Reading is something I absolutely adore, but it’s something I have struggled to find a place for in my life in the last year up until very recently.
I read a lot from an early age, thanks to my mother. One of the earliest gifts my mother gave both my sister and I was a voracious appetite for reading. Mine came slower than my younger sister’s, my illness/disability being part of the struggle. It was a slow journey for me learning to read. When I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) in the first grade and medicated, my ability to read was jump-started, and so was my love for the written word: one of the greatest loves of my life.
I would often read multiple books a week: I would get in trouble in class for reading a book under my desk when I was supposed to be doing something else. My love for reading served me well as a student, going straight from a Bachelors in Religious Studies with a minor in English to a Masters in Divinity with a specialization in Youth and Young Adult Development. I was reading a ton: but very little of it was by choice. Most of what I read was mandated by a syllabus.
Because most of that reading was mandated, with one exception, a fiction series I really got into my last semester of grad school (the Longmire series), I had really gotten out of the practice of knowing how to choose and stick to a book that wasn’t assigned to me.
As I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, my 2017 one-word resolution was “well.” Choosing to be well–committing to wellness, even when I cannot choose physical health–was the reason I started this blog in the first place. 2017 is nearly over, and it has taken a very unexpected trajectory.
Reading has been a huge part of my wellness throughout my life. While I ha’ve not always been “well,” a lot of wellness I did habe could be attributed to reading. Reading was one hobby I’ve always been able to do, even while my illnesses have limited me from many others. I’ve had migraines since before I could even describe what a migraine was (at least early elementary school). I often sat out in gym class because of physical limitations from pain (multiple undiagnosed conditions). But I could retreat on the sidelines with a book, disappearing into a fantastical world where I wasn’t sick. Reading made me well, even when I couldn’t be healthy.
One reading habit that has significantly contributed towards my wellness in 2017, and I have talked about multiple times on this blog, is my daily scripture reading practice, mainly using the YouVersion Bible App. All of the plans on the app are free, and many are condensed versions of books by various Christian authors. That is how I found one of the most inspirational books I have ever read, as a young Christian wife and mother battling chronic illness: Choosing Real by Bekah Jane Pogue. I was so incredibly inspired by the book that I chose to do a little write-up on it, hopeful that it will help others as much as it helped me.
A little disclaimer: while many of my posts are broad and applicable outside of a specifically Christian worldview, this book, and most of the other books I will be reviewing in the near future, write from a specifically Christian worldview and are most pertinent to Christians with chronic illness. I understand that not everyone who reads my blog is a Christian with chronic illness, and I urge you to read books that resonate with your own traditions and that can help you view your illness(es) through that perspective.
I’m not even sure how I ended up reading the Choosing Real Bible plan in the first place. But nevertheless, I really resonated with the themes in Pogue’s seven-day devotional. The main idea of the plan, and Bekah’s book, is to bridge the disconnects between real life and faith and to make them one and the same; to invite God into the mess of one’s real, actual, day-to-day life, not just the grand moments or the Sunday mornings but the pain and the grief and the hustle and bustle. Pogue posits that choosing an authentic, beautiful life and choosing to walk hand in hand with God are the same.
A main idea behind Choosing Real that resonated with me is that life was never meant to be easy. If it’s hard, you’re on the right track. Pogue writes about all the hard, scary seasons in life, and about not shying away from these seasons, but choosing to let God lead in them.
In the hardest seasons of our lives, in the hardest seasons of my illnesses, I can lean into the truth of who I am, which Pogue discusses in her book. When I choose real, I choose to accept who God created me to be: “made in His image. (Genesis 1:26–27) Fearfully and wonderfully made, that is. (Psalm 139:14) We are chosen. (1 Peter 2:9) We are the dwelling space for the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20) He loves us even when we mess up. (1 Corinthians 13) Simply because He is our Father and we are His children. (1 John 3:1) (74)” all these descriptors are what truly defines me. I am not defined by my illness! Even on my worst days, I can lean into the truth of who I am created to be as a child of God.
The truth of the matter is, no matter how sick I get, through flare ups or rough patches or questions over treatment, when my journey gets rocky, I can always return to the core, unshakeable truth of my faith. I believe that my body: yes, my chronically Ill body, was created by God. Pogue puts it this way: “now when moves, career changes, babies, or serious illnesses come, I find comfort knowing I am enough, for the Spirit of the Lord lives inside me.” (74)
My word for 2017, well, is underscored by this beautiful passage on the same page:
“No matter what happens, my identity will not be shaken. This doesn’t mean I don’t get scared or disappointed or binge on obscene amounts of sea salt chocolate when Plan A is chiseled down to Plan Q; it just means I get another opportunity to walk outside, look into the night sky, and listen as trees rustle their created music. I recognize the tune carried and believe, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ When seasons shift, as Ecclesiastes 3:11 assures, He will make everything beautiful in its time.” (74)
Page after page of Pogue’s book are invitations to persevere, invitations to tread through the hard stuff of life hand in hand with God, in order to reach the good stuff. This doesn’t mean sugarcoating: the opposite, in fact. I love that Choosing Real is underscored with an awareness that the hard stuff is hard. Chronic illness is lonely and isolating and hard. Check out these passages that I highlighted:
“We can’t reach the good stuff unless we are willing to be aware that the hard stuff is, in fact, hard. Isolating. Maybe solitary isn’t something we need to run away from, but an indication to run toward Someone.” (95)
“Nothing, my friend, is wasted. God is using every drop—whether from rain or tears or sparkly paper thrown in celebration—to urge us to keep going, keep giving, keep living in today. Keep pushing against the social norms, the false expectations, the racing against the clock to achieve, arrive, and get there. There is no there. There is only here.” (179)
The last important truth I got out of Choosing Real is that part of partnering with God in persevering through real, everyday life is that we can use our pain to relate to and serve others. Serving takes our focus off ourselves and helps us at the same time as it helps others. Pogue writes:
“When I use my in-the-middle story to come alongside hurting souls, relatability and compassion and the sacred art of giving are born.” (190)
I have definitely experienced this as both a chronically ill educator, and a chronically ill mother. Focusing on my children, both my biological daughter and the kids I work with, takes my focus off myself and puts it onto the kids, and many times I even end up forgetting my pain for a spell.
My chronic pain also helps me relate to those I work with in different ways. Whether kids are sick chronically or just have colds or flus, my chronic pain helps me relate to them in new ways. I am able to be a light to kids who are frustrated with their own problems because of problems I face with my own struggles with chronic illness. Pogue writes about this beautifully in my very favorite passage from her book:
“How are you using your light in the dark? Where are you choosing to illuminate how God is authentic and present and working? Even in your frustrations, pains, and disappointments? In your grief and “just because” funks?” (197)
I am glad that I was able to read Choosing Real, and encourage others to read it as well. It is an uplifting and encouraging read, especially for those with chronic illness, and helped me see how I can live authentically, in my real, everyday life, letting nothing go wasted.