Chronic Illness and Surrender
Oh friends, life is such a journey…. faith is such a journey. And I must admit that I get very weary. Like ground down to a fine powder kind of weary.
It is easy to say that God is in control. I know some who revert to that message like it is their refrain between sentences. We continue to push and plan and overcome, and then get angry at Him when WE fail.
When I was diagnosed with chronic pain in 2004, I felt like my adult life was just getting rolling. I had big dreams, and I was determined to keep moving forward with my own plans.
My body was deteriorating quickly, however. I was taking so many medications, doing bizarre and worsening treatments as an attempt to keep up with family, home, work, college, church, small group, and any of my spare time I spent in a zombified pain daze on the couch.
No matter what walking aids I needed, no matter the sickening treatment, no matter what the doctors said about “progression,” I WOULD NOT be diverted from achieving my original goals.
I was in control.
Though my body lashed back at me, I fought and squirmed and raged against it- to keep going on my path.
Surrender is a difficult topic or act for most of us to comprehend.
I have always struggled to relinquish control, so everything about the idea of surrender goes against my nature. I wonder if anyone else reading this can relate to the word perfectionist as much as I could?
Years ago, when I was having ketamine infusions to try to tame my RSD/CRPS pain, I would interfere with the nurse’s vitals setup. In my mind I was helping, but to them I was only getting in the way, of course.
“Do you want to do this yourself?” a nurse once snapped at me.
Oops, I thought. But then…I knew my answer would have been, “yes.”
Why? Why do I think I’m the one who will always be most effective at doing for myself, even when others have my very best interest in mind?
Then 6 years ago, after an experimental treatment they tried on me failed, I suddenly developed several comorbidities which have changed my life dramatically. My pain condition progressed far faster and worse than I ever imagined possible.
They say, don’t let chronic illness take over your life. But when your life becomes about: Breathing. Eating. Drinking. There is no “let” only “become.”
Illness can become your life if survival becomes your new goal.
There are some conditions you can’t fight through. You endure them. They change your body, and you are forced to adapt. You hit your “wall” every time you open your eyes.
Surrender is the choice that my body made for me. It tells me I don’t have another option but to bow to its wishes.
I lay here still and unspeaking, careful not to sway the already offset balance. But the moment I move or eat or swallow or make a sound, my flesh laughs at me. My already swirling, screaming, breath-begging body will burst into flames and melt into nothingness.
The world tells me to push, to fight, to Just. Keep. Going.
But I learn quickly that there is no push in this game. Only tricks, and cheats, and strategy.
It’s a chess match on a board I’ve never seen before, and my opponent is the only one with the rulebook.
Illness owns my body.
There is no free will flesh. There is no- push for one more minute. There is no- if I just take this pill.
This body has been exchanged, kidnapped, swapped for a rag doll.
Once, asking for help seemed an impossible exception only made in the most dire of circumstances.
Now, all of my physical and earthly necessities selflessly come from the hands of those I most admire. The eyes I have always looked up to- now see me at my worst. My body gives me no choice but to surrender to their gentle hands, but my heart is humbled and grateful to receive the gifts of their bottomless compassion. What better picture of mercy than this?
What better picture of grace?
Control freak. Feeling like a freak of nature. My natural systems are out of control. And nothing can be done, but wait. But pray.
Miss “plan for tomorrow.” Plan for your dreams. Dream big. Don’t give up. Your body gives up.
My body forces surrender on its own schedule- though my Creator waits patiently. While my body may act as a prison, forcing the white flag of my systems- my spirit goes of its own fruition. The more I relinquish control, the more grace is endowed.
God is in control, they say. They say it like an empty cliche.
Control is something I have owned. And something that has owned me. And God doesn’t control my will. I surrender it to Him. Child to Father. Tired, weak soul to loving, strength-lending Savior.
In this broken body, I see freedom.
(Re-posted from 2015)
You are Never Too Messy to Matter
Over the last 10 years of chronic illness, people have told me that I will be healed if my faith is strong enough, that I am being prepared for something greater in my future, that all of this pain, loss, and disability will be given a special meaning some day. But, I believe that our lives are meaningful even in the midst of the darkest struggles. We don’t have to wait until life becomes perfect to attain purpose and perspective.
In the first couple years after I was diagnosed, college friends told me praying harder would heal me, one suggested the sins of my parents or grandparents may be expressed through my illness, family members sent me books about focusing on God’s healing promises, and I was prayed over for healing at church more times than I can count.
I was so angry and frustrated at everyone! God wasn’t healing me, I was getting worse! Why didn’t they understand? But no one did… I felt all alone to face this new monster eating away at my body and taking down my dreams and abilities one by one. I had such a strong confidence in my purpose, in my “calling,” and I didn’t know why those passions would be given to me, if only to be ripped away.
I do believe God has the power to heal my body. I also believe that healing can come in other forms as well. I used to pray and pray for my body to be healed, for the horrible pain to go away, and for my life to go back to the way it was. Of course I did. Of course I want my pain to go away and for life to be easier. Everyone in pain wants that! As life became a one-day-at-a-time struggle for survival, talking to God changed also. My heart desired to be of service to others (on support groups, online, in my relationships, etc.). Over time, I realized those prayers overtook the ones begging for physical healing. I believe there are different kinds of healing beyond physical wholeness that I hadn’t thought about before chronic illness, or during my first years living with it.
In each of the instances with my friends and family, they were showing up in the only way they knew how to offer hope and support. I’ve since learned that the people who show up are the ones to hold onto- sometimes they take some time and guidance to figure it out though.
During the storms in life, it is so common to be told that when the storm lifts, we will use what we’ve learned to help someone else, or we will have a greater sense of clarity. Well, when the rain doesn’t let up, when your body is constantly beating you up, if you are terminally ill, there is no waiting for healing to make use of your life today. Loss of health forces us each to look at our mortality and time in a new way. The desire to make a difference in the world doesn’t stop just because one’s legs, nervous system, or liver is failing. For so many remarkable individuals I have met over the years, illness can even inspire a new-found purpose, passion for growing in new ways, and redefining success based on what they hold most precious vs. what society has told them is of importance.
If you feel as though your purpose has been lost, and you don’t know why your life has taken this sudden detour, please know that you are not alone, and you are still on a path that is your own. You have not been forgotten. Your life still has meaning, even now- even in the mess you feel you are going through. You don’t have to wait for the perfect body and perfect life to be useful. If I had waited for that kind of moment, I think I would be waiting for eternity! Even in the middle of your struggle, your story matters. What you are going through matters.
The Question of Human Suffering
Remembering “Heaven is for later” helps this writer through her journey. I deeply relate to the below piece and I hope you are also touched by this powerful survival story.
More times than I can name, my wayfaring has been a desperate crawl. This is not a metaphor, as there were days I could not drag my broken body downstairs for the mail.
Jan 2003, Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:
At every turn of the neck, the world exploded out of stereos on max – inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never have I known such blinding pain. I really did not want to live like this anymore.
That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.
An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building…
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