Just a note to you from me, full of gratitude! May you and your families and communities be graced with every good gift that comes from our bountiful and merciful Father.
And may this Advent Season be a time of inner growth and external light – a beautiful and powerful combination to nurture even greater faith for the weeks ahead!
Families are wonderful gifts from God. We need our beloved relatives, however they are related to us and wherever they may be. But sometimes, family relationships can be strained, and holiday time is prime fight time – when family members gather from far and near, and old wounds get reopened (or new ones inflicted).
There are as many reasons for family fights as there are members in a clan. But two of the feuds that can be connected with chronic illness or pain are often over favoritism and fallacy. Favoritism, because sometimes the person with chronic illness might get more attention than other family members, and this can stir up rivalries and resentment. Fallacy, because often a person with chronic illness or pain does not look sick, and others might have a very difficult time believing that he or she cannot run outside and build a snowman, mind a baby that has a bad cold, or do other “heavy lifting” that healthy people might be expected to do.
Favoritism can be tough to get around. If a family member has a very serious health condition, he or she might very well take up a lot of the attention of other family members. Being hospitalized or confined to rehab at the holidays might require moving the party from home to the healthcare facility, or postponing the party until later, when everyone can participate. I think the most successful situations I’ve witnessed involve caring family support and a “sick” person who understands that he or she must also be as caring as possible, encouraging others to take time for themselves and the other members of the family, and emphasizing the charity that is inherent in the Christmas season. This requires inner grace on the part of the person with chronic illness, and it also requires true and compassionate communication. But it can be a good way to diffuse the resentment others might feel, and bring some peace to the sufferer, too.
Fallacy is also difficult to resolve, but for another reason: I’ve found that those who doubt someone is “really” sick will often not believe it even if they sat down with the patient’s physician and had a long consultation. Some people will just never get it. And for those of us on the other side, the side where illness and pain are stark realities, the best we can do is pray for the doubters and keep to our health regimen, as prescribed by our physicians. It’s never a good idea to sacrifice yourself and your health just because others around think you’re making up your illness and the restrictions it poses on you. I’ve turned down invitations because I knew that the party environment would not be healthful for me, and I’ve refrained from imbibing and other activities because I know that even holiday cheer can cause longer-term problems.
As people who carry significant health burdens, we need to look at the holiday time as a period of light, joy, comfort and renewal of spirit. It’s all right to say “no” to others who would take these graces away. And it’s all right to try to build bridges of peace by entering into the give and take of truly nourishing family relationships. Above all, it’s all right to be good to ourselves and others – now and throughout the new year to come.
If you have a chronic illness and you will be traveling at the holidays, you might want to reflect on the theme for this year before you go: Mercy.
We are nearing the end of what Pope Francis declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy. You might have participated in activities related to practicing works of mercy, either with and for yourself or others. Now comes one of the most difficult arenas for finding and bringing mercy: The road.
Whether you will be driving, flying, or taking the train or bus to your destination, the journey will undoubtedly have some difficulty. Time will wear thin. Pain might flare. Traveling companions might develop short tempers. Utter strangers might erupt with anger. Someone, somewhere might very well irritate you to the point of snapping back, and all thought of mercy will evaporate like the trail from the engine of a jet.
There are a few ways to preserve mercy on the road:
- Allow ample time to get from point A to point B. Rushing around in a perpetual state of frenzy is a sure way to allow temper to flare and mercy to vanish.
- Keep mercy in mind. Consciously ask, “What act of mercy can I do right here, right now?” Then do it. Or, be mindfully grateful for the little things that others mercifully do. Then express the gratitude
- Be organized. Travel is best when it is very well-organized. Boarding passes, maps, fully-charged phones – these are some of the things to gather in advance and place where you can readily grab them, if and when you need them.
- Pray. Constantly. Prayer is our connection with God. If we are praying, we are less likely to deviate from His goodness and forget His mercy.
- Ask for accommodation. Use that word, “accommodation,” when you need assistance from railway, bus, or airport personnel. Know what you need so you can ask for it and obtain it.
- Observe the world. See all that God has made that is good. Appreciate that you are traveling in this wonderful world that God has made. Many people do not have this privilege, but you do. Even with your illness, God is looking upon you mercifully. Remain open to His love as you accept His wonderful gift.
Holidays are here?!
It might seem as if Christmas has already happened and New Year’s Eve is right around the corner. But although it seems as if we are in holiday mode externally, if you’re like me and have myriad health-related issues to juggle, even Thanksgiving might still feel like it’s a long way off inside, in the heart, where holidays really matter.
So, I thought I’d offer a few suggestions for getting ready for this upcoming cycle of festivities,. From the practical to the prayerful, these are:
- Begin right now to carve out a few more moments in your day to sit quietly and relax. Breathe deeply, exhaling angst and restiveness.
- Look at your calendar and mark the dates you know you’ll be busy with something festive, doctors’ appointments, or other responsibilities and then also mark in time to rest up beforehand and afterward. Doing this can help ease the feeling of exhaustion that sometimes comes with “doing” the holidays.
- Consider intangible gifts that you can give to those whom you love. Chronic illness is expensive, and you might need most of your resources for bills related to it. So, think of ways you can give of yourself, your time, your attention. These matter, too!
- Limit distractions so you can truly contemplate the Season. Yes, catalogs can be entertaining. But they’re not really fulfilling! Try reading a Christmas story or two instead!
- Make decorating easy on yourself. Do only what you can. For the rest, decorate your heart with comfort, joy, and peace.
I hope these suggestions help as you move into the holidays! I’m with you all the way,