His affection in affliction.

Sometimes I write to make more sense of my life. It's how I process.

Other times I write because someone else needs to hear it—even if I'm unsure where it will go or what I will say. Kind of like right now.

I know I've been given a voice to communicate truth and must stop shying away for fear of being misunderstood. As I write, I like to pray God would take these simple words and breathe His life over them in a way that is uplifting, because I can't write through any season without Him. It just wouldn't be worth it.

. . .

It's not right for me to expect you to understand what I will share. That's just not how it works. But I do want to honestly explain where I've been in my pain and limited perspective so I may then speak of God's perfect and personal hope.

There are afflictions of different kinds in life. Mine has been physical distress—sickness, in other words.

Every morning, before I hop off my bunk bed, I face the reality of my weakness. Regardless of the sleep I get the night before, I rarely wake refreshed. Since spring, I think I've slept through the night once.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky little guy.

After using what little energy I have to get the day going, I take a quick assessment of my inflammation, fatigue, and joint pain levels. On the worst days, it feels like I'm piggybacking a baby elephant. (I've never actually done that before... but I imagine it would be similar.)

As I apply makeup, I fight against insecurities that appear, hoping people don't notice my face worn with exhaustion.

When I arrive on campus, I get slightly anxious because I know many will ask in passing, "How are you? How do you feel today?"

How does one with chronic sickness honestly answer without being such a Negative Nancy? Did they care to actually know? Unless I'm piggybacking an elephant, I ignore my health altogether and give a cheap answer.  

But if my recent, uncut thoughts were held to a microphone, my response would be:

"Well, I slept for ten hours last night but I'm crazy tired! My body hurts everywhere—and I don't know why. Especially my hands. I tried taking notes and typing earlier, but my fingers are so swollen from arthritis I had to stop. I'm freaking out inside, hoping you don't ask me what I did yesterday. I probably won't be able to remember because of my poor memory. And as much as I love talking to you, conversations drain me. I'm trying not to slur my speech or show how disappointed I am. I know I could have it worse. I know God is good. But today? I feel like crap."

This is the negative, prideful perspective from which I've been living out of until mid-August. This was my reality. The painful truth.

Then, I was shaken up, and there was no stopping me. 2+ years worth of disappointment, embarrassment, questioning, and fear poured out of me in the form of weeping before the Lord.

To this day, the dried mascara stains on Psalm 73:26 serve as proof of what happened that August afternoon. I told Him I couldn't do this anymore. I couldn't hoard all of these wrong feelings, shutting myself off to the door of hope.

If I was going to be weak forever, I had to believe the Lord would be my strength forever. He promised He would. 

When the answers to our prayers are delayed, and our circumstances reach emergency proportions, God uses the crisis to break us open, to empty us of everything that is not of Him, and to soften the soil of our hearts with tears.
- Bob Sorge

Following that time of weeping and surrender, one might imagine my health got better. It didn't. I had more days of feeling off, my physical pain was heightened, and it actually got worse. There was this tension I was living in.

I recognized my reality, but I knew Heaven's perspective carried something I could not see and I wanted to set my heart on that instead.

After a particularly difficult week where I never left the house, my dear friend encouraged me to read one of her favourite books, The Fire of Delayed Answers.

It is through Bob Sorge's personal lessons from pain I am now gaining a perspective on affliction I have never had before. Instead of complaining this all away, my eyes are being opened to the mercy of God to me. Although my prayers for healing or immediate relief aren't being answered, I am being given great grace to persevere. 

I know I am just at the beginning.

I have more valleys to grow in and out of, more mountaintops to traverse. But there is nothing quite like the moment hope expands in your heart as you lean on your Father, refusing to give up in your suffering. (Romans 5:1-5)

I have found His deep affection for me in this affliction, and there is no turning back.

Blessings in sickness.

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Since Friday afternoon, I have been thinking a great deal about living with health challenges. 

I had just returned from an appointment with a new endocrinologist and had a nicely bruised left antecubital space to prove it. (I learned that word seventeen seconds ago when Googling "opposite side of elbow.")

This visit was vastly different than most. It was the first in a long, long time where I felt the doctor was not only willing to work with me, but desired to. As she listened to me recount my symptoms in the most drawn out fashion, I saw tenderness in her eyes.

Unlike the doctors who told me last fall there was nothing they could do for me, she carried herself in a way that proved her desire to help.

"This is my problem to fix," she whispered gently. 

Immediately after her exit, I sat in the waiting chair with little happy tears dotting my cheeks. In my struggle for good health, there are two things I have consistently appreciated: someone who listens and someone who seeks to understand.

She had done both. Suddenly, I did not feel so alone in this. 

On the drive home, I thought about people who endure sicknesses of all kinds.

I thought about the selfish and devious twists self pity adds to life. I thought about how I no longer want to be a part of it regardless of my physical state. I thought about a lot of things, much of which is irrelevant to what I am trying to say.

That same day, the day of many thoughts and moments of rejoicing, I purchased an eBook, "Believing is Seeing," written by Laura Lawson Visconti. I think, perhaps, she is the reason I write this post tonight.

Laura is a remarkable creative (artist, writer, speaker) who is losing her eyesight due to a rare degenerative condition of the eye.

As I read through the fifty-five pages in one sitting, all that once seemed so mysterious actually made some sense. Although our journeys differ in magnitude, she spoke a language I could relate to. Again, I did not feel so alone.

She writes:  

Here is the difficult truth I have come to believe with every ounce of my being: He is not concerned with my comfort as much as He is concerned with my heart. This took a very long time to understand, but now that I get it, I can laugh at the negative implications this disease has on my life and instead be grateful for the blessings it has fostered, for the voice I am blessed to have.

"Grateful for the blessings it has fostered." 
The blessings. Because in all things and in all seasons, there are blessings. 

SOME BLESSINGS:

  • Being able to take life much more slowly, enjoying the drawn out moments.
  • Returning home for 1+ year with my family and growing together.
  • Challenging myself in creative pursuits thanks to beautiful, online friendships.
  • Waking up every morning knowing that God's strength will sustain me.
  • Beginning to identify with those who are broken, sick, and pained.
  • Questioning and seeking – because it has only brought me closer to Truth.
  • Learning to cook food that is healthy and nurturing.

These "blessings" used to have negative connotations to them. (i.e. returning home was once so bittersweet because I believed it meant I was too weak to be involved on the mission field). But slowly, my perspective is transforming.    

I see pieces from Laura's life now  and can't help but be encouraged at the way she continues to live with grace, humility, and freedom.

This struggle with sickness is not to withhold me from living fully. No, it is the stepping stone to bring me into the fullness.

Through it, I am becoming more aware of my constant need for my Savior. It's okay to be a little bit weak and a little bit broken.

In fact, I think it's the best place to start.