Sunday, April 17, 2016

Life is Stinkin' Hard

In the words of my Pastor in a recent sermon, “Life is stinkin’ hard."
One of the blessings of being in graduate school for education is that almost all of my research papers can be tailored to things that apply to me as a special needs mom.  Recently, I did research on caregiving and stress.  Interestingly, caregiving is considered one of the most severe chronic stresses.  It’s actually on the government’s radar as a health crisis often causing heart issues.  I went further and read research into being an autism parent.  One article even went as far as to compare the stress of an autism parent to that of a combat soldier.  Now, I would be very careful comparing my situation to that of someone whose life is consistently on the line.  However, for some autism parents, I could see how this would be true.  Their children are head-banging, self-mutilating, wandering, non-verbal, and suffer from malnutrition or other eating disorders, gastrointestinal problems and the list goes on. 
It’s stinkin hard.
And it’s not just a childhood disorder.  So often the media portrays autism as something that only effects children.  It doesn’t.  It is a disability that affects the person their entire life. 
So research affirms that caregiving causes intense stress.  No one can deny it’s hard.  No one can even understand how hard it is, except those in the situation.  So now what?  What do we do with this information?
From a science standpoint, the research was clear that our minds effect our stress levels.  Stress was tested through interviews and blood work and guess what they found?  People who had good coping skills, social supports, and high self-efficacy (belief that you can be successful at helping your loved one) had significantly less stress than those who felt helpless, who coped through denial, substance abuse, or self-blame.  One study compared people who attended support groups to people who attended classes on communication and coping skills.  Stress levels were the same before the educational classes for both groups, however, those who were taught good coping skills and good communication had less stress than the ones who only attended support groups in the follow-up assessments.  This information shows that many of us could very much benefit from learning good coping mechanisms and ways to feel confident in helping our loved ones.  I will put resources below if you’d like to look at the research. 
But that research led me to something much deeper than that which can be explained through science.  Sure we can educate ourselves and feel confident about helping our loved ones, but then what? What if we are trying our best, but our best is leaving us worn out, stressed, or even depressed? 
What if it’s still stinkin hard?  Where do we turn?
God has commissioned us as His followers to be disciples and share the Gospel with non-believers.  He has given us grace sufficient to heal our pain and crush temporary hardships.  He promises us that if we surrender to Him, He will be with us through every trial.  The best news of all is that when we die, we will be able to live forever with Him in eternity with no more pain, no more struggling, forever at peace.  That future hope can bring a peace that nothing else can.
I used to wonder if my hardships had anything to do with the Gospel.  Do you ever wonder how you can live your life on mission for Christ? Can we even do that if we aren’t missionaries being thrown in jail for the Gospel?  How can raising a child with autism, one who can’t speak, who needs attention at every moment, how can any of this have to do with the Gospel?  But I realized it can and it does.  God has called His children into unique life circumstances in which they can be bold for Christ and show the world that through His grace, those hardships can be endured with joy and hope and freedom from depression.  The outside world can look into our lives and see something that cannot be explained except through Christ.  That example is living our lives in order to point people to the Gospel.  It can also be an excellent catalyst for us to share the Gospel verbally with unbelievers when they ask us about the hope that is in us.
Jesus Christ came into this world to pay the punishment of death for sin, sin separates us from a perfect (sinless) God.  Jesus lived a perfect life and didn’t deserve punishment for sin, but died on our behalf because He loves us. Through His death, burial and resurrection he conquered sin and death so that if we believe and surrender our lives to Jesus we can be reconciled to God through His sacrifice. 
When we place our faith in Jesus, the God that created the world, the God that overcame sin, the God that is in total control is living within us.  Through the Holy Spirit we can be used for God’s glory. 
When we choose to rely on God through our sufferings, God always renews us and His strength in you will restore you.  When we are self-reliant, hoping that we have the strength to conquer each new obstacle, we will always be let down because a new struggle is always waiting right around the corner. This is often when people turn to alcohol, victim-like behavior, or depression.   
As believers, we need to be STRONG for God and through God.  We need to struggle well.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard and that doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle.  It most certainly WILL be hard, but as Christians, let’s struggle with hope and joy knowing that we are hand selected by God to go through this difficult time in order to point others to Jesus Christ.
I know that for me personally, when I hold tight to Jacob’s accomplishments and successes at the clinic, no sooner am I saddened by some new trial that has come up.  I can’t look to his achievements for real joy, though I can absolutely celebrate when they occur. But if that is my only sense of joy, then not only in the world of autism ups and downs will I often be let down, but Jacob will see me let down and my life will be a rollercoaster. 
I have to hold tight to my Creator and not His creation for real joy, purpose, and life.  I have to worship my God and find my peace in Him so that my family, my friends and those around me can see a joy that surpasses circumstance. 

2 Timothy 2:8-13
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,  for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

If you don’t have a relationship with the Lord or hope like this and you want to surrender your life to the Jesus Christ or know more please email me so we can talk.
Much of what I have written was directly from one of my Pastor’s sermons that really spoke to me.  I would love for you to watch it.  Click here to listen.  

Gouin, J., Estrela, C., Desmarais, K., & Barker, E. T. (2016). The impact of formal and informal support on health in the context of caregiving stress. Family Relations, 65(1), 191-206. doi:10.1111/fare.12183
Mausbach, B. T., Roepke, S. K., Ziegler, M. G., Milic, M., von Känel, R., Dimsdale, J. E.. . Grant, I. (2010). Association between chronic caregiving stress and impaired endothelial function in the elderly. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 55(23), 2599-2606. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2009.11.093
Merluzzi, T. V., Philip, E. J., Vachon, D. O., & Heitzmann, C. A. (2011). Assessment of self-efficacy for caregiving: The critical role of self-care in caregiver stress and burden. Palliative & Supportive Care, 9(1), 15-24. doi: