some things I’ve learned in 365 days at home

Today marks one year of the homebound leg of my journey. My immune system is still in recovery mode. The rest of me has continued to gain strength. Gratitude remains the primary theme of my days.

Here are some things I’ve learned in this hidden time.

1. I’ve learned to focus on the present. And maybe the next five minutes. With chronic illness, planning ahead is difficult. So I am choosing to give thanks for what is right in front of me, whether that is simply the start of a new day or the energy to take my hammock to the yard and see the sky.

2. I’ve learned to stop comparing my days. It is tempting to self-check and wonder if this day is better or worse than yesterday. But this just creates a rollercoaster of expectation and disappointment. Each day is a gift from God. With a heart of gratitude and His faithful presence each day can be enjoyed.

3. I’ve learned that the contents of my closet affect my mood. One of the first things I did after learning I would be homebound for an extended period was to take out all the “nice” clothes that would wear to church, work, or an outing with friends. I realized that seeing those clothes reminded me of what I couldn’t do. Today, my closet is filled with t-shirts and layers that bring comfort and joy. And the walls of my closet are covered with pictures of family and friends as reminders to pray and give thanks that I am not really alone.

4. I’ve learned that my struggle with spiritual disciplines is not about time. I wrote about this here. I have all the time in the world and still struggle with the discipline to do the one thing that feeds life to my spirit.

5. I’ve learned to love British crime drama! Netflix has been a delightful companion, especially during the hardest days when I was so medicated and fatigued that I could not read. Binge-watching seasons of TV shows has been therapeutic.

6. I’ve learned to ask for help. As this one year mark approached, I began to feel lonely for the first time. I confided in a few close friends and asked for something that felt ridiculously selfish – snail mail. They responded with grace and no condemnation…and sent their love to my mailbox, taking the sting out of this anniversary day.

7. I’ve learned to love my family more. Their support is the secret sauce to my days. My daughter gave me a year of her life, taking care of me every day, taking me to doctor’s appointments, doing all the meal planning and grocery shopping, even researching autoimmune protocol recipes to support my healing with healthy meals. My son sent texts from afar filled with his love language of sarcasm; and when he was home for the summer, he joined me every day at the table to play the strategy games I love to keep my mind active. And my husband has been a rock of support, his only expectation of me is to do what will promote rest and healing, his words are filled with encouragement, his selflessness inspiring us to all. And he takes me on drives every weekend to show me the world.

My homebound days continue for now. I will keep learning and giving thanks…

praying and writing through the Psalms

In this homebound season I have learned many things about myself. One is that my struggle with spiritual disciplines is not, as I once thought, a function of limited time.

During my decade of teaching middle school science, I was inconsistent with daily Bible reading and intentional prayer. Having become a teacher without a teaching degree or training, learning the details of teaching on the job consumed my time unlike anything since parenting babies and toddlers twenty-four hours a day. The teacher days were like chasing a train on the move but never quite catching up. “If only I had more time” became a both a longing and an excuse for all that remained undone in my personal life.

Then illness struck and I had to quit teaching. Suddenly, all I have is time. I’ve had to manage debilitating fatigue and fluctuating energy levels, but I have unlimited time.

And yet, I still struggle with spiritual disciplines.

It’s not time. It’s me.

I’ve been reading and rereading “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” by Timothy Keller. This book has become a companion on my journey at just the right time. Keller says this about prayer:

I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world. To admit that prayer is very hard, however, can be encouraging. If you struggle greatly in this, you are not alone. (24)

It’s not time. It’s me.
But I am not alone.

At the beginning of the book, Keller shares four practical changes he made in his own pursuit of a deeper prayer life:

  • He went through the Psalms, summarized each one, and began praying the Psalms regularly. (This took several months).
  • He included a time a meditation between Bible reading and prayer time.
  • He prayed morning and evening.
  • He began praying with greater expectation. (17)

Keller says of these practices, “The changes took some time to bear fruit, but after sustaining these practices for about two years, I began to have some breakthroughs” (17).

It’s not time. It’s discipline. The key is sustaining the practice.

So I will start with the Psalms, reading, writing, and praying my way through. And to sustain the practice, I will share some of my writing along the way.

Why the Psalms? One more quote from Keller:

There is no situation or emotion a human being can experience that is not reflected somewhere in the Psalms. Immersing ourselves in the Psalms and turning them into prayers teaches our hearts the “grammar” of prayer and gives us the most formative instruction in how to pray in accord with God’s character and will. (255)

homebound

Homebound.

The first time I can recall seeing this word in print was in the italicized typewriter script of the Wednesday night prayer bulletins at the church where I grew up. The word homebound was followed by the names of older, mostly female, church members who were too frail to leave their homes to attend church services.  These invisible people were the recipients of our prayers, occasional pastoral visits, and handmade cards at Christmas and other major holidays.

Now I am homebound.

I don’t match the mental image of a homebound person I formed as a child.

  • I am not in my eighties.
  • I do not have white hair.
  • I do not use a walker or a cane.
  • I do not knit (yet) or have hard candies gathering dust in a glass dish beside my sofa.

But I do have a broken immune system.

My immune system is no longer able to accurately distinguish friend from foe, attacking me with prolonged allergic reactions and crushing fatigue instead of protecting me from invading microbes.

The past year and a half has been a roller coaster of illness, isolation, and periods of recovery. After a leave of absence and a brief return, I had to give up classroom teaching in the middle of last school year.  I’ve limited my visits to public places, attuned myself to my body’s need for extra rest and healthy foods, and have used an astonishing amount of hand sanitizer.

And I still got sick again.  Another antibiotic, another allergic reaction.  And so, for the last 137 days, I have not left my home, except for monthly visits to the immunologist.  This is, he says, for my protection while my immune system tries to heal again.

If printed prayer bulletins were still a thing, my name would be listed in the homebound section.

It’s not all bad news.

It turns out that homebound is a compound word which, according to dictionary.com, has two distinct meanings:

  1. confined to one’s home, especially because of illness, and
  2. going home.

I am confined to home.  I am fighting what is now a chronic illness.  The end of my confinement is not in sight.  Friends ask if I get stir crazy, but that would mean that I have the energy to stir around at home enough to make myself crazy.  Honestly, some days I don’t even have the energy to leave my room.

I do get lonely and sometimes bored and ridiculously thankful for an internet connection and even the shortest texts, but I don’t get crazy.

Why?  Because of the second definition.

I’m going home. In fact, my heart is set on it.

Home isn’t just the physical place where my body lives.  Home is, as the saying goes, where the heart is.  Home is where we focus, where we put our hopes, our longings, and heart’s treasure.

Home is where we are going.

Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Corinthians:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18

I’m learning to not lose heart, to fix my eyes on heaven, to keep going home.

On days when the health roller coaster takes a downward plunge, I am learning to remind myself that my hope is not in healing, but in the Healer.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5

…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his [her] life.  John 9:3

On days when I don’t have the energy to leave my room or even to read, I am learning to remind myself that my identity is not in what I can do, but in whose I am.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Isaiah 43:1-3a, 5a

Illness can keep me from leaving my house, but illness can’t keep me from home.  In fact, like all broken things on this planet, it can remind me that I’m not home yet.

This is the homebound paradox.

Homebound, yet going home.

Confined, but free.

but as for me…

The Bible tells it like it is.

In particular, the Psalmists and the prophets unflinchingly record the troubles that afflict all people, even God’s people.  Attacks from enemies, betrayals by friends,  loss of resources, unexpected disease…all are documented in honest detail.

Why not just record the blessings, the good stuff?  Because life holds both blessing and trouble.  God knows that while we find it easy to celebrate blessings, we desperately need help in knowing what to do when troubles come.

Amazingly, grammar can point us to the help we need.

In the English language, “but” is a conjunction, a striking word that both connects and contrasts ideas or events.  So as we read the Bible, the word “but” often signals a crucial turning point, an opportunity in the midst of devastating trials to choose between despair over circumstances or hope in God.

But as for me…

Psalm 55 records a litany of David’s trials – enemy attacks, fear of death, oppression, fraud, betrayal.  David calls out to God, unafraid to describe his troubles.  In chaos of his circumstances, he chooses to trust God and reject despair.

But as for me, I will trust in you. Psalm 55:23b

Psalm 71 describes a time of physical weakness which leaves the writer vulnerable to attack.  Even when his strength was spent, the psalmist clings to hope and chooses praise, directing his focus to God’s faithfulness instead of his circumstances.

But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  Psalm 71:14 

Micah was a prophet who wrote to God’s people of a coming attack, of the ways their sin had separated them from God, and of God’s faithfulness to forgive.  He shows us that even though some troubles are of our own making, we can still have hope in our God, the Savior who redeems all things.

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Micah 7:7

Troubles reveal our focus.

When we focus on our circumstances, despair takes root.

When we focus on God and His faithfulness, hope flourishes.

The good news:  faith makes it possible to choose our focus.

What troubles are you facing?  Shocking diagnosis, family turmoil, betrayal, uncertainty, injustice, unforeseen consequences, loss of income?

Do what David, Micah, and the Psalmists did…

Bring your troubles to God. List them in detail, confident that He hears you.

Then, make the contrast.  Shift your focus.

But as for me…

Choose to focus on the faithfulness of God.  Take refuge in His steadfast and unfailing love. Praise Him while you watch and wait for Him to act on your behalf.

But as for me…I will always have hope.

peace

We long for peace.

We often pursue peace by expending energies on elaborate systems to try to control the chaos that thrives on this broken planet.

And yet, we cannot create peace.

While we may arrange for a temporary calm in our external environment, we cannot find a lasting inner peace through our own ordering of things, no matter how determined or creative we are.

Why?

Because peace is not the absence of chaos.

Peace is the presence of Jesus.

The truth is, peace is not found in a place or perfect circumstance, but in a person – Jesus.  We find true peace only when we find the Prince of Peace.

Listen to these words of Jesus:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

In this world – trouble.  In Jesus – peace.

What does this mean for us?

It means that in the midst of the chaos of this world we have a choice.

Knowing that Jesus has overcome the world – the very world we live in – and its troubles, we can take heart.   We refuse to ride the waves of circumstance, allowing our hearts to become troubled and fearful.  Instead, we actively choose to focus on Jesus. We trust Him, not our solutions.  And we can ask Jesus to speak to our hearts and to our circumstances the same words he spoke when his disciples were frightened by a raging storm:

Peace! Be still!  Mark 4:39

trust in the storm

Trouble finds us on this broken planet.

Storms threaten the lives we build, the people we love.

When storms arise, what can we do?

In Psalm 28, David shows us the way of trust.

Trust requires relationship“To you, O LORD, I call; my rock…”

The biblical idea of trust is one of attaching oneself, relying on someone or something else. feeling safe, being confident. To survive the storm, we must trust, or attach ourselves to something.  Too often, we tie ourselves to others, looking to them for rescue, forgetting they too are subject to wind and wave.  Instead, we must look for the Rock, the only immovable One, and attach ourselves to Him.

Trust invites communication. “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help…Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.”

Securely attached to the Rock, our only help, we can confidently pray in the midst of the storm.  Like the boom of thunder or a sudden deluge, storm prayers are sporadic pleas and cries, punctuated by moments of both desperation and praise.  When we trust, we are unashamed of our cries and unhindered in our worship.

Trust helps.  “in him my heart trusts and I am helped…”

Knowing we’ve been heard, we find strength, not in ourselves, not in our fellow travelers, but in the LORD, Jehovah.  We recognize that He alone is our shield, our covering, our saving refuge in every storm.

Even kings face storms.  In the midst of incredible difficulty, David learned how to trust.

Centuries later, his words invite us to do the same.

Psalm 28:1-2, 6-8 ESV

To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me…Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.  Blessed by the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;  In him my heart trusts and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.