Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Author Q & A with Esther Smith {Plus a Giveaway!}

I am pleased to have Esther Smith joining me today to talk about her new book, When Chronic Pain and Illness Take Everything Away. Esther is a blogger at lifeinslowmotionblog.com, where she writes about faith and chronic pain and illness. Her blog, and her books, have encouraged me in my life with a chronic illness. I hope you will be encouraged by her too!


This is our rebellion - just because we are in pain doesn't mean we can't be happy.


Thank you so much for joining us today, Esther!

Hi Rachel, thanks so much for having me!

How does chronic illness and pain affect you?

In a nutshell, my chronic pain affects my ability to stand, walk, and sit for long periods of time. When this first started to happen, I tried to push through and continue with my daily activities. But I quickly learned this strategy caused my condition to sharply regress. I had to learn how to rest and live my life without the unlimited movement I was used to.

It’s hard to explain how much physical limitations such as this affect every single area of life. I have to be so careful as I decide what commitments to take on, knowing my body can only handle being upright for a limited number of hours each day. This has placed significant limits on my ability to work, socialize, serve, play, and do regular chores around the house.

Just this past weekend, I tried to make it to a women’s event at church. I lasted a half hour and had to come home because I knew if I stayed it would affect my ability to go to work next week. Every day I have to make choices like this about what is most important, and in the process, so many wonderful things in life get pushed to the side.

What made you decide to write When Chronic Pain and Illness Take Everything Away?

I wrote this booklet because the physical limitations I described above lead to a lot of emotional pain and distress. They lead to a lot of questions and doubts and confusion. For me, it was confusing to see ways in which God had gifted me, and then feel unable to use these gifts. It also didn’t make sense that God would take away things he says are important – things such as being in community, serving others, and enjoying his creation.

I wrote this book because the losses of chronic pain hit me hard. And not just me. My friends with chronic pain and illness were experiencing the same things. I was struggling to know how to approach God and accept God’s will for my life in the midst of my losses. Writing through this helped me gain some understanding of what I was experiencing and how to move forward. And I hoped that what I was learning about grief would help other people in the process as well.

Grief is not an easy topic to read about. I wondered if people would be interested in a book about grief. But, in my heart, I knew it was such an important topic. And when people were ready to approach their grief, I wanted them to have a resource that would help them do so.

What is one thing that has helped you to deal with the grief that comes with chronic pain and illness?

In seasons of grief, I always find myself writing. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I write a blog post. At one point, grief led me to write this booklet. Sometimes I write for my eyes only. Other times I write directly to God as a prayer journal of sorts. And at times I write for other people to see so that we can share our grief together.  

Whatever form my writing takes, it has become a way for me to process everything I am thinking, feeling, and questioning. As I write, I begin to make better sense of life. All the grief that has been building up in my head and in my heart falls onto the piece of paper, leaving me to feel a little bit lighter. Writing allows me to approach my grief instead of pushing it away or ignoring it. I believe that anything that helps us move through the grief in this way is a positive thing, and over and over again, writing has done that for me.

You mention in the book that Lamentations 3 is a chapter you turned to often in your grief. How did the words in this passage of Scripture help you?

I think this chapter gave me permission to feel deep emotional pain. It gave me permission to feel hopelessness and desperation. It mirrored some of my deepest fears – that perhaps God was shutting out my prayers, and perhaps he had walled me in and abandoned me. While rationally I knew these things were not true, sometimes it still felt like this was happening.  

I also liked that Lamentations 3 held a few verses of hope. It didn’t end with hope; hope was found right in the middle of the passage, a brief reprieve from the darkness. At times my life has felt like that. I wrote in the booklet that Lamentations 3 gave me just enough hope that I could still believe it. Passages with too much hope felt like a lie; those with no hope tempted me to think all was lost. Lamentations gave me a balanced view of both – in this life we find both grief and hope intermingled together.

What brings you joy in the midst of pain?

I could answer this question in a lot of different ways. But, what I have been focusing on lately is finding joy in the little things God gives me. A conversation with a friend. A favorite food or beverage. Eating a piece of chocolate. Buying a new book. Going to church. Getting out of the house for a short trip somewhere. These things do bring me joy. It’s easy for me to focus on all the things that I can’t do, so lately I have been trying to focus on the things that are still possible.

What advice do you have for someone who is considering self-publishing a book?

My advice is that you should definitely go for it, but don’t rush the process.

I worked on a full-length book about chronic pain for over a year. When I finished, a part of me just knew it wasn’t ready for publication. In the end I decided to take the best material from that book and repurpose it into several small booklets. I am so glad I didn’t publish that book and that I waited long enough to realize this was the right decision. I would have really regretted publishing material that wasn’t ready.

Self-publishing can be too easy. It only takes a few minutes to submit your manuscript. So, my advice is to go for it, but to wait. Wait until you know without a shadow of doubt you will be proud of the finished product.
  
Esther Smith
Esther Smith is a counselor, writer and blogger who lives in Maryland with her husband. She blogs about life, faith and chronic pain at lifeinslowmotionblog.com.


When Chronic Pain & Illness Take Everything Away by Esther Smith

Esther is giving away a copy of her book to a Cranberry Tea Time reader! The winner may choose either a paperback book or a Kindle version. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below. The winner will be notified next week by email.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Gift of Time to Pray

messy bed and a mug on the nightstand

December was a busy month for my family. It was filled with birthdays, work, and celebrations. When January arrived, we settled back into our regular routine. School started again for my children, and my husband went back to work. I wanted to get busy too. I was ready to start reading and writing again. I was ready to help out with small tasks around the home.

But my body was too worn out from the holiday season. I used up a lot of energy over Christmas break, and my body has had a hard time recovering from the exertion. The fatigue has made it difficult to type on my laptop, even while lying down in bed. Sometimes it has been too hard to read or even watch a movie. The extra tiredness has been discouraging for me. I have wanted to do more to serve my family, but the fatigue has kept me still and quiet.

I was feeling sad about all that I could not do, but then I decided to shift my focus and look for the gifts found in the mundane, quiet days at home. I started adding up the time that I spent in prayer on my tired days, and I soon realized that I was spending two hours or more in prayer on many of those days! Because I was too tired to do my normal tasks, I was able to spend much more time in prayer.

In the middle of these weak and tired days, I have been given a good gift: uninterrupted time to pray. Many Christians would be grateful for two hours of time alone with God each day to pray. The time I have to pray is a precious gift, and I am learning to accept it as such.

I live in a body of weakness. Maybe you do too. It is a comfort to know that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God can work through our weak and tired bodies, and spending time in prayer is one way we can let Him work through us. It is also a comfort to know that the “Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

So this winter, as I rest and recover from the holidays, I am keeping my prayer cards nearby. When I am too tired to read a book or write a blog post, I will spend time in prayer. This extra time spent in prayer for friends, family, ministries, and missionaries is not time that is wasted. It is time that is spent on Kingdom work! It is a privilege to come before the Lord in my weakness and pray, and it is a comfort to know that the Holy Spirit intercedes on my behalf.

Is there a limitation you are facing that makes life difficult, but that opens up new opportunities? What gifts have come as a result of a disability or illness in your life?

This article was originally published on The Irresistible Church.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Busy Hands: Matching Cowls

Rachel and Adelaide wearing matching cowls

I have not been able to do much crocheting in the past couple of months. I have needed to rest my arms on most evenings instead. So this month I am sharing a crochet project from last year. I made a cowl using a chunky, brown yarn from the gift basket I received from a sweet lady in Georgia.

This picture of Adelaide and me was taken in February of last year. I can't believe how much Adelaide has grown in the past 11 months!


Möbius Cowls and the One Skein Wonders book

I crocheted the Möbius Cowl from my One Skein Wonders book. I then adjusted the pattern to make a small cowl for Adelaide using the leftover yarn.


Rachel and Adelaide wearing matching cowls

These cowls are soft and warm. I usually keep mine in Cordell's basket so that I can pull it out if I get chilly. Warm cowls are great for chilly Minnesota winters! And having matching cowls with Adelaide makes it lots of fun.

How have you been keeping your hands busy lately? Have you been working on any craft projects?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Live Full, Walk Free {Guest Post and Giveaway}

"As Christ followers, we have all the power we need for all the problems we face." - Cindy Bultema

I am delighted to welcome Cindy Bultema to Cranberry Tea Time! Cindy is an author, speaker, blogger, prayer warrior, and encourager. I met her through social media a couple of years ago, and the Lord used her to encourage me during some very hard days that year. She has been a blessing in my life, and it is a pleasure to have her here today.

Last month, Cindy's new Bible study, Live Full, Walk Free, was released. It is a study based in the book of 1 Corinthians. I enjoyed going through this Bible study in recent weeks. I learned a lot about the book of 1 Corinthians and the ancient city of Corinth. I was challenged and encouraged by the study and by Cindy's personal testimony.

Here is Cindy with a sneak peek at Chapter 2 of Live Full Walk Free:


Now Available from Cindy Bultema: Live Full, Walk Free


Unite Don’t Fight

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
1 Corinthians 1:10

Bullying stinks!

I don’t know about you, but when my kids are the ones being picked on, Mama feels all the feelings. I’m talking anger, hurt, and, in this particular case, bafflement, at who was doing the bullying and who didn’t step in to stop it.

My youngest daughter had a bit of a lisp, and some of the boys on the school bus were making of her. They would tease her, call her names, and mimic her talking with her lisp, of course exaggerating. Spit actually flew from their middle school mouths to my little girl’s face!

She came home in a puddle of humiliation.

I wanted to climb aboard the yellow bus like a mildly deranged mama bear and have a swipe or two at those hooligans, but of course, I restrained myself. (I aspire to be sanely involved with my children’s conflicts.) I prayed for grace, forgiveness, and wisdom, because the main instigator was the son of a friend. Yikes!

And my son was a witness to what had been happening to his sister.

“Sweetie, what did you do when those mean boys were picking on her?”

My usually reliable son averted his eyes and lowered his head.

“Nothing.”

Sweet Molasses! I wanted to jump out of my skin. But motherhood is all about gulping those deep breaths and praying those ‘Help me, now!’ prayers. “Nothing? You watched your sister get spit on and you did nothing? Help me understand.”

Before he could respond, I kept going (as moms do):

“Honey, we belong to the same family—we are Bultemas. We stick together. Family doesn’t stand by and do nothing when our sister or our brother needs help. Family members take care of each other.”

I was trying to teach my son about family, about unity and how to pursue it in our broken, hurting world.

The bus drama with my daughter sparked negative emotions in me, but it was also an opportunity to remember I am called to pursue unity, with bullies and moms of bullies, and with my siblings in Christ.

“Unity” is kind of a churchy word, but like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:10, it just means agreeing with one another, with no divisions, no conflict. (“Division” in ancient Greek has a connotation of ripping or tearing fabric, so literally Paul begged the church members in Corinth to not be ripped apart.)

But…drama and conflict come up all the time—can I get a witness?

It pops up with friends, kids, siblings, and between husbands and wives. It flares on the playground, the workplace, the big yellow school bus.

We can’t avoid conflict, but we do get to choose how to deal with it. Do we make the rip worse or do we do all we can to mend, to heal?

When he wrote his letter, Paul knew the local church in this Greek city was a hot mess of overblown drama and bitter contention. Four cliques had formed—Team Paul, Team Apollos, Team Cephas (or Peter), and Team Jesus, a group which boasted that they were above all the petty squabbling. Each was sure they were right and everyone else was wrong. (Sound familiar in our current culture?) Church members were even suing each other!

I love how Paul writes his letter with a pastor’s heart, using family language. No less than twenty times Paul addresses his “brothers and sisters,” his “adelphos” in Greek. His loving yet firm tone is one we might use if we were going out for coffee with a sibling or a friend who had lost their way. “Oh, friend…I love you, but this has got to stop.”

Let…“there be no divisions among you,” Paul writes.

No drama.

No he said/she said.

No spitting on each other.

No hurting each other!

“…be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Build each other up.

Gently, patiently, kindly.

At peace.

Get up ev’rybody and sing!

Okay, so that last line is not technically in the verse, but this whole discussion of getting along in the family of God gives me a flashback to fourth grade. The roller rink, my Shaun Cassidy satin jacket and bell bottom jeans. And “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge:

“We are family

I got all sisters with me

We are family

Get up ev-rybody and sing!”

Great song, and even greater message.

By the way, the instigator in my girl’s bus drama? With his mom’s encouragement, he came over and apologized, giving my daughter a bookstore gift card he bought with his own money. Grace ruled, and harmony was restored.

Life delivers many reasons to be at odds with our sisters (and our brothers). Let’s look for ways to be at one with them, instead. Let’s also look for ways to be family to each other, to stand up for each other as dearly loved daughters and sons of a Good Father. Because family takes care of each other, always.

Lord, forgive us for believing the lies of the enemy that tear us apart as your own children. Help us be peacemakers, drama diffusers, and restorers in every way. Thank You that you designed us for unity. In Jesus’ Name, Amen


Cindy Bultema
Cindy’s latest Bible study, Live Full Walk Free: Set Apart in a Sin-Soaked World was released in December 2016. Visit her blog to watch the study trailer, and download a FREE sample chapter and set of A-Z scripture cards: http://www.cindybultema.com/live-full-walk-free/

With nearly 20 years of ministry experience, Cindy is a popular women’s speaker, author, and Bible teacher. But don’t let her cheerful smile fool you—Cindy has endured single parenting, overcome bondage to addiction, and survived tragic loss. Cindy lives in Michigan with her husband and their four kids. Most days you can find Cindy walking her beagle Rocky, attending one of her boys’ hockey games, or serving hot lunch at her kids’ school. Connect with Cindy at www.cindybultema.com.


Live Full, Walk Free study guide

Thomas Nelson has offered to give away a Live Full, Walk Free Bible study book to one of you! You may enter using the Rafflecopter form below! The winner will be notified by email. Please note, this giveaway is open to US residents only.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Marriage, Chronic Illness, Christ, and the Church

Our wedding day in 2002

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. 
Ephesians 5:22-33

Will and Rachel

Last week my husband, Will, and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. I look back with gratitude on the years we have shared together, and I thank the Lord for the blessings that we have experienced in our marriage affected by chronic illness.

I will never forget the wedding card given to us by a dear family that I babysat for as a teenager. In the card, they wrote, “We pray that God will bless your marriage such that it will be an example of Christ and His church.” Their prayer was a wonderful, biblical prayer. But, little did I know how God would so clearly answer that prayer!

When we married in 2002, I already had a chronic illness. At that time, I was still able to attend college, and after graduating I was able to work a part-time job for a while. However, less than two years after getting married, my health deteriorated to the point that I became disabled and homebound.

Suddenly, I needed my husband to do basic personal tasks and household chores that I previously could take care of on my own. I needed his help with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and shopping. I needed his help with transportation and maneuvering my wheelchair. There were even times when I needed help with personal care. And he was always faithful to help me.

Each day, Will sacrifices his comfort in order to care for my needs and perform the mundane household chores. As he faithfully serves me, he is an example of the sacrificial love of Christ. He shows me a small reflection of the great love that Christ showed me when He gave Himself on the cross for my sins. It is an incredible gift to be reminded day after day of the love of Christ through my husband’s service to me.

My husband has a high calling to display the love that Christ has for the church. I, too, have been given a high calling. As I respect and submit to my husband, I have the privilege of displaying the beauty of the church submitting to Christ. It is an honor to respect and submit to my husband as to the Lord.

Will and I are certainly not perfect, but I hope and pray that our marriage is a lovely picture of the gospel to those who see us. If our marriage can give a glimpse of the beauty of the gospel to a watching world, and if our marriage brings glory to the Lord, then all the difficulties of marriage with a chronic illness are more than worth it!

Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. A godly marriage proclaims the gospel to the world. A chronic illness, or disability, in marriage does not mar that picture. A chronic illness or disability can, in fact, enhance the picture of the gospel!

How have you seen the gospel put on display through a marriage affected by a disability? If you are in a marriage affected by a disability, how does your marriage portray a picture of the gospel?

This article was originally posted on The Irresistible Church blog.
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