Life is amazing and it totally stinks all at the same time. It gives and it robs. It promises and it fails to deliver and sometimes it hands over so much pain we can’t breathe and so much joy we’re bursting. It’s full of summits and valleys, days when your cookies have chocolate chips in them and days when the “chocolate” in your cookies turns out to be raisins.
How do we get through the valleys? How do we handle raisin days when we really need chocolate?
First, a glimpse:
Six weeks ago today, our eighth child was born. He was healthy. Everyone wants a healthy child, but when you’ve had unhealthy children in the past, your gratitude level for a healthy child skyrockets…like rockets…to the sky. We were and still are overjoyed–seriously overjoyed people. There’s joy, and then there’s us–overjoyed.
Five weeks ago I was sitting on the couch nursing my baby and chatting with my grandmother.
Four weeks ago we were standing by my grandmother’s hospital bed as she danced into heaven.
Three weeks ago we buried her.
Two weeks ago Judah and I joined the rest of the family who were already back on tour. Totally wonderful, but I need to go back to kindergarten so I can have a nap.
This past week our daughter with Crohn’s disease had a flare-up, and our son Judah presented blood in his diapers–we’ve been down that road too often.
Six weeks ago–summit. Three weeks ago–valley. Five weeks ago–chocolate chips. This week–raisins.
Here are some of the ways we choke down raisins while waiting for chocolate chips:
15 Tips for Handling Hard Times
1. Cry. Yes, cry. Science is amazing, don’t you think? By science I mean the incredible body and world designed by God–provider of summits and chocolate chips and sustainer through valleys and raisins. When we cry tears of sadness, the tears streaking mascara down the face contain stress hormones. In other words, by crying your tear ducts are removing stress hormones from the body. Isn’t that amazing?! (Yes, Christy. Yes, it is.) So don’t hold back–bawl your eyes out.
2. Just tackle today. I don’t particularly find the words “today has enough trouble” comforting, but this verse does offer good advice: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34. Don’t worry; don’t regret; don’t think about tomorrow without Grandma; don’t think about where Hannah’s flare might take her; just live this moment. You can handle this moment.
3. Rest. According to this State Universityy of New Jersey Pub-Med report summary, “Effects of stress accompanying social disruption and psychological depression, when demonstrated, have been consistently adverse.” Say, wha’?! Because I am an English major, not a science student, I will translate: stress weakens the immune system, and many personalities cannot adapt to the higher stress levels over time. Therefore, you must baby your body a bit (say that ten times fast) to counter the negative health effects of the raisins in your life. Do what you can to incorporate downtime into your day, even if that means jamming to some 80s tunes on the way to the next doctor’s appointment. To quote my doctor, “You. must. rest! Ask. for. help!” (Yeah, he scolds me…but he’s right.)
4. Hug. I’ve learned that hugging random strangers can get you punched, so I don’t do that anymore. Hugging willing huggers, however, is a great stress-release and a mood booster, because it releases endorphins (happy chemicals) into your body. A 20-second hug is ideal, but sometimes that’s awkward…especially when the hugger hears you counting. I prescribed 20-second hugs to all my children, and they count out loud, which serves double duty in teaching the preschooler her basic math skills and easing my homeschool load a bit.
5. Don’t listen to the downers. When my daughter has a flare and people tell me Crohn’s horror stories, it doesn’t help. It’s horrible, actually. Total strangers learn about our daughter’s condition and, because they know someone with a similar disease, that somehow opens the mystical door of permission to destroy this mama’s joy. “I know a boy who had Crohn’s–he died.” Oh? Thank you. I haven’t panicked in, like, 17 seconds. I was almost feeling like a normal person. Thank you for removing that possibility for me. “My neighbor’s uncle’s llama’s previous owner’s niece has Crohn’s and was on the same medication as your daughter, but it stopped working and now she can’t get out of bed and her life is miserable.” Whoa, thank you! I was feeling almost optimistic, but you narrowly saved me from the inevitable fate of a positive outlook. Whew. That would have stunk.
There are times when you can listen and empathize and handle the horrors, and there are times when you simply cannot take it. Just say so. Say, “I’m sorry, but I’m really panicked about my daughter’s future right now, and I can’t handle any more bad news.” Some people have no tact and will ignore your request and keep talking about horrors and doom, so give them this WikiHow link: How to Be Tactful–15 Steps (With Pictures). You could even have business cards made up.
6. Pray. ‘Nuf said.
7. Exercise. It releases happy hormones into your body. If you exercise while crying, you are putting happy hormones in while taking sad hormones out. It’s pretty cool, unless you jog into an oncoming school bus because you can’t see through the tears–that right there is why I don’t jog, people, in case I start crying and hurl myself in front of a school bus and scar the passengers for life and leave my children motherless and get the bus driver fired. I don’t jog because I’m concerned for the job stability of bus drivers. Plus there are bears in the best jogging places, and no chocolate.
8. Laugh. When my father-in-law was dying, it felt wrong to laugh. The first time we laughed during his illness, it was a confusing release of pent-up emotion which actually made me cry, and it felt like we were betraying him, but at the same time it felt good to finally laugh again…while crying–I’m emotionally unstable like that. Why are you taking advice from me?
9. Distract yourself. I am certainly not one to hide from the realities of a situation, but dwelling on them does nobody any good at all. I know, because I’m a dweller. Turn the dwelling over to God and do something enjoyable–read a book, take a walk, plant a garden, hang out on DreamHorse.com for half an hour, play spider solitaire on your phone, call your bestie and make plans for world domination. Whatever you do, don’t dwell!
10. Embrace normal. Sure, your normal is different in the valleys than on the summits. After all, raisins are kinda squishy while chocolate is smooth and divine. Whatever you can do for yourself and your family that resembles your normal (movie night, family dinners, bed-time routines) will help remind you all that life is still livable.
11.Throw away normal. Ah, woman, you’re nothing if not contradictory and confusing! I know. Sorry. Seriously, though, if you homeschool your kids and you just lost your grandma, forget about math. Sit and read books and hug your kids and build a fire in the fireplace and roast popcorn over it in one of those tin popcorn thingies that clearly states, “Do not use over an open fire,” because having firetrucks parked outside your home is totally not normal and it’s a great distraction.
12. Find an ear. Not your own. Find someone you can talk to. Don’t find a fixer or an accuser. Fixers tell you what you need to do to make everything better; they have their very important place, but it isn’t here and now. Accusers like to tell you how everything is your fault. If only you would have… I’m not sure they have a place, except maybe on Perry Mason or Columbo. Find someone with an empathetic ear who will just let you vent and who will hug you and pray for you right then and there and for that short time will make it all about you and your problem until you have soul-dumped and cried and laughed and eaten chocolate and can get back to living. Talk your emotions out with your spouse as well, and with your children at their levels, since tough times often bring out the worst in a body when families need to really be sticking together.
13. Understand that this is a season. When Hannah was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I thought our lives would forever be a mass of emotions, confusions, regret, guilt, and anguish as we watched her struggle. It has gotten much, much better. Trust me when I say that you will not always feel this way. Sure, I will always miss Grandma and my daughter will always have Crohn’s, but we adjust…like velcro shoes, and things get better…and then worse again, but that’s where this next point comes in.
14. Keep it in perspective. By perspective I mean eternal perspective. What are today’s troubles compared to the glories of heaven. Also, keep it in worldly perspective. Face it–most of the things we complain about don’t matter. Really, I mean…really! Okay, the chocolate versus raisin thing–that matters, but most of the other stuff–non-issues! The sooner we can accept that, the better. Some things really do matter, like cancer and Crohn’s, but heaven has none of those things, and it is very real for those who trust in Jesus. The sooner we can look at life through heaven’s eyes, the best.
15. Find joy. Find something to be grateful for. There’s always something. Trust me. Better yet, trust God.
What are your best tactics for handling life’s valleys and raisins?
My apologies to anyone who loves raisins. I’m not usually so hard on dried fruit.