Living with a fluctuating, invisible illness for the last year, I’ve always found the question ” how are you?” difficult to answer.
The truth would be repetitive, tedious and demoralising! I moved from my stock response of “more up than down” to a more objective approach by giving people a percentage of how well I was functioning but it still wasn’t a fulfilling answer.
I’ve discovered there’s so much more to me than just how well I can physically get through my days. I’ve also discovered that there is a real strength in weakness and a spiritual side that I’ve not acknowledged to others before.
I’m aware that this post will sound very strange to many of my regular readers. I completely baffled a friend when I replied ” Well, I’m physically pretty rubbish; but in myself, I’ve never been better!” It will probably sounds weird because it is weird! It’s inexplicable yet real.
Living with ME has taught me that for some people (including some Doctors) unless they can see or have an explanation for my illness they don’t believe there is anything wrong at all – or that’s it psychological! Having an invisible illness doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, it just means that you have to look harder to find it!
Similarly with my faith, if people can’t see it or fully understand it, they can dismiss it as me being delusional. Putting both together, I have no doubt that some may even wonder if I’m sane!
(I should point out that I am of sound mind and remind people that ME is purely a physical illness!)
ME has physically robbed me of many of my physical and social joys that I took for granted. There were days when I felt like an empty shell and barely human at all. I’ve blogged many times about how it has affected me and my struggles. As awful as it was/is I’m grateful for being stripped to my core. My own strength and efforts could no longer be relied upon and my future and possible recovery was unknown. Over the summer I had a real sense of peace that God wanted me ‘to be’ and not ‘to do’ which prompted my Blog ‘What are you worth?’I believe this was my starting point…
My husband and I felt called to start attending a new church last summer. After 20 years of friendship at our old church it was a huge decision. My first big encounter came despite my reluctance. I knew our new church was talking about the issue of healing and my heart sank. I thought I knew what to expect and what would be said and that I would only leave feeling disappointed & frustrated on top of being physically broken. One of the stories was of the woman who reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak to be healed particularly (Mark 5:25-34) She had been ill for many years and had also visited many doctors who had only made her worse and she was shunned by a society that didn’t understand. I empathised with her hopelessly resigned situation of prolonged suffering. Everything was on course for the service to go as I feared. However, her desire to reach out and touch Jesus wasn’t just for healing, it was a signal of her faith and of needing Jesus more than anything else in her life regardless of whether she was healed or not. Boom! Now that DID resonate with me.
To make sense of what happened next I need to take you back to when I was teenager. I have been a Christian since the age of 14 after an encounter with God that left me in no doubt that God was real. I could relate to Jesus as a person and believed he existed and even that he did many miraculous things but I just didn’t get how God was somehow in control of the whole universe, never mind me, and I didn’t understand why people referred to ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ interchangeably. I was ready to walk away from the whole God nonsense and prayed a prayer to the effect of ” show me you’re real or I’m turning my back on you forever”
With tear stained eyes, alone in my bedroom, my bible fell open at Colossians 1:15 ‘Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God…”
In that moment, everything made sense. There are no words to adequately describe the feeling that I encountered that night. All I can say is that it was so real I have never doubted the existence of God since. I’ve had many questions and life regularly baffles and confuses me but ultimately that personal encounter has been enough to sustain me through the ups and downs of the following 30 years.
Back at church, the call went forward for people to respond. Well, I don’t do that; it was a bit undignified. Yet before I knew it I was knelling down visualising reaching out to Jesus again just like the woman we had heard about. Literally, as soon as I visualised touching Jesus’ cloak another voice read out ” Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God” Boom! I was transported back to that first encounter as a messed up teenager. It felt like I had just been resuscitated by an electric shock!
I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t know if it was healing, all I knew was that God was present again and I felt truly alive!
You may be disappointed to know that it wasn’t a healing. In fact all the extra emotion from it made me worse for a weeks after! Yet I still felt excited and full of life! It wasn’t about healing, it was about recognising that whatever the future holds, I needed Jesus first in my life.
A couple of months later, came my second encounter. At the end of the service a student came up to tell me she had a clear message from God for me (I told you this was weird!) The girl seemed awkward telling me, almost apologetic, yet she was so sure the message was for me she went through with it. Not knowing if this girl was of sane mind, I braced myself and asked what it was.
She said that that God had told me that I shouldn’t look back and wish for how things used to be because God was going to strengthen me. She told me that this wasn’t going to be a sudden thing but gradual over time and that eventually things will be even better than how they used to be but I needed to be close to God always.
I hope you’re getting a sense of how incredible this feeling was for me?!
I was not only blown away with the message but also who God chose as the messenger. The student was a fresher from the other end of the country. She was visiting our church for the first time and didn’t know anyone at our church and couldn’t have known about my illness and desire to get back to fitness. Had it been someone local from our church, I could have allowed doubt and cynicism to creep in and I guess God knew it!
In many ways, the message was nothing new. I’ve always felt that I would recover from my illness. It’s also true to say that I’ve already made good progress but this was the confirmation I needed. I don’t know whether ‘strengthened’ means I will recover or improve but it almost doesn’t matter any more. The more I’ve opened myself up to God, the more He has flooded his love in. It’s been the start of a renewed journey and there have been more incredible encounters which I’ve not even touched on here. Like trying to explain my illness, it’s impossible unless you’ve experienced it yourself. I know it sounds crazy. I can not properly explain it, only share it.
I’ve been sharing my experiences with friends, family and now you! This is very untypical behaviour for me but the excitement is just bubbling out of me! I can only equate it to a big thrill ride: When you know you are about to go on a trip where you can experience a great, new big thrill ride you look forward to it. You may well be excited enough to tell others about it, but it’s not until you’ve actually stepped off the ride that the excitement is so real that you just can’t stop yourself from telling everyone about it!
So, I’m putting on hold my determination to get back to fitness. The desire is still strongly there but I’m going to make sure my energies are focussed on God first and to continue to let his strength strengthen me.
I will keep you posted with my progress but I hope my answer of why “Well, I’m physically pretty rubbish; but in myself, I’ve never been better!” now makes some sense!