You might be sick, but you’re not useless.

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A friend of mine recently sent me a link to the Wikipedia page of Laura Hillenbrand. The name, at first, meant nothing to me, and I wasn’t sure why she’d sent it, but as I read, something jumped out at me, and I knew it was what she wanted me to see:

“Hillenbrand’s first book was the acclaimed Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), a nonfiction account of the career of the great racehorse Seabiscuit, for which she won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2001…Hillenbrand suffers from severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and remains largely confined to her home.”

I am not confined to my home, but I do know the debilitating weight of this illness; the way in which it seems to strangle your talents and potential. And yet, I find in Hillenbrand’s life the inspiration that sick people don’t have to feel useless.

To recount all the blessings I have encountered not despite, but because of my illness would take thousands of words, but I too have discovered that even sick people have a purpose and calling from God. We may not all be great writers, but God does not leave his Children without gifts to use for the building up of the church.

So if you’re sick, or tired or you find yourself in circumstances that you never would have chosen, do not, on top of all that, despair that you have no earthly use or purpose.

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The Precious Gift of Having Suffered

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The other week, I had a chance to talk to a group of students about of my journey with Chronic Fatigue. I talked about the darkness, the grief and the sometimes overwhelming feelings of despair, but I also talked about the hope and joy I have found through my relationship with Jesus.

At the end of the lesson, I was surprised when one of the students stayed behind.

“I just wanted to talk to you” he said, “because you’ve been through the same thing that I’m going through now.”

He then went on to tell me about what was going on in his life. Indirectly, he was dealing with issues of death and divorce, sexual abuse, neglect, overwork and worry. His circumstances were overwhelming, and poles apart from anything I had ever experienced.

I couldn’t understand why he was talking to me as though I’d been there too. Suddenly I realized: for perhaps the first time, an adult had opened up about being in dark places and finding a way through. My comparatively small affliction had given me credibility in a world of suffering and pain.

My illness has tattooed into me the exclusive pass code to a world where hurting people need hope. People come to me, and listen to me, because they see in me someone who has been there and survived. It is a privileged position to be in.

May God grant me the grace to see the blessings of suffering shine more brightly than the pain.

The Loneliness of Chronic Illness

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Chronic Illness can be a very lonely journey, even when you’re surrounded by people who love and care about you.

Often you become isolated, unable to go out with friends, and over time, those friends move on, and you’re left behind.

Eventually people stop asking about your health; and you’re glad, because there’s nothing fresh to tell them.

After years of suffering, adjusting, changing and recalibrating you settle into a new sense of normality. When you have a rough day, you don’t bother to tell people anymore because there’s nothing they can do. You get good at hiding the pain; you carry a burden that affects you every day, and while others forget, you have a constant reminder.

I have been so blessed in my illness (which has claimed the majority of my adult life) to have been surrounded by supportive friends and family, but no-one can fully walk the path with you. No-one knows what it feels like on the inside.

Everyone else can walk away; everyone except God.

He is the only one who has walked every step with me. He’s done every day at work, every night of insomnia, every holiday, shopping trip, restaurant experience, social gathering and solitary day on the couch. No-one knows what I experience every day, except Him.

The silent solitary path of chronic illness is a lonely and often isolated one, but I am so blessed to say (in the words of Matt Redman) that ‘never once have I ever walked alone.’

Flying North for the Winter: Half Empty

1338463_59722516I usually don’t travel during the school year because my health is too fragile to risk anything that could interfere with work. But this year, seeing photos of friends travelling through sunny Europe as I was sitting in South Australia feeling cold, I was itching to find somewhere warm to relax.

So I booked my trip to Cairns, imagining posting my own enviable facebook pics of blue skies, sun and ocean.

When we arrived it was raining and it hardly stopped. I think I got more rain in three days of Cairns’ ‘dry season’, than I’ve had all year in SA. We didn’t see a single beach and thoughts of going out to the Great Barrier Reef were squelched due to ‘unseasonably bad weather.’ On top of that, my body reminded me continually that I’m exhausted from the end of term and that CFS has stolen my right to be a good traveler.

I felt like a fool having bragged that I’d be posting photos of a gloriously enviable summer, and to rub salt in the wound, SA had unseasonably warm weather this week. While I was sitting in a wet cloud, they were having days of sunshine and blue skies, and some of my facebook friends actually posted pictures of themselves at the beach! In July!

As I sat on my bed on our final night, listening to the thunderous pelting of the rain on the tin roof, my phone chimed. I looked at the weather notification. “Warning: Cairns. Chance of showers.”

Because there are always two sides to a story, stay tuned for ‘Flying North for the Winter: Half Full.’

Is there a Greater Miracle than Healing?

Photo Credit: stock.xchng miracleHaving lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the past 8 years, this is a question that I’ve pondered a lot. In the first few years of my illness I had several friends tell me that God didn’t want me sick, and if I had enough faith, he would heal me.

God didn’t heal me, and it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough faith. It was because He had something greater in store for me, though it took me a lot of years to discover it.

This discovery is something that, in my humanity, I am still getting my head around, though I believe it to be true: There is a much greater miracle than healing.

I was struck by Jesus’ words to a paralysed man: “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” This is a rhetorical question with a clear answer. It is much harder to forgive sins, than to make a lame man walk. Jesus’ ability to forgive us, taking us from death to life, is an infinitely greater miracle that healing.

This is a miracle I have received, and one that I continue to receive. God has been changing my heart about suffering. He is showing me that I can have joy and contentment in the midst of it. This change of heart should not be taken lightly. It is a miracle. And one that I would argue is as great, if not greater than healing.