Tough times teach us how to cope and how to hope.
Certain Bible passages escape my understanding. For many years, Romans 5:3-5 was one of those passages I just didn’t get. How does suffering build persistence which builds character which brings hope? I didn’t get the connection. I’ve seen too many people become bitter from suffering. It almost seems unfair that some people face multiple issues in their life. Shouldn’t there be a life rule that you should only have to go one major physical crisis or ailment? A friend has had heart trouble since she was a child; now she is battling cancer. For me right now, it’s an added layer of complication to have poor eyesight on top of the multiple injuries from my recent fall. That’s not quite fair, is it?
My recent injury taught me that the opposite is true. My life long visual impairment has instilled coping mechanisms into my life that I can apply to other situations. When I fell last week, all those adaptations I use on a daily basis kicked in and carried me through a painful visit to the local hospital emergency room and my continuing recovery. It was like an automatic response. As I lay on the ambulance gurney, tempted to be dismayed and panicked about my situation, I thought, “Hey I know how to handle this. Do the same thing I do every day.” Living with poor vision has taught me to be persistent, to hang in there, and not give up. It has built my character to be strong, take risks, depend on God and have a bigger, broader perspective on life. It has taught me that having poor vision isn’t the end of the world.
Hey, wait a minute. That’s the essence of that paragraph in Romans 5!
What coping skills did I use to get me through the pain and unknown extent of my injuries?
Intend to be strong. Inner strength is a pre-determined choice. As I lay face down on the ground waiting for the ambulance, I made the commitment, “I will be strong.” It was a decision I’ve had to make in the past when I’ve been lost in airports, unsure of footing on dark stairways, or anxious about an approaching unseen stranger. It’s a decision to not give in to panic, to not cave to despair, and to stay calm and focused. I make that determination then I implore the Lord to give me the extra strength I need, knowing that I really can do everything through Him, the source of my strength.
Think through the problem. Don’t give in to emotions – yet! Be aware of what’s happening around you. Anticipate what will happen next. I needed to go to the bathroom on the drive home after spending nearly four hours in the ER. We didn’t think through things well and my husband parked far from the door. I was still weak and unused to crutches. We quickly learned to anticipate conditions of parking lots, door locations, and maneuvers toward steps. As my childhood eye doctor said, “Your brain will do your seeing for you.” My husband told me later as I started to put weight on my foot, “You will need to think through every step.” Both of them were so very right!
Accept help. We often hesitate to accept help because it might make us look weak. A mobility instructor once told my daughter that asking for help is actually a sign of strength because we are utilizing the resources of other people to get the job done. At first, I resisted asking for an ambulance. Surely I could pick myself up and get in the car on my own! But past life lessons told me I needed to allow others to take over my care. It’s not about me. It’s about getting the job done and if it takes a team to do it, I need to employ and delegate jobs to others so we can all reach the end goal. I don’t have to do it all on my own.
Be direct about your needs. I’ve long learned that no one can read my mind. People want to help but they don’t know how and they won’t know unless I tell them. Yeah, I’m tired. I hurt. But life will be easier in the long run for everyone if I can articulate what I need no matter how trivial it might sound.
Appreciate your helpers. It’s about as tough to be a caregiver as it is to be a patient. It’s stressful on them too and some of them have not acquired the coping skills that I have. It’s my responsibility to be appreciative, gracious, and encouraging in their efforts to help me pull through.
Repurpose the event. God wastes nothing and neither should we. Rom Emmanuel is quoted as saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” He meant that in a corrupt way but as Christians, we can use bad situations to God’s glory. I’ve seen God do this so much in my life. I’m learning that I can do it too. I joked to so many people that I fell because I was doing research for my next novel. Okay, I didn’t intentionally hit the deck but it is true that I immediately began processing how I would infuse my ER experience into a character’s life in my next novel. My character will have a lot more depth because I’ve been there myself. Seize your crisis and use it to do good and to bless others.
Find humor in the moment. That’s a kind of repurposing but you’ll bless a lot of people when you keep a positive sense of humor about the incident. It must not be easy to be one of society’s helpers. Most of us probably have no clue what police, EMT’s and medical professionals endure from grumpy, scared, hurting, and anxious people who in their moment of crisis, are far from being their best. A positive attitude that flows from a sense of confidence in God’s care can do much to lighten the load of these dedicated people. Humor helps us accept the situation and not take everything so seriously either. That’s why I joke about not driving or I tell people I had a fight with a parking lot.
Redirect your attention to other things. When we focus on the bad or on the pain, we actually feel a lot worse and can cave to depression and despair. When we focus on other people, sing praise songs or repeat Bible verses during the difficult moments, it gives our minds something else to think about and helps us physically relax during the worst. I’m convinced that thinking about happy moments, beautiful places, or my favorite chocolate dessert will actually lower my blood pressure when I’ve got that cuff on my arm!
Let go of the small stuff. Any physical disability or weakness takes extra energy because we are asking our bodies to move and respond in abnormal, excessive ways. In the last three weeks, I’ve been exhausted just from hauling my limited body from one room to another. Limited energy forces us to choose how we will expend that energy. In moments of crisis, when you are in the first few days of recuperation, grief or shock, and you are mostly out of control of daily tasks, do the things only you can do and what only needs to be done right now. Save the rest of the tasks for another time or for other people.
Let God be in ultimate control. It’s tough to be out of control about things as simple as putting a pair of shoes back in the closet or as important as getting a meal or the next dose of medicine. It’s during these times that I learn the true extent of “Give us this day our daily bread.” Through my visual limitation and my fall, I’ve learned to depend on God for the smallest and most specific of things whether it’s finding an airport gate or protecting me through an uneven, gravel filled path. I’ve discovered He is the One fully trustworthy to meet my every need.
Reach back to what has worked in the past. My vision loss has taught me there is more than one way to accomplish anything. I may have to take a different route than others to get to the same destination but what matters most is that I get there. The ability to be flexible and creative became an automatic reflex when I chipped my ankle bone.
Relax and take in the details. Can’t see? Pay attention to what you can hear. Stuffed in a wheelchair? Relax and watch the clouds while someone else does the driving. Have to depend on someone else to take you places? Use the time to build your relationship with your driver and learn about their life experiences.
Praise God for what you have. My vision is limited but I can see colors well enough to define my world. My fall gashed my face and chipped an ankle bone. But I didn’t shatter a knee cap or break my nose. My fall happened and it was a nasty fall, but it didn’t happen until after graduation, my husband was with me, and so many people have come beside me to care for me. Even as I write this a sweet friend is cleaning my house and the amount I’m paying her is pocket money for a much needed vacation. God will always, always bring good out of difficult situations. He’s just like that.
What tough times have you faced in your life? What coping skills did those tough times give you? Can you add to my list?