chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

February: The Long Waiting Game (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 3 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.



Psalm 5:1-3

Listen to my words, LORD,

      consider my lament.

Hear my cry for help,

      my King and my God,

      for to you I pray. 

In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;

      in the morning I lay my requests before you 

      and wait expectantly. 

Genesis 40:23–41:1a

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream . . .


Devotional

Winter marks a dark season of life when no answers to difficult questions seem to come. It’s a time when waiting for God to intervene feels like an eternity. No one invites a chronic condition, or a long-standing trial. Still, they can come unannounced at any time and remain longer than expected. Illustrations from the Bible of those waiting for God to intercede serve as examples for waiting amidst an uncertain future.

In Psalm 5, the author begins his petition in the morning and then settles in to wait the rest of the day for God’s response. He wakes up with burdens heavy upon his heart and mind.  Those thoughts could allow the darkness to overtake his soul, but he does not let it. His waiting is an active waiting. It’s where the soul gazes expectantly for a response from a loving and sovereign God. 

 Joseph’s story in Genesis stands out as a model for grace under pressure. He finds himself in Egypt after his brothers sell him to slave traders. At first, he does well as a servant to Potiphar, the captain of the guard. But when Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph and fails, she falsely accuses him of trying to sleep with her. Potiphar, as a result, sends him to jail with the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt. In prison, Joseph attends to them and helps them interpret dreams. The cupbearer, though, forgot about Joseph after his release from prison. Joseph languishes there two more years. 

The psalmist’s expression of active waiting and Joseph’s life of faithfulness enduring injustice are stories I draw from for my own life. The worst waiting with psoriasis comes with severe skin flares. Each minute feels like an hour, while an hour feels like a day. The physical discomfort of itchy, stinging sores and the emotional frustration and restlessness become unbearable. Flares can last for weeks, months, or longer. The psalmist points me back to God each morning while Joseph reminds me that God is just.


Opener

Share a time when you waited for relief or resolution to a difficult situation. How do you feel you coped while waiting? What was the final outcome? 

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chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

January: The Despair of Loneliness (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 2 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness.” For a list of entries click here.



Job 2:11-13

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him;they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. 


Devotional

In a winter of the soul the psalmist asks the Lord in despair, “Will you forget me forever?” Questions stirred from this winter season range from “why me?” to “how long?” He feels the depth of his pain even

Loneliness is a constant companion in the winter of chronic illness—even in the presence of others. I read one statistic from the World Psoriasis Happiness Report 2017 that saddened me: Only about 40%of both women and men agree that their closest friends and family understand what it is like to deal with psoriasis. I wasn’t surprised, though. My own sense of isolation during my formative years confirmed what the almost three out of every four people surveyed. I mostly felt alone with psoriasis in my own home. 

Job from the Bible felt a depth of pain that no other, not even his friends or wife, could truly comprehend. His loneliness stemmed from the dire situation of losing all his property and children while sustaining boils over his entire body. In response to his devastating circumstances, his wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). His friends felt so overwhelmed by what they saw that they sat in silence with Job with nothing to say. Their presence only heightened Job’s sense of loneliness.

It’s natural to feel alone in difficult moments as each person’s experience is unique. However, walking through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23:3) while feeling abandoned and isolated leads to an even greater despair. Knowing that God is “my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1) turns loneliness into solitude with God and leads to places of restoration and renewal.


Opener

Share one way you, or someone you know, has endured something unpleasant or painful over an extended period of time. What questions, if any, were raised in that situation?

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chronic illness, Living with Psoriasis, Personal Faith

December: Questions Upon Questions (Four Seasons of Healing)

Note: This is entry 1 in a study guide series called “Four Seasons of Healing: A Pathway for Those Living with Chronic Illness” covering the introduction to Winter and December: Questions Upon Questions.

For a list of entries click here.


Part I: Winter (December to February)

My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long?  (Psalm 6:3)


Shortened days with darkened skies mark the winter season. Punishing storms reshape the landscape, eroding surface features through harsh winds and rivers of rain. 

The winter of a long trial such as chronic illness marks its arrival with an initial diagnosis or flare-ups of old symptoms. Like a strong downpour on a dusty desert floor, everything in life that is not securely grounded and rooted gives way to a barrage of uncertainties in this dark season. 

Yet winter exhibits its own beauty. The moonlight striking a snow-covered hillside, or a cleansing rain, reminds the soul of life’s rhythms and cycles. The desert cactus points to a creative force that adapts to the harshest conditions. Those living with chronic illness need not run from winter, but rather wait for God to reveal His amazing power in the midst of even the greatest storms.


December: Questions Upon Questions (Psalm 13)

Psalm 13:1-4

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.


Devotional

In a winter of the soul the psalmist asks the Lord in despair, “Will you forget me forever?” Questions stirred from this winter season range from “why me?” to “how long?” He feels the depth of his pain even though his God is close by listening to his lament. His troubled thoughts remain from the time he wakes to the last sight of his eyes before he sleeps. God does not provide the answers the psalmist seeks in the time he feels he needs them. Instead, he feels like death is around the corner.

I can think of a couple of periods in my life where I sat in the silence and despair of winter like the author of Psalm 13. One time, during my second year at the University of California, Davis, old treatments failed. New treatments meant liver biopsies and debilitating gastrointestinal distress. Another time, in the mid-2000s, I experienced a massive flare-up of symptoms where psoriasis covered over 95% of my body. The top layer of skin on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands painfully peeled—a side effect of psoriasis medications. Those were times when I felt overwhelmed with ongoing anxiety and insomnia. I once again asked God those questions I first posed as a teenager.

God can handle any questions that come His way from a sincere heart saddled with anguish. Indeed, Jesus Himself cried out on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Being honest and open about those questions begins the healing process.


Opener

Share one way you, or someone you know, has endured something unpleasant or painful over an extended period of time. What questions, if any, were raised in that situation?

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Living with Psoriasis, psoriasis

Introduction to the Four Seasons of Healing

At eight years old my life was turned upside down when dermatologists diagnosed me with severe psoriasis. Psoriasis is a noncontagious immune-mediated condition that inflames the skin and joints.

It became an imposing part of my life at that tender age. The personal struggle of living with psoriasis not only came from the physical discomfort of red, itchy, burning, thick, scaly lesions. Anxiety, depression, and hopelessness accompanied the physical discomfort.  

Everyone is touched by physical illness. Whether experienced personally or as a friend, family member, or caregiver, disease and illness are part of the human condition. The coronavirus pandemic started in the United States with the first confirmed case on January 20, 2020. The ensuing spread and devastation revealed just how fragile public health can be in the face of a novel pathogen.  

The personal struggle of living with psoriasis not only came from the physical discomfort of red, itchy, burning, thick, scaly lesions. Anxiety, depression, and hopelessness accompanied the physical discomfort.  

The increasing prevalence of certain chronic health conditions adds complexity and risk to medically caring for those who contract COVID-19. Indeed, those with chronic disease already bear a great burden without those complicating effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes on their website that “six in ten adults in the US have a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more.”[1] They describe the impact of chronic disease this way: 

Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $3.8 trillion in annual health care costs.2

 While the financial costs of chronic illness to the healthcare system and individual are great, those numbers do not account for the hidden impacts of these illnesses. Chronic disease and illness often affect one’s spirituality, emotional health, relationships, employment, or even the ability to perform basic daily tasks. 

Each day since my diagnosis I have grappled with having a chronic, severe, stigmatizing skin disease. Indeed, the emotional and spiritual wounds often felt insurmountable to overcome. 

Struggles at Home and Beyond 

I applied messy treatments and sustained painful taunts in those early years living with psoriasis. I especially hated putting liquid coal tar in a petroleum base on my skin overnight. The coal tar treatment smelled like a newly paved road while it stained everything it touched. The greasy feeling on my body made sleeping difficult. To make matters worse, my older brother called me names like “tar baby.” Those hurtful words made hours of treatments each day that much more difficult to bear.  

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