I wanted to take a moment to update you on what has been going on in my life this year and to explain why you may not see so much of my writing in the near future. Beginning last September, I was frequently hit with various infections, none of which seemed particularly serious. This made life frustrating, but it would always pass. Then around the beginning of March, I woke up one night in terrible pain. It seemed to be an intestinal virus of some sort. Unfortunately, I have never fully recovered.
As the months have worn on, my symptoms have become more and less severe depending on the day or week. The one thing that has been nearly constant is aches and pains. Other symptoms presented themselves as well. Early on, I was tested for a wide variety of typical viruses, all of which came back negative. I have now had examinations or consultations with eight different doctors: my primary care physician, two osteopathic doctors, two immunologists/allergists, two rheumatologists, and one neurologist. I am currently being referred to yet another neurologist.
My condition has severely limited my functioning at times. I was forced to cancel three planned trips last spring. I have backed out of all my volunteer duties at church. I have only occasionally been able to make it to Bible studies. I attend Sunday services whenever it seems physically possible. I normally spend much of the summer outside gardening, but not this year. I normally take a lengthy walk every day, but not this year.
I am thankful to God that I have often been able to continue writing through all of this, but I have only done so with great difficulty. Anything you have read by me this year was most likely written when I was feeling unwell. Even as I long to study theology more deeply, I am often prevented from doing so because it is just so hard to maintain the necessary energy and concentration.
One side effect of all of this – for better or for worse – is that I have spent a lot more time on Twitter. This has served not only as a useful tool for meeting people, but also as a welcome distraction. I greatly appreciate all the people who know me “in real life” and ask me how I’m doing as soon as they see me. There is, however, a negative side to this phenomenon: practically every conversation I have ends up being about my illness. There are times when I would just rather talk about something else, but I certainly do not fault people for their kind concern. For this reason, I did not immediately inform people on Twitter about the extent of my difficulties.
The last few days have been particularly hard. My muscle fatigue has increased to the point that everything I do only occurs with great effort. For example, even as I type this out, my fingers feel rather arthritic. Talking seems like work. Eating seems like work.
Many people have made suggestions as to what might be wrong with me. I know they all mean well, and I have certainly investigated many of those possibilities. Of course, everyone always sees the same condition they once had, or a friend of theirs had, or whatever is their medical specialty. That does not mean they are all wrong. Odds are at least one of them is on the right track. Nevertheless, as is so often the case in life, the most useful comments are usually the people who just say, “We will pray for you. We love you.”
A year ago, I was living a normal, active life. As each new physical limitation comes my way, I feel that part of my identity is being stripped away. The first time I was sent to the hospital for an x-ray and told to put on one of those ridiculous hospital gowns, I felt like it was somewhat symbolic of everything that has been taken away from me. The first time it was suggested to me that I might need to have my brain scanned, I cried so much and my husband just held me. He didn’t know what to say.
One of the parts of my identity that has taken a very hard hit is my role as a wife. I never thought that this aspect of my existence was limited to domestic duties, but I admit that the fact that I am no longer able to cook or clean like I used to, or even set my mind to some of our financial tasks, has caused a lot of things to fall through the cracks. My poor husband has been quite confused, because I do have some days where my functioning is closer to normal, but even then my mental stress is so great that I often seek out distractions rather than focusing on tasks. This makes him feel as if I do not value his opinion or seek to do the things he asks of me. I think he has recently come to see how much of a burden this experience has been on me not only physically, but also emotionally. On the whole, he has been so supportive, but he is in just as bad of a position as I am. He hates to see me suffer, and he just doesn’t know what to do.
Many of my friends here have already moved on from baby number one to babies number two and three. It is easy to look at the domestic bliss of others and feel that, whatever my achievements with my writing, they don’t count for very much. I can’t do the things that matter. This is an unbiblical view, but one with which I have struggled since becoming sick.
There is a kind of irony in all of this. Most of the people who know me online view me as a queen bee, a kind of Wonder Woman wannabee, or something of that sort. They are under the impression that I am strong. I am not strong – I am fragile. I am just trying to hold it together. My mind is fully functional, but my body betrays me.
This is not the first time that I have faced a kind of personal darkness. When I was in college, I went through a substantial period of depression and anxiety. That anxiety has popped up every now and again over the years. I always assumed that this was my thorn in the flesh, and maybe in the long-term it still will be. However, the struggle this year has been physical as well as mental. Then, of course, there is the spiritual component.
Last year, I had what was not exactly a conversion but nevertheless an important milestone in my spiritual journey. I came to fully embrace the doctrines of grace. These are often given the nickname of “TULIP”, but they are really so much more than that. They effect the way you view God, yourself, and all of creation. In my earlier days, I thought that adopting such a Calvinist view of salvation would force me to accept a God who was not as loving, gracious, or even likeable. I don’t feel that at all now. If anything, I love Him more.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that my embrace of such a strong view of God’s sovereignty should have been followed up with a personal crisis that forces me to question the role of God’s sovereignty in my own life. Of course, the mind goes through all the usual questions. Did I do something wrong and I need to repent? Is there some greater purpose to what I am suffering? Doesn’t God see all the great things I could be doing if I wasn’t sick? Doesn’t he want me to write, to study, and to tell people about Him?
My suffering is nowhere near the level of what some people experience. It is really only notable because of the fact that I am young, otherwise healthy, and not the typical recipient of so many medical woes. Even so, it has been a real test for me, and I tell you now, if I thought for one moment that God was not entirely sovereign over everything that is taking place, it would not make me feel better. It would make me feel intensely worse.
There are gods in this world – by which I mean creations of man – who are far removed from suffering. There are gods who minimize suffering. There are gods who try to say that suffering is good. There are gods who have no power over anything that happens, and thus cannot prevent suffering. I want nothing to do with any of those gods. I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have nothing to offer me.
One of the theological concepts that has become so precious to me this year is union with Christ. I first saw hints of this when I was sick in my college days and was drawn to the Apostle Paul’s description of the “fellowship of Christ’s suffering”. (Philippians 3:10) I think I will spend my whole life attempting to understand that, but I have greatly benefited this year from the Reformed description of union with Christ. You see, union with Christ is firstly about the double exchange: Christ taking on our sins and us receiving His righteousness. However, it also means that we are united to Him even more intimately than we can be united with another human being, and when we suffer, He actually shares in our sufferings.
I am still not sure exactly what that means, but I know that Christ already suffered and died for me, taking on human flesh that He might put to death sin in human flesh. When He did so, He felt real pain, real stress (though not a stress caused by unbelief), and real fatigue. He shed real blood, sweat, and tears. Only a God who has done that has earned the right to be our Comforter in times of trial. That is the God I want on my side.
I don’t know what will happen in the coming days and months. My great hope is that I will receive a correct diagnosis and that it will be something that can at least be well controlled with treatment, if not entirely cured. When I pray to God, I often pray for perseverance, since I know He has promised that to His children. Whatever lies ahead, He will sustain me. He will help me to run the race well. I am completely incapable of doing so on my own.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the many people who have reached out to me this year with words of encouragement. Not all of them were even aware of my illness, but any positive communication has been helpful for my mental state. In this year of such physical hardship, God has given me more opportunities with my writing than I ever had previously. My frustration is that I am not entirely able to take advantage of those opportunities. Pray that God will give me enough energy to write!
So to sum up, this year has been good because I have come to see more theological truth, made some amazing friends, and had lots of opportunities to do the thing that I love: writing. It has been bad because of my continual illness. It has been ugly because there are truly a lot of days when I am not that great of a sight to behold. Nevertheless, I press on and hope for better days.
The grace of God be with you all.