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Bittersweet Lessons

Posted Feb 07 2013 11:00pm

It began with “Welcome”, posted on a website. A health website in an area for those with Parkinson’s Disease or someone caring for a person with Parkinson’s Disease. The ‘Welcome’ has turned into lifelong friendships that have developed through laughter, heartache and commonality… we all have PD.

Two days ago I met a friend who I have known for over two years and just had the blessing of meeting personally. A friend who also has Parkinson’s disease. She met me at the airport in her famous, ‘da Coat’, overcoat and the friendship has grown by leaps and bounds since that moment.

I suppose so far the highlight has been today, after an exhausting (due to lack of sleep) evening at her women’s retreat and getting to know her friends. I have been immensely blessed by their company and hospitality. After cleaning up after the gathering, we went back to her house (this morning) to work on our PD site, Parkinson’s Journey. Afterward, she took me to a friend’s home, who also had a friend visiting from out of town. These two women also have PD.

This has been my first experience meeting anyone else with PD. It gave me a reality check in two major areas. First, realistically confronting the facts of this disease and second, the blessings of this disease.

First, the confrontation. After meeting Judy (‘da coat owner) in person and watching her, the realization of where this monster (PD) is headed hit me in the face (not literally of course, but it actually felt like it could have happened). After meeting Peggy (TNPeg to some out there) and seeing where she has traveled on her PD journey (she recently underwent a clinical trial for PD that involved having five holes drilled into her head), once again, I was hit in the face. Hard. This monster has no mercy. It has no preference of attack. It does not care who it hits. Young children, young mothers, young fathers, spry grandfathers, first time grandmothers, elderly parents – it doesn’t play favorites. It will attack them all and leave them to fend for themselves in what could be a useless shell. It knocks them to the floor. It will laugh when they cannot voluntarily move their feet. It will mock when others stare as you flail about without control.

But it will not win.

In the pain, the struggle, and the heartache, there is a blessing. The blessing of joy.

It will show up in the darkest hours. It will shine through the things we can still do. Like painting a mural on the side of a barn. It will radiate gratitude in knowing that five out of ten fingers still work pretty good. It will weep with joy on the days that are ‘pretty good’, because there are days that are pretty bad. The monster (PD) may appear for a battle, but it will not win the war when hope and joy stand as its defense.

The facts are, PD doesn’t get better. It can be controlled to a point, but it won’t get better. Though it won’t go away (unless God wills it), the sorrow over its presence in our lives can, if we look at the to God and the blessings in the trials and tribulations throughout this journey.

It is hard. Many times blessings come through hardship. They can sometimes definitely be easier to see when we in the midst of a hardship because we are elated when something good finally seems to happen in the middle of a hard time. The blessings can almost tend to stand out. However, they can be hard to see if we get caught up in pain and sorrow and lose hope.

This week I have watched these women of faith, women who are filled with hope, strive to maintain some sense of ‘normalness’ in their lives and hold on to some measure of control of their bodies. This week I realized, that is what I also try to do. I guess I call it pressing on.

I have wept in silence for these women. Some not only deal with their own disease (PD), face to face, day after day, but some are carrying loads that press in on every direction, often leaving anyone else to give in instead of pressing on. One woman is grieving over her mother’s battle with reoccurring cancer and the war with chemotherapy treatments. She also runs errands for her father in-law who has just been admitted to a nursing home for health problems.

Where does her hope come from? The kind of hope that allows her to stand when she has no strength left? The kind of hope that allows her to smile in the face of despair? A hope that perseveres in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this life? Her hope comes from her Savior. It seems so appropriate that the One who saved us, saves us continually from much.

Paul said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. …Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
(Philippians 1:2-12)

Joy can be found in the midst of trials – if we believe there is a purpose in those trials. What if the only purpose was just to develop perseverance? Would that be enough reason to press on? Would it be enough reason to know that you were going through a hard time merely so that God could teach you to not give up?

That is easy to ask but tough when considering the response. However, if you consider the rewards of learning to persevere, it may be easier to answer.

Perseverance produces maturity. Completeness. Character. Not only does that staying power produce the kind of character that pleases God – a maturity and completeness in Him – but what a promise we are given if we persevere for His sake, to receive the crown of life! Yet, Paul says this comes when we persevere under trials. The kinds of trials and test that God allows in our lives. Tests that can feel as if they will claim the best of us. Storms in our lives that feel as if we will drown in the smashing waves and be thrown against the rocks, left to wash ashore limp and lifeless. Trials that claim ownership of our strength and hope and joy and strive to leave us empty. Tribulations that trap us into a dark crevice which close in on us, inch by inch of every passing day and chide us into believing the sun will never shine again.

But God made a promise to those who love Him. The promise that these things in life that hurt, that often make no sense, would make us better. Even if they don’t make us well.

That is the blessing of our trials – our diseases, our losses and sufferings, betrayals, and more. The blessing of not only receiving the crown of life, but knowing that we were allowed those trials because we are loved by a merciful God. Knowing that He has a confidence in us that we cannot even begin to fathom in our small minds.

He knows what we are able to endure. He only gives us what we can handle. He will give nothing less, as it won’t produce what He desires for us to become and He will give nothing more, as He is a loving and wise Father towards His children. He allows just enough to become stronger in Him.

If you are facing a trial that seems as if it will destroy every ounce of strength you have, every drop of joy that remains in your spirit and every spec of hope you thought you possessed, take heart. God is using it for your good. He is using it to bring about abundant blessings in your life. It is being used to produce perseverance. He wants you to develop into His mature and complete son or daughter whom He loves beyond any measure that you could ever imagine. He has not left you nor has He forsaken you.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He has already gone before us and knows the path we are on. He has walked it Himself. He persevered to the bitter end. He will be your strength when you are too weak to stand. In the midst of the storms, He will be your lifeboat.

He has already won the battle. All you have to do is to trust Him. Persevere through the trials for when you have reached the end, mature and complete, He will be standing ready to place a crown upon your head.


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