Finding hope in the story you didn't want

 

Unexpected. That sums up so much of life, doesn't it? It seems we are always doing and planning, and then life shifts and we find ourselves unexpectedly changing course.

Sometimes these changes in course are the very things we've always wanted. Other times, these course changes hand you the blank pages to a story you didn't want to write. 

That's where I am. The day before New Year's Eve I found myself sitting in a specialist's office, staring at posters explaining joint damage, complications, and medications. At 26 years old, it just didn't feel right to be there. The doctor knocked and I braced myself hoping for the best, but knowing what was coming. 

I had spent the 7 months prior in a lot of pain. It started in an ankle, and I thought I twisted it playing with the kids. Then it moved to a shoulder and I thought I must have torn my rotator cuff. I had painted our entire house as we prepared to sell it and move to another state after all. Then one morning I woke up to crippling pain in my knees for no reason . . . and my hubby and I knew something was not right. 

In the following months we listed our house, sold it, moved 1,000 miles, and moved into a new home. All the while every morning contained the exciting {or not lol} adventure of discovering what tendons or joints would hurt that day. Some days were good, others left me in a lot of pain. 

After we settled I set about getting to the bottom of all the pain. My new doctor ordered bloodwork, the results of which won me a trip to a rheumatologist who had in turn ordered more tests. I already knew the results of those tests as I waited for his knock on the door that morning and I knew what to expect. And it's a good thing too because he announced the diagnosis with all the eloquence, tenderness, and grace of a tantruming toddler:

"You have rheumatoid arthritis. It's a crippling disease."

"Happy new year to you too!" I thought to myself. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease in which the immune system begins attacking the joints causing inflammation, swelling, and lots of pain. Over time, it can permanently damage and disfigure the joints it effects, as well as damage internal organs. There is no cure.

And so I find myself staring at the blank pages of a story I didn't want to write. 

In honesty, it is still raw. I freely admit there have been a lot of tears, overwhelm, and grief. As I sit here typing, my hand hurts as though it is severely, deeply bruised. This reality is inescapable.  

I'm angry with this uninvited, unwelcome guest in our lives and at what it has already cost me and my family. I'm a work-hard-get-it-done-now kinda gal. When I have a goal I work hard and fast to get it done. RA has already forced me to take a much slower pace and it goes against everything I've ever been. I hate that I often wince in pain as I pick up my boys. I hate that I snap when they innocently move in a way that causes me intense pain. I hate the uncertainty. I hate weighing the scary risks of medication with the scary risks of the disease. And it's a gut-punch to know that this isn't likely to get better.

Don't get me wrong, I know the Lord heals miraculously, I've seen it! But I also know that sometimes He leads us through. We aren't promised an easy life or a "get out of trials free" card. And I know sometimes He also comes closest as we walk through together. 

So in the day-to-day dealing with a story you didn't want, how do you keep up hope? Not a fake smile or a stubborn refusal to deal with reality, but a true soul-anchoring, deep hope?

Finding hope in the story you didn't want to write

We open our eyes

There are moments of grief, anger, discouragement, sometimes even agony when life takes an unexpected turn. In those moments of overwhelm it's so difficult to choose to look towards the blessings.  I'm not thrilled about living with RA, but I can choose to look at the ways God has already led, provided, and cared for us.

I love the stories in the Old Testament where the Lord commands the people to set up a pillar or an altar (such as here) as a visual reminder to them of what He had done. In my journal I designated certain pages as "Pillars" where I write things I know the Lord has worked on our behalf. Tracing God's hand through the past gives us hope that He is also in the present and will be in the future. Whatever the problem, He is and will always be the solution.

Take it one day at a time

In all honesty, the big picture is far too much for me to handle right now. I just can't think about it all and all the potential outcomes without panic or despair setting in. But the good news is I'm not supposed to think about all that anyway! Throughout Scripture we are told over and over again not to fear or worry about tomorrow. And so I'm learning more deeply what it means to take life one day at a time. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but He does and He will be there. 

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
— John 14:27

Find an anchor point

Our minds wander. The emotions become overwhelming. We loose our way. That's why it's so important when trials and the unexpected come to have an anchor point--something to pull us back. Something to steady our souls and lead us back to the One who loves us deeper than we know. For me, anchor points come in the form of music, a sunset, the night sky, or a verse of scripture like John 14:27. When the overwhelm hits, these are the things I intentionally turn to in order to center my focus back on Jesus rather than the storm.

In most struggles, the Lord has given me a song or songs for that season. At present, He Knows by Jeremy Camp and It is Well from Bethel Music minister deeply to me.  When I'm struggling, I play these over and over and over and shift my focus off the struggle and onto Christ. 

There is also something about a sunset that quiets my soul and the vastness of the night sky that inspire awe of my Creator. At the end of the day, these are visual anchor points that remind me to trust in Him, no matter what the day held, or what tomorrow may bring.

Walk through the emotions

We would never experience the beauty of a sunrise without the darkness of the night. Sometimes, life is hard and it's dark. We don't do ourselves any favors by pretending we are not effected by a fallen world and sometimes it sucks. I've had to learn, and I'm still learning, that God can take my emotions. That it's ok to work through them with Him and surrender what remains to Him. We must face reality in order to truly place our hope in Him.

Find laughter

I love laughter. And I love finding something stupid to laugh about in situations that shouldn't be funny. Yes, it's strange but I laugh about my doctor's blunt diagnosis. And I had to snicker a little when the nurse took it a step further and told me it was good we caught the RA before it  caused joint damage and hopefully we can keep it from making my hands "look gross". The appalling bluntness just makes me laugh!

Last week I hurt my knee and spent most of the day limping. The cause? I was standing and it went out--that was literally it. So when my hubby came home I told him about it as if I had done something incredible that led to the injury {because injuries should come with great stories!}. I built up the dramatic story and then revealed the cause and the simplicity of it gave us a good laugh. 

If there is just not a way to find laughter within your unexpected story though, find some outside of it. Pick up a comedy DVD and just laugh. It'll do wonders.

And ultimately we trust Him with the story

We can't control life, and we don't know what the future holds. But we have hope in knowing the One who does.  We can fear the future, the unexpected, our lack of control; or we can trust that He holds the future. That nothing surprises Him. And that He who holds the stars in their place is in total control. 

These unexpected pages in our stories direct our focus back to Him. They reveal our self-sufficiency, our fears, and our need for Him. When we trust the words to Him as we write the pages to a story we didn't want, we find the words held together with His grace, truth, and love. And that my friend, gives us hope.

Be encouraged,

Carrie