January 29, 2016

A Chronic Illness Revisited

It seems a lifetime ago… those years of struggle with a chronic illness, a “syndrome,” they called it.   

“Seven to ten years to fully recover,” they said.  And so it was.  Seven years of herbs, vitamins, minerals, homeopathic remedies, medicines, organic foods; doctor and chiropractor visits; faithful exercise… and lots of tears.  They didn’t mention the tears.   

Too many moves, too many months of sick children; too little sleep, too little income…and a couple underlying, un-diagnosed endocrine problems, left my body compromised.  Suddenly I wiped out.  It took months to find out what was wrong.  And years to “fix” what was wrong. 

No one dies from Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome – CFIDS – CFS for short.  “This is good,” I said.  “I can do this.  I can recover.”  But 7-10 years is a very long time.  It’s most of a childhood; and I didn’t want my sons to know me by my illness.  It’s also a lot of years for a marriage to survive, let alone thrive.  Those long years did NOT feel like “light affliction, which is but for a moment…” 

However, God did a work deep in my soul. In the midst of those years of tears, He drew me to Himself.  He guarded our sacred marriage.  He put a hedge about our family.  

I remember at one point, crying out to the Lord, “Ok, I get it.  You gave health and you can take it away.  But, you kinda at least owe me an explanation.”  Seriously, can you believe I said that to the Almighty God?!  

Over the years, my heart softened, and I was able to finally say,  “Ok, now I get it.  You are God, and I am not.  You do not owe me anything.  Everything is a gift… even what you withhold.  I surrender.” 

It’s hard to see the BIG picture, when what is right in front of us looms so large and so very hard.  There was no breakthrough moment for me… just a very long and slow letting go of what I thought I had to have to survive. 

One day, at the beginning of my journey back to health, I read Isaiah 51:3 and began praying these beautiful words for myself… asking the Lord to do for me what He will one day do for His holy city, Jerusalem.  I even put my name in the verse:  “For the Lord shall comfort Jeanne; he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” 

He did this work, often silently, during what my husband and I affectionately call our “dark years.”  Transformation was painful.  It was slow.  It was worth it.  He comforted me.  He gave me joy and gladness, thanksgiving and a song.  He took places in my soul that were like a wilderness and transformed them into something beautiful.  

In retrospect, this is what helped us get through those dark years:
1. Prayer: praising God and bringing my petitions often to the throne of grace.  I confess, it was easier to petition than to praise; that’s because I didn’t know Him very well.  
2. Persistence: doing what needed to be done, over and over and over again… just not giving up… not giving up on our fragile marriage; not giving up on getting better; not giving up on “seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
3. People: being loved by people who didn’t understand, but who stood with us… frankly, there were too few, and we felt pretty isolated.  Fortunately, there is a greater understanding of this illness today, and less criticism.  We also needed and found professional help, including counseling.  In my opinion, anyone facing a chronic illness should find a counselor who can listen and advise.
4. Perspective: thinking long-range helped me stay focused on the immediate.  I believed I would get better and wouldn’t always feel incapacitated.  I also gained a more eternal perspective on all of life and what matters most. 
5. Protection: guarding my thoughts from lies about my worth was a continual struggle.  I easily believed the lie that I had less worth when I was sick than when I was healthy and capable.  I needed to be protected from critics and from my own fears.  I also needed to be protected from placing false hope in “my plan” to get better; and I needed to learn to lean on the Great Physician.   

As I look back, I realize I needed to do some serious growing up, spiritually.  The Lord graciously and patiently drew me to Himself.  There was no magic formula.  There were no sudden “ah-ha” moments or breakthroughs.  But, over the course of several years, not only did I regain my health, but I drew nearer to the One who loves me more than I will ever comprehend this side of heaven.