Hashtags to Contentment

Here’s a copy of the transcript I shared at TVCOC 2017 Women’s Devotional Kickoff Event, January 21, 2017

BJ texted me yesterday to ask if I would facilitate a group sharing about what God has put in my heart to focus on in 2017. I have issues remembering certain words, and I can easily get sidetracked so I thought it would be best if I would read from a prepared text. Please bear with me as I briefly touched four preceding years before I get to 2017. Take note of the hashtags as I go through the different years.

In the year 2013, my faith and resolve were tested, and there were moments that I questioned God’s fairness. But through the pains and doubts, my heart continued to trust His wisdom. I have had the honor and pleasure of having amazing mentors from all backgrounds and specialties. But in God, I have a Mentor and a Coach who patiently and lovingly educates and teaches like no other. In the year 2014, God impressed upon me that it was time to take my relationship with Him to the next level. Sure, I was loyal and faithful, but I wasn’t growing, and so our relationship plateaued. I needed to focus on my faith, and I knew right off the bat that working on faith would require being #comfortablewithbeinguncomfortable.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

So, my focus then was not so much as staying on course, but more on developing the willingness to change direction when God speaks to me to do so. It’s not so much about trying new things or creating a bucket list. Those are good things, but it’s more about letting new things happen to me and being open to the possibility of a brand new me I didn’t think I would, should, or could be.

As I carried the lessons learned from the 2014 hashtag, #comfortablewithbeinguncomfortable to the new year of 2015, I also listened attentively to the “I am enough,” message placed by God in my heart, which was to be an important lesson that I had to reteach to my daughters. But first, I needed to relearn what being enough meant.

Ephesians 2:8 says “that by grace I have been saved through faith and that this wasn’t because of my own doing.” Salvation’s God’s gift to me and my faith was my acceptance of His grace. And so, my way of honoring my relationship with God is by sharing a gift of grace inspired by His message. And what best display of grace there is but to choose forgiveness rather than to cling on to the hurt? Here’s the thing, I thought as a devoted disciple, I already knew a whole lot if not everything about forgiveness until Vic, and I attended a three-day workshop on Forgiveness by Dr. Robert Enright, founder of International Forgiveness Institute and a leading researcher for over 30 years on the study of Forgiveness. The workshop was sponsored by our affiliate church, ICOC in Singapore. Who would have known that forgiveness is not a one-step process and that it required nothing from the offender? According to Dr. Enright, “Forgiveness is about goodness, about extending mercy to those who’ve harmed us, even if they don’t “deserve” it. It is not about finding excuses for the offending person’s behavior or pretending it didn’t happen. Nor is there a quick formula you can follow. Forgiveness is a process with many steps that often proceeds in a non-linear fashion.”

Vic and I didn’t realize how significantly relevant that workshop would be to us until we had to immediately put it to practice after someone we loved and cared for deeply brought us deep hurt, shattered our spirit and nearly broke our family apart. Dr. Enright advises, “When life hits us hard, there is nothing as effective as forgiveness for healing deep wounds.” And so, part of the process of forgiving was facing the shame brought to us. That shame brought me such disgrace so much so that I began to question my worth. I knew God wanted me to go back and review Ephesians 2:8 again, “that by grace I have been saved through faith and that this wasn’t because of my own doing.” My redemption didn’t require anything from me but my faith. I had to experience what that’s like to understand it.

According to Dr. Enright, forgiving is not…

So, for the year 2015, God placed in my heart three hashtags: #I-am-enough, #grace, and #forgiveness. These and the 2014 hashtag, #comfortablewithbeinguncomfortable were added to the coming year’s new hashtag. The 2016 hashtag was in reference to the series of lectures on faith ministered by Dr. Charles N. He said we ought to have faith that’s Real, Unshakeable, Living, and Effective. Real, Unshakeable, Living, and Effective make the acronym for RULE. And so, my 2016 primary hashtag was #Charlesruleoffaith.

Last summer, when I heard one of our brothers share his struggle with chronic pains, I thought he was retelling part of my story. It hit too close to home. “Was he talking about me?” I whispered to Vic, who’s also not a stranger to chronic pains. Whether it’s a muscle spasm, chronic constipation, or headaches, I can tell you that there’s not a second that I don’t experience any form of pain and discomfort in my body. To put it in perspective, that’s going through 86, 400 seconds of daily pain and discomfort. I’m not even talking about flare ups. I could hide for weeks, and no one would know because I made myself present, connected online. No one would know I had to stay home for nearly a month because my stomach was bloated to a size of a 6-month pregnant belly and that rashes were coming out of my skin. I was miserable; the cramps sometimes were comparable to labor pains. But how do you tell people and not spark uncomfortable discussions, “Hey I’m severely constipated and hasn’t gone for three weeks so please excuse if I couldn’t be there for you even if I wanted to?”

Not very long ago, I came out from isolation and admitted that I am burdened with chronic medical conditions. I am a fibromite, a nickname given to people who suffer from Fibromyalgia. I am also a spoonie. Spoonies are individuals who suffer from a chronic illness like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus erythematosus, just to name a few. The term spoonie originated from a blog written by Christine Miserandino entitled, The Spoon Theory. She made an illustration of a theoretical measurement of her ability to do daily tasks using spoons. She explains that sometimes she begins with a hefty inventory of spoons, while there were also days when she comes up short. Every task or chore requires giving up a spoon. Her domain which is aptly named, But You Don’t Look Sick, presents a well-written journal about the life of a person who doesn’t look she suffers from a chronic illness.

Aside from seeing a specialist for my Fibromyalgia, I also see a pool of doctors for other medical conditions. I have chronic gastritis, digestive issues, esophageal spasms, chronic fatigue syndrome, cervical spine rheumatism, multilevel cervical and lumbar disc issues, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, chronic migraines, TMJ, and dizziness. And I also suffer from a mild form cognitive dysfunction.

Imagine how it’s like to be attacked by your own body and there’s only so much you could do about it. More than the pain, what initially concerned me more was losing my memory. It scared me, so much so that I started quadrupling my Words with Friends and Sudoku games. Having memory losses is not my fault nor is it my wish to have it. I take Vitamin D, B complex, and Magnesium supplements. I do my best to stay active despite pains and discomfort.  I take care of myself the best way I know how. What I have is not something any supplement or brain games could cure.

Just a few weeks ago, I had one of the many instances where I had unfortunate memory lapses. I don’t forget situations or events. And I process information relatively fast. I’m also quite excellent at remembering specific tasks. But I would often catch myself struggling in remembering familiar names – names of people I know very well and everyday words and common things like paper towel, forks, car key, and etcetera. Perhaps, some of you can relate to that.

So, here’s what happened. I scheduled a call to a dear friend at 7:30 PM, but I failed to do that. It wasn’t because I forgot to call. I knew I had to call her. I should have set event alarms as a reminder, but I didn’t! I was going to call her on Messenger, but I couldn’t remember her name. I knew who she was and why I wanted to call her. It was heartbreaking! I was, staring at my phone, foolishly flicking through my list of Facebook contacts for a name I couldn’t remember, and hoped that doing so would help me connect a photo to a friend’s name that was lost in my foggy brain. I was going through a short list of my Facebook friends when my phone rang. It was her! A very dear Filipino friend who just recently migrated here in the US. Thank goodness, she called! I recognized her voice, but I still couldn’t recall her name! I was beginning to panic, and so before I embarrass myself, I asked very innocently, “May I know who’s calling?” She said her name. Disaster aborted! YAY!

I used to be emotionally bothered by my forgetfulness. I praise God for training me to a level where I’m somewhat at peace with it, already. I’ve gotten to a point where it’s easy for me to laugh at my memory lapses and even joke about it, sometimes. The journey to accepting this condition did not come without massive disappointments. And even now, there are still few situations and people’s reactions that make what I go through extra challenging; although I realized that in most cases, people aren’t even aware that their comments add to the pains.

Recently, I had somebody dismissively referred to what was perceived by that individual as my inattentiveness and struggle for words as possible signs of dementia or early Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t react to what she said to me. I was shocked and hurt. I wanted to scream and tell her, “You’re not a specialist; what gave you the license to diagnose my type of cognitive dysfunction in such hasty and reckless manner? Where’s the grace, or at the very least, where did your basic social manners go?” Instead, I just looked away. The thing was because I already knew I have some cognitive dysfunction, I would compensate by being extra attentive. What was perceived as inattentiveness on my part was me trying my very hard to make connections in my mind, so I could find the words I lost.

So, while I go through this journey, the last thing I need is somebody adding to the scare that I already battle with every day. Telling someone who deals with Fibromyalgia (FM) or any chronic disorder that shares similar cognitive dysfunctions that she probably has dementia or that she might already have an early onset of Alzheimer’s either jokingly or alarmingly is not only insensitive; I thought it was also irresponsible. And should I have dementia or Alzheimer’s, I wouldn’t want to be treated in such acerbic manner.

Thoughtless remarks like that tend to second guess my decision to come out in the open regarding my health condition. It’s isolating. I don’t expect people to understand Fibromyalgia. I’m still trying to understand this chronic pain disorder myself. Being less aware of a particular health condition is one thing, but throwing out uncouth remarks over another person’s plight is like I’m being forced to smile widely while my spirit is being shredded to pieces. But it is what it is. My spirit’s bruised, and yet I’m still standing, sharing my story. Reaching out to those who are also afflicted with chronic conditions and letting them know that they’re not alone in their walk. We shouldn’t be forced to isolation. Christ didn’t die on the cross just so the people of God would live a life of shame for whatever reason. And while encouragement brings us hope, we should use terrible interactions to fuel our desire to bring light and voice into our less known, fibro flare-inflicted world. Nothing’s wasted.

I don’t like telling people my form of cognitive dysfunction because I don’t want anyone diminishing my value as a person. I still have a lot to contribute. I don’t like looking at people’s shocked or ridiculous reactions. I don’t want people’s pity or their unwarranted diagnosis. But if I didn’t share this part of me to the world, then I might as well move to Antarctica. Because keeping this a secret is the same as cursing myself to a life sentence of isolation added to the pains. Although, sometimes, I’m not sure which is worst – moving to Antarctica or subjecting myself to the occasional tortuous reactions of few people, which could also be isolating in certain ways.

There was a research published by National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pains Association about Cognitive Function and Fibromyalgia, and it showed that there is a cognitive dysfunction in FM. The paper says, “And this is not due solely to psychiatric disorders such as depression, or to other symptoms of FM such as sleep disturbance, anxiety or fatigue. On the other hand, cognitive dysfunction in FM is related to pain.”

Yes, the 86, 400 seconds of constant daily pain requires some cognitive effort which probably contributes to the decline of some mental functions, in particular, short and long term memory skills.

Suffering from constant pains, discomfort and other conditions, I can tell you that the relationship I have now with the Lord helps me stay positive, hopeful, and gracious. And the grace I enjoy and get to share plays a significant part to being able to do what I do everyday. I still have bad days, but God’s love was never lost to me.

Every day, I would remind myself that it’s okay to speak out. And it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to put a voice and a face to a less known condition that is called Fibromyalgia. It’s okay to let others know I’m not always okay, and that this does not make me less thankful or grateful for the many blessings I get.

I thank my family and friends who bring me hope by embracing me with their grace, love, and acceptance. To my fellow fibromite and spoonie, know that there’s always a beautiful side to our new normal. Sometimes, it’s hard to see it. When that happens, let’s take it upon ourselves to recreate one by sharing our story, one spoon at a time.

God has placed in my heart for this brand New Year of 2017 a continuation of a life dedicated to moving forward. Last year’s declaration was challenging myself to comfortably lean on the discomfort of not doing things my way. And that instead, I should be trusting only in God’s wisdom and timing. Hand in hand with this, I also had to reconfirm a life dedicated to acknowledging that I am enough. This year 2017 is about reaching a place of unhurried satisfaction and undisturbed restoration. This year, God has impressed upon me another hashtag to live by, #contentment. I have decided to commit to refreshing a good old reliable affirmation and also to embrace an empowering mindset that comes from Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation.”

Contentment, as I now see it, is not about withdrawing from possibilities, nor is it about having lowered expectations. It’s having the strength to redefine the narrative of my peace and being able to dictate the expanse of my happiness. The hashtags or the words I carried over to the following year in the last five years were intentional and purposeful, and they tremendously reshaped my prayer life, including what I say in my prayers.

#I-am-enough, #grace, #forgiveness, #comfortablewithbeinguncomfortable, #Charlesruleoffaith , and #contentment.

Before we break for a group discussion and sharing of what God has placed in our heart to focus on the year 2017, allow me to end with sharing the lyrics of the song, Blessings, by Laura Story. The lyrics of this song describe the soul of my prayers.

Blessings by Laura Story

We pray for blessings

We pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet Love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom

Your voice to hear

We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love

As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea

And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

 

Let’s break into groups and start our discussion.

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