Suffering and Healing

Ten years go today I wrote this and it is still relevant today.

God gave you the honor not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for him, both of which bring glory to Christ. (Philippians 1:29, NCV)

Boy, there are some times when I feel like I am eye to eye with God and I ask Him, Why me? Why this? And there are other times when I tell him “thank you” for this road.

Someone recently asked me if I remember what it was like to be pain-free. Honestly, I don’t remember. It’s sad in a way. It’s like asking a blind man if he remembers what the color blue looked like. Sure, he has an idea, but after 25 years, your memory tends to get a little fuzzy.

Sure, I can imagine running. I can imagine no pain… but do I truly remember what life was like without these chains? It’s fuzzy.

I don’t mean that to say there are not times when I thank God for this illness. There are times it’s proved to be a ministering agent to someone who’s encountering a rough rocky road. It’s been a good first hand lesson to my children on how to be gracious and caring to someone in need. It’s tempered my marriage, and calmed my wild oats. It’s brought me to places I never would have gone. It’s driven me to the deep dark secret place where God stores his extra grace and mercies. It’s shown me a fraction of what Christ endured for me and you.

Today I sit ambivalent about the disease that plagues my body. I have hope. God has given me eternal hope, so I have no fear. I also have been given a chance at another kind of hope through a medication that could possibly turn this disease around. Not cure it… not by any means, but give me a chance at a different quality of life.

I hope for that.

I pray for that.

Not because I want to lose sight of the gifts God has given me through out this trial. Not because I think God is at all finished with me. Not because I’m not willing to suffer for Christs cause… but because I long for once to break free from these chains that bind me, to open up freely, to soar like an eagle with my kids and to be care-free physically, even if for a moment.

May God grant me that freedom. May God use that freedom not only to free me, but to free His word, His testimony.

May I be a bright beacon, no matter what.

On Being a Leaf in the Stream

Book contract is officially SIGNED!
    When my dear friend Vonda Skelton asked me to tag along to a writers conference she was speaking at – I had no idea what could be in store for me. I told her – “I plan to meet with no one. No editors, no authors. I’m here to just be a sponge. I don’t know what I don’t know.”
    I’ve written all my life. I have books still stored in my brain that have yet to be put on paper. I have written manuscripts that I’ve shown – nobody! All of those were swirling in my head as I was telling Vonda “I’m not going to tell anyone I’m a closet writer.” Essentially what I was saying though, was “I won’t be vulnerable.” I was saying “I’m not ready to put myself out there.” “I’m not willing to take the risk of feeling ashamed of my work.”
    The first day of the conference, the faculty was introduced, and I saw Michelle Adams. She wears a smile bigger than Texas. That along with her long blonde locks, knockout humor and gorgeous appearance would attract anyone. But, when they introduced Michelle, I didn’t see any of that. In a flash, I saw a picture of a monster I drew. The monster reminded me of a children’s story I wrote for art therapy trauma class.
    I thought “there isn’t any way I am showing that to her,” but I felt the nudge. You know the feeling, when you know you’re being lead to do something but it scares the daylights out of you. So my next thought was, “OK, I will follow this leading, I will show it to her. What do I have to lose?”
    So before I knew it, I was signing up for a fifteen minute slot to meet with Michelle and show her my story. At that moment, I was very brave. I was sure. As sure as the sun that I was to meet with her and toss this little manuscript her way. I was risking being vulnerable.
    That night, I opened up my iPad to find the story. I couldn’t find it. In a panic I searched my iPad, and then my Dropbox. I had to go back to the original class to find the PDF that housed the story and a few messy digital monster drawings.
    I read it and thought “this is awful!” The courage was gone. I began critiquing it, and had the urge to change it up. Then I heard “no, leave it.” So I did.
    When I woke up the next morning, I felt a rush of fear. I had told no one of my  5:00 appointment with Michelle, and began thinking of ways I could go by that sign-up table and scribble my name out so no one would know it was me. Then I resisted, “no, I felt lead, I’m going to do this!”
     Three o’clock came, and I had the same urge – to go scribble my name out so hard no one would know it was me. “No, I felt lead, I am going to do this” I told myself. I made myself stay in the conference area and not even walk by the room where the sign-up sheets were.
    Ten-till-five. I felt a wave of heat overcome me. Panic. “Oh no – not now!” I reminded myself to breathe. I began implementing the self-calming techniques I teach my clients. It’s easier to teach them than it is to practice them! I reminded myself that I felt lead to share this with her, to be myself, and whatever happens – happens.
    As Martha Beck taught me, it is freeing to be a “leaf in the stream.” The stream is Gods will, and the leaf floats on the stream, and doesn’t fight the current. The leaf knows that it is a waste of energy to fight the current, so it just floats where the will of God takes it.
    As I walked into the room where Michelle was I was chanting in my head “leaf in the stream… you felt lead to do this… just be yourself.. just be transparent and tell her what lead you to sign up.. be you, it’s OK… leaf in the stream.. be you…”
    I sat down in front of her and began blabbering about everything I’ve just told you. The feeling lead to talk with her. Seeing the illustration flash before my eyes. I told her I was a therapist, going to school for my second Master degree in art therapy, and on and on… leaf in the stream. I’m not even sure if I told her my name!
    She stopped me and asked to see the story. I handed her my iPad, and she read through it. She looked at me and said “This is good. You need to publish this!” In my excitement I began sharing with her my vision for this book, a series that parents and therapists can use to help children understand emotions. She was so pleasant, encouraging, and outright amazing. She gave me suggestions on how to improve the story, to show not tell, in the most sincere, gentle way.
    Michelle stopped for a moment, placed her hands flat on my iPad, looked up at me and asked “Would you illustrate my next book?” I was stunned. Leaf in the stream Cheryl, you were lead to this place.
    “Did you just say that?” I asked.
    “Yes!” She replied in her ever-so-cheery voice. “Yes I did.”
    “How can I say “no” to that?”
    We chatted a little bit more about exchanging contact info, and my time was up. I floated out of that room. I passed a woman I had met the night before who asked me who I just met with. I told her and she asked how it went. I told her “I think I just got an illustrating deal!” She was excited for me, but shared how nervous she was for her meeting with another author. I told her “be a leaf in the stream. Be yourself. You will do great!”
    I went outside and stood on the back deck of this facility and looked to the mountains. They were gorgeous and just sang in beauty. I was still floating.
    I can’t believe that just happened! I chanted. I can’t believe that just happened!
    But it did happen, and it never would have happened if I didn’t risk being vulnerable and resisted the possibility of being shamed. I followed the guidance of God. I was sure, and I followed.
    Who would have thought that I would go to my first writers conference and come home an illustrator? I began to think about all of the amazing authors that were there and how many of them could have been looking for an artist like me. I never thought to market myself as an illustrator at that conference. I was going to be a sponge, but was rewarded with becoming an illustrator.
    So, I signed the contract to illustrate “Little Angel Gets a Big Job”. I have a swift deadline. I have been called, and I will answer. I am but a leaf in the stream. Thank you Stream for calling me. Thank you Michelle for taking a risk on me – you will not be disappointed. Thank you Vonda for taking me to this conference. I will forever be grateful!
    Tell me, reader, do you have a leaf in the stream story? I’d love to hear it!

Self Care 101: The basics of how to provide yourself with what you need.

Self care. Whether you are a client, healthcare practioner, child, adult, man or woman, you need self care. Self care refers to those things that we do for ourselves that keep us healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. The problem with self care is that some fall into the trap that caring for ourselves makes us selfish. It is no selfish to provide for ourselves that which we provide for others on a daily and sometimes moment-to-moment basis.

My clients have heard this metaphor time and time again, but think of self care in this way:
When the air pressure of an aircraft drops and the oxygen masks drop, the passengers are instructed to first put the masks on themselves first before proceeding to put the mask on another who may not be able to do so for themselves. Is it selfish of the person to put the oxygen mask on themselves first?

The purpose of placing the mask on ourselves first is so that we are able to put the mask on others. If we do not take care of ourself first we will not be able to help the others who may need our help. In the same way, providing ourselves with self care is helping others.

Self care is not a selfish act, but a necessity. While working in hospice, I learned the importance of providing myself and my colleagues with self care opportunities. Sometimes it came in the form of group counseling, individual therapy, prayer, a painting class, meeting after work for dinner, and so on. We did that because of the stress level of our jobs. On a daily basis we talked illness, palliative care, and death. Many times we experienced first hand our clients graduating to the other side. Occasionally we were able to discharge patients because they got better. The roller coaster of emotions we experienced on a daily basis proves why working in hospice is such a high burnout career.

High burnout professions (not an exhaustive list by any means):
* Healthcare – Physicians, nurses, social workers, therapists, counselors
* Emergency response professions – EMT’s, Paramedics, Police, Fire Fighters
* Armed Services – Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, National Guard, Reserves
* Law – lawyers
* Teaching – Teachers, Principals, Professors
* Parenting – special needs children, single parenting, mental illness in families

If you are in any one of the professions listed above, then you need to be practicing self care. In the next blog post I will discuss the three areas of self care:
* Physical self care
* Emotional Self Care
* Spiritual self care

Until then, remember the importance of placing the oxygen mask on yourself first before placing it on others. What areas of your life do you attempt to place the mask on others first? Do you then find that you are unable to help because you don’t have the oxygen (or energy) you need to help them?