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STRESSIN’ THE STRESS TEST

Okay, I am going to sacrifice any semblance of dignity and self-respect and share a funny story with you about something that happened to me this week. Now to see the humor in this, you are going to have to picture it in your mind – and let me warn you, it’s not a pretty picture! It is a funny one, though – or at least I hope so, because if not, I’m confessing this on the worldwide Web for all the world to see for nothing! I can easily laugh at myself, but if everyone else is laughing, too, it had better be worth it!
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So on with the story… I had to go in for some tests this week and among them was a stress test for my heart. I wasn’t happy about it, and, in fact, it had hung over my head for weeks. I’d been through it before and knew what to expect. First, they inject some radioactive stuff into your vein so you glow in the dark. (Okay, I’m kidding about the glow-in-the-dark part. It is really so they can take pictures of your heart.) Then you have to lie perfectly still on a hard, narrow table for at least fifteen minutes while a camera circles your body and takes pictures of your heart in “resting mode.” After that comes the treadmill, and then more pictures once you’ve got the old ticker really pumping. There’s some waiting time involved and a couple other little things, and altogether it takes about four hours.
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First thing I notice is that there are four other women there for the same thing and they’re all in their seventies and eighties. I’m fifty-seven. At this point I am feeling so o-o-o-old. They call me first and I enter the inner sanctum. “Lie down on the table, put your hands over your head, and we’re going to swaddle you so you can’t move. Okay, ready? We’re starting right now! You must lie still and oh, by the way — don’t even take a deep breath!” The camera starts moving, and of course, the first thing I want to do, the first thing I simply must do, is take a deep breath! I manage to restrain myself, but it is on my mind the whole time. Am I breathing too deeply? Should I breathe at all? Don’t think I can hold my breath for fifteen minutes so I concentrate on short little shallow breaths and then worry about hyper-ventilating. I finally quit worrying about how I am breathing because now I have a worse problem. My ear is tickling. Then my nose itches. There’s a spot on my forehead that itches, too and my foot is going to sleep. It’s driving me crazy, but of course, I dare not move so I suffer through the last eternal five minutes. Finally a timer goes off and I think it’s got to be over, but what?! The technician is chatting on the phone. Get off the phone, lady, and get me out of here!
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I finally stagger out to the waiting room and all four old ladies look at me expectantly and in unison say, “Well?” I just laugh and start telling them about the breathing and tickles and itches. Before I know it, they are calling me back for the dreaded treadmill portion of the test. This is what I’ve really worried about, and for weeks I’d been telling myself, Cindy, you’d better get on the treadmill here at home and get in shape before that stress test! But of course, in my typical procrastinator fashion, I hadn’t, and day after day I’d sat with the computer on my lap. Now here I was, about to face the consequences! They hook me up to a bunch of electrodes, and take my blood pressure, and the first thing I see is that my blood pressure is already high and the test hasn’t even begun yet! White coat syndrome, I’m sure, because it’s been okay normally.
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The treadmill starts. It begins at a fairly easy pace, but it’s programmed to ramp up to a higher speed and sharper incline every three minutes. “Make sure you give us a one minute warning before you quit,” they emphasize, “so that we can give you another dose of this nuclear drug (can’t remember what it’s called) before you stop.” Okay, so far so good. The first three minutes aren’t too bad. Then it shifts into gear. I’m seriously hiking now at a really brisk clip. I might have been okay, except that one of the technicians wants to take my blood pressure again and she’s got me hanging on by one hand while she fumbles around trying to turn the little screw on the blood pressure cuff. It’s turned too tightly and they finally have to go in search of a man to get it turned. In the meantime the other technician is on my other side trying to undo the tape on the IV in the hand that is desperately clinging to the bar on the treadmill. I am so distracted by all this and with just trying to keep up with that doggone conveyor belt, that I suddenly realize the next speed-up is about to begin and it is going to have me running and I know I can’t do that for even one more minute!
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“Time! Time!” I call out in panic.
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“I need 83 more seconds!” the doctor says.
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“I’ll try,” I gasp. Just then the treadmill speeds up. I am running for my life. The technician finally gets the blood pressure she wants and mercifully I can grab the bar with both hands, but I know I am on the verge of disaster.
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“Thirty more seconds!”
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“I can’t! I can’t!” That is hard for me to admit out loud. I seldom back down from a challenge but I know – I can’t!
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“You have to!” the doctor says. “Someone get behind her and push!”
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So, picture this — for the next thirty seconds I am in the humiliating position of having the petite technician standing behind the treadmill with her hands on my derrière, giving me the push I need! It actually helps, and somehow I survive the test. My pride may be in tatters, but my sense of humor is still intact because all day long I burst into laughter whenever that mental picture pops into my mind.
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Sometimes all we need is a little push. I don’t know if it is my stubborn, pioneer-stock determination or my sinful self-pride that won’t allow me to appear foolish or old or less-than-perfect (which, of course, I am but I don’t want other people to know that!), but it is really difficult for me to confess that I cannot do something on my own or to ask for help. Like the two-year-old who insists, “No! I do it!” I’ll grit my teeth and dig in my heels and struggle on. This can be a problem when your husband is a problem-solver like mine is. There are times when I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “No! I want to figure it out on my own! I can do it myself!”
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There comes a time, though, when we all come to the end of ourselves and we have to admit we can’t. In this case I had reached my physical limitations, but sometimes we’ve reached the end of our rope emotionally or spiritually and we just have to confess I need help. My pride caused me to feel humiliated that I needed that little extra push, and I would have loved to say, “No, no! I’ll do it!” but in all honesty, I was actually grateful and pleasantly surprised that it made all the difference between success and failure.
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We do not walk this journey of life alone. God, in His great wisdom and love, has given us help along the way. From the very beginning He saw that we needed help, and He provided it. Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (NLT) That first helper was a spouse, but then came parents, siblings, other family, and friends. Parents are to provide instruction, teaching, and encouragement. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Proverbs 22:6 reminds us to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 27:9 encourages us with “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.”
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Finally, Christ established the Church, and among the great blessings of that fellowship are our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are admonished over and over in the New Testament to help one another physically, emotionally and spiritually. Romans 12 tells us to “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love… Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” (vs. 10, 13, 15) Galatians 6 goes on to say, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (vs. 2, 9-10) Hebrews 10:24, 25 says “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…” I Thessalonians 5: 11, 14 tells us to “comfort yourselves together, and edify one another…encourage the fainthearted, support the weak…”
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Most comforting of all, He promises us His help when we call upon Him! Philippians 4:13 reminds us that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He offers strength, rest, and encouragement in Him. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31) “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) “…always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58)
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Let’s face it – for some of us it is easier to be the pusher — the one who encourages and helps and, gives and uplifts. We don’t want to be the pushee, dependent on others and admitting our weaknesses. If the Lord sees that we need all this help and provides it for us, however, then we must see that we would be foolish to not acknowledge it ourselves, swallow our pride and accept it with grateful hearts. We must understand, also, that when we refuse help that is freely and lovingly offered, we are robbing someone else of the blessing of giving and ministering. There is an old saying, No man is an island. We need one another to give and receive that extra little push from time to time.
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I’ve been thinking of that treadmill downstairs. I really do need to get back on and get in better shape for my trip to Ecuador in less than four months. The high altitude of the Andes Mountains, walking through the Inca ruins and out in the countryside – I need to get in shape! I’ll definitely get on the treadmill again – tomorrow!

REFRESHMENT—THE CURE FOR WEARINESS

I have been soooo tired all week. Tired to the point that I couldn’t even write, which is really unusual for me. I kept falling asleep with my computer on my lap, and my brain felt fuzzy when I was awake. I finally gave up and decided to take a break for a couple of days. I feel much better now and ready to get back to work.
I know one of the reasons for my exhaustion. Robbie has his days and nights mixed up again. He sleeps a lot, anyway, because of all the seizure medicines he takes, but all week he’s been sleeping all day and evening and then staying awake through the wee hours of the night. When Robbie doesn’t sleep at night, I don’t get much sleep, either. It’s hard to accomplish much when you’re only getting three or four hours of broken sleep a night.
I stagger out of bed in the morning, my eyes barely open, hair tousled and standing on end (trust me, it’s not a pretty picture!) and go out to the kitchen to get Robbie’s food and medicine and take care of his needs first.. Then, at last, I look forward to my coffee in the morning. No, not because I need that caffeine rush (I drink only decaf, even in the mornings) but because my husband has prepared my coffee for me the night before and all I have to do is push the button to start the cofeemaker when I get up. It is one of his little tokens of love for me that I appreciate the most. Doctor it up with a little Sweet’N’Low and some flavored creamer, and Ahhhhh…
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My cup of coffee, my Bible and notebook, and some time with the Lord—and I am ready to start the day. In the winter I feel all cozy in the warmth of my living room, but once the weather breaks I can’t wait to enjoy that time out on our sun porch with its sunshine and breezes, the birds entertaining me in the neighbors’ rain gutters and an occaisional squirrel peeking through the windows at me. This is my time of refreshment—and we all need some refreshment to get us going from time to time.
Refreshment is the cure for weariness. Just as there are many causes for our weariness, the Lord has provided many ways for us to be refreshed. I’ve taken the letters of the word refreshment and made an acrostic of it to look at some of those ways. We’re also going to take a little look at Elijah (read I Kings 17-19) and see what we can learn from a period in his life when he was just plain weary and needed the refreshment of God to lift him up.
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R – Rest This is the obvious one. I’ve never been real big on sleep, anyway—until now when I’m really lacking it, that is! I’ve been a night-owl all my life and still managed to be an early riser. In my younger years I always felt like I was missing out on something when I was sleeping. As I got older I appreciated those hours to myself when everyone else was sleeping. Now I know that the lack of sleep is one of the culprits in diabetes and heart disease (I have both) and a host of other physical ailments.

Not only is rest essential to our physical health, but we also need it for our mental and emotional health, as well. In the book of I Kings we see the prophet Elijah serving the one true and living God in a land of idolatry, even when he felt he was all alone. He faced the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, he challenged the king, he fled the wrath of Jezebel until finally he sat down under a juniper tree in the wilderness and said, “Lord, why don’t You just kill me now?” Elijah was just plain weary. He had worn himself out and now he was drained. He needed a time of rest and refreshment.

Jesus Himself needed rest from His labors. He encouraged his disciples to rest, also. Mark 6:31 says, “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” Rest is necessary for our physical, mental and emotional health, but there are other things that will help to refresh us, as well.
E – Encouragement Elijah isolated himself when he was depressed. We often do the same thing when we are feeling discouraged and down. This is the time, though, when we need encouragement, whether it be from our brothers and sisters in the Lord, Christian radio, a good Christian book, or whatever. Sunday mornings, when we are tired and weary after a long, hard week, Satan is right there whispering that we need to stay in bed. What we truly need, though, is to get up and find encouragement in the fellowship of believers at church, in the preaching of the Word and singing praise unto the Lord. Hebrews 10:24, 25 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
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F – Faith Weariness affects us spiritually, as well. When our defenses are down, Satan is right there, looking for the crack in our armor that makes us vulnerable to his attacks. Elijah allowed his faith to be shaken and so he became fearful. He feared Jezebel’s threats more than he trusted God at this point and fled for his life. Hebrews 11, which is commonly called the “Hall of Faith” lists heroes of the faith, “who, through faith…out of weakness were made strong…” (vs 32-34.) Isaiah 40:31 says, “But they that wait upon [trust in] the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Faith in God will make us strong. When we are truly trusting Him we can rest in His faithfulness and love.
R – Refocus Elijah indulged in a little pity-party. When he whined to God that he was the only one left in Israel that was faithful to Him, God told him there were seven thousand others who had never bowed their knee to Baal. When he fled to the desert he threw himself to the ground and said, “You may as well kill me now, God, because I am as good as dead anyway.” He took his eyes off the Lord, he forgot about the others in Israel who were still faithful, and focused on himself and his own problems. When we are weary and discouraged we need to take the focus off ourselves, quit indulging in our self-pity, and refocus on the Lord and others around us. “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2) “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
E – Ever-Thankful Nothing is more revitalizing to me than praising God for His many blessings. When we start to count all the ways He has blessed our lives it is impossible to stay down in the dumps. Apparently Elijah forgot to count his blessings. The Lord sent ravens to feed Elijah morning and night, He provided for him through the widow, and later even sent an angel to minister to him. Through the Lord, Elijah miraculously raised the widow’s son from the dead and defeated Baal’s prophets by calling down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice for the true God of Israel. You would think these occurrences would bring a spring to his steps and a smile to his face as He rejoiced in what God had done. When we are thankful and praising God there is no room for depression or discouragement. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always for all things…” He promises peace and rest when we are thankful. “Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
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S – Scriptures Elijah heard the voice of the Lord in the middle of his weariness. God did not speak from the mighty wind, or the earthquake or the fire, but in a still, small voice. It is in our times of discouragement, when we are laid low by weariness, that we can hear the Word of God bringing us encouragement and refreshment. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be…” (Deuteronomy 33:25) “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31) “…always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58) Having these words of comfort and encouragement in our hearts, and being in God’s Word daily means that His refreshment and renewal is right there for us when we need it.
H – Help We need encouragement from our fellow Christians, and sometimes we need their actual, physical help. Our self-pity or pride may cause us to refuse help when it is offered. Sometimes we think we can handle things ourselves and don’t want to bother others, but when we do that we are cheating our brothers and sisters in the Lord out of a blessing. The Bible tells us to “Bear ye one another’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2) I Thessalonians 5:14 says “…encourage the fainthearted, support the weak…” In Galatians 6:10 we are told, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” We need to share the burdens—not only others’, but on the other end, our own. Elijah had helpers along the way to minister to him—the widow, an angel and Elisha. God sends helpers to us, also, to refresh and encourage us and we need to be willing to accept that help.

M – Music I’ve got to confess, I’m not finding any music here in the story of Elijah. Perhaps the lack of music is significant, though. If Elijah had whistled a little tune or plucked on a harp and sung, maybe he wouldn’t have been so blue! Okay, I’m being a little facetious here, but seriously, I believe music is a special gift from God to bring comfort, peace, joy, encouragement and yes, refreshment to our weary souls. Even if I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, I can still enjoy all the benefits of music. David used music to minister to Saul when an evil spirit came upon him, and the Bible tells us Saul was refreshed and was well. (I Samuel 16:23) The New Testament instructs us, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” (Ephesians 5:19) and “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16) Good news for those of you who think you can’t sing—it says in your hearts. Whether we’re listening to music, singing in our hearts or simply singing where no one can hear us, there’s no excuse not to use music to refresh ourselves!
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E – Enjoy Life See the humor…the beauty…the wonder in life around you. When your spouse has you frustrated and your children have worn you down, look for the positives, the good in them. They’re there somewhere, trust me! When you’ve flubbed up—again—learn to laugh at yourself. When the hair dresser bothches your cut, or you’re cleaning up a dozen eggs that hit the floor, or you’re trying to stretch the spaghetti sauce by adding ketchup and hoping no one notices, don’t let it get you down. Move on. Life is too short and too precious to let the little things wear on you. Elijah was not a very humorous fellow. He wasn’t paying attention to the beauty and wonder of the world around him. Good reason why—he was facing down four hundred and fifty false prophets, a mad king, a wicked queen and running for his life. Maybe, like him, we’ll be weary, too, when it is the major things that hit us—a serious illness, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, the straying of a spouse or child— but don’t let the little things drag you down, too. Proverbs tells us, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (vs 17:22) and “…he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” (vs 15:15) Sounds good to me!
N – Nourishment The Lord specifically tells us in these chapters in I Kings how He provided nourishment for Elijah during these difficult days in his life. He sent ravens to feed Elijah bread and meat twice a day when he was beside the brook of Cherith. He miraculously provided food for not only Elijah, but also for the widow and her son. When Elijah was at his lowest God sent one of his angels to bake a cake for him and give him a cruse of water. Wow! God must feel nourishment is pretty important when we are weak and weary. The angel said to Elijah, “Arise and eat for the journey is too great for thee.” (Isaiah 19:7) When the journey is too great for us, we need to remember that we need physical nourishment, and we need spiritual nourishment, as well. Some people have trouble eating when they are under great stress. Then there are the rest of us who do nothing but eat under stress. We need to take in proper nourishment to refresh our bodies when we are weary, and we need to take in the milk and meat of God’s Word to refresh our spirits.
T – Time We become weary many times simply because we are not using our time wisely. We procrastinate, and when we procrastinate we feel the pressure of things hanging over our heads. It makes us weary. We fail to prioritize so we end up running in a million different directions. The important things don’t get done, but we’ve been working all day—and things are still hanging over our heads. Then there are the times we run ahead of the Lord, failing to wait on His timing and will. Things never go well then, and we are once again stressed, frustrated, discouraged and weary. Learning to use our time wisely, learning to allow God to work things out in His time and way will bring about rest and refreshment in our lives. We are told several times in the Bible to redeem the time, which means to use our time wisely. (Ephesians 5:16, Colossians 4:5) Ephesians 5:17 also says, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” That includes the timing of His will. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait on the LORD… and He shall strengthen thine heart…” Again, Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Elijah waited for God’s perfect timing when he went up against the prophets of Baal. All day long they had called upon their god to hear them, but when there was no fire from Baal, when the four hundred and fifty prophets were worn down and bloodied from their efforts and when the people of Israel had seen for themselves that Baal did not hear them, then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah called upon the Lord God and He heard him and answered with fire from heaven.
Elijah was a great man of God. Let’s not forget that. But in a time of weariness, stress, loneliness, and fear, he succumbed to discouragement, depression and even wishing for death. If a man like Elijah can fall like that, certainly we, too, will curl up in our little fetal ball now and then and have our little pity-party or be too exhausted to even move. The Lord has given us many means of refreshment and when we let Him—and others—help us, He will lift our bodies, our hearts, our minds and our spirits in strength, faith and joy.