Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Live Is Christ

     This post is the most difficult one to compose thus far.. I am not even sure what direction it may lead. I have a desire to "sing" God's praises for what I termed a "mysterious illness" that began in 2001 in my last post. My struggle is how to convey to you my experiences without it being interpreted as being about me instead of God, yet I am going to try.
     By 2001 my husband and I had raised three awesome daughters. Our two oldest daughters had married. Our youngest was still living with us and going to college. She subsequently married in 2003. Several months prior to my illness we decided to sell our house that we had lived in for seventeen years and move into a two bedroom apt. My husband was attending Southwestern Seminary at the time and we wanted to focus on his education. He had felt led to go back to school and become a marriage counselor.
     Life was good. We got that apt. in October of 2000. He was going to school and flourishing. I had started working full time at our church as our Associate Pastor's Assistant and it was very rewarding.We were in the midst of our Marriage Reconciliation Ministry that we had begun August 1, 1999. That, too, was very rewarding. As for me, for the first time in a long time I felt that we were truly in the center of God's will...and it felt good.
     Then came January 2001. It seemed to be immediate. I could hardly get out of bed. My body felt as if I had been run over by a Mack truck. I was so tired, all I wanted to do was lay down. I struggled to function. I was due at work at 8:00am and they started allowing me to come in at 9:00am. I could not get my body out of bed any earlier than 7:00am. It took me two hours just to eat and get myself presentable enough to go out in public. The apts. we had moved to were literally a field away from our church where I worked. You could see it from our apt., yet all but the few minutes it took to make the drive were just struggling to function to get there.
     I started going to my family doctor first. The first thing he offered me were anti-depressants. I don't know if it was because he knew my family history, (my father had schizophrenia) plus the fact that I did indeed face depression in 1994, but that was his first form of treatment. I wasn't sure myself if that, indeed was what was going on with me. When I was being treated for depression, all I wanted to do was to sleep and that was happening again. The anti-depressants only gave me a bad headache and did not relieve any other symptoms.
     In the meantime, I started seeing a godly counselor that was on staff at our church. She was so very helpful to me during that critical time. She did not see in me the emotional symptoms of depression and furthermore, having been depressed in the past, I knew what that felt like. I was not sad, I did not have a sense of hopelessness, I was looking forward to the new chapters God had opened up to us and I was indeed excited about our future. I was engaged in life and in lives around me. Yet, all I wanted to do was lay down. My counselor encouraged me to continue to go to doctors, which I did.
     My family doctor sent me to a  Rheumatologist April of 2001 and she is the one that gave me my first set of diagnoses. I had an autoimmune illness called Fibromyalgia. I had never heard of it. I found out pretty quickly that it is chronic and it is treatable, but not curable. The Rheumatologist also diagnosed me with Raynaud's Phenomenon and disc disease in my neck area. That was the beginning of our journey. I say "our" because when a person has a chronic illness, it not only effects them, but everyone around them. My immediate family, especially my husband, has been affected by it the most.
     So here we were...blind sided. Our options seemed pretty limited. Days, if not weeks would go by and to tell you the truth I seemed to be in a constant fog, yet I was continuing to try and work. It had taken four months for the doctors to reach a diagnosis. Once I had the diagnosis, it seemed evident that this was  probably not a temporary thing and decisions were needing to be made.
     Being that I worked at the church we had attended for twenty years and knew and loved everyone there, including the staff, made it very difficult. They had been more flexible with me than your ordinary employer would probably have been. There were days I would get to work late during those four months and they would send me directly home because they saw what I was going through. I will always be grateful to them for the loving way they treated me, especially since this was something none of us could fully grasp, let alone understand.
     Understand, I did not. I was so intent on fighting this thing at first and had looked on it as an attack of the enemy. I felt to give up on fighting it would be giving up on my faith in God and His power to heal me. This was a major clash I was facing. The fact of what this illness meant and the fact that God was, indeed bigger than this illness. I felt I had to choose one way or another and I was torn. I could not reconcile in my mind at that time that I could be going through this and accept it without the feeling that I let God down somehow.
     I have a little black Bible. By little, I mean one of those "baby sized" ones. It was given to me by my father when I was a teenager. While reading it one night during that time I came across John 9:1-3 which states; "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but that the work of God might be displayed in his life." NIV
     It hit me. I was being so legalistic. Without realizing it, what was going through my mind during those four months was that we were in the center of God's will, we were being obedient as far as we knew to be, therefore, this should not be happening to me, therefore it was from the enemy. I was deceived. God was teaching me a lesson that I am still learning. I have a tendency to blame myself when things go wrong in my life, if I'm not careful. Our relationship with God is not based on our performance though, but on God and His gift to us.I didn't have to be a "good little girl" for God in order for Him to love me and accept me. Wow.
     These verses revealed to me that God was the one that allowed what was happening to me. It also revealed His purpose in allowing it. "that the work of God might be displayed in him." After reading these verses, I had a whole new perspective. God was the source and He had a purpose for it. I had not done anything wrong. In other words I was not being punished. That knowledge suddenly made it o.k. with me. It allowed me to reconcile my beliefs with my circumstances. Instead of asking God what I had done wrong, or blaming the enemy, I started asking how I could give Him glory through this experience.
     I resigned from work May 1, 2001 and started focusing on treatment. I attempted to work part time at the church after a few months, but was forced to resign again. That was in 2002. I have not attempted to work since that time. My new goals then became focusing on quality of life all the while giving glory to God.
     Through this experience I have met people I would never have met, had I not become ill. I have been put in circumstances I would have never thought of for myself, had this not occurred. In the years since 2001 I have been subsequently diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, Addison's Disease, Interstitial Cystitis, Osteoarthritis and slight Scoliosis in my lower back. I have had  Asthma since childhood. My immune system has apparently "left the building" as the saying goes! But, God (love that phrase). But, God has not "left the building." Nor will He ever leave it on me or on anyone else that truly seeks Him, and that is my "song" to Him.
     My husband stopped going to Seminary in 2001. I became his ministry. He sacrifices on a daily basis to make sure I am taken care of. His first thoughts are of God and then me and our family. We no longer have an ongoing marriage ministry. We do still have a passion for individuals facing a marriage crisis and we make time for anyone who seeks us out who is struggling.
     Chronic illness has affected us. As my husband says, Fibromyalgia is not life threatening, but it is life altering. That is true for any chronic illness. My husband left Seminary, we left our full-time ministry, I stopped working. Our life is not how we scripted it to be by this time in our lives. We temporarily forgot prior to 2001 who the author of our lives was and it isn't us.
     God is still writing new chapters for us, but this time He is the one doing the writing. God's grace is quite a concept. One I may never completely grasp. To think that the God of the universe loves us to the extent that He does is hard to comprehend. I don't know much, but I do know this; our life is much richer, much more fulfilling, much more rewarding than it was prior to 2001, thanks be to God.
     I am reminded of an evangelist that often came through and spoke at the church we attended during those years. His name was  Dave Busby  and he fought an ongoing battle with Cystic Fibrosis. He shared that from a hospital bed he once begged God to heal him and Dave said God's response was, "I can heal you but you give me more glory this way." Dave chose not to be healed and subsequently died in his forties. Why would Dave make that choice? I believe Dave wanted God more than He wanted his own life.
     Dave Busby lived out what Jesus Himself termed the greatest commandment in the law which was to "...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..." Matthew 22:37  NIV  Dave Busby  left an example for those who were blessed enough to know him to follow.
     I want to be like Dave Busby. He understood that love requires sacrifice and he made the decision to make the sacrifice required to love God in a deeper way. I believe Dave Busby's "song" to God was "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." Philippians 1:21  NIV.  I pray we make it our "song" to God as well.


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