A New Normal?

When I wake up each morning the first thing I’m aware of is this rather loud buzz in my right ear. I’ve had tinnitus (a sound in your ears that comes from the brain, not your surroundings), for a few years. But, for a couple of months now it has increased in consistency and volume and is accompanied by a full sensation in the ear. As you can imagine, it also gets in the way of me hearing clearly.

Tinnitus is one of those annoyances in life that can light the flame of fear. The questions that fear ignites are common: “What if this is my new normal?” “Can this get worse?” “Can I cope with this?” More specific to this condition, “Is this going to stop me from being able to communicate in a crowded room?” “Will I ever enjoy lying down to sleep again?”

When I feel the panic of these fears creeping into my thoughts I do one of four things: focus on the fears, pray, distract myself, or compare myself to those in chronic pain. I think the latter habit has pros and cons. The pro is it serves to be a distraction because friends come to mind who need prayer and who inspire me with their forbearance. The con is comparison can be a source of fruitless guilt.

As one who puts my faith in Jesus, I’ve been instructed to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, put on the full armor of God and take my stand against the devil’s schemes. For those with physical ailments it may sound weird to read in Ephesians 6:10-12 “that our struggle is not against flesh and blood”, because our physical experience is that it most certainly is flesh and blood! I’m coming to the slow realization that there is an AND here. I’m living with the trial of physical ailments AND the devil can use those to get me to struggle in my thought life.

I don’t want tinnitus. I don’t want a full sensation in my ear.  I don’t get to have a say in either condition.

I don’t want to be consumed daily with either one of these annoyances.  I do have a say in what I focus on and the status I give anxiety and fear in my day.

Jesus doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. And Jesus is a rescuer from anxiety. And, anxiety happens to exacerbate tinnitus!

James 4:7 tells me — “submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”.

It’s time for resisting. It’s up to me to take advantage of the mighty power I have in Christ and resist anxiety and fear. There are signs scattered throughout the city I live in that say RESIST. They are political signs meant to proclaim that the owners of these signs will not accept “this new reality as normal”.

I choose to RESIST and not accept my physical conditions to dictate what is my new normal. Fear and anxiety are not normal. The sound mind given to me by Jesus is my normal.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

I thought the previous sentence was the end of this essay.  As I read over it I realize it’s as confusing as the RESIST signs posted around my city.  Just how does one go about resisting?  Gritting my teeth doesn’t help tinnitus and it doesn’t help overcoming fear and anxiety.  How then, do I take advantage of the mighty power of Christ and resist anxiety and fear?  Ephesians 6:10-12 needs verses 13-18.

It takes armor to successfully take a stand:

The belt of truth to be ready.  The breastplate of God’s approval to protect our hearts.  The footgear to proclaim the gospel of peace.  The shield of faith to to extinguish all the flaming arrows the evil one sends our way. The helmet of salvation to protect our mind from doubting what God has done.  The sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word.  And prayer to the God who helps us stand with all this armor.

My normal?  I’m living with a sound mind, in a battle, knowing God’s won the war for me.






Refreshment for Poor and Wealthy Alike

Living in a city for the past year and a half I’ve lost something I wasn’t cognizant of possessing.  I’ve lost the ability to avoid seeing the pain that people in poverty endure.  My suburban life was oblivious, in a way.  It was generally free from the pain of witnessing fellow human beings who spend each day struggling for basic sustenance.  It was free from seeing how poverty can change the posture of a person.

I’ve read a few tweets and quotes lately that urge us all to be tender with one another because we don’t know what those whom we come in contact with are facing in their lives.  Wise and kind sentiments.  In my suburban life I was very aware of the types of pain and the variety of struggles those around me were facing.  Sickness, disappointment, strained relationships, addictions, death, divorce, wayward children and even loss of employment, were shared realities for many friends, family, acquaintances and neighbors.

However, chronic, hopeless, humbling, degrading, desperate poverty, were abstract conditions; only acknowledged by me with occasional donations to impersonal charities, or by volunteering to provide food for those in need, (chiefly during the weeks framed by Thanksgiving and Christmas), or by mechanically sending off a monthly check to the child we “sponsor”.

City life has thrown my abstract numbness onto cold concrete.  During the past 24 years living in suburban California, no one ever approached me on the sidewalks asking for some change.  I never experienced a request in an aisle of my grocery store for a couple dollars.  Only once during those 24 years did someone beg for money in the parking lot of a shopping center.  My comfort zone was protected.  There were quite a number of people living below the poverty level in my town, but the desperation of poverty lived behind closed doors.

Tonight, a woman knocked on our door.  My husband opened the door and was faced with a woman who removed her hat to show her bald head and tell her sad story of cancer and need and desperation for her children and willingness to work for a bit of help.

That brief encounter left us both deeply saddened by her pain and amazed by how different life presents itself here in this city.  Not only are we regularly approached for a handout when we are out of our home, tonight we were asked in the sanctuary of our home.

We moved into this home just 2 weeks ago.  We’ve been keenly aware of and grateful for the blessing of this home and the luxury of the improvements we’ve been able to make to it.  This woman made me keenly aware of the insignificance of a ding on my cabinet made by the men who delivered my shiny new dishwasher today.  It’s not shame I’m feeling; it’s perspective.

I ask myself, how do I cope emotionally and respond compassionately and effectively now that I’ve been forced to part with my oblivion?  What will my attitude be toward those who choose to beg for money?

“To whom much is given, much is expected,”  Luke 12:48.  What is the much Jesus is asking of me?  Earlier in this same chapter Jesus warns, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”.

God’s Word makes it clear that I can cope and respond to the desperation and poverty around me, by being on my guard against my own greed.  I can purpose to not spend my hours focused on my possessions.  Also, the Bible gives a coping response that is life giving (to me and to the poor whom I encounter):  joyful generosity. Generosity in possessions and in service.  “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7  Again, …”life does not consist in abundance of possessions.”

City living can be exhilarating and it can be draining.  Actually, that’s true whether you’re living in the country, suburbs, or city.  That is true whether you are rich or poor.  And it’s true that wherever God places you that, “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25b.   We all have unique opportunities to refresh others.

And yes, there will be times like tonight that will leave me sad.  But, the one who is poor in possessions is not always poor in spirit.  During my time here, I’ve experienced gifts of encouragement and inspiration by some who don’t even have a place to live in.  I have been refreshed by relationship with them.  I also want to be one who refreshes.

As a city dweller, I’ve been given the privilege of being in a position to refresh both those who are poor in possessions and those who are poor in spirit.  I can’t partake of that privilege behind a closed door or with a closed heart.