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Even a tough season can produce hope + identity

Catherine Zuperku

 learning to find joy in the midst of pain…

learning to find joy in the midst of pain…

I have been avoiding this post for quite some time. 1. Because it has been an emotional and physical roller coaster that it’s hard to face the emotions I have toward this last year. It’s difficult to admit when life throws you a curve ball and you don’t know how to solve it. I want to have it all together, I want to put fake smile on and say all is ok. I don’t want to seem weak and weary. And 2. the main reason I keep this blog is for our children to be able to have a journal of their lives growing up and I don’t know how to communicate to them what’s going on and what it’s been like - to be us.
But I feel as though our dear children need to know that we did face seasons that were rough and that tested us beyond belief. There is hope in the dark, there is a small light to hold on to. It’s a tough season to go through but it’s possible to come out the other side.
So as I reflect on our 10 year wedding anniversary last week (woo hoo!) and the current season we’re in, it has made me think of our vows and how true they really are. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…” And that’s the one, “In sickness and in health” that has been our last year. As I have matured in life, I have realized that I can see my life in terms of seasons. There are good, hopeful, water flowing seasons and tough, bite your nails, cry your eyes out, dry seasons. There is a time for each in our lives; and we do grow from the hard ones and get refreshed from the joyous ones.
I can remember our first dry season, when my health was in question before we got engaged because we didn’t know I had crohns disease and I struggled daily till I was put on meds. And then, there were the seasons of; social anxiety, the 15 migraines a month, the infertility we experienced for 2 years, and the season of depression and guilt that plagued me from Zander’s birth. (And yes, there were many good seasons too ;) )
The current season of sickness we are in is my back and neck issues that developed while being pregnant. It was (and currently is) so intense, during the pregnancy, that I had to limit my walking as I would immediately be in so much pain. I saw chiropractors 3 times a week, a physical therapist twice a week and saw my Dr every week to make sure baby girl was ok. But it was so wearing on me - I won’t lie, I was very depressed and did lose hope. The only hope I had was that the pain would be gone with her birth. And for a while it was! It was lovely to feel as though life was back to normal. And then when she was 6 weeks old, the pain started coming back. The pain on top of the post-partum depression sent me into a horrible downward spiral in life. This is when I figured out that it was such a luxury to be healthy. I see health in a completely new way.
Bad health has the ability to change your world upside down and effect your mind so much that you don’t feel like you. I have seen Dr’s. Orthopedic Dr’s, Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, a Counselor, been a many different meds, tried meditation, and had numerous tests and MRIs and nothing explains the amount of pain I feel. I go to sleep in pain, wake up in pain; I live in pain. I only hold my daughter 5 minutes before having to put her down (which is probably why she started crawling at 5 months), I never pick up my son. I struggle to drop him off at school because getting her out of the car and into the stroller and then back again, would cause me to ice my back for an hour. I avoid social functions because the chairs don’t support my back. Just lifting milk and pushing a soap dispenser leave me in so much pain. It has physically and mentally changed how I live my life.
This brings me to the journey I have been on with “Hope + Identity.” Such simple words, yet jammed packed full of power for the mind. The definition of hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I was without that feeling when it came thinking my life would ever change… When you lose hope, you don’t see a point in the future. It’s lonely there.
The definition of Identity is the fact of being who you are. I honestly lost my identity when I quit work almost three years ago. I measured my ‘self’ and my ‘self worth’ through what I did for a career and how successful I was at it. I enjoyed being good at something and when my heart wanted to spend more time with my son - I had no idea that my identity was wrapped in what I did for a living. Recently my identity has been in my health. “I will be happy once I’m better.” “Once I’m better, and I don’t have this pain anymore I will live life again.” But it’s so so so much more. I have only now realized that it’s not how you feel or what you do (for work, for your children) or who you’re married to, my identity was never in me.
I would never have “found” my ‘self’ if I wasn’t forced to lose my ‘self’ in this awful season. This can be a confusing statement when you don’t know what it’s like to be at your end. I lost myself, when I figured out I can’t do this and I have no where else to turn. I’m weary and tired. When you’re in constant pain and you question all kinds of things in your life, you start to evaluate who you are, how you cope and how can you move on from the pain. That means hoping in something that is unforeseen at the moment; that means I can’t solely rely in my husband’s (or friends’) ability to comfort me in hard times; seeing that their words bring comfort but don’t solve the issue or pain. My dear husband would be so sweet and immediately take Bellamy off my hands once he entered the house and I cannot tell you how many back rubs this man has given me. This was wearing on all of us. The poor guy would time mowing the lawn so that he could hold Bellamy when she got up for me. But even with all his physical support, the depression of my current state was so overwhelming. I needed to focus on finding a way to enjoy life even in the pain.
If I was stuck with a life I didn’t love, I needed to find a way to love it. How could I love my self or my body when it continuously was failing me? That honestly started with the question “Does God love me?” I have always had a problem fathoming the big question of “Am I loved. Do I matter?” Out of billions of people, how could he love me and care about ‘my’ issues.
And what a ride it has been to discovering the truth to who I am. I avoided big thoughts like this with things that didn’t matter. I have to come to the reality that I solved my sadness/depression with tv. I was addicted because I didn’t want to face my life. I didn’t WANT my life, I had no hope in my life, I was constantly in pain with no way out. No one wants to live in that. And once I faced the fact that tv was my personal crutch, I said ‘good-bye’ to it. For one week, I didn’t let myself watch a thing. And holy cow, when that’s the only escape you have from your life… the separation is excruciating. Being so vulnerable to myself was something I wasn’t prepared for.
With that, came time to actually dive very deep into His word and who He thinks and knows I am. I mean, seriously, what or who was going to pull me out of this? The Dr’s haven’t helped, my husband can’t, my family can’t, my friends can’t (even with all their encouraging love, texts and messages), things I busied myself with couldn’t. My dependence on Him was the only thing I could truly rely on. And I am so happy to say, I grew and grew and grew and am still growing in this.
I’ve found that if you really want something, you can’t just touch the surface and be fine - you have to put the time and effort into a change, no matter what it is. It has to become a habit and you have to be open to learning and doing things differently. Where you spend most of your time, gives you the energy you hold. And that for me, needed to be not in myself or my crutches. My time with the Lord became a wrestling and embracing match with him all at once. A lot of tears were shed. I was angry that my life was so dark and bleak but I could only hold on to him because there was no other way out. The Drs don’t know what’s going on with me. Yes, I might have had a couple different options left, but still hope had to happen.
It’s hard writing this, this still leaves me in tears. Being so honest feels like my soul is naked and you might not like what you see. I am not perfect, I barely have ‘it’ together, whatever ‘it’ actually is. I am flawed. BUT, here is the biggest blessing every, I now have HOPE!
The seed of hope must have started small, but it grew and I now know for certain my life won’t be like this forever. That this season will end and there is a new refreshing season coming. My dear sister-in-law gave me a beautiful message that said, “He sees you… He sees you climbing that impossible mountain and he’s cheering you on!” He saw my pain and he did care for me more than I knew. And some how there began to be peace and joy through the pain. If He loved me, I could love this body that was failing me. I could see a future again. I feel the pain constantly, and sometimes I have to remind myself every 10 minutes that this won’t last. But having hope, has given me joy again. I can laugh again, I can look at these beautiful children again and be so flipping thankful that my mouth hurts from smiling so hard.
So my dear children, please take comfort in the fact that the hard seasons will end, and there is always hope. It’s never lost, it just needs to be found. It’s vital to any trial you face.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”
So as I am trying to end this super long post (which was quite painful to write) I have started to see a very slight difference in my health. It could be my mindful approach to it or it could be my dry season coming to an actual, physical end. Either way, my joy and identity aren’t wrapped up in my health anymore. My depression isn’t weighing me down anymore - there is always hope. I remind myself constantly of this - after all, I’m a work in progress and I will continue to be. ;)

_____________________________

For reverence to my dear children on some things that helped me get through. I wanted to list these items. (I’m doubting Youtube will still link when you’re ready to read this?? But google might help you find ‘em??)
A lot of my revelations came through song and even some sermons. I found the lyrics in songs give me so much comfort and move me more than most things. And I related to all of these. One of my fave verses is below, because I am SO ready to move on, to say good-bye to yesterday and have my heart beat again! (a new hope):
Yesterday's a closing door
You don't live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It's alright now
Love's healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
'Cause your story's far from over
And your journey's just begun

Hope in the Dark, Craig Groeschel, The Listening Life, Sylvia Jeronimo, Songs: “You Say’ by Lauren Daigle, ‘Prince of Peace’ by Hillsong,You’re Going to be Okay’ by Brian + Jenn Johnson, ‘Joy’ by King and Country, ‘No longer Slaves’ by Jonathan David + Melissa Helser,So Will I’ by Hillsong, ‘Who You Say I Am’ by Hillsong,Reckless Love’ by Cory Asbury,Even when it hurts’ by Hillsong, and ‘Tell Your Heart to Beat Again’ by Danny Gokey