I used to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There is no cure.
I’ll just let that sink in for a bit.
The thing is, I don’t think I have ever posted this story, although I’m pretty sure I’ve alluded to it. Today I reread an account of it I had written for a school assignment and it reduced me to tears of gratitude, so I’m sharing. Because if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s to make people cry. I mean that in a good way.
The assignment was answering the question, “Describe a time you have experienced suffering. How did you deal with that experience? How did you find comfort in the midst of suffering?” I have way more to say about this than what I wrote as my response, but this is already longer than I like to make a post, so please post questions in the comments!
When I was 19, I came down with what I thought was a case of the flu. When I still had it six months later, I began to think it was more than just the flu. Five years later, after being dismissed and patronized by doctor after doctor, I finally received the diagnosis of Epstein-Barr Virus. The name was later changed to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
I had CFS for 25 years. During this time I got married, had four children and homeschooled them. I had to plan my weeks carefully, take a lot of naps, and stay on top of vitamins and nutrition. Early into my illness, a friend who had become a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident saw me running myself into the ground by trying to do too much, so he took me aside and told me what he had learned during physical therapy after his accident. He said I needed to learn to love my limit. Pushing past my limit caused further injury, but if I saw the limit as my friend rather than something to be raged against, I would be able to accomplish more. From then on, I loved my limit. I was careful to schedule only one thing a day, and if it was an outing or a large cleaning project, I schedule down time for the next few days afterward.
I prayed during this time repeatedly for the Lord to heal me. I was told specifically, two different times from two different pastors from whom I was seeking prayer, that they felt like the Lord was saying He wasn’t going to heal me right away. And so while I still kept praying, I learned that the word “grace” did not just apply to salvation, but rather that it was available to me day by day as I trusted God to give me strength one day at a time, and sometimes 15 minutes at a time. I learned to accept help from others. And I learned to just let some things go.
I had friends whose theology dictated that healing was always God’s will and that it was just a matter of faith. It was hard to hear this couple speaking their views with such confidence and authority when I knew I didn’t lack faith. I would explain to them that this was the path God had me walking and it was up to Him whether he healed me or not, and while they were gracious, they didn’t really accept what I was saying. (Since then, having been through some major medical trauma themselves, they have modified their views. I did not tell them “I told you so.” I get points for that, right?)
Needless to say, I didn’t like going through this, and it wasn’t easy. I had to lay down my dreams and modify my lifestyle drastically. I discovered during this time, through digging deep into Scripture for encouragement, that most of God’s promises focus on the hereafter. Even the hope that we cling to is hope for eternity. I came to the conclusion that the Lord was far more interested in me becoming Christlike than He was in me being comfortable. I identified strongly with 1 Peter 5:10, Hebrews 12, and Phil.3:20-21, finding comfort in the hope that if I could just hold on faithfully, one day I would be set free from my disease, but in the meantime, God would use it to draw me closer to Him.
As it turned out, the Lord’s plan had that event happening well before I made it to heaven: one day in the 25th year of my illness, I attended church on a day when I had no business attending church. I was far too ill that day, but my 9 year old daughter had put up such a battle in doing the homework her Sunday School teacher had assigned, and I was darned well going to have her turn that homework in after all that work. Additionally, the last question on that homework was the question, “What is something you could ask God for?” Her answer, scrawled angrily after yet another battle with me, was “A new Mom.” I wanted her Sunday School teacher to have words with her about that.
So I dragged myself to church and turned in the child with the homework. And then instead of taking a nap in the van as I had intended, I accidentally sat down in the church service, next to my mother. One does not simply get up and leave a church service when one is sitting next to my mother, so I had to stay there. In the middle of the worship part of the service, when I was too weak to stand up and sing but just sat there worshiping silently, I suddenly felt a strong presence of the Lord, like pressure all over my body and warmth that moved through me. It was so strong I thought, “If this gets any stronger, this is the rapture.” It receded then, much to my disappointment, and my next thought was, “I wonder if that was God healing me?” A quiet voice said in my head, “Yes, I can heal you now.” And then, being the mature and faith-filled Christian that I am, I thought, “Nahh, that’s just wishful thinking.”
When the service ended my mother turned to me and said, “I don’t know how to say this, because I don’t want to be wrong, but during the singing I felt like God told me He healed you. He said it wasn’t anything you did but it was just time.” I told her I had heard the same thing. She replied, “Well then, I guess you’re healed.” I agreed. We stood there looking at each other while people chatted and laughed around us. There was no trumpet blast, no angel choir, not even an elder anointing with oil and praying. And just like that, it was over.
When I picked up my nine-year-old from Sunday School, it suddenly hit me that her prayer had been answered; she had a new Mom. That was nine and a half years ago. It took me about a year to learn how to be a healthy adult, and my children were somewhat disappointed that I no longer took extended naps every day, but since that day I have not had one episode of CFS.
Suffering didn’t end with the CFS, however, because once I was healthy, I was able to take stock of my life and realized that I was trapped in a bad marriage to a narcissist. And then a few years later, my youngest son came down with Type 1 Diabetes. So the living day by day by grace continues, and God continues to be faithful to provide, comfort and enable me to change the things I can and let go of the rest. I can honestly say at this point, along with Maya Angelou, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”