.

Jesus suffered the same darkness that you experience. “Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” (Mark 14:32-34, The Message).

And so I will keep vigil with you.  You do not suffer alone. Jesus knows your burden. (tweet this)

He will guide you to the help that you need. Embrace the help that he offers.

You are not alone. Ever.

 

Linking up with Kaitlyn Bouchillon and other encouragers.

Exhale and Consider the Joy

exhaleYou want me to call THIS pure joy? I exhale—breathe deeply and try to explain to the sympathetic voice on the line what has led me to make this phone call. I’m thousands of miles away from home and everything seems off kilter.

Another trial stares me in the face and I don’t feel ready for it. Can’t cancer be enough (granted, that trial ended in a miracle ten years ago—but I don’t feel ready to face another trial of any kind).

The words of James pop into my mind again, forcing me to check my Bible to see if I remembered it right just as soon as I finish my phone conversation.

It’s there. In black and white–heavily marked, underlined, color-coded and commented on. James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV).

The Message says to think about those challenges that rush in from every side as a sheer GIFT. A gift that will help me define myself in my Savior.

I KNOW that with Jesus in the vessel, I can smile at the storm. I KNOW that I can lean back and release all of my fears and worries to my Savior. I KNOW these things.

I had conveniently forgotten that when tests and challenges come at me from all sides, I should feel JOY(click to tweet)

And so I exhale again. This time I try to exhale joyfully. I am not in control. Yes, I might face challenges of many kinds—but if I can revel in the power of a squall on the ocean, I can certainly revel in the power of my God in action as he works everything out in his time. I wait. I exhale my frustrations and worries and sheer panic. I inhale the promises, the assurance, the joy.

I’m joining Lisa-Jo Baker and other fantabulous bloggers for Five-Minute Friday. Our prompt this week? Exhale. Grand your pen and paper and start to write–you can do it!

Don’t Be Like Me. Get Help!

pricklypear

I’ve been there, friend. I’ve lived with the “why-do-I-even-have-to-get-out-of-bed-today” mornings that pressed me into the mattress and made the down comforter feel like a lead blanket.

Sleep seemed like the perfect alternative to facing a day filled with rejection and crushed hopes and the quotidian routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat.

My guilt had guilt babies. Pedro had experienced a miraculous recovery from cancer, and instead of rejoicing, all I wanted to do was sleep.

I felt traumatized without the trauma. The hospital co-pays and credit card bills stretched like an endless river that we would never find the headwaters of (even with excellent insurance, travel expenses, hotel rooms and food away from home all add up).

Because of the debt, I took on a second job—and discovered that despite the brainless nature of the work, the supervisor and other employees made me feel needed and appreciated. Which made me even more bleak—because I’d invested so much of my life and time into my teaching job that to no longer teach at the school I loved seemed unthinkable. (more…)

{fmf} Paint

Join us at Lisa-Jo Baker’s for Five-Minute Friday, where we receive a prompt and write for just five minutes and then hit publish before we overthink or over edit–it’s exercise, after all  ;).
Carol Bovee
With a flick of his head
Hair flops to the side
And settles back over downcast eyes
Slouching on past the group by the locker
Hiding pain behind the stroke
Of his swag

With a grimace of lips
Pulled back from white teeth
Faintly resembling what once was a smile
“How are you?” receives the requisite, “Fine!”
Masking loneliness with the brush
Of pretense

With a trembling “I can do it myself”
veined hands grip the walker
Marching painfully on toward
The smell of old people, potatoes and coffee
Denying frailty with a perfected dab
Of pride

With a narrowed ice glare
Words shoot across time
“Why don’t you trust me, I’m not stupid”
Ducking into the car filled with laughter and hormones
Fighting for independence with a roller full
Of ignorance

With a palate of paint, a person the canvas
Brushing and dabbing, scraping and shading
Choose the direction that life has to take:
Carefully cover unwelcome truth
or thoughtfully create a masterpiece
of beauty and love.

 

 
Five Minute Friday