I was in the beginning of my final year at the Institute when I was given a twenty-seven letter diagnosis for a heart condition that had blindsided me. Supraventricular tachycardia, a fancy way of saying that my heart beats too fast. The diagnosis came as a relief to me -- I wasn’t crazy, but it was also deeply discouraging. The episodes came without warning and left my body in a fatigued mess of pain. I’d had my share of poor health in years prior but it was this issue, combined with my other illnesses, that caused me to find a new understanding of faith and the role it plays in healing.
Chronic illness sets its own limits for how one is able to participate in normal daily activities. For instance, I have suffered from chronic insomnia most of my life. Often, I have to function on less than twenty hours of sleep in a week’s time, which greatly limits the energy I have to expand on anything requiring physical exertion. It has kept me from driving safely, from paying attention in classes, and at times even inhibited my ability to care for my own children. Just throw in my newly diagnosed condition and a skin disease and my life had somehow become a cocktail of illnesses I didn’t know how to cope with. Questions abounded, often beginning with, “Why me? Why now?” But at the same time, I would battle such thoughts with conviction that God was still good, despite my experience.
In one particular conversation I had with Gregg Garner, I confessed that what I was going through was “really hard.” His response propelled me to discover what it meant. He told me, “Hard is an opportunity.” I pored over Scripture to find direction and meaning for my situation. What I found was a new way to be. In the midst of my pain and suffering, I learned how my faith could make me well.
The gospels highlight Jesus’ interaction with the ill in his society. It often required an action on the part of the one suffering--whether it was being lowered through a roof, stretching out a hand or grabbing the fringe of Jesus’ garment. The hemorrhaging woman’s story specifically has always spoken to me on a personal level. I understood feeling like you have nothing left to lose, after spending all of your resources on doctors, and still not finding answers--still missing sense of belonging. Despite the fact that after twelve years her situation did not change, the woman reached out to Jesus. And he restored her. She didn’t just stop bleeding. She received a place in the human family. He called her “daughter”--addressing the psychosocial aspect of her healing, something that cannot be underestimated, in a word. “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” That is, go--without the weight of anxiety that accompanies a chronic illness, without the fear of judgment or rejection. Go, and be free.
Our community unknowingly became the means for my healing. Although I struggled to participate to the degree that others did, I learned that there were still ways that I could contribute towards the lives of those around me. I offered my skills writing and editing essays to new students, hosted group meetings and even participated in team projects through dialogue and discussion groups. “Hard is an opportunity.” I was determined to find faith in all this activity--but not the kind of ‘faith’ where I closed my eyes and wished really hard to feel better. Rather, I believed that as I gave myself and my talents to those around me, the Lord would help me. And he did.
Last Spring, Julie Watson, a friend of mine that also suffers from chronic illness, formed the “FaithWell Accountability Group,” a forum where individuals can find practical accountability for dealing with ongoing sickness, rooted in the Word of God. In the group, we talk about our needs and challenges, as well as provide accountability to one another concerning how much work and how much rest we need. In addition, the Health Care team ensures that when one of our illnesses flare up, we receive the attention necessary to recover. Meals, housework, childcare, gift baskets and home remedies have all been provided to me during difficult times. I am not for want. The only debt I have to pay is to show the same love that has been shown to me. For the last decade, I’ve received so much kindness and patience. In turn, when my illnesses are in remission, I am energized to keep giving of my time, talents and skills to bless others.
Now I know that my journey to healing is something I have to offer. It is a testament to how the Lord is faithful to us in times of need and suffering. It is a story I can share with others about how faith causes us to move forward despite our circumstances. Despite the outlook or the prognosis given by doctors, we can choose to participate in our restoration. It’s not always easy, but indeed, hard is an opportunity. For faith. For hope.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5.1-5