Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, NKJV).
I was thinking about the verse above this morning and asked myself, "What is my cross to bear?" Is "cross-bearing" just about persecution? Or is it something more? Jesus said the above words right after he asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20) And Jesus immediately commanded them not to tell anyone and followed that with the news that he would suffer, be killed and rise again on the third day. This would quite literally be his cross to bear. It had a purpose (our redemption and eternal salvation). But he had to put aside his desires and endure excruciating pain, rejection, and humiliation so that we might be saved. Jesus then lets his disciples know that to follow him, they also had to deny themselves by taking up their cross "daily." As Jesus' disciples, this also applies to us. But what does it mean to deny myself and what, more importantly, is my cross?
My cross is probably different than yours, and it has gotten heavier over the years, but it is something that I am only now learning to take up daily. It does, however, have a few chunks missing where I dropped it a time or two. It has, at times, been painfully heavy to bear, but for the most part, it has stayed with me. My cross has been trying to teach me for over 30 years not to complain about it. I have failed miserably at this and had the splinters to prove it. Each one reminding me of where I failed. By complaining about my cross, I haven't been a good witness or "cross-bearer" to my children. By thinking about my burdens, I have become bitter over what my life was like, compared to what it is now. Cross-bearing is not for the faint of heart. That's why Jesus told us first what it could look like.
But I have learned that not everyone bears the same cross. And not everyone has realized they are even carrying one. Some people look at the problems in their lives and say, "Why, me God?" And they blame God for everything that is wrong with their world. Others say, "Why not me?" And take up their burdens and push on toward the day when they can stand before God and hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
I don't want to be someone who keeps dropping my cross on the ground because it becomes too heavy. I want to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and be one of those people who says, "Why not me?" So today I sat down and drew a cross. And on that cross, I placed the burdens Jesus told me to give to him. But something strange happened. I realized while I was doing this, that my burdens were also my cross to bear. Yes, Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). But he followed that with, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). In other words, we can learn from our burdens. We can grow into the people God intends us to be if we daily take up our cross and follow Him. And we can find rest and fellowship with God even when life is difficult and stressful.
This is what my cross has looked like over the years:
Like I said, my cross to bear is different than yours. But it is mine to bear. I have an incurable disease which makes me gain weight at an alarming rate. It is resistant to diet and exercise, and it is called lipedema. It also affects my lymphatic system, so that it doesn't work correctly. Currently, I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema. Right now I have congested tissue in my legs that is heavy and about as big as a five-pound bowling ball on each leg. It is like this because my lymphatic system is shot. To control my lymphedema, I must sit for an hour a day in something called a lymphapress (think blood pressure cup, but for your legs). It squeezes my legs to get the lymph fluid moving. It is a very painful process, but when the lymph fluid doesn't move it builds up into congested tissue (hence my bowling ball legs!). It is excruciating to walk, yet that is one of the suggested therapies for me so that the lymph fluid will move. However, at the same time, I am told the best way to control the lymphedema is to sit with my legs elevated. So, for the most part, I am stuck in my house all day with my legs up, because leaving them down for too long is quite painful. And walking on them to get the lymph fluid moving is just as bad. What a conundrum! I can no longer put my socks and shoes on by myself because I can't bend my legs. Nor can I clean my house as I used to (some might say that's a blessing), but when dust builds up it drives me crazy!
All that to say this - sometimes the troubles in our lives (especially if you have a chronic illness, debilitating disease or even a terminal one) can be all that we see, and we forget that others are suffering too. We forget to join in with the living because we are so bowed down in just dealing with life. While my cross to bear is a painful, incurable disease, my husband's cross to bear is (sad as this sounds) taking care of me. He is the one who now has to do the work I used to do, like the laundry, cooking and cleaning. While I try to do what I can, it isn't long before the pain overtakes me and I have to quit. Adding yet another burden to his cross, which adds guilt to mine.
We all have a cross to bear. Some of those crosses are horrific, and my heart cries for those of you suffering under the weight of them. Maybe, like me, you were looking at your problems with the wrong perspective. Cross-bearing is not just about being persecuted for your faith. It is also about how well you can stand up under the weight of your cross. Will you give up and say, "Sorry, God but this is too much!" and throw down your cross? Or will you continue to carry it, despite its weight? Knowing that every day that you do so, you testify to God's saving grace and you grow a little bit more like Jesus.
Not sure what your cross is all about? Download the PDF below, fill in everything that is a burden to you. Give it to Jesus, then take up your cross daily, and follow Him without complaint.
I came across an article on prejudice today that was on my Facebook time-line. I was shocked at the treatment of a person because of the colour of their skin. The husband Samuel Kemble was so in love with his wife, he never realized she would be treated differently than him. I love that he saw the real her and looked past her ethnicity. If only everyone could do that. I realize of course that racial prejudice still exists in this day and and age, but for me it's never been an issue. Call me naive but I've always thought that we Canadians were better than that. We all have the same colour of blood after all so why should skin colour make a difference? Why should skin make a difference at all? My skin is not who I am, it's just a covering that holds what is inside me in place. Unfortunately, it does make a difference and it isn't just the colour of a person's skin that brings out the worst in some people, but it's the amount of it too.
As I read through the Facebook comments on the article, I was gratified to hear the indignation and disgust of how Samuel's wife was treated. But one comment stuck out at me, which got me thinking and brought me here to blog about it. The woman had remarked how she and a friend were at a park and saw a severely obese woman. Her friend remarked that she "would never let myself get that bad," which made the first woman start to think about how brave the obese woman was for walking around and not sitting in a scooter or a wheelchair, but was working to make her body work. She also remarked that it made her think about where the woman had come from, that she might have lost a whole lot of weight and might be proud of the fact that she could now get out of bed and walk around. I was glad that this person thought the best of the overweight woman. However, they inadvertently showed a prejudice to overweight people anyway that I'm sure she didn't even realize she had.
By stating that "she wasn't sitting in a scooter or a wheelchair" the woman implied that overweight people who resort to using scooters or wheelchairs are just lazy. And as someone who has had people say that to her face it reminded me again, how anti-fat bias in this country is something that is not only prevalent among medical professionals but it is also a readily accepted form of prejudice that is used against overweight people on a daily basis.
As someone who has a disease that makes me severely obese I am one of those people who has to sit in a scooter. Many times I've had unkind comments come my way that I am just lazy or had let myself go on purpose. Anti-fat bias and prejudice is just as common and real as the woman in this article experienced. It is socially acceptable to berate obese people, so much so that even governments have targeted obese people to lose weight - for cash! Others believe shaming a person to lose weight is the more appropriate attitude. When you read the comments on that article it is clear - targeting obese people is socially acceptable. But when is prejudice ever acceptable?
Why do people assume that overweight people eat too much or are lazy? Yes, some people do have no self-control, but clearly they have emotional issues that are causing their problems. No one eats to get fat on purpose! That is a ludicrous assumption and I for one am sick of people treating me like I "did this to myself."
I have stage 3 lipo-lymphedema which is two diseases - lipedema and lymphedema. The primary disease is lipedema. It is a painful fat disorder, that if left untreated, can cause multiple secondary problems like lymphedema and mobility issues. Thought to be hormonal in nature, lipedema is usually triggered at puberty but can worsen during (and after) pregnancies, peri-menopause, gynecological surgery or any surgery which includes anaesthesia. It can affect both the arms and the legs and usually presents itself in women with pear shaped bodies. It is an abnormal fat that is resistant to exercise and dieting.
At the time of my diagnosis I was on yet another diet (Jenny Craig) and had a gym membership that I used frequently. I have probably been on every diet known to mankind. As for exercise, I used my gym membership but also liked to swim, bike, golf and walk. Yet no matter how much exercise or dieting I did, I could never seem to lose weight below my waist. My legs were always huge at the top, as were my hips and it wasn't until my first pregnancy when I noticed they were both getting bigger. But the big change in my health didn't come until after a fall down a flight of stairs. This injury (unbeknownst to me) sped up my disease and my lymphatic system was compromised.
While on Jenny Craig I noticed the tissue in my legs (surrounding my knees) was getting bigger and incredibly hard. When I told my doctor he ignored me, insisting that I was making excuses for my size. My nutritionist at Jenny Craig, however began to measure my legs each week and not surprisingly discovered they were getting bigger, while the top half of me was getting smaller. I took this info to my doctor who again ignored me. At this point in time I also found myself in the hospital with frequent cases of a serious skin infection called cellulitis, until finally one day the doctor in the ER (who had seen me all too frequently) asked me why I wasn't getting my lymphedema treated. I looked at him, like he'd grown two horns. Lymphedema? What's that? His shock at my lack of knowledge only grew when he realized my doctor had ignored what was apparent - my lymphatic system was shot (his words) and I needed immediate compression therapy and Manual Lymph Drainage to get it under control or I could end up in serious trouble. When I brought that news to my doctor he once again ignored me. That was the last day I saw him. I immediately went online to search for a lymphatic massage therapist and she informed me that I had waited too long and that I now had stage-3 lipo-lymphedema. This was a good news/bad news diagnosis. The good news was that all the dieting and exercising I'd done without seeing results, was not my fault. The bad news was that I was headed for a wheelchair. My lymphatic system was now shot because of the lipedema and I was devastated. If I had not experienced fat-bias from my doctor who kept insisting I wasn't trying hard enough to lose weight, I could have delayed the progression of this disease with compression therapies and would not be disabled today.
I tell you all this because anti-fat bias has to stop. It has to stop in the medical profession who all to often assume fat people don't have any self-control, when it is more likely they have an underlying disease. Approximately 17 million women in the U.S. alone have lipedema that is misdiagnosed as obesity. It is not their fault they are fat.
And that's the number one problem for people with obesity related diseases. They are shamed by strangers, doctors, the government, T.V., the diet industry and sometimes their own family, when in reality they are probably eating healthier than any of them because of years of dieting, trying to "fit in" to societies norms.
It all comes down to one disease really - prejudice and the assumptions that people make in regards to not only obese people but to people of all colours and races. It's just skin. Get over it. Because whether you like it or not - on the inside we are all the same.