I thought she came for my soul; like an owl scanning the forest floor for it’s unknowing prey; or a monster creeping in with the cover of night, searching for someone to devour. I wondered if she could be a curse or a cruel test of faith; like Job from the Old Testament.-loss and pain and heartache. But it turns out she was none of those things. She, Chronic Lyme disease, was actually a messenger.
She walks everyday holding her husband’s hand. He clinging to her, she reaching for the thoughts she used to hold. She doesn’t know where her memories went, and some days she forgets they’re forgotten, but she still keep her eyes peeled for a hint of the days that used to be.
He screams in the night as his cells attack his body. His joints are swollen and hot to the touch. He wants you to rub his legs for some kind of relief, but even your gentle touch makes him scream and swat you away. He begs you to make it stop. He doesn’t stop begging. The only relief he feels is when lowered into a bath of very warm water. His legs are submerged, floating in something that touches, but never causes pain. He’s lifted from the bath and the battle in his cells picks up again. He endures a painful shot in his hip while his mother holds him against her body. He’s screaming “NO!”, but the sweet relief shortly after the injection allows him to finally rest.
Her belly is swollen and she can’t catch her breath. You’d think she was pregnant, but it’s only a side effect of the chemo. A swollen belly is only one part of her that is swimming in inflammation. Her arms and legs are shiny and red and none of her clothes fit. It’s hard to walk, hard to sit, hard to be. Eight months ago she didn’t know this pain. Eight months ago she didn’t have cancer. Now, as she’s fighting for her life, she sits as far up as her belly will allow and plays cards with her nephews on her hospital bed. She needs to make the most of the days she has left.
She had a few health related issues as a child, but for the most part she was healthy as a horse. She was captain of her high school cheerleading squad, head Paramedic on her bus, and trampoline jumper extraordinaire. She once even outsmarted a woman with a gun held only inches from her face! She was a badass. But with the arrival of her first child also came an array of serious medical problems. Extreme exhaustion, chronic pain, tremors, shaking, anxiety, depression, and so much more. It took the doctors over 20 years to diagnose her and another 11 to really get to the bottom of her illness. Now 31 years later, she lives with over 10 very serious autoimmune disorders. She’s still a badass, maybe even more of one now that she has learned to keep going under the most strenuous of diagnoses. She never gives up and she never surrenders to her disease, only her God.
These are pains I couldn’t fully understand 2 years ago. But now….
I remember the neighbor woman when I forget my words in mid sentence, having to apologize to my friends that I don’t know what I was trying to say. Or when I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the person looking back at me.
I remember the boy who beat me and then reached for me in the night crying, “Mama, make it stop! Make it stop!” as I lower my aching body into an Epsom salt bath for the 6th time that week. And as I lay in bed begging the Lord to just make it stop, I remember his violent screams in my ear as I held him against my chest and shouted at the ceiling, “DO SOMETHING!!!”.
I remember the girl who sat on her hospital bed playing with her nephews only days before she passed away. Every time I see my swollen belly or face, I picture her smile, read her favorite passage of scripture, and I remember her fight that was grounded in faith and ended in our promise of eternal healing.
And every time I think I will never get my life back again, never accomplish anything worthwhile, I remember the woman who has survived more pain, more sickness, and more abuse than any one human should be able to endure, yet continues to push and fight to pursue truth and righteousness for the sake of the gospel and the sake of the hearts who do not yet know Him.
I thought Chronic Lyme Disease came only to destroy, but I was wrong. Chronic Lyme did come to change my life, but only in the best possible ways. I needed to feel the pain of others. I needed to understand the despair many face on a daily basis. After all, how can my love be empathetically deep if I do not fully understand the pain God’s children are going through?
And I needed a reminder that faith is not built on dreams, plans, or even prayers. And it’s definitely not built on a hope for remission! My hope must be built on nothing other than Jesus, the God Man who willfully experienced the pain of others so that He could better understand the Father’s children and set us free.
There could be many reasons why I have become so ill, or there could be no rhyme or reason, but while I slowly walk this race of sickness, I choose to remember the faces of the ones I have loved, who have suffered unimaginable pain, and yet still carry on.