Month: February 2016

Hope for Families Living with a Chronic Illness

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My precious wife Margaret has been battling health issues for a long time. She started showing symptoms (chest pain, breathing issues, and chronic fatigue) just a few months before we were married. Now, twenty-seven years later, she is completely home-bound. Her autoimmune disease (sarcoidosis) has gradually and painfully continued a progressive onslaught in her body. Her illness has reached a point that now to safely navigate our home Margaret has to use a walker. And, due to the affects of her lung scarring, she is bound to an oxygen concentrator every hour of every day. This past year we found out she is in the very early stages of heart failure. How much time she has left is a mystery. What is no mystery is she is gradually losing her battle with this nasty inflammatory disease.

Someone recently asked me, “Mike, how do you get out of bed in the morning? How are you able to face each day, with all that continues to go on with your wife’s health?” This is a great question… and is the key theme of this month’s blog post: Where can hope be found when medically all is hopeless?

You see, to Margaret and me, the answer to this question all comes down to what, or who, we place our hope in. For we continue to learn that if you put your hope, your expectations, in the right thing, you can look to the future with a confident assurance (even as circumstances get more difficult). If you put your hope in the wrong thing, overwhelming discouragement, anger, bitterness, and hopelessness can soon follow. So, I’d like to share with you what continues to make all the difference in our medical journey. I pray it will be an encouragement to you.

Let’s begin by looking at what we have learned not to put our hope in… trust me, over the long journey of a chronic illness, these don’t work.

First of all, we have tried to hope in ourselves—that somehow Margaret or me could “dig deep” and find the stamina and determination to get through this, to figure out a way to persevere successfully. The reality is we simply don’t have enough strength in ourselves to endure years as a patient or caregiver. Second, we have at times put our hope in other people. We longed to find someone who would really understand what we are going through, and give us the encouragement we needed. Despite the heroic help we have received from others over the years, the reality is that virtually no one really “gets it.” Unless someone has been thrown into the prison of chronic disease like you have, they just can’t understand what your life of challenge is really like. Finally, we have put our hope in doctors and medical treatments—again, not a good idea. We are grateful for the caring physicians we have had over the years. They have done, and continue to do, all they can to help Margaret. But, for us, new medical treatments or doctors usually bring renewed hope for only a short period of time. Her prognosis typically snuffs out any flicker of new medical hope we may have.

So, where can we find hope? Despite all our ups and downs over the years, what Margaret and I have found, and continue to experience, is that truly God is the One where you can find lasting hope. Psalm 42:11 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

I did a lot of soul-searching after it became clear Margaret’s illness was incurable, and was going to continue to slowly, gradually, and painfully progress. As a Christian I wondered how the Gospel message (who God is, and what He has done for us as revealed in Christ Jesus) applied to what we were facing. What I came to understand is that God deeply loves the chronically ill and their families, and He desires to give them a hope that is real and life-changing. Here are just a few examples of hope-giving truths:

  • God is the Great Comforter: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4a:”Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.”
  • Jesus Completely Understands all you are Going Through: Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
  • Christ Wants to Help you in Your Medical Challenges: Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

After over two decades of medical challenges, here is what we have learned: Real Hope is Only Found in God! Let me say it again: Real Hope is Only Found in God! Without the Lord’s love in our lives, I honestly don’t believe Margaret and I could have endured all we have been through, nor would I be writing this blog today with gratefulness in my heart. If you would like to know more about the hope found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, please consider reading our book, Always Sick, Always Loved, and particularly chapter two, which is entitled “The Gospel and Chronic Disease.”