still being me

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My dear friends,

Living with chronic illness challenges everything. It challenges our daily commitments, our future hopes, our relationships, and it challenges our very being. When it’s so easy to feel despair, to feel alone, to feel forgotten, to feel fear… we can be wrecked in a way that is even more devastating than Lyme.

Lyme, as devastating as it is, wreaks havoc in our physical bodies. The consequences of illness that shake our hearts, however, are much more traumatic – Sickness wants to steal our identities. It can make us bitter. It can make us uncompassionate. I think that I have fought more to still be myself than I have fought Lyme. It has been the greatest fight of my life, and it has been worth fighting.

It wasn’t until a year into being symptomatic that the disease really took hold. It suddenly became more likely that I would stay in bed all day than I would actually get out of bed. My world flipped, and I flipped with it. My outward mannerisms were still the same, but inside I was consumed by fear. I felt like my life was over, that I didn’t have anything to offer anyone, like I was always “missing out”, and that my friends would get tired of loving and supporting me. I was painstakingly aware at how much I was failing at life – my job, my relationships, everything…

Every thought was bent on being sick. It was the only thing I wanted to talk about. And worst of all, I started judging people mercilessly. I would compare what I was going through with the “trivial” things that they were, and I felt special. I felt like what I was going through was far deeper than anything they could imagine. When they talked about a cold, I would be angry that they would dare complain in front of me. I was quickly going down a path of bitterness.

Let’s call it what it was… My attitude was nasty. It was so nasty. And wrong. It was toxic, and it lacked any love. I felt like I was drowning. I knew that I didn’t want to feel this way about myself or about others, but I couldn’t seem to keep my head above water.

My prayers were simple at that time. I couldn’t seem to muster much, but I often prayed a genuine, tearful and quiet “Help”. I knew that I couldn’t be “me” again by pulling myself up in my own strength. I needed Jesus to rescue me.

And He did. He answered my simple pleas for “Help” in such perfect ways… exactly suited to who I am and what I needed. The help didn’t come all at once, but in waves. It came as my boss promoted me, when my attendance should’ve led to me being “let go”. It came in a friend bringing by flowers that she picked in her garden. It came through my roommates (who didn’t know I was so scared) telling me out of the blue that they loved me and would be with me always. It came in my leaders sharing verses that were in their hearts for me – reminders of who God is and His promises to be a rescue to us. And it came through the Holy Spirit speaking to me – When I finally admitted to Him how much of a failure I felt like, and how I was frustrated that I needed so much grace in life… I heard a gentle, kind voice in my head (too kind to be made-up by myself) that said, “My grace and love is a sign of favor, not of failure.” I was receiving much grace not because Jesus had to put up with my miserable failure. I was being given grace because I was dearly loved. It was love and favor that led to His grace. With all of these beautiful things, with all of this hope… my heart softened.

I began to see how the ways I had viewed life, success, and love before were skewed. My identity was wrapped up in trying to be “good” in order to earn love, and when I suddenly couldn’t keep up with doing everything that I “should” do to be pleasing, my identity crumbled. And I am so glad, because Jesus convinced me in that time that He was with me, that He wouldn’t leave me, that I was pleasing because of who I am, not because of what I do, and that He still had an amazing life in store for me. My identity was given a new foundation – that I was pleasing just because of who I am.

I was met with great grace even amidst my stinky attitude. And this is the wonderful thing about Jesus. He wants us to come to Him in our imperfection. The only requirement of coming to Jesus is that we want to know what He thinks, that we want to be more like Him. I was making a lot of stinky decisions. I didn’t deserve the grace and love that I was met with. But that’s how Jesus works. That’s what He does.

Jesus was able to extend a lot of help to me because I was open to it. He always wants to meet us.

Still being “you” isn’t a formula, but here are some things I would suggest:

  1. Being “open” to learning is the first step. If we’re so shut down, so closed off… there isn’t really room to move forward. We have to want to get out. We have to ask for help. We have to listen.
  2. The next few steps are a combination of following through / remembering any instruction Jesus gives, and finding things we can be thankful for.
    • Obedience to Jesus always produces life, and His words are like a handle bar. When everything else is going haywire, we can hold on to what Jesus has said, and find safety.
    • And then there is gratitude, which makes hearts all mushy, which is exactly the goal. Mushiness. Mushy, soft hearts. It helps turn our focus outward. It reminds us of all the good things, and remembering good things gives us hope for the future.
  3. When you find yourself stuck in a bad habit of comparison, you break the thought and pray for help (all comparison is unhealthy – comparing yourself to others, or even comparing your current self to what you were like when you were well). Comparison leads us down the rabbit hole. As soon as you realize you are getting sucked in, you gotta stomp on that thought! And where you feel convicted that your past comparisons have opened you up to being judgmental or angry (like me), that’s where you can go back to Jesus and go back to your friends, and ask for forgiveness. It will heal your relationships, it will heal you, and Jesus will help you trade judgment and anger for compassion and love.
  4. And then there are all of the daily decisions to be cheerful, where you refuse to give into introspection and frankly, self-pity. So, you combat that by seeking out others whom you can get to know, to really seek to know what is important to them. You get outside of yourself. You keep making plans, even if there’s a good chance you’ll cancel. You look for opportunities to laugh! These things remind you that your life is more than your illness. There are other wonderful things to do, and many wonderful people to love on and be loved by. Your life isn’t over.

In practicing these things, I have grown to feel much more “me” than I have ever felt in my life. I thought I was going to be a shell of a person, but instead I feel like I’ve bloomed into who I really am. I am the most confident, happy, peaceful, and content I have ever been. My goofiness is still with me; my mercy for others is back in full force. I have more plans in my heart than I know what to do with. I am a combination of who I thought I was, and who I didn’t even know that I could be! And best of all, where fear, hopelessness, and judgment had consumed me, Jesus replaced it with a heart of love and compassion. I became the “real me” by letting Jesus lead me, and by fighting for it.

Being consumed by the fears and disappointment of your illness will leave you hopeless. It’s a lonely place. It’s got walls that don’t let people in. It makes the sick person the only person.

Fighting to be you – to still have hope, dreams, relationships, compassion, joy is the most important thing you could do. It is the most important fight of your life. As life-giving as treatment is, being well of heart, being content… is much more satisfying.

May you be more “you” than you have ever been before. May you be consumed with love.

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