Thursday, October 23, 2014

Entering into the World of a Friend with Chronic Illness

A few years ago I fainted after church, and I had to spend a half hour recovering on the floor with my legs propped up. It is lonely and strange to be lying on the floor in a busy place while the world goes on around you. When William found me after children’s church let out, he immediately came over and lay down on the floor next to me and wouldn’t leave my side. He didn’t want to talk to anyone else. He didn’t want to play on the playground with other children. He just wanted to be with me.

Later on that evening, I told William thank you for lying down on the floor with me and for keeping me company at church.  He said, “Well, if I didn’t then you would have been lying on the floor all by yourself just staring at the ceiling!”  It was the sweetest and funniest comment!  William never considered doing anything but lying down on the floor with me. He wanted to enter into my world of limitations so that I would not suffer alone.

For someone with a chronic illness, a room full of people, a picnic, a party, or a conference can be a lonely place. You may notice that at church services or in social gatherings, some people with chronic illness remain seated. They may not have the luxury of walking around, standing, and visiting with those around them. It could be that they are in too much pain to stand for more than a minute or two. They may have trouble with balance, making it difficult to walk in a crowd. Maybe they are able to get around with a wheelchair or a walker, but assistive devices do not easily fit through a crowd. Perhaps your friend stays in the corner because brain fog has made conversation impossible on that particular day.

Whatever your friend’s chronic illness may be, it affects the ways in which she is able to engage with the world around her. It affects her interactions with people. She sits to the side, or perhaps she sits at home, alone, while the world goes by around her.

What can you do for the friend whose limitations isolate her from those around her? You can enter into her world of limitations. You can meet her in her suffering, foregoing other pleasures simply for the pleasure of being in your friend’s company. You can sacrifice some of your freedom to be with her so that she does not suffer alone. Are you wondering how to do that? Here are some ideas for ways you can limit yourself in order to serve your friend right where she is:
  • If she has to sit off to the side at a party, sit with her for a long time. Don’t just say, “Hello,” as you pass by.
  • If you are sitting next to her in church, stay seated with her when everyone else stands to sing.
  • When she is too tired, or too brain fogged, to do much talking after church, be the one who stays next to her and sits quietly so that she has company.
  • When you invite her family over for supper, ask about food restrictions and then cook from a menu that she can fully enjoy. For one evening, join her in her food restrictions.
  • If your friend cannot play the games at a party, choose to sit out of the games yourself, and go sit with your friend so that she will not be alone.
  • Ask your friend to attend a conference with you, even if it means that you will have to miss some of the conference sessions in order to help care for her needs.
  • If she cannot sit at a table for a meal, join her wherever she is able to sit or recline.
  • Ask your friend about her struggles so that you can better understand the things you cannot enter into.

Stepping away from some of the conveniences of living a healthy life, and stepping into your friend’s world of limitations, will show her how much you care about her and value her friendship. It will also help you to understand, in a small way, what life is like for her.

A couple of years ago my family was at a picnic with about 10 other families. I was so thankful for cool weather so that I could be outside with friends, but going to a picnic is hard work when you can’t walk very far. I was not able to wheel myself around in my wheelchair very much because the ground was too bumpy, and my arms were too weak. I also couldn’t sit up for an extended period of time, so I sat in my lounge chair, which allowed me to recline and keep my feet propped up.

It was so enjoyable to be outside at the picnic, but it was impossible for me to mingle and visit with everyone. I couldn’t walk around to talk with different people or join in the outdoor games. Instead I sat in my lounge chair under a tree and watched the activity going on all around me. I watched the children playing on the playground. I watched the men gather to talk. I watched the women play a game and talk and laugh together. I was alone in a crowd of people.

And then a friend came over and sat next to me. She didn’t just stop to say, “Hi,” or chat for a brief minute. She came, and she stayed. She entered into my world of limitations. She chose not to join the games and laughter across the way, and instead she chose to be with me. It was just what I needed: a friend to join me for a time in the limitations of my life with a chronic illness.

Jesus: Our Ultimate Example

When you enter into your friend’s world, you are following the example of Christ. He is God, yet He chose to limit Himself. He chose to enter into our world and our limitations. He entered into time and space, and He took on the limitations of the human body. He became tired and hungry. He faced temptation. He was mocked and scorned. He suffered with us and for us. He came because we needed Him. He came to save us from our sins and to redeem us as His own!
"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:4-11

Let’s hear from you!

What are some suggestions of other ways you can enter into your friend’s world of limitations? If you have a chronic illness, what is one way in which you wish a friend would enter into your world?

First image from ErikSöderström. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.
Second image from la fattina.

 This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Supporting the Family Affected by Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness is challenging not just for the one who is ill, but for the family who lives with, and cares for, the ill family member. They have to make many adjustments and sacrifices for the one who is ill. The family may need to adjust to a schedule that moves at a much slower pace and includes a lot of rest time. They may need to adjust to eating different meals at home due to food restrictions. They may need to sacrifice some fun and free time in order to help their family member who is ill. Depending on the level of disability caused by the chronic illness, family members may spend significant time filling the role of caregiver.

Families affected by chronic illness need the support of friends. 

When a spouse is chronically ill, the healthy spouse can become burned out and overwhelmed with the numerous tasks that fall on his shoulders. Lending a hand to alleviate some of the workload will be appreciated. Providing occasional respite from the tasks of caring for an ill spouse may also be appreciated.

If there are children in the family, they also need support and encouragement. They notice that their family is different, and they notice that they miss out on things because of chronic illness in the family. You can reach out to the children in the family with a listening ear, a hug, or by inviting them over to your house to play.

You can help to support the family by praying for them, giving encouragement, spending time with them, and offering practical help. Here are some specific ideas for ways to support the family affected by chronic illness. These ideas are specifically for a family in which a parent has a chronic illness, but many of them are also applicable to other family situations.
  • Send a card to the family to let them know that they are in your thoughts and prayers.
  • Pray that their family would be strengthened and that they would grow close to one another through the hard times. Pray especially for the marriage affected by chronic illness. Pray that they would cling to the Lord and to each other and not drift apart when life gets hard. Pray that God will provide for their needs.
  • Invite their children over to play with your children. Depending on an ill parent’s limitations and needs, their children might not be able to invite friends over very often. They will be excited for the opportunity to go to someone’s house to play with other children, and it may also give your friend a chance to get some much needed rest.
  • If your children are the same age and interested in the same activities, you could offer to take your friend’s child to lessons/practice along with your own child. Without help with transportation, the child in a family affected by chronic illness may not be able to participate in things like school sports, piano lessons, or ballet class.
  • Take the children to the park for a picnic and play time. Take pictures to share with the chronically ill parent at home.
  • Help the chronically ill parent do something fun with her children that she otherwise might not be able to do. This could be a picnic in the backyard, a craft, or decorating cookies. The cookie decorating idea comes from my mom. This is something she has done for us a few times. Last year when my parents came to visit for Christmas, my mom packed homemade gingerbread men, frosting, and candy in her suitcase. William and Adelaide so much fun decorating their own gingerbread men.
  • Invite the family over to your home for a meal. This will give the parents a break from cooking, and it will provide a time of fun and fellowship for the whole family. The children will enjoy going to a new house and playing with new toys. While the children play, you can talk with the parents, see how they are doing, encourage them, and pray for them.
  • Give a couple the gift of a date night. If the chronically ill spouse is homebound, you can offer to give them a date night at home. Take the children to your house for the evening and let the couple have a few hours to themselves for a date.
  • Offer to watch their children for a weekend so that the couple can get away and spend quality time focusing on each other and their marriage.
  • Provide opportunities for the healthy spouse to have time with friends and a break from caregiving. There are people who occasionally invite Will over to watch football, watch a movie, go shooting, or go out to a restaurant. This gives him a break from constantly being “on call” to help the children and me. In order to make this work, Will needs to arrange other care for the children, or he has to wait to go out after he puts the children to bed. For someone in our situation, it would be very helpful to offer childcare or in-home help in order for the healthy spouse to leave home for a time. For example, a friend could say, “Would you like to come over this Saturday to watch football? My wife can take your children to the park so that you can have a break.”
  • Give extra help and support when the healthy spouse gets sick. In many families when a spouse gets sick, there is another spouse who can pick up the slack and keep the household running smoothly. But when one spouse has a chronic illness, life becomes incredibly hard when the healthy spouse gets sick. The flu or a stomach virus can render the healthy spouse unable to keep up with their normal daily tasks. Stepping in temporarily to help out with meals, cleaning, errands, or transportation will be a huge help.

Every Family is Different

Not every family situation with chronic illness is similar to mine. There are many different types of families affected by chronic illness. There are couples without children who are affected by chronic illness. There are couples in which both spouses have a chronic illness. There are single adults who live with their parents because they cannot work or live on their own. There are single adults who can live on their own as long as they have a lot of help from family and friends. There are children and teenagers with chronic illness. There are grandparents with chronic illness. There are single parents who have a chronic illness. The needs of each of these families will vary.

If you have a friend with a chronic illness, you can look for ways to support both her and her family, whatever her family structure may be. You can ask specific questions to find out where they are struggling and where they need support and encouragement. Some helpful questions may be:
  • Does your family need help caring for children?
  • Do your mom or dad need help caring for you?
  • Is there a household task that is too difficult for you and your spouse?
  • Does anyone in your family need help with transportation?
  • What burdens your family the most right now?
  • What is the most challenging task for you?
  • What is the most challenging task for your primary caregiver?
  • If you could have 5 hours of help each week in your home, what would you want help with?
  • What prayer requests does your family have?

Let's hear from you!

If you have a chronic illness, I would really like to hear what you have to say on the subject of supporting the family affected by chronic illness. What is your family situation like? How can friends support you and your family?

Image from Elk City Oklahoma. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Offering Practical Help to a Friend with Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness is physically challenging. The unrelenting fatigue, weakness, and/or pain can make everyday tasks challenging, and sometimes impossible. People with chronic illness need their friends to be understanding of their limitations, and many of them also need practical help. Needs can vary greatly among the chronically ill. One person might only need occasional help, while another might need daily assistance from family and friends.

If you have a friend with chronic illness, there is likely something you can do to help your friend in a practical way. Depending on your skills and availability, and your friend’s particular needs, here are some suggestions of things that might be helpful to offer to do:
  • Take your friend shopping or run errands for her.
  • Provide transportation to medical appointments or to church.
  • Bring a meal over.
  • Help with homeschooling.
  • Take care of her children when she needs to rest or go to the doctor.
  • Help with house cleaning.
  • Help out with yearly deep cleaning projects.
  • Help with decorating for holidays.
  • Help out with yard work or house maintenance.
  • Give free labor and/or materials for home-modification projects to make her home more accessible. Home modification projects may include things like adding ramps, widening doorways, lowering countertops, and making a bathroom handicap accessible.
  • Take your friend’s laundry to your house, and bring it back the next day clean and folded.
  • Go to the Post Office for her when she needs to mail packages.
  • Give her a hair cut in her home.

If you would like, you can offer help beyond the tasks of daily living and house maintenance. You can help your friend to have some of the simple joys of life that she might otherwise miss out on.  Here are some ideas of practical ways to bring some joy into your friend’s life:
  • Bring over a manicure kit and nail polish and treat her to a manicure in her home.
  • Help her bake or cook something just for fun. Let her stay seated while you do all of the tasks that require walking around.
  • Bring over supplies for a simple craft to do together. When you are finished making crafts, clean up the mess for her.
  • If she isn’t able to go to church often, you could offer to do a simple Bible study with her once a week. If a Bible study is more than she is up for, you could simply read the Bible to her and then pray for her.
  • Bring over her favorite drink from the coffee shop, or bring a meal from a restaurant. Sit and visit together.

Good to Know:

Your friend may need a lot of help when she first faces new limitations. In time she may learn ways to work around those limitations, but it can take a while. She will greatly appreciate your patience with her as she figures out her limitations and needs.

When I first became very sick in 2004 life became incredibly hard. Even though I didn’t have any children at the time, and only had to take care of myself, I struggled to figure out how to do that given my new limitations. I hadn’t yet learned the signals from my body indicating that I needed to lie down and rest. As a result, I would unintentionally push myself too hard physically, and then I would end up paying for it for days or weeks. In time I learned the signals my body gives me to let me know that I need to slow down and rest. I have also found tools and learned tricks that make life a bit easier. But for many months I really struggled and needed extra help. Your friend may face times when she needs extra help too.

Let’s hear from you!

What other ideas do you have for ways to help a friend in practical ways? If you have a chronic illness, what has been the most helpful thing someone has done for you?

Image of cleaning supplies from Chlot's Run. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Praying for a Friend with Chronic Illness

Praying for a Friend with Chronic Illness
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18
As a Christian with a chronic illness, I am grateful when people pray for me. I know that I need it! This life is hard, and I cannot do it on my own. I need strength and grace from the Lord, and dealing with dysautonomia reminds me of that every day. If you have a friend with chronic illness, praying for her regularly is something you can do.

When someone is sick, it is common to pray for successful treatment and healing. God certainly can heal someone with a chronic illness, and those who know Jesus can come boldly to the throne of grace and ask for healing. But even though God is able to heal, that doesn’t mean He will heal here and now. It may be that His plan is to use the chronic illness to accomplish greater purposes that we cannot yet understand or see. So while you pray for healing for your friend, I encourage you to pray for more than just relief from physical suffering.

What can we pray for beyond physical healing? We can pray that our friend will grow closer to the Lord. We can pray that she will suffer well and be a faithful and godly testimony in the midst of suffering. If she doesn’t know Jesus as her Savior, we can pray for her salvation. 

Let’s look in the Bible to find some more direction for our prayers:
  • Pray that she will thirst for God and that she will hope in Him (Psalm 42:1, 5).
  • Pray that she will trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Pray that she will be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
  • Pray that she will be filled with joy and peace and that she will abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
  • Pray that God will comfort her (2 Corinthians 1:4).
  • Pray that she will not lose heart and that she will look to the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
  • Pray that God's grace would be sufficient for her and that His strength would be made perfect in her weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • Pray that she will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Pray that she will not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
  • Pray that she will have “the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
  • Pray that she will learn to be content in the circumstances in which God has placed her (Philippians 4:11-13).
  • Pray that God will provide for all of her needs (Philippians 4:19).
  • Pray that she will hold unswervingly to the hope she has professed (Hebrews 10:23).
  • Pray that she will commit herself to God and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19).

If you want more ideas for how to pray for your friend, these are good passages to look up and use as guides for your prayers:

You can also ask your friend what prayer requests she has. She will probably greatly appreciate knowing that you care enough to pray about specific requests for her.

If you have a friend with a chronic illness, what are you praying for on her behalf? If you have a chronic illness, what specific requests do you have?

Photo for image of praying hands from Sang yun Lee. Adapted by Rachel Lundy.

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Encouraging a Friend with Chronic Illness

Life with a chronic illness can be hard and lonely. If you have a friend with a chronic illness, one thing you can do for her is encourage her on those hard and lonely days. Your words of encouragement, both spoken and written, will communicate to your friend that she has not been forgotten and that you see her pain. Your words can build her up and give grace (Ephesians 4:29). Your words may be just the encouragement she needs to persevere on the hard days.

Encouraging a Friend with Chronic Illness

Sharing Words of Encouragement

You can offer words of encouragement in many different ways. You can speak to your friend in-person or over the phone. You can give encouragement in a written form, such as a card, email, text message, or note on Facebook. Cards are a beautiful gift that can be kept, held, and read again and again. Text messages have the benefit of arriving instantly. If you know your friend is having a hard day, you can send a text to give some instant cheer. If she is undergoing a difficult medical test or procedure that day, you can send a text to let her know that you are thinking of her and praying for her at that very moment. However you choose to communicate with your friend, it will be appreciated!

Maybe you struggle to know what to say to a friend. Her particular illness or suffering may be something you have never experienced, and you might feel ill-equipped to offer encouragement in such a situation. Here are some things you can communicate to your friend, either verbally or in writing, that will be encouraging to her: 
  • Let her know that you are thinking of her.
  • Tell her that you are praying for her. You can also share the specifics of what you are praying for her.
  • Share ways that you have been encouraged by her.
  • Share something you have learned from her, either by her words or her example.
  • Write out a favorite Scripture verse.
  • Share a poem or song lyrics.
  • Tell her something that happened that made you think of her.
  • Share about what God has been teaching you through His Word.

Giving a Gift

One other way to encourage a friend with a chronic illness is to give a gift. Whether the gift is small or large, it will be a tangible reminder that someone cares and is thinking of her. This is especially appreciated on the hard days, homebound days, or days spent in a hospital. When your friend is alone and struggling, holding, seeing, or using a gift from you will encourage her. Some specific gift ideas are:

I have received gifts from friends over the years, and those gifts have always been so special and appreciated. I haven't blogged about most of the gifts, but here are two times when I did blog about gifts I received. These might provide further ideas for how to encourage a friend through your words and/or gifts.

Let's hear from you!

What other ideas do you have for specific ways to encourage someone with a chronic illness? You are welcome to share your ideas with us in the comments! We can learn from each other so that we can better encourage those in our lives.

“Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This post is part of the Chronic Illness and Friendship series.
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