If all else fails, remember two things

How is Watching going for you? Are you in a season of relative peace or does it feel like troubles are knocking at your door and crowding out your view of Jesus?

Whichever it is, (and maybe it’s both!) I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately about the most important reminders for our Watching journey. The theme of Called to Watch this year is Watching for the Long Haul, and so far we’ve reflected on:

Practicing Self-Compassion as Watchers

The Importance of Stopping to Heal

Learning to Lament

But if there were two things I could always have at the forefront of my mind as I Watch, two things which would make a real difference to the way I Watch and equip me for the long haul, it would be these:

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Learning to Lament

Sharing your life with someone whose every day is impacted by chronic illness can be rewarding – but it can also be extremely tough. It should come as no surprise that the most popular post on this site is ‘7 reasons why watching someone suffer is the worst’.

Watching is hard, and yet when it comes to surviving and thriving in long-term Watching, I think we often fall into 3 misconceptions.

3 misconceptions about Watching

1: Only people who are even-keeled, happy –go-lucky pragmatists can survive and thrive Watching over the long-term Watching. I’m not suited for this.

2: Watching is hard, and so I’m inevitably going to become cynical/bitter/depressed. It’s just a natural human response.

OR

3: When it gets hard, the Christian thing to do is ‘deal’ with it quickly, and move on. It’s not good to dwell on the difficulty.

Now there’s a certain modicum of truth in all of these. Some personalities might be ‘naturally’ better suited to watching; it’s understandable if you find yourself growing cynical or depressed; and it’s not particularly helpful to ruminate on your troubles.

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Are Trust and Chronic Illness really compatible?

‘I trust you.’ ‘I believe you.’ ‘Okay.’ Expressions of trust can seem simple, and can be a great gift to those who receive them. When we trust another person, we show respect, bolster confidence, and validate experience.

We are effectively saying, ‘I hear you, I believe you know what you’re talking about, and I am going to assume that you are capable and autonomous until proven otherwise.’ We are demonstrating a ‘firm belief in someone’s reliability, ability and truthfulness’ (thank you, Oxford Dictionary).

So far that sounds quite straightforward. 

Yet in the context of chronic illness, trust can often be accepting your chronically ill Loved One’s assessment of their capabilities, believing their description of the situation, and assuming they have valid ideas, dreams and motivations.

Still sound simple?

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Why you shouldn’t be like Jesus (Watchers, we are not Saviours)

Do you ever get discouraged because you can’t seem to do anything right? You can’t cheer up your Loved One, you can’t heal them, you can’t even be a ‘good’ Watcher?

You read blog posts and Bible passages about loving selflessly and encouraging others and being joyful – and you try, you really do, but you never quite succeed.

Everyone around you seems to be able to hold their life together and love others as well – and you lose your temper daily, are often discouraged, and sometimes wonder why you’re even here at all.

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Why we need to celebrate small things

“Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony…
it may be that God makes every daisy separately,
but has never got tired of making them.” – G. K. Chesterton

There are 2 types of people. Those who celebrate EVERYTHING and those who wait for the really big, land-mark events before they break out the confetti.

I admit I am often one of the later. I don’t want to celebrate prematurely, I want to wait until I’m sure it’s something worthy of celebrating… and as a result, I don’t celebrate much at all!

The problem is life doesn’t always bundle achievements or seasons into boxes. There is often no neat, conclusive ‘end’.

This is especially true with Chronic illness. When you can’t celebrate healing or an ending, it can be difficult to celebrate at all.

And yet I think we are called to celebrate, even when there’s no miracle or no big event. Why? Well I could talk about being positive and practicing self-care and embracing your life and all the rather ‘in’ phrases at the moment…. but I want to give you more concrete reasons.

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Abracadabra! (Watchers, we are not Fairy Godmothers!)

Contrary to popular belief, fairy godmothers are not trademarked by Disney. They do not always run around singing ‘bippity-boppity-boo!’ In fact, they may be closer than we expect…

A ‘fairy godmother’ is a type of character which charges into a dismal situation, waves their magic wand and fixes everything before disappearing in a cloud of fairy dust.

They exist outside of Cinderella – and in fact, are often viewed negatively by film critics. A ‘fairy godmother’, like a ‘deus ex machina’ can be a lazy way of resolving the characters’ problems and ensuring a happy ending by the two hour mark.

That said, how many of us would love a ‘fairy godmother’ in our own lives? A magic solution to all our stresses? Yes please!

Often as Watchers, we are tempted to try and fulfill the role of a ‘fairy godmother’ in our Loved One’s life.

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Why small talk is so important in chronic illness (& why I neglect it!)

A while ago I read a fascinating article about phatic communication, or ‘small talk’. Phatic communication is speech which serves a purpose other than that implied by the words used. An example would be the question, “how are you?”

What this question is actually asking is, “how are you physically/mentally?” Yet how many of us actually answer this? And why don’t we?

It’s not because we’re being rude or ignoring the question. In fact, often askers are surprised when someone lists their current physical health in response! It’s because we understand that in our social context the question is often merely a greeting, a social nicety which has to be used before the ‘proper’ conversation can begin.

An example of phatic communication (small talk!)

Often when I run I call out a (breathless) ‘hi!’ or ‘good evening/morning!’ as I pass someone by. About 3 times out of ten, someone will reply. Out of that 30%, at least half reply with ‘good thanks’ or ‘I’m well thanks’ – despite the fact that I never asked if they were!

This is because they are so used to ‘how are you’ being part of ‘hello’ and other social niceties (or nonenties!) that they assume I’ve asked and thus reply automatically.

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7 ways to use words to encourage someone with a chronic illness (without lying)

I sometimes find that ‘encouragement’ feels like lying, especially when it comes to chronic illness.

I want to cheer up my sick family member or struggling friend, but when I search through my “encouragement vocabulary” the gems I unearth are phrases such as:

‘It’s alright.’

‘It will get better.’

‘God will heal you.’

‘Good will come of this, just you wait.’

These comments sound nice and hopeful. They are genuinely designed to lift someone’s mood – but often I find they don’t ring true.

How can I tell my loved one ‘it’s alright’ – when it’s clearly, obviously, not?

How can I promise them ‘it will get better’ or ‘God will heal you’ or ‘good will come’ – when this might not be the case?

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How to make hospital visits less awkward

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, both visiting Loved Ones and working. It’s made me realise that visiting someone in hospital is not quite the same as taking someone out for coffee or popping over to see someone at their house.

In fact, for many of us, visiting someone in hospital might be a novel, somewhat unsettling experience. Perhaps we have bad memories of other hospital visits, or perhaps we’ve never been to one before.

For others of us, a hospital visit might seem easy and we don’t understand why we can’t just pop in at any time with whoever we like.

While neither perspective is ‘wrong’ (and I have held both at different times) they can both miss the point.

Visiting someone in hospital is not about us, how easy or difficult it is, or how it makes us feel.

Visiting someone is about loving them.

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How to love a chronically ill INTROVERT

When you’re an extrovert a chronic illness binding you to your home is an obvious torture. Yet what about those introverts among us? Is it easier for them?

Obviously there’s nothing ‘easy’ about having a chronic illness, but the question still stands: does a chronic illness impact an introvert in the same way as an extrovert?

And if so, what does this mean for us as we try and support our sick introvert friends?

I think the first thing we have to realise is this:

Sickness and introvert-ism are two very different things

Introverts recharge by ‘alone time’. If chronic illness means they spend large periods of time alone, well, surely that equals a lot of ‘recharging’, right?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Introverts do not get energy solely from being away from other people. Thus it is possible to be physically away from others but not re-charge.

You see, it is not restful to be alone but unable to think clearly. It is not relaxing to be alone but to have a pounding headache. It is not rejuvenating being alone when illness prevents you from dreaming and pondering and wondering!

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