Reflections on Surviving

Raising a child with an immune system disorder and running a children’s ministry department at the same time can prove quite problematic—but I tried. There were 600 energetic, excited kids the first Sunday Stonebriar Community Church opened its doors, and the ministry grew exponentially from there. My son Jon was 15 months old and attached to my hip—I carried him everywhere I went when he was well enough to go.

Reflections on Surviving
Image from Photodune.

But then he got sick. Really sick. Hospital sick. He-may-not-make-it sick.

I resigned.

I don’t recall how many Sundays we attended for the next few years, but it wasn’t many. I can recall how many illnesses Jon had, how many specialists he needed, how many therapies he required. When I wasn’t recalling what I had to do to keep Jon alive, I was reminiscing about the life I used to have and feeling sorry for myself.

I didn’t have a clue.

Surviving Mode

I didn’t have a clue about a lot of things, but I quickly learned that I could live on Diet Coke, Gummy Bears, and an hour of sleep. I could carry a child on one hip while simultaneously administering a breathing treatment, answering the phone, and cooking dinner. Surviving happens while you are gutting it out through thick, hard, and suffocating circumstances; when the walls of the world grow terribly coarse, narrow, and deep; when you’re not sure of the difference between day and night because life is mostly dark.

That’s where my family and I were for a long time.

Surviving Others

One of the greatest challenges can be understanding people fighting to survive. They don’t show well to most people: they miss socials and church services (heaven forbid). People wrongly presume survivors are indifferent, uncaring, shallow, or not trusting of God when really, they are screaming silent prayers for help while trying to remember every medical need, new diet plan, schedule to follow, papers to file, and where they last put the keys.

Surviving isn’t popular, and most people who are trying to survive feel out of place in this world where it seems we’re required to always “look good” and “measure up.” Surviving demands that you find some way to lift the weight of life again and again.

It’s easy to quickly assume a lot about those who are thrashing in waves far from secure shores; however, for those gasping for air, presumptive judgments crush like pounding surf.

reaching out

Image from Photodune.

Reach Out

It’s time to stop judging others for what they look like or where they show up or what they do. When someone disappears, maybe it’s time we check on them—visit her home, spend a day in his life, pick up that mess, hold that hand, and experience that life. It’s not for the faint of heart. I dare you.

Heroic survivors are greeted with one specific choice—that is, if they are going to survive.

  • Regardless of what anyone may say or assume, in the messy, gritty, stark pain of it all, the choice is ours and ours alone.
  • If we choose to survive, the foundation will be on Jesus of the Bible—not on some false “Jesus” of man-made rules. The Jesus of the Bible will turn weakness to strength, sorrow to joy, darkness to light, and help us survive.

Without Him, I still don’t have a clue.

Stonebriar Community Church opened when my son was 15 months old; he will turn 18 years old this year, 2015. His energetic, excited siblings who attended Sunday school moved through their own sorrows and overcame as survivors do. They are my heroes, though they don’t think of themselves as such. They also don’t judge those trying to survive. Neither does Jon, because he is a survivor. Constantly misunderstood and judged for his differences, he survives challenges you and I can’t imagine.

Let Me Hear from You

Maybe you are in survival mode right now.

  • It’s hard and dark and lonely.
  • You are living paycheck to paycheck, wondering if you can make it through the day.
  • Judgment or gossip has crushed you.

Don’t let it wipe you out. Forgiveness was uttered from the cross to those who did not understand—so we can let it go and let it be.

Maybe you have presumed incorrectly about someone’s absence.

  • Have you gone to see him, called, sent a word of encouragement?
  • Have you asked how she is?

If not, stop talking, stop assuming and start reaching out. You could be the one who helps a person choose to survive.

Maybe you have chosen to give up. Without Christ, I would have as well. I would have become a bitter, resentful, angry woman, empty and alone. Do you really want to live that way? I plead with you, don’t give up! It’s not worth it. Take it second by second. Reach up . . . but don’t give up! You’re becoming a hero!

Or maybe you have assumed the worst about someone. Please STOP assuming! Instead, reach out for that hand, call, connect, show up. We are the body of Christ—many members, many differences—and you play a part. What impact are you making for the body?

Let’s talk about how we can do this together.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  • VickiHD

    Colleen,
    Thank you for another timely post. Like everyone some days are easier than others. I appreciate and thank God for the days that are good. Honestly, I’m thankful for the bad days too, thankful I got through it hopefully with grace. Your weekly posts are something that I truly look forward to. They help encourage me and remind me about where my focus needs to be (on Christ) to be able to “survive” life.
    Hope you are doing well. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Easter.
    Blessings,
    Vicki

    • Vicki,
      As always, it is a delight to hear from you! Your connection and comments sink into my soul as well; encouraging me to press on. How I look forward to hearing how you are doing and how God is working in your life. May this Easter be one of blessed reassurance that He is our King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Without Him, we would have nothing. I pray you are well today! Happy Easter! Colleen

    • Ok. Are you leaving now? I may make a taco or something. Haven’t eaten. Did you have fun?
      Colleen Swindoll-Thompson
      From my IPhone

    • Vicki,
      You may have received a note sent to my husband. I’m not well today and we were touching base. So sorry if that went to you!

      • VickiHD

        Colleen,
        Not a problem. I’ve done the same thing before. But the taco’s sounded like they were a good idea. 🙂 Sorry to hear you are under the weather. I hope you will be on the mend soon. We had a nice Easter and it is wonderful to celebrate such a special day at church.
        I’m off to put some miles in on my dreadmill. Only 5 more wks until race weekend. I’m starting to have doubts and insecurities about the two races so my plan is to find some scripture to memorize to change my way of thinking. You know how much running is also a mental dialog in your head.
        Happy Easter my friend. Hope you get to feeling well soon.
        Blessings,
        Vicki

        • Vicki,
          That was so funny….as I pushed the “send” button, I thought…you know, that just went to the entire population….wow, taco’s on Easter, WHO KNEW? HA…! Actually, I found out I have to have a huge back surgery in the next two weeks. I was doing great on my “DREADMILL” (oh how I love that) until I couldn’t walk in the mornings and thought, maybe I need to check this out. I had no clue my back was as messed up as it is but, it’s put a halt to the running for a while. So I’m here to cheer you on!!! You can do this…no doubt in my mind. Here’s an idea, when I was in 8th grade, one of the assignments was to memorize the book of James…YEP, the whole book. So little by little, just like in running, one step or verse at a time, we all memorized the book and it’s still with me today. It’s one of the best books in the Bible. So relevant and practical! Just a thought. Let me know what you pick, maybe I’ll memorize them along side you as I stare up at the ceiling in recovery! = ) Jump on it and let me know how you are doing!!! Colleen

          • VickiHD

            Colleen,
            Oh my….back surgery. 🙁 I will be keeping you, your doctors, and physical therapists, in my prayers. Also, I’ll be praying for you on your road to recovery. I think anytime anyone has to go through surgery and then recovering with physical therapy, it may really test you and there will be good days and not so good. But just focus on what your end result or goal will be. Prayerfully, at the end of this road you will be stronger than you were before you started. Most importantly, you have your faith in GOD to help you with this !!!!!

            You memorized the book of James……WOW. Again WOW !!!

            I have found a couple of verses to focus on; of course Philippians 4:13. Perseverance-We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.–Romans 5:3-4.
            Also, Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.– Galatians 6:9.
            Confidence- Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward-Hebrews 10:35;
            A little something else, A.A .Milne Winnie the Pooh books are big in our house and there is a little saying Christopher Robin says to Pooh, “Promise Me You’ll Always Remember: You’re Braver Than You Believe, and Stronger Than You Seem, and Smarter Than You Think.” I just love that too.
            Thank you for cheering & encouraging me. I need to dig deep and focus on my passages when I’m feeling doubtful. Please remember I am also here cheering you on during this time !!!!!!
            Blessings,
            Vicki

          • Vicki…
            What incredible kindness…words of encouragement and hope! You just filled my heart with peace and I thank you! I’m not looking forward to this surgery but when the pain is so intense that I cannot walk, surgery looks a little better. So, I appreciate you cheering me on and I’ll be doing the same for you. I have a couple other verses I memorized when I ran the LA marathon…back when the earth was just crusting over. Romans 5: 1-5, 2 Peter 1:3-6, 2 Cor. 9:24-26, I Tim. 6:11-12, Phil. 3:12-13…of course you probably already have those down but just in case. There is nothing like the power of the mind…I am learning it is a game changer when we choose to focus on what is right and good and true. Way to go girl!!! How I wish I was running with you but I’m cheering you on. And yes, A.A. Milne is one of my favorite authors ever! How I love that quote…I may steal it sometime! = ) Let me know if you need other things to think on and I’ll let you know if I need verses for my attitude…because I don’t like being a patient. UGH! The Lord knows how to get us just in the right spot doesn’t He!. Love to you my friend. Colleen

  • Madeline

    Colleen, I have been living in the survival mode for a long time. I have tried so many things over the years to try to reach what would seem like a reasonable work load but the times of relief have been brief. At the present time I am asking God to bring some change into our life and I am reaching for faith today that the relief that we need will come quickly (I have been praying and waiting for a long time). On the positive side, I want to thank God for the tremendous blessing that the school my son attends has been–much answered prayer there.Things going well at school has been a great encouragement. My prayer today is that my health and the workload at home can be improved somehow. I ask for continued prayer to persevere and that God will help my family to find solutions.

    • Madeline,
      Your note comes at a perfect time. Just yesterday I was reading a research study on women in America today. Their number one challenge is trying to balance work and life…so you are not alone. Now, I also know your life is filled with many more challenges than just the typical mom and that is what wears us down so much…life just never stops. I’m so sorry you are at the end of your rope my dear friend. Sometimes it seems we reach and reach and reach and finally want to drop in hopelessness; but that is when God shows up. It’s in the reaching that our faith becomes stronger I think. It doesn’t feel like it at the time but when a season passes, we can look back and find more strength and wisdom…that is what is growing in you. And, it does stink when it goes on and on…I get that. I pray the Lord will provide some guidance as you seek Him. I will ask that He give you wisdom and discernment as you trust Him in maybe letting go of some things, continuing on with other things…it’s always so hard to know but it’s one step at a time. I’m thrilled to hear about your son’s school. THAT is a rare thing to hear so just the fact that you are at peace with his placement must bring you wonderful relief. Wonderful to know. I pray the Lord showers you today with His strength and peace as you trust and seek Him. Colleen

      • Madeline

        Hi Colleen, I wanted to let you know about an awesome experience I had last week.I had to go in to Noah’s school for a meeting and as I was waiting–I looked at whatever was hung on the walls (I find it hard to just stand and do nothing). My eyes fell on the principal’s honour list of students’ names who made high averages on their report cards. They were listed in categories from like 90%. When I look at things like this I go down the path of what if things had been different for Noah..all the grief. I wasn’t paying too much attention to exact names on the lists when the thought crossed my mind, “What if Noah’s name was there somehow?” Wishful thinking. I let my eyes follow the list thinking, “Why do I set myself up for disappointment? I know his name cannot be there, He is on an individual education plan. He would not qualify–and I understand that and it is OK.That is the way it is.” My eye then caught his name in the top category–there it was in black typed print–my Noah made it on the principal’s honour list!!!!I was standing there in disbelief and tears started to come. I felt like I was not in reality. It was a miracle! He deserves to be on the list because he is a very diligent and enthusiastic student but I never thought under his circumstances that his name could be included! There is so much more I would like to share. It was one of those moments where I really felt impressed (which is an understatement) by what God can do. It was a miracle that I almost missed but thankfully, I believe through prayer, I was led to have to wait for the meeting, ‘look up’ on that wall and dare to dream!

        • Madeline….
          I am in tears!!!! Yes, school and grief seem to go hand in hand when our children are the strugglers or bullied. To know that Noah’s name was there is out of this world!!!!! I so celebrate with you. I wish I could have on April 17 but I was in the hospital….bummer. So today, let’s keep the celebration going…Hurray for NOAH!!!!! Hurray for God!!!!! Hurray for Madeline….that you notices and He dropped a little nugget of golden joy into your life to be remembered forever. That is so fantastic!!! May your delight continue. Colleen

    • Melissa Melvin

      Madeline,
      I too will be upholding you in prayer as you seek God for relief from the weight of life. I pray that God will give you strength, wisdom and peace as you take one day at a time trusting Him.
      God bless you,
      Melissa

      • Melissa,

        Thank you…surgery is tomorrow, 7 hours, and like typical family stuff…it’s been crazy. However, I work with an incredible team and have a supportive family…more than I ever deserve. Thank you for your prayers…they too are part of my amazing support group, full of grace. Blessings, Colleen?

        • Melissa Melvin

          You will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers tomorrow and the days to come!

          • Melissa,
            Thank you so very much. I never expected to be down for so long; prayers for you and other’s have helped tremendously in the healing process. I sure hope you are well today. As I read your name, the verse that came to mind was Jeremiah 29:11…For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to give you a future and a hope. For whatever reason, that just popped into my mind; I usually don’t have that happen so immediately but perhaps this is the Lord’s way of saying He is with you wherever you are today. It is a joy to get to know you and thanks again for your care and support. In grace and peace, Colleen

      • Madeline

        Thank you Melissa. God is working out a lot of stuff in my life. He is again restoring hope again in me through those who have been praying for me. The prayers have helped me to find the words I needed to hear through messages of ministers that have come up on my face book. Isn’t it amazing how God will put the right thing in front of me when I most need it when I seek His help! Yesterday was a particularly amazing day for hearing exactly what I needed to hear!

        • Madeline,
          I am so sorry it’s taken me this long to reply…as you know, I’ve had to take some time for back surgery and recovery but it has not stopped me from thinking about you and praying for you. I would love to know how you are doing now. May God continue to fill you with the peace that only He provides; a peace that will surpass your understanding in every way. Caring for you my friend. Colleen

  • Electro Kitty

    I am tired of just surviving. All of the stress is doing a number on me. I now have shingles, probably due to stress. Am I the only one who can do all of these things that need to be done? Am I the only one who can bring money in to the family? Am the only one who can take care of anyone? Am I the only one who can help my son? I ask for help and no one comes through. I continue to do things myself. I need a break, I am tied and I am angry. I hope your surgery went well. I haven’t seen any sign of you for the past week. 🙂

    • Oh Kitty,
      My heart is breaking for you…just so, so sorry for your pain. My husband and my mother have both had shingles and say the pain is excruciating!! I am so very sorry. There is nothing like nerve pain, nothing that pulls you into the pit of despair like pain. And I do understand the anger and resentment…sometimes it seems everyone has it so much easier and you are left way behind to suffer and struggle. I so get that. I’ve been there and have had lots of anger too. Please know this will pass…the shingles will heal, and your soul will change if you allow God to saturate you with His grace. There were days when I just sat and cried…the whole day, I couldn’t see from swollen eyes and a broken heart. If I could be with you, I would sit and just let you cry. I can’t understand God’s ways, I have learned that there is purpose in them but going through the process is so hard. Please know, you have choices…sometimes the only choice is our attitude…to become bitter and resentful or to fall at the foot of the cross and ask for mercy. That alone is healing. You can’t do this on your own, no one can. There are several places where you can find help if you are in a place to be looking right now. I would love to help you find what is needed. Until then, my prayer is that God will heal your wounds, will bind your sorrows, will shower you with His presence, and will provide you with strength to make it through this day. “Lord, my dear friend is at the bottom, the pit, the darkest place that seems there will never be light or life…and Jesus, I know you get this, you get her…right here, right now. I ask that you do a miraculous work in her soul today…whatever that looks like…will you show up, show her you are present and have a purpose in all the pain. Father, will you give her a hymn or a song to sing as she waits for relief and healing to come. Lord, will you help her endure as only you can do…only you Father can provide the strength she needs. Lord, I ask this in the name of our mighty God and through the power of our Holy Spirit. Amen” Please let me know how you are doing, I care deeply and will do what I can to help. You are one remarkable lady. Colleen

    • Madeline

      Hi, Electro Kitty, I would like to share with you that I am also someone who gets discouraged sometimes. I have seasons of being very tired out and feeling hopeless–I am coming out of one of those seasons now. I find it’s like being in a marathon and needing to get that water and food that I need to replenish my body. I live in the Maritimes in Canada, we are in spring now. the grass is starting to turn green and we had some nice warm weather last week. We had a particularly hash winter. I have been comparing the unique challenges I face with raising a child with disabilities plus the other challenges in my life with the winter we had and now being in spring. I have to remember to look forward to what I know is ahead. Sometimes that is remembering new life in heaven is our final destiny. On a daily basis I am trying to remember past blessings from God and that times of relief do come eventually. Over the years I have found a lot of help from listening to Christian radio stations. I found out about Christian organizations such as Insight for Living. Now I listen and read Bible teaching on various Christian sites. I find I can listen to programs while I am doing my laundry and dishes etc. That way I am hearing God’s word. I have to do a lot of praying throughout my day–I pray as I go. I also have to ask for prayer from Christians. Recently, as a result of prayer, I have reviewed what God wills for my attitudes, speaking God’s word into my day, and the basics of spiritual warfare. I am trying to replace all of my I can’ts with I can and I will with God’s help. I have been looking for all the ways God shows His love to me and my family. I am writing down things as I think of them in a notebook. I wish I had done that a long time ago–but I found it difficult to fit everything in a day. I have really been thinking a lot about God’s love and the Bible verse that says ‘the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13:13. I try to think about Jesus and what He would tell me in the tough moments.The thing that I must continually remember and to practice is to never give up no matter how hopeless things may seem. I have many days when all I can do is just not give up–just survive. On those days, I think now, that is enough. I am very thankful for those who have prayed for me. Prayer is crucial. I will pray for you too.

      • Madeline,
        Thank you for being such a great voice of encouragement to our friend. I can’t imagine the Canadian winters…you are one survivor. Appreciate you so much. Colleen

    • Kathy Jones Quoyeser

      Your words sound very similar to my life. If you would like someone to talk with, please feel free to contact me. I’m on Facebook as Kathy Jones Quoyeser. You will be in my prayers.

      • Kathy,
        Thanks so much for your kindness. You are so sweet to offer your listening ear…would love to know more of your story too. Have a great afternoon, Colleen

        • Kathy Jones Quoyeser

          Colleen,
          My testimony is a long one but in a few sentences: I am a single (divorced) mother and sole caregiver of an awesome almost 14 year old young man who has classic autism and remains preverbal. We have been through many storms but God brought us through each one. God is good and He is in control. I would love to help anyone who could use some encouragement.
          Kathy

          • Kathy,
            It usually doesn’t take me this long to reply…what a wonderful, comforting note you wrote here. Thank you! Having been a single mother for several years myself, the load is weighty and days can be so long However, God does bring us through the storms…though we feel like we will surely die in the midst of them…He is faithful and dependable regardless. I plan to post your comment on our Facebook page…so many there need a voice of sure hope as they weather their storms of adversity. Someday, it’s my hope that the audience will converge and we will share a grace and hope in unity and joy. Thank you again for writing…I hope to stay connected in the days and months ahead. Colleen