We had a mighty wind storm over the weekend. The palm trees outside my window were bent all the way to 10 o’clock, and at times, I thought they might snap off! Rain fell in buckets, too, but it was the wind that was particularly remarkable – and made me think of this blog’s subject.
There are many times when we feel as if there’s a storm raging all around us. Perhaps family or work situations are in bad shape, or the physicality of living with a chronic illness has been so exhausting that daily living seems like a big battle. We might want to retreat at such times, curl up and close our eyes and wait for the storm to pass. And yet, one of the most helpful things we can do – something that I do – is to realize exactly what is happening, to watch the storm unfold, do what I must do about it, but all throughout, keep in touch with the calm, peaceful center within me that is keeping me completely safe, enveloped in God’s care and love.
To get wrapped up in fear means that we don’t have much room in our thoughts and feelings for allowing God’s compassion to touch us. But with one eye on the storm and our hearts fixed on God’s love within, all the bluster in the world won’t roil us – and it, like all of life’s many storms, will eventually pass by.
During the Christmas holiday, I happened to meet a fellow traveler who was returning from a brief trip. He explained that he had a young family and hd been thinking for quite some time about moving out of state, to another place where he felt he and his family would have better educational and career opportunities. Rather than pick up stakes immediately, however, he had decided to take the time and money to invest a bit in the idea. He had taken time off of work to go to the “greener place” and look at housing, job opportunities, and school options way before physically subjecting the rest of his family to the move.
What a good idea!
I told him that he was being smart, to which he said, “I hope so.” Clearly, it was daunting to think of leaving the place where he had lived all of his life (and moving his wife and children, too). But he was also being caring and careful – qualitites that set him apart from many who might just think, “I’m sure life is better over there, so I’m just going to move there.”
Sometimes, when we get frustrated with the medical care we receive, or the lifestyle that our surrounding area provides, we might also think, “It has to be better [fill in the location blank].” Some of us might actually move there, too. But the example of my fellow traveler is a good one for anyone who might be considering a drastic change of location: Know before you go!
Changing doctors might not be as easy as you might think, especially with insurance considerations. In fact, insurance changes might not be seamless, either – another aspect of moving that is better to be tended to before the boxes and van depart. A faithful support system is another aspect of life that should not be discarded merely on a whim (but moving to someplace where there is a good support system, for example, closer to caring family members, might be a perfect solution to an imperfect situation where you are, now).
More of life is becoming fluid across state borders. National pharmacies, insurance policies, and other tools of our health lives are making it easier to move from one end of the country to another – or in between. But even so, being smart about moving can make the difference between a good course of action and one that, a few months afterward, leaves us thinking, “Oh, my, it was so much better back where I was before!”
When we work, a mentor can be a valuable ally as well as someone who steers us when we might be heading in the wrong direction. A spiritual mentor (or spiritual director) can be a wealth of wisdom and guidance, especially when life gets murky. And a mentor who has lived longer with the illness from which we suffer can be a tremendous support, too, a light for us when we might think all is darkness.
An illness mentor isn’t a doctor to us; we still need to work first with our medical team to manage our treatment, diagnoses, tests, and lifestyle issues impacted by our health challenges. But an illness mentor still fills an essential role in providing encouragement, a shoulder to cry on (yes, this is part of the journey!) and someone whose own life path can provide insight into how we, too, can “have a life” even if it is punctuated by frustrating and derailing symptoms.
I met my treasured illness mentor, who is now a great friend, at my first lupus support group meeting. Her humor, knowledge, and common sense approach to the disease was greatly steadying after I’d gone through my first gauntlet of specialists and website “information hubs,” which were unsettling (to say the least). Through the years, my mentor has been a rock of support and a source of humor and strength – an essential part of my life then and now.
It might take a few tries to find the right fit with an illness mentor. And it’s important to remember that he or she also is dealing with tough health issues, so at times, we will (and willingly) be support right back! But life with illness is greatly enhancesd by a mentor who has “been there, done that,” and can shine a light for us, even when it seems very, very dark indeed!
I wish I’d had my camera!
Our area was pummelled by significant rain and wind last week, and in some places, there was flooding and even a suspected tornado! But in the aftermath, when the sun poked out from the receding clouds, oh, my, what a glory of light and clean air! It was wonderful, and very nice to be outside in the aftermath. But as I drove to the corner of my block and looked to the left, I saw a scary scene: A huge tree had toppled, its multiple branches and broad trunk spanned the street, blocking any traffic.
And, beneath the thickest part of the trunk was a car, its top utterly smashed.
This is the second such tree-fall after a storm in our neighborhood. And it is, I’m sure, scientifically indicative of the effects of a drought and then torrential rains – trees starved for water and then the ground in which they grow suddenly becomes mush and roots can no longer provide an anchor for the dry, weak growth above.
But it also is a metaphor for something that often happens when we’ve just endured a very rough time with our illness or pain. When a catastrophic period occurs, we cling to God, hope, prayer, and other supports to get us through. But in the calm afterwards, sometimes we let go of those supports, perhaps thinking we only needed them in the middle of the storm. And we learn, as we begin to stumble again, that those are the very things on which we must rely at all times, in all “seasons,” rain or shine.
Thankfully, no one was hurt by the tumble of the tree. Oh, yes, it snarled traffic and certainly provided a challenge for clean-up of car and street. But now, life continues and traffic flows.
But the reminder of what can happen in the aftermath of a storm is a good one: Keep our roots planted in faith always, and even if the ground becomes movable, we will stand firm!