This is a chapter from a book that I am working on called My Hope Comes from Him: A Journey through Chronic Illness. I am considering using this chapter in my book proposal and would appreciate any feedback.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ďBe joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Godís will for you in Christ JesusĒ
I canít work. Iíll probably never be able to teach again. I have to use a wheelchair. Iím a hostage in my own house. Iíll never be able to do fun things again. What kind of husband is going to stay with a sick nonworking invalid? I am going to die all alone and in pain.
Pretty dismal, huh? Doesnít exactly scream joy. But, honestly that was my train of thought seven years ago. It felt like my life was literally falling apart. I was ready to give up and give in to hopelessness. Looking back, I realize that the only thing that got me through and continues to get me through everyday of my life is God. He never gives up on me, even when I give up on myself.
Everyone needs some type of joy in life. We all need something to keep us going, to get us through the tough times. As my Chronic Lyme Disease progressed, I felt like my joy had been stolen. My disease advanced and tough times seemed to linger around every new corner. It started with small joys like playing sports. Gradually it turned into bigger joys, like not being able to work. For some people work is not a joy, but thatís definitely not me. Truth be told, I love kids and I love to teach. It brings me great joy to see a child go from confusion and despair to that A-HHA moment when the light bulb turns on.
As my illness crept in, my joy for teaching got slowly pulled away from me. The illness stretched me so thin that I eventually burned out. I went from having an energetic passion to reach every student, to feeling exhausted by just the thought of another school day. All I wanted to do was go home and lay down. I was so tired. Before long my exhaustion turned to extreme muscle pain. The pain got so bad that pretty soon I couldnít get out of bed to go to school. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, eventually I had to face the obvious.
The day I went on disability I felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart. At the time, I thought my heartache was because I had lost the ability to work, and the ability to earn a living. Now, in retrospect, I think the bigger issue was that I had lost a huge part of the joy in my life.
For those of you who have never experienced being on disability, let me tell you, joy is not something that is knocking on your door. Itís true, I no longer had anywhere I had to be, no schedule to adhere to, and no alarm to set. Sounds great, right? A vacation of sorts? Well itís not. Sitting at home cooped up like a prisoner is very depressing. It takes away a will to live.
When I went on disability, technically teacherís retirement, I was only in my mid- twenties. I should have been out with friends dancing and laughing, and starting to really celebrate life. Instead, I was stuck at home, unable to go anywhere. It was the perfect time for the enemy to hit me with despair, boredom, lack of purpose, and utter depression.
Iím so grateful that I already knew of the Lord while going through all this. Without His help I donít think I would have made it. My heart goes out to those suffering with an illness, or anything for that matter, that donít realize that God is there and wanting to help. For me, I knew that God loved me. As my illness progressed, I learned and am still learning, just how awesome that love really is. My relationship with God is growing from a mere acquaintance, to one of those friends that you call family; specifically Father.
My first year on disability is when God showed me that joy is something you have to fight for. He showed me that joy is always there even in the darkest most painful times. He never leaves us without some opportunity for joy. Well, I guess I should say, He hasnít in my experience. At the same time, joy doesnít always come served to you on a platter. I learned that joy is something you have to seek and crave more then earthly things. As my illness advanced this lesson became clearer. I was either going to cling to life and the joy that God can bring; or give into despair and end it all. My situation was way too severe to be wishy-washy.
I couldnít go to work to teach. Did that mean I was done teaching? Not to God. My neighborhood was full of kids, kids just longing for an adult to reach out and pay attention to them. He had a different type of teaching in mind, but like I said I had to seek it out. I couldnít just stay cooped up and gripe about the fact that I missed teaching. I had to pay attention. One day God urged me to sit on my front steps, and when I did, what a blessing it became.
Next door to me lived three wonderful children, soon to be four little blessings. Through the years I spent at home on disability I got closer and closer to them. When the fourth child came along the mother, knowing how much I loved kids, asked if I would be willing to watch the baby while she worked during the day. God is so awesome and generous. This little baby brought a whole new kind of joy to my life; one that I had never experienced before.
This was the beginning of a major lesson that God has been teaching me. The lesson is this: my thinking is completely limited when compared to His endless possibilities. I often forget all the possibilities God has at His disposal. I tend to only look at what is right in front of me. I think I know how things will turn out. And that is not even the worst of it. I can take it even further by thinking, if the situation looks bad now, the future will only get worse.
Are you wondering how it is possible for Him to take a person from the depths of despair to a life of faith and hope? It has been a long hard road. Yet, all along He has been teaching me through the way things turn out in the end. Take a look at this chain of events and tell me that God doesnít have a plan for my life. If I had never gotten Lyme, I wouldnít have been on disability. If I wasnít on disability, I would have been at work. If I was at work, I would have missed out on the awesome experience to watch a newborn baby. Not only would I not have been home during the day, I also would have been too busy to really connect with my neighbors. It still amazes me to think about how everything unfolded.
Breanna (the baby) became my painkiller. The only painkiller that actually worked! When I was feeling awful, sad, and hopeless, one smile from her sweet baby face and I would forget I was sick. Godís arrangement was perfect. All I really had the ability to do was sleep and eat, turns out that is really all newborn babies do! More than that, her sister and two cousins loved to play school, they would come over almost everyday after school and let me teach them! The fun and laughter that those little girls brought me during that time kept me going.
I soon realized, if God could use me in that condition, He will always be able to use me, no matter what. This gave me the hope to continue day after day. If God wasnít done using me in this world, than I had a reason to go on. A reason to endure the pain.
The relationship that was formed with my neighbors just kept growing. Pretty soon my husband and I became Breanna and her sister Lazariaís God Parents. This is something I wouldnít trade for all the health in the world. We also formed a great friendship with their mother Edream who decided to get baptized on the same day as the girls. It truly is amazing how God works.
All I had to do was reach out, fight if you will, for just a little piece of joy and voila! God poured out an avalanche of love and support. I think this is true a lot. The second we ask for His help and choose to make a change from our path of sorrow; God comes rushing in with support. I am learning that He loves me so much more than I am able to realize. Realize isnít the right word. He loves me more than I can even comprehend.
At the time I could see that He was using my bad circumstance for good. Now Iím seeing He was doing something even more than that. He was preparing me for what Iím facing presently. He was working out His plan for my life in a way that I didnít realize at the time. Iíll explain how later, but for now, just know that the experiences He gives us are not coincidences. If we are seeking Him, everything is laid out perfectly for our future. We just have to reach out for joy, take that first step of faith and He does the rest.
Help me to always remember that you have a divine plan for my life. Help me to know that your plan is always in the works, regardless of my current situation. Thank you for returning joy to my life. In Jesusí Holy Name, Amen
Please email me with your thoughts/comments at dvdbrn79 at hotmail.com