2015: A Little Brown Box

As we all post our flipagrams on Instagram of the year 2015 or marvel on facebook over how much we have accomplished, I can’t help but reflect upon my year in 2015.  I should have known that 2015 would be something different when I rang in the New Year with walking pneumonia.  I high fived my boyfriend at midnight, amidst hysterical coughing and lots of potato soup.

The year then continued on as any other.  I put 2014 on all of my school assignments for the first month.  I wrote my New Years Resolutions down: “Lose 10 pounds.  Get straight A’s.  Be perfect,” and dutifully forgot all of them as I continued my life the same way it was in 2014.

Normal.  My life was normal.

In February, I went with a group to DisneyWorld–the HAPPIEST place on earth, where I met Mickey, Princess Tiana, and *cue the trumpet* Fifth Disease.  I would not find out until this month that Fifth Disease was the horrible upper respiratory infection that made my Disney trip anything but happy.

Coming back from Disney with still what I thought was a wicked upper respiratory infection, my year 2015 turned to anything but normal.  In fact if I made a flipagram of my year, it would most likely consist of IV therapy, doctors’ offices, or days spent in bed.  Countless misdiagnoses, hundreds of different treatment options, Walgreens on speed dial–this slowly began to epitomize the year 2015.

If others were asked to define their role in the screenplay 2015 they would most likely say, “Mother, priest, student, friend, assistant, etc.”  If you asked me, I would say, “Push pin, lab rat, guinea pig.”

April 15, 2015: that was the day that I met my greatest foe, the disease that singlehandedly monopolized 2015.  Lupus, the name of the thief that robbed me of the second semester of school, great memories with friends, much of my blood, and thousands of dollars in co-pays.

Now with a name to the disease that had taken my time, my memories, but most importantly my health-I began to be treated for lupus.  I spent the summer in bed for the most part and focusing all of my energy on preparing for my senior year of high school- a year I hoped would be rid of autoimmune flares.

I spent the first two weeks of senior year like every other girl–marveling over my senior ring, planning senior trips, and enjoying the first two weeks of what everyone promises to be “the best year of your life.”

2 weeks.  2 weeks of normal.

I started then to feel sick again.  Repeat blood work proved that the robber who had taken so much of the year 2015 already was back for more.

He stole most of my first semester, though despite him–I managed to create some great memories that I will never forget.

I also met a new rheumatologist, one that was committed to getting me better and not just committed to upping prednisone.  Diagnosing me with systemic Sjogren’s, I had two thieves to thank for taking my senior year from me.

But with new medicine and another diagnosis under my belt, I slowly began to get better.  I began to make more memories.  Things were looking up.

November 28, 2015.  Anyone who suffers from a chronic illness can attest to the lonely feeling that greets you as you lay in your bed lifeless and scroll through Instagram, seeing all of your friends together having fun… being normal.  I told my mom that the hardest part of being sick is that people stop inviting you to things.  They think you’re too sick to come.  They forget.  But on November 28, a friend asked me to come to a surprise party and I was thrilled.

I was a three-year old going to a bouncy house party–I simply could not wait.  I started doing my makeup and getting ready two hours before the party started.  I must have changed my outfit three times.  My mom and I knew that this wasn’t just prepping for a party.  This was a miracle.  I actually felt good enough to go somewhere that I wanted to go.  

I left my house thirty minutes early to get somewhere that only takes ten because I just couldn’t wait.

Going through an intersection thinking that it was a miracle and thanking God for allowing me to make memories, I started to see headlights approaching my car.  I swerved and tried to speed up to miss it.  This can’t happen to me.  C’mon.  I’m actually getting to do something that seniors do.  Boom.  The glass shattered as my car flipped three times.  2015 strikes again.

I went to a rheumatologist on December 29 and told her of my accident. She said something that so many had said to me: “As if you didn’t need another thing.”

Going over my blood work however, things were starting to go back to normal.  My sed rate was lower for the first time.  Things were looking up.  As my rheumatologist hugged me on the way out, she said to me: “2016 will be a better year.”

And that’s it.  That was my year in 2015.  If I had to describe 2015 to someone, I’d say it was a year that could be described as the whac a mole year.  You know the arcade game?  The mole sticks his head up, and just as he sees an out–the player whacs him back down.  I was the mole, and 2015 the player, always ready to knock me down when I started to get back up on my two feet.

But as I look now on the horizon of a new year with new memories that could be made, I cannot help but think that it’s really just a year.  As we enter 2016, none of these memories will go away.  I will still have an autoimmune disease.  I will still have the repercussions of flipping in a car and enduring a traumatic accident.  But all of the memories will be put in a little brown box and shelved on the case of years gone by.  Because no matter how crappy it was, it’s just a year.  It’s not a lifetime.  It’s a little brown box that encompasses a lot of learning lessons, a lot of bad memories, but also a lot of great memories: memories of hope, compassion, and enduring love even in the darkest of times.  So 2015-this is it.  I am tying you up, wrapping the brown paper around you, and placing you on the shelf of auld lang syne.  You can’t whac me in 2016.

It’s just a year.  It’s not a lifetime.

Advertisements

You’re either living or dying

When I first started getting really sick and I seemed to stay horizontally far more than vertically, I had a chronic fear of death.  I thought every night that I would not wake up the next day.  It is the scariest feeling in the world to be a seventeen year old who wonders about the promise of another day.  I thought I would stop breathing when I was asleep because the pain was so horrible.  Words like multi-system organ failure, cardiac arrest, “long fight with *insert cause of death here*” all ran through my head.  I lived in constant fear of death.

Now that I am beginning to come out of my flare and slowly regaining a sliver of the strength I once had, my fear is not death.  My fear is life.  

I get scared going outside.  When someone just as much as clears their throat, I quiver at the thought that a pathogen may find its way into my body and I’ll be horizontal again.  I avoid my best friends because I know that one of them at a sleepover is sure to be harboring some sort of infection.  I try to disinfect the world.  I live in chronic fear, but not of darkness… of light.

I know it sounds insane: to fear something that people have been praying so long for me to have.  The problem is is that i know now the depths of pain that the human body can feel.  I know what it’s like to have your body turn against you, to have your cells fight the healthy organs that God gave you and keep the bad things lodged inside.  I know what it’s like to live day to day, hour to hour, second to second.  I know what it’s like to be afraid of dark, and so I am now afraid of the light.

I am afraid because I fear going back to the place I was.  I wake up every morning wondering if I’ll wake up kept in the bondage of my own body with no way to break free from my own deceived cells.  I live in chronic fear of living because I know what it’s like to not live for a while, to live a “life” comprised of anointing of the sick, hospitals, IV therapy, and urine specimens.

It was when I was in Medjugorje that someone actually confronted me on this fear.  It came from the constant voice of wisdom in my household: my mom.  I had taken a fondness to another pilgrim on our journey of faith who I cozied up to very quickly.  I sat next to her in the airport, patted her shoulder at a funny joke, held her hand at a sentimental statement, and even hugged her in a time of need.  Sitting next to each other at dinner, I watched her take a familiar pill.

“It’s my antibiotic, man don’t sinus infections suck?”

The thoughts began streaming in my head like a New Years Eve fireworks show: sinus infection, “flares can be caused by infection,” what if I get a bad flare again, what if it’s worse, what if my one glimpse of hope or light at the end of the tunnel is fading before my very eyes, how could I go back to such a dark place when I felt the rays of light shining upon my face.

It was the next morning that I told my mom about the pathogenic pilgrim.  She said (very frankly, of course), “You can’t live your whole life in fear anymore.”

It was one of the hardest blows and one of the truest statements.

We can’t live our whole lives in fear of the unknown.  I could wake up one day with no way out again, it’s true.  Another flare is not a foreign possibility.  But then will I wake up with regret for the days spent avoiding all of the things I love?  Or would I wake up rejuvenated with the joy of a time well-spent?

“A life in fear” is such a great paradox because a life in fear is truly not a life at all.  I lived those days filled with sterilized handshakes and steroids with the fear of death, and as soon as I could leave that world- my spirit died.  I met my greatest fear, and I let it overcome me.  I let death take me under its wing and keep me as a captive.  As soon as I had left the bondage of an unknown disease, I entered the captivity of an unknown world: a world privy to infections, viruses, triggers for flares.

I decided to go back to living day by day, but not in the way I did before.  I lived everyday during a lupus flare wondering if it would be my last, wondering what the day ahead would bring, dreading doctors’ appointments and enduring harrowing pain.

I vow now to live day by day without fear of the next.  I vow to live everyday to the fullest.  I vow not to let lupus or fear dictate what I do.  I promise to live a life free of concerns for the next days’ morning.  I, most of all, vow to live.

Why we love the Derek Shepherds of the world

After becoming chronically ill in February, my couch and I became fast friends.  Always an active girl, I never laid around on the couch all day, but it seemed to be the only place I could go.  Schoolwork was a challenge because of the constant battle with lupus brain fog paired with the chronic fatigue, so I resorted to watching television shows to pass the hours of pain in between doctors’ appointments.  It seems somewhat ironic that illness led me to my favorite TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  

Everyone that hears this always asks me, “Aren’t you in doctors’ offices enough?!” or “Don’t you deal with disease and sick people enough?”  I wish they understood.

Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital is not at all an accurate depiction of what goes on daily for those suffering with illness or plagued with unfortunate circumstances.  The hospital and all of the cast members of Grey’s Anatomy do, however, depict the ideal scenarios.  They portray what every sick person wishes they were greeted with when they entered the sterile, white hospital walls.  No it is not because they are beautiful or have great story lines outside of the Operating Room; it is because they introduce a side of healthcare that my generation has rarely ever seen: a side that fights for people.

We see, all too often, a side of healthcare that fights against you.  We see the side of healthcare that is quick to diagnose psychosis or anxiety, but often very slow to diagnose the real problems.  We see doctors that laugh at symptoms and ignore phone calls of scared parents.  My mother called my rheumatologist seven times when my lymph nodes were so swollen they were standing off of my neck.  As a cancer survivor herself, the fear in her voice was indicative of terror that could only be pacified by a doctor’s response.  Those seven phone calls over the course of a month were never returned.  My doctor did, however, scoff at my mom at our monthly visit saying, “I’ve gotten seven phone calls from your mother since your last visit… that shouldn’t happen.”  I wanted to say that a doctor who receives phone calls from a scared parent and doesn’t respond promptly shouldn’t happen, but I merely sat in silence and disgust.

Grey’s Anatomy featured an episode that hit home for my family and I.  It was an episode where a frantic mother did absolutely everything to ensure that her child was met with the healthcare he needed.  She fought with doctors for a diagnosis, though what ended up happening depicts the true reality of modern healthcare.  The mother, staying up all hours of the night researching, diagnosed her own son with the medical condition he was ultimately treated for.  My mom stays up every night and wakes up with a new diagnosis.  She pours over healthcare documents because no doctor is willing to fight for me, only against me.

Doctors seem to forget the end word of the industry they fought so hard to enter into: healthcare.  Somewhere amidst the large paychecks and the diplomas adorning their walls, they missed out on the true reason they should have become doctors.  God gave them the gift of a brain that can change the world if they allow it to.

Grey’s Anatomy may be an inaccurate depiction of modern day healthcare, but it provides some hope for those who enter hospitals and doctors’ offices all too often.  We sit in hope that somebody like Derek Shepherd will stay up all hours of the night, like he has for so many patients, just to get people out of pain.  We hope that somebody like George O’Malley will fight for funds for somebody that needs help, but cannot afford it.  We pray that someday someone like Meredith Grey will hug our mothers for a job well done, for their persistence, for their tenacity, but most of all for their unfailing love in a hospital stricken with negativity.  We await the day when doctors will hold our hands and rub our shoulders, like Izzy Stephens.  We pray for the day when doctors will not simply bandaid the pain with medicine but confront the pain, like Dr. Torres.  We look forward to the day when doctors will share the same pain and hurt that we do and be able to sympathize with us like Arizona, rather than shrug their shoulders.  We dream of doctors who will not settle when nothing seems to work, but rather will pour their heart and soul into creating something that will work like Christina Yang.  We long for the day when people will enter the medical profession to mentor young doctors to care for everyone, to fight for everyone, and to most of all save everyone like Dr. Bailey and Dr. Webre have sought to do for so many seasons of Grey’s.  

Most of all, we want doctors like Alex Karev.  There was an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that truly stuck with me and made an indelible impression on me.  A premature baby in dire need of a miracle is brought into Alex’s care.  With nothing he could do, he simply held and nursed the baby all night, who made a miraculous recovery.  That is what we need.  We do not need all the medicine, morphine, or temporary bandaids on permanent issues.  We don’t need the medical community to ever hear about us at conferences or create some innovative answer that will be documented in medical journals from Taiwan to Ireland.  All we need is the medical community to care enough to hold us in our vulnerability.  It has been proven that babies who only experience clinical touch do not survive.  We are so much more like infants than we think.  Without the love and nurture in our time of pain, we will not survive.  It’s more than clinical expertise that we look for when we go to doctors.  We look for a loving hand, an eye of sympathy, and a doctor willing to fight with us against whatever we are plagued with.

Grey’s Anatomy may be fictional, but the medical community is not incapable of the attributes of the finest surgeons at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital.  All we need is someone to believe in us, someone to see more than symptomatology but a true person fighting against their own body.

“It’s not childish to hold on to hope; it’s actually very, very hard to do.”

Why I wear purple

Having recently been diagnosed with lupus, I am a complete rookie when it comes to the disease and all things affiliated to it.  I am, however, trying to learn.  So in all of my lupus flare glory, I have been waking up at four in the morning due to the prednisone. I have, however, tried to make good use of this time and learn more about the “cruel mystery” of a disease that I have recently been asked to bear.  I decided in the wee hours of the morning to like the Lupus Foundation of America on Facebook, and I then began to weep.

I was diagnosed with lupus a month ago today.  Do you know what today is?  Today is “wear purple for someone with lupus day.”  It is a day to promote awareness for the disease and celebrate those fighting against it.  Do you think God was trying to tell me something?  I sat, with the early morning light shining dimly in my room, and sobbed.  It gets weirder though.

One of the hardest parts of my cross that I have taken up since February has been allowing my sister to take care of me.  My sister has epilepsy, and second to my mom-she is the strongest woman I know.  I have watched her carry her cross with grace and dignity, robed with the sanctity of the Spirit.  Though as a little sister, it is so hard to see your idol and role model in pain.  I made it my duty, from her diagnosis on, to be her comforter and her aid in times of help.  You can imagine how humbling it must be then, when it is you who is being cared for.  I did not want to allow it.  She would call and text me incessantly and I have to admit to ignoring most of them.  I did not want her to comfort me; that was my job.  God has a funny way of reminding us of his amazing grace in the most profound ways.  If you know anything about epilepsy, you know that they don a certain color as well during the month of October, epilepsy awareness month.  Do you know what that color is?  Purple.

My sister and I don the same color because we carry similar crosses.  We have been asked to carry the cross of a chronic illness that seems a mystery to the medical community.  We have been pushed aside by doctors and mocked by our peers.  So why do we think that we have to carry it alone?  We can wear purple together, and we can carry our cross together.  Hold on to your seats.. because it gets even weirder.

Throughout my spat with illness, I have meditated on the cross more than I ever have before.  It seems to be the only thing that comforts me on the days when illness seems to win the battle, and lupus reigns as the king of my life.  So as I sit in my purple sweater and socks, I crack open my bible and you would not believe what God put in black and white letters.

Have you ever read Mark’s gospel story of the crucifixion?  Take a look at Mark 16.

“The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!”  Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.  And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”

I have said so many times that this is my cross, and just how fitting that Jesus dons my color.  He is robed in my pain as well.  He was beaten and worn, similar to anyone that has ever had a lupus flare or a chronic condition, for that matter.

Do you know that priests also wear purple?  They wear purple during somber times of reflection and preparation for great things to come.  The two times priests wear purple are advent and lent-the most somber times of our liturgical calendar.  A lupus flare is similar to lent, I think.  It takes everything out of you.  You are asked to stay in the desert for a length of time that seems unknown.  You are asked to wrestle with the demons of malaise, lack of control, and lack of health.  Though it seems so fitting that lupus and lent share the same color because a lupus flare and lent both ask you to give up so much.  You are asked to surrender the control that you seek, the order you try so hard to preserve.  I have given up plans with friends, the fourth quarter of school, pints of blood, copious amounts of information, and so much more.  Like lent, lupus takes so much from us.  Though, what I think is more fitting is that the Catholic Church uses lent as a time of preparation for something even greater-Easter, a time of rebirth, rejuvenation, and rejoicing.  I just have to stick around to see the glorious day when I can take the wheel from lupus and steer my life again; that will be my Easter.  I will rejoice on that day.  With faith in the Lord, I know that day will come.  He will rejoice with me on that day.

Purple, lastly, is the color of royalty.  It is the true reason that Jesus was robed in it, as he was mocked for being the king of the Jews.  Sometimes lately, I felt that lupus reigned over my body and my health.  Lupus won the battle.  It dictates my life and my day to day activities.  It hinders me from doing things and seems to knock me down even harder when I try to overcome it.  Why do I wear purple?  I am taking up my cross, and I am vowing that lupus will not reign my life forever.  Sure temporarily, I will let the disease win the battle, but I will win the war.

When you’re in a lupus flare, I assure you that you don’t feel beautiful.  Your hair begins to fall out.  Before you know it, the high dosage prednisone they have you on makes every part of your body swell.  The bags under your eyes are not designer, I promise you.  They are the result of fatigue, malaise, and a long battle with an unknown disease.  Though, on this day, those suffering with lupus everywhere throw on all of the purple that they can find and embody the beauty of kings and queens.  We slip into the regal color of royalty and majesty because we should be kings and queens-we fight every day against a disease that seeks to take everything that we have.

And that.. that is why I wear purple.

This one’s for you, mom.

There is a sense of loneliness that you get when you sit in a doctor’s office every day, an ache of abandonment that comes when doctors simply just give up.  There comes a moment when you feel so abandoned and alone you want to give up.  Every doctor tells you it’s stress or it’s “out of their realm of expertise.”  The white walls of hospitals and doctors’ offices citywide all seem to scream sounds of desperation, loneliness, isolation, and abandonment.  Amidst the white sterility and the grey ambiguities of the great unknown diseases, there is one pop of color.  There is one twinge of hope in this time of despair, and that… that is my mom.

We, so often, feel alone in this world.  The sense of indefinable pain makes us feel so empty and void of all hope.  We forget so easily that there is another person that feels the pain nearly as deep as we do.  It is our mom.

I have been sick since February, and the one person who has not left my side has been my mom.  She has endured daily doctors’ visits, temper tantrums, and really you name it.  I have watched her energy and her sleep schedule wane as she puts every last bit of energy into helping me get better.  She has fought and pleaded with doctors.  She has memorized my list of medications and seemed to get it down to a science, researching when the best time to take what is.  She has made my favorite foods and read every food label to ensure that my diet would not contribute to my pain.  That is my mom-she has been my superwoman.

I never realized how fitting it was that nurses’ appreciation week falls on the week of Mother’s Day until I became chronically ill.  It now seems so clear.  Out of every doctor’s office that I have been to, I have to say that my mom has been the best nurse.  She does not wear scrubs, but she has the greatest heart and bedside manner.  She has never doubted my pain or my suffering.  She knows the look of, “Mom we need to leave, I’m about to start crying,” and she has mastered the art of getting me out of any situation.  She knows what to say when people ask me why I’ve been so sick.  She knows the places where it hurts to massage my stomach and she memorized the contours of my skin so well that she can tell if there’s any issue.

My mom, most of all, is the best nurse because she emanates strength and love.  I don’t know many nurses that would lay in bed with you when you’re screaming crying in pain, simply just to lend a gentle hand of camaraderie… a sacred moment to let you know that there is somebody on this Earth that suffers with you.  I don’t know many nurses that would wake up at two in the morning when you go to the bathroom because of all of the medicine you’re on just so that they could peek their head in when you come out and say, “hey, do you need anything?”  I don’t know many nurses that would listen to the piercing sound of shrieks that come when doctors abandon you, when you begin to think the world has abandoned you.  My mom… my mom is the best nurse.

I also never realized how fitting it was that nurses’ appreciation week and Mother’s Day share the week with another appreciation week-teacher’s appreciation week.  My mom has taught me so many lessons throughout my time plagued with illness.  She has taught me that it is okay to cry.  I have watched her tear up in doctors’ offices and heard her sobs in the shower.  It is when we allow ourselves to be fully raw that we are able to be healed.  We need to sometimes just sob and surrender.  She has also taught me that strength is manifested in more ways than muscle.  She has taught me that strength is knowing that God will get you through.  Strength is really a leap of faith, an act of belief.  The strongest woman I know is the woman who looked at me when I screamed and cried not knowing how I would get through the day and she said, “God will get you through the day.”  It is the strength of understanding, the empowerment that comes with knowing that Philippians 4:13 is more than just a car magnet; it is a way of life.  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Most of all, my mom gave me the greatest lesson in the world.  She taught me the true depths of love.  Never in my life did I think that anybody could love someone so much that they would wish to take their illness upon themselves; my mother has done just that.  She has prayed and she has begged that my pain become her pain, so that I can go back to my normal routine and life.  She has taught me that there is one person in this world who feels pain just as deeply as we do.  I have seen the hurt that my illness has caused her and I’ve seen the frustration that she feels at the ambiguity of modern-day healthcare.  She has felt my pain, and in that way, my pain has truly become her pain.  She has taken up my cross with me.  Jesus had friends who helped him carry his cross, but me?  I have my mom.  I have the strongest person in the world-the woman who has picked me up from bed when I sat lifeless, the woman who has watched me go from a vibrant and active kid to a girl who needs helps getting up the stairs, the woman who has taken on the roles of doctor, nurse, teacher, friend, but most of all the role of a mother.  She is my best friend, but more than that she is my mom.

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” ~Washington Irving

I think that I would revise that quote a little bit.

A mother is the truest friend we have, when crosses heavy and sudden fall upon us; when sickness takes the place of health; when doctors and healthcare that rejoices with us in health desert us in our vulnerability; when darkness thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and heal the wounds that are broken.

Though I am not healed physically and am still left in pain, my mom has healed my heart.  She has renewed my confidence in the ability to love.  She has given me the strength to endure the cross that I have been plagued with, and she has shown me what it means to take upon our cross with dignity.  Thank you, mom.  I love you.

Surrender

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a complete control freak.  I need control over things.  I need control over my school work, over my car, over anything that I can.  The feeling of discombobulation and I are not friends.

Try telling illness that you are a control freak, and let me know how badly she will laugh in your face.

I have missed twenty-four days of school.  I have missed over 16 club meetings.  I have missed practices for my dance team.  I have missed mandatory activities for school and clubs.  I have missed everything because of this sickness, and I feel discombobulated.  I feel like I cannot grasp anything.  I sit in class on days that I can go to school and have no idea what is going on.  I lay on my bed in my bedroom and see the destruction around me.  I feel like I am drowning, with no way out.  I am consumed with frustration and fear and befuddlement.  I feel like I am trying so hard to grip the reigns on my life, but I am ten steps behind and it is moving at mega-speed.

So I took another step back.. a step for perspective, a step to meditate like I said I would.  I saw my counselor at school, and for the first time in over two months, I said what I have been holding in.  I am terrified.  I have no grip on anything.  Though it is really not about school.  Makeup work will get done.  Club moderators will understand.  But how in the world do I grip my health?  How can I get a manage on the discombobulation of illness?

I can’t.

So for the first time in two months, I sat in there and began to get teary-eyed.  I told my counselor everything.  I told her how my mom doesn’t think I hear her when she cries in the shower.  I told my counselor how my boyfriend tries really hard to be supportive, but I watch as it kills him to see me in pain.  I told my counselor how my sister loves me so much that I know she would take it from me.  I told my counselor how I have not spoken to my brother on the phone because I know he would fall to pieces if he knew.  I told her everything, and I fought back tears.

I realized that while everyone else around me has felt emotions and cried and expressed their feelings, I have not.  I have held it in.  I have bottled up all the pain I feel, all the frustration and the hurt I hide, and I have put it on a shelf.  I have choked back tears because emotions are the one thing I can attempt to control.  Though how much good is that doing?  I am hurting myself so badly trying to keep everything together when I need to just accept that everything in my life is not together right now.

So I told my counselor what I had known all along, but I was too scared to admit it: “I need to surrender.”

This is my cross.  This is my burden, my load.  So I looked to the man Himself who gave us a coping mechanism for our crosses.  Thinking to myself, “Jesus didn’t really surrender.  He knew it was going to happen.  He did it to repay our debt.”

I must have missed somewhere around Luke 9: 23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

You have to deny yourself.  You have to surrender.  

So I did exactly that.  I let go of everything, the scariest thing in the world to do.  I cried and shrieked and howled and threw a temper tantrum.

I realize now that that is what illness is: an act of surrender.  We surrender to doctors.  We surrender to diagnoses that will haunt us.  We surrender to needles, radiation, or medicine.  We put our trust in sterilized, latex gloves of men we barely know. Though all of those things trump in comparison to what we truly must surrender to: ourselves.

We have to surrender to the voices inside our head that beg us to pull the reigns a little tighter and try to grasp anything we can.  We must surrender to the control that we seek, the order we try so hard to preserve.

I used to feel like I was drowning in the ocean of sickness, with no way out.  I felt the waves crashing against me, stronger and stronger as the tide grew greater.  I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper with no escape, no way to breathe.  I hit the bottom of the ocean, and it was then that I realized I needed to come up for air.  I needed to surrender.  I needed to realize that it is okay to float for a while.  I do not need to fight so hard to control the waves.  Isn’t it better when you just float on the surface, allowing the waves to tumble and knock you without the fight?  Isn’t it nicer sometimes to lay down your arms, and just be for a while?

519f3d868f4c3ddfb6a258017b9fc5dd

In sickness and in health

My entire family has been plagued with illness for as long as I can remember.  I was in fourth grade when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I watched her hair whither away with her spirit.  I was in fourth grade when my sister began to have grand male seizures.  I watched my beautiful sister, a flower in God’s garden, fall victim to a wretched disease.  Lastly, I was in fourth grade when I went through a year and three months of chronic pain, a pain doctors had no idea how to cure.   I went through more doctors than I count, hundreds of misdiagnoses, violations of HYPA laws, and really anything you can think of that a fourth grader should not have to go through before I found my two saviors: two doctors who cared about me enough to figure out why I was in so much pain.

I am now a junior in high school, and I am being asked to take up that cross again.  It is not as easy cross to bear; I think illness is one of the hardest things for humans to comprehend; though I think that Jesus always get us through, as hard as I know it will be.  In Luke 7:50 Jesus proclaims to the woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”   I think that most people interpret that as a full healing; God was merciful on the woman because of her faith, but if I have learned one thing through illness it is that it is always the people who love God the most that are asked to endure the largest crosses.  Mother Theresa said it best: “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

So what does it mean then, “your faith has saved you”?  I am a junior in a high school: a zit on the face of homogeneity, a bump in the road of normality.  I believe in Christ in a deeper way than most of the people I go to school with.  I have a faith stronger than many adults I know… so why hasn’t my faith saved me?  Why am I burdened with illnesses that prostitutes, murderers, or tyrants seem to never get??

My faith has saved me.  As alone as it feels to be sick, as scary as it is to venture into the unknown, I know that God has a plan.  I know that God, like Mother Theresa says, will never give me anything I cannot handle.  I do not know if prostitutes, murderers or tyrants would know that.  I do not know whether they would be able to handle it.

I know that in every doctor’s office waiting room, in every IV drip, in every moment of fear, I have God.  My faith has saved me… from myself.  Jesus never says in Luke 7:50, “as a follow-up, I am strictly talking about saving you from illness.  That whole bible quote means that you are completely healed.”

As I meditate upon that verse, as I let my soul and my body sink into the seems of my bible, I begin to see more and more that the true thing human beings need to be saved from is ourselves.  We can deal with illness.  We can deal with pain.  We can deal with heartbreak.  Though, what is the one thing that humans on a daily basis struggle with?  How to deal with ourselves: who we are, our fears, our frustrations, our sins, our guilt.

We are a self-consumed and a self-destructive world, though faith is our saving grace.  I am battling an illness.  I am carrying a heavy cross, though I know that I have a friend.  I know that I have Jesus.