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Monday, 19 October 2015

What Hilary Duff, A Bank’s Billboard and Eight Influential People Have in Common

Ten years ago this month, I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. [NB. Basic explanation for those who don’t know – RA is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own joints thinking they’re foreign (like a virus would be), causing pain and swelling in the joints and pretty high levels of fatigue since the body’s in a continual battle with itself.]

To say that first year was tough seems like a vast understatement. Between the depression that settled in at the thought that I was stuck with this for life, the exhaustion of getting through every day, the frustration with my body for not doing what I wanted it to anymore and the nauseating/dizzying side effects of the high doses of medication my doctor had me on to get the disease under control – oh yeah, and the pain itself – I was a mess.

But in the midst of the mess, there were a few things that kept me going. Believe it or not, one of them was a billboard. I saw it on the way home from work every day, and every day, it gave me another desperately needed dose of hope.

It was for a bank and had a picture of a guy looking off into the horizon. To be honest, I have no idea what they were actually advertising, nor do I even remember which bank it was for, but the words changed my life. “In two years, he’ll start again.”

I felt, every time I saw it, like someone was saying that for me. Though the diagnosis had crushed the dreams I’d held for the future, that billboard gave me hope. Hope that, maybe, a year from now, I too might start again. Hope that maybe something good might come of my pain. Hope that maybe one day, life would be better. Just like fictional Mr Advertising Campaign’s life wasn’t over, neither was mine. I had hope and a future. I just had to get through that year.

Don’t give up. There is hope. You have a future. Make it through this and you’ll see. There’s light and hope and a reason. There’s more than the pain you see today. One day, you’ll start again – start smiling, start living, start giving. Where you are today is not the end. Don’t give up.  

I was reminded of the power of not giving up again last week as I spent five hours or so watching online presentations from Platform University’s Influence and Impact Summit – interviews with a bunch of writers who’d made a big difference in the/their world and how they’d gotten to that point. Though I only had time to watch eight of the twenty-four sessions available, I was really encouraged and inspired by them and learnt a lot.

Though each of the speakers had a vastly different story of how he or she had become the influence they are today, every single one of them said one thing the same:

The people who succeed in the longterm and have a lasting impact on others aren’t the ones who are the best at what they do or who aren’t afraid. They’re not even the ones with the most money or influential friends. They’re simply the ones who didn’t give up.

The wording might have been different but the message every one of those people of influence had was the same. Don’t give up. You’ll never know how close you might have been to succeeding.

I’ve come a long way in ten years when it comes to dealing with my RA. I’ve found medications that work and learned to look after myself and my joints and for the most part, I’m okay with it. But I still have days when I’m exhausted and in pain and just want to curl into a little ball and pretend the world doesn’t exist. Days when I’m tired of fighting and just want to give up.

Fortunately, though, they’re more rare these days because alongside the pain, I have something else – ten years of proof that I’m stronger than I feel, ten years worth of people I’ve had the chance to encourage and support because I have RA, and ten years of story after story of God’s faithfulness over and over again in my life. His provision, his care, his power, his incredible goodness. His faithfulness when I flail. His strength when I have nothing left. Because I know now that no matter what I am or how I feel, God is good.

And Hilary Duff? Where does she fit in?

She sang a song in a movie that was yet another thing that got me through that first year and convinced me to keep going. It’s played in my head hundreds of times since.

So I won’t give up
No I won’t break down
Sooner than it seems life turns around
And I will be strong
Even if it all goes wrong
When I’m standing in the dark I’ll still believe
Someone’s watching over me

Life is tough. You don’t have to have a chronic disease to know that. It seriously hurts some days. Or maybe it hurts every day. But God is good, and you have a future, even if you can’t see what it might be today. There is always hope.

Don’t give up.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Give Yourself Some Grace

I’m really good at being hard on myself. I think a lot of us probably are. My best is rarely good enough because I’m always wondering if somehow I could have given more/tried harder, even those days when I’m lying on the floor too exhausted to even get up. It never even occurred to me that this was a problem – until the day I spoke the same way to someone else.

It all started when one of my sisters put up an old family photo on Facebook. I had a look, had a laugh at how young we all looked, and commented on my complete lack of fashion sense to wear black school shoes and long white socks with that particular dress. And then I closed Facebook, thinking nothing more of it.

Hence, I was pretty confused the next time I checked Facebook to find my sister defending her fashion choices. Confusion quickly took the slippery slide of dread down to mortification as I looked at the photo again. The dress I’d commented on might have been a favourite of mine for a few years, but the person wearing it that day wasn’t me. It was my sister. I hadn’t actually looked at who was wearing the dress, just assumed – wrongly – that it was me, and laid down my judgement.

I immediately deleted the comment, apologizing profusely to my sister for being so rude. We laughed about it, and the various strange fashions we’d both had over the years. She was fine with it, but I still felt terrible. I’d been raised on the idea of life words (things that build people up) and death words (thing that tear people down), and those definitely hadn’t been life words.

But though the comment was deleted, and my sister had forgiven me, I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling of unease. I just couldn’t get past the thought that the same words I'd been happy enough to berate myself over, I’d immediately deleted - horrified to have spoken them - when I realized they were directed toward someone else.

And the worst thing was, it hadn’t even been that rude a comment. I’ve called myself far worse. I go out of my way to encourage others but I’m continually belittling myself. I give other people the benefit of the doubt, a hundred ‘second’ chances and find the best in them, but so rarely look for it in myself. I see the good in them, but only the worst in myself.

I wonder how much my life would change if I gave myself the same grace as I give others.

If, instead of berating myself over what a fool I’d been to forget something as obvious as the chicken in a chicken casserole, I rejoiced instead at the fact that my toilet-training daughter and I had both made it through the day without falling to pieces. 

If, instead of telling myself what an utter failure as a parent I was when I counted up the hours of TV my kids had watched one particularly bad day, I sat down on the couch alongside them, cuddling them in my arms as we laughed and watched the rest together. 

If, instead of ruining an entire day being angry and frustrated at myself, I looked instead to the promise of a new day tomorrow and a chance to start again. 

If, instead of reminding myself of all the ways I’d failed, I made a list of all the times I’ve soared.

What if, today, I gave myself some grace.

What if you did?

Stopped trying to be the perfect parent/spouse/fashionista/leader/pastor’s wife/child – and gave yourself the grace, and space, to just be yourself. To fail, to soar, to be tired, to be giddy with joy, to be human. To see, and value, yourself the way God does. 

What if, today, you gave yourself some grace?