Health has not been the theme of my past year. Unfortunately I have experienced a lot of illness. Between migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis and some other undiagnosed issues, I spent much of the last year unwell. Nausea and vomiting have left me weak and dehydrated. Migraines have sent me to solitary confinement with ice packs and ear plugs. Belching has made me sound ruder and more repellent than a drunken sailor. Bloating has left me with no clothes that fit and feeling six months pregnant. (Looking pregnant has been a mix of amusing and awkward – young people have discreetly wondered and asked someone else if I was pregnant, whereas adults have simply assumed and publicly congratulated me on my growing family. If you don’t know for sure I recommend saying nothing – explaining you are sick rather than expecting really dampens the atmosphere in the room. In those moments I genuinely wished I was expecting - even at almost forty – then I would know what was causing my symptoms and I would be looking forward to the resulting miracle. Morning sickness is preferable to mystery sickness.)
I have missed more work, church, meetings, kids’ activities and social events than I care to count. Do I dare to count? How many days have I missed in the past year?
Throwing up: 2-3 days/month = 1 month
Recovery/Dehydration: 2-3 days/month = 1 month
Migraine: 3-4 days/month = 1.5 months
Bloating: 7-8 days/month = 3 months
Nausea: 15 days/month = 6 months (Most of the days I was nauseated I had other symptoms, so let’s factor most of those out.)
Nausea only: 5/month = 2 months
Total: 8.5 months.
That’s about 255 sick days.
Of the 3.5 months remaining I was tired, really tired. It is hard for me to remember the last time I didn’t feel exhausted. Exhaustion is oppressive and depressive. In this disheartening and frustrating condition I have seen 5 doctors, had 4 invasive tests, and so many blood tests that the bruises on my arms sometimes haven’t healed before the next round. I think I have tried varying cocktails of 8 medications. Diagnosis? The theories have been numerous and mostly erroneous.
Why am I writing about this? I hope my motivation is not simply so someone will feel sorry for me. I am questioning and grappling with what is going on. All of these days add up to a lot of time to think about being sick. Time to ponder health and pose questions about illness. I haven’t been asking “Why, God, why?” but rather “What, God, what?” What is causing these symptoms? What is making my body feel so toxic? What can I do to feel better? What should I learn from this?
And I pray for healing – I pray for God to restore and renew my body, to remove the sickness, the fatigue, the depression. It is natural to cry out to God when we are broken and want Him to fix us. What surprises me is how this time had led to an outpouring of gratitude. As I hug the toilet and wait for the next wave of vomiting to begin I thank Him. I thank Him for things I otherwise might not:
Thank You that this not happening because of cancer and chemo.
Thank You for Gatorade and Gravol.
Thank You for clean running water and indoor plumbing.
As I lie in my bed in the dark, ice pack on head, I thank Him:
Thank You that my kids are old enough to feed themselves.
Thank You for my husband who can cook and clean
Thank You that it is me who is ill, not my kids.
Eventually the vomiting ceases; the migraine subsides; the bloating decreases. But with it the gratitude dwindles… Just when I should be the most thankful for relief of symptoms and a reprieve from pain I seem to fall into a pattern of complaining, of feeling sorry for myself. I mourn the lost days and resent the pile of dishes, the loads of laundry, the unpaid bills that await my return to the everyday world. But instead of embracing the gift of recovery, instead of rejoicing in my ability to perform ordinary responsibilities, I resent the missed opportunities – all the activities, events and conversations that I could not join in. The days spent entirely in bed. The days I could barely do anything for my kids. The days I barely talked to my husband. While I dwell on the lost fun, play, worship and work, I overlook the miracles right in front of my eyes - the sunrise, the birdsong, and the laughter of my children.
I don’t know why I find it harder to be positive when I am physically feeling better – I guess I get caught up in being behind. I neglect the present while I grieve the past. I practice grief instead of gratitude. When we find God when we are down and out, we casually cast Him aside when things are looking up. We call for Him in the pit, not on the plain.
Psalm 40.1-3. I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord
Sometimes I don’t wait patiently, but God always hears my cry. He lifts me out of the pit, and as I crawl around and adjust to the Light, He picks me up and steadies my wobbly legs. Now it is my part – I need to sing the new song – the hymn of praise.
Thank You, Father, for your healing, your salvation, your unfailing love. As You lift my spirit, help me lift my praise to You.