Lessons in suffering

During Mike Atkinson’s 14-month journey with kidney failure, he has discovered that “while physical ailments can bring you down, there are some things that I’ve learned that help remind me that I’m a human and not a blob in a recliner.”

He graciously shares those insights with us:

Laugh. It is the best medicine. Whatever makes you laugh, return to it often.

Keep your hobbies. The weakness from the disease doesn’t let me do everything I need to with my plumerias in the yard, but I do what I can. And that brings me much pleasure.

Find community. For me it has been a couple of groups on Facebook with folks around the world with this same disease. It really helps to converse with others going through the same things I am.

Go to church. Every word of every song and sermon has taken on new meaning for me, especially the newfound depth in our classic hymns. (Just keep the Kleenex close.) God has used all that to bring me strength when I needed it.

Embrace help. I’ve learned that people want to help. And as hard as it is to accept it, I realize that by accepting it I’m allowing God to bless them.

Get outside. As much as it may wipe you out for the rest of the day, it’s worth it. For me it’s going to Crystal Pier, Balboa Park or La Jolla Cove. I need that. Makes me feel human again.

Get outside yourself. I found I retreated into myself at times—getting too self-focused. It’s very easy to do with a chronic illness. But I don’t read anywhere in the Bible that people with chronic illness get a pass on serving others. We understand the power of encouraging, serving, caring for others, but I’ve learned that to do all that from a place of weakness is real power. God wants to live in our weakness. The best way I’ve found is being the face of Christ to the hundreds of medical personnel I’ve met in the last year. They don’t get joy from their patients very much so I can bring some into their lives by relying on God’s joy and hope.

Thank God. No matter what happened that day, when my head hits the pillow, I thank God for the day. It certainly could have been much worse than it was.

Finally, comes the element of grace, as Atkinson acknowledges that it’s hard to be faithful to his own list.

“Just because I may have these views I’ve expressed does not mean I live it—or even believe it—all the time. As I said, it’s a roller coaster, and God has a lot more work to do on me.”

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