Suffer, Survive, Thrive

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    There are three great equalizers in life: problems, sickness, and death. Rich or poor, intelligent or not, successful or barely hanging in there  — we all
    have to face the reality of problems, sickness, and death. No one is exempt. And hardly anyone can predict when these things will descend on us.

    I think whoever coined the term “new normal” is brilliant. Because it describes, very succinctly, what a person and family go through when a disaster happens. When we hit rock bottom. Or when sickness strikes. Just like that, we wake up to a new normal — except those in the family who choose not to help or be involved.

    Because let’s face it. Not all members of a family are willing to be inconvenienced, or are willing to spend for a family member who’s sick. Tragically, this happens in some families. Not everyone wants to help. That’s an added, painful burden to the one who’s taking care of the sick. But since that’s out of our control, don’t obsess over it. Just forgive them, move forward, and leave them to God.

    Our family faced major sickness four times. First was when my mom had diabetes, and suffered its complications for more than 30 years. Second, when my husband had a full-blown stroke while preaching out of town, in CCF Malolos. Third, when our new son-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 germ cell cancer. And fourth, when our daughter-in-law was diagnosed with bladder cancer five years later.

    Four major upheavals in our family. Each one following close to the heels of the other. It seemed like we hardly had time to breathe and adjust to a new normal — when another major health crisis came along.

    For whatever it’s worth, let me share with you the things that kept us going:

    First, never lose your sense of humor. Laughter releases endorphins. We need these happy hormones to boost our immune system, to relieve our stress, to clear our minds and make us think rationally.

    One time, our family was in the hospital waiting for an 8-hour surgery to finish. Things didn’t look good. We were trying so hard not to be tense. Then suddenly we looked at each other, laughed, and one of us said, “C’mon, Lord, give us a break!” Yes. We managed to laugh in the midst of all the pressure. Laughter is a gift that God has never withheld from our family. If you cooperate with God, He’ll leave your sense of humor intact. Crabbiness just makes things worse. It makes us look weak. Immature. So out of control.

    I was thinking then that God was playing favorites. It looked like we were absolutely one of His favorites when it came to trials that involved sickness!

    Yet the weird thing was this. Even in my sanest moments, I still found myself thanking God that our trials came in the form of sickness — not adultery or immorality; not financial dishonesty, corruption, or stealing of any kind; not addiction to sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, etc.

    Since all mankind has to face problems, I was thankful to God that our trials came in the form of sickness — not any of the things I mentioned. I think it would’ve really broken our hearts if we had to bear trials that involved a crisis of character, and blatant disobedience to God — rather than just physical illness.

    This is not to be proud or self-righteous — because I know all of us are capable of doing the most shameful things, left to our own devices. That’s why I’m all the more thankful to God that He chose sickness as His tool for character-building in our family.

    Hence, our second lifesaver was this: Thank God in whatever circumstances we’re in. We must give Him the “sacrifice of praise” for allowing these trials in our lives.

    But we’re not gluttons for punishment, right? So why should we thank Him for our trials? Well, because God is perfect. He never makes mistakes. So even this sickness, this trial, that we have to face is not a mistake. It’s not a random thing to make us suffer. It’s a trial that God allowed — maybe He didn’t cause it but He still allowed it — for His purposes. For our good. So the best thing we can do is to thank Him in advance for what He’s doing. Cooperate with Him, and trust Him — that His plans for us are perfect.

    Which brings us to our third lifesaver: We celebrated together — A LOT — as a family. It was intentional. We planned it. We celebrated our wins: the cancer-free results, the successful surgeries, the company awards that were given, the huge bonuses received, a new job in a better company, new cars and new perks, the high grades of a grandchild, etc. These were just some of the wins we celebrated together. Don’t let trials rob you of the JOY of your wins.

    We traveled together if someone’s health improved. We went out of town for long weekends. We ate out or had food delivered. We had Girls’-Day-Out dates where we shopped together, ate, laughed, counseled each other. We had lots of impromptu lunches. We wrote our wish lists and bought them for each other. We swam, we played, we celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together. We invented things to celebrate — just to be together.

    In short, we seized the day. That’s why, when our daughter-in-law moved up to heaven last year, we had no regrets. Because our memories are filled with celebrations we had with her.

    Our fourth lifesaver was — we prayed for each other, and helped each other in any way we could. Cash gifts. Lending each other’s helpers, cars and drivers whenever needed. Taking turns sleeping in the hospital. Bringing  food. Buying medicines, supplies. Doing errands. Researching. Sourcing new treatments, new doctors, new medicines. Networking with those who knew better than us.

    It was a group effort, a family effort, all the way. When we share our burdens, we become stronger.

    Finally, our fifth lifesaver was this: Always be real. Don’t fake it. Don’t overspiritualize.  Don’t pretend you’re bearing your burdens perfectly. Don’t be a drama queen either.

    Talk about your hardest moments, your worst mistakes, your foulest attitudes — to God. Rant to Him, if you have to. He can take it. If you want to talk to someone, choose wisely. Someone with a consistent, steadfast walk with God. Not necessarily of celebrity status. But someone who — more often than not —
    shows the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    God assures us that all our suffering will be worth it all, one day. He never wastes our pain, if we don’t waste it ourselves.

    This verse says it all for me:
    “But He knows the way that I take [He has concern for it, appreciates it, and pays attention to it]. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as refined gold [pure and luminous].”

    That’s God’s promise to us in Job 23:10. If we respond to our trials in royal fashion — in a manner befitting royalty, as a child of the King of kings — then one day, we shall come forth as gold.

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