You are the sister I cannot bear to be without …

I love my family. A lot. The most out of anything I can think of. Nothing, on this side of heaven, can bring me more joy. I remember being a kid and people saying that I needed to love God above anything or anyone else. And I always felt like that was impossible, because how could I love anything more than I love my mom or dad, or my sisters and brothers? I know now that loving God above all else doesn’t require me to love my family less.

When my eldest sister moved away to Toronto about a decade ago, I remember, as a thirteen-year-old, experiencing for the first time this deep insatiable longing in my heart. Up until that point in my life, I don’t think I truly understood what it felt like to experience this kind of restlessness. I just didn’t think my heart could rest until my family was all back together again. And as the years went by, and more siblings moved away, it was almost like my life revolved around the times that we would reunite. It happens about once a year, thanks to weddings. My happiest and most peaceful times have always been when everyone in my family is together in my parents’ house– playing games, sharing meals, sipping coffee.

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When I was younger, I actually held onto the hope that one day all my siblings would come back to live in our hometown and things would be just perfect, but when I grew older, I realized that being reunited with my family forever is something that probably won’t happen in this life. It was then that it became clear to me why loving God above all else is so important. He’s the only constant, the only guaranteed person that will always be close by. It’s not healthy for me to rely on my family to provide my life’s joy, meaning, and peace to my restlessness, because their presence in my life isn’t a guarantee.

It’s sometimes difficult for me to remember that, but my younger sister reminded me of this all over again last week when she told me she was moving away to live with my older sister. My initial reaction was selfish feelings of devastation. How could God let her leave? I felt, and still feel, dramatic for feeling that way, but her leaving feels like a weighty loss, reminiscent of when my eldest sister had left– a bitter reminder of how we can’t all be together all the time in this life. But soon after, I was able to get over my own feelings and feel great joy for the opportunities that my sister will have and even more overjoyed that my eldest sister will have the blessing of having a family member in her daily life again.

I was reading a scripture reflection a few days ago and the writer challenged me to reflect on who Jesus is to me, and who I am to Jesus. Reflecting on who Jesus is to me was easy enough, I have done that many times before, but I don’t know if I have ever taken the time to think about who I am to Jesus. And so I closed my eyes and prayed that the Holy Spirit would speak to my heart. And the first word that came to my mind was sister. And I, being so used to relating to God as my Father, was tempted to focus on my identity as His daughter. But then I put my pen to paper and wrote, “You are the sister I cannot bear to be without.” And I was taken aback and felt so deeply loved in that moment. It was as if Jesus was saying, “You already know you are a daughter of God, but I want you to know you are my sister.” And Jesus’ love for me became so personal, so tangible, in that moment. I have never had a daughter, so I don’t know what it feels like to love a child of my own. But I do have sisters and I love them more than my heart can bear sometimes. And I have brothers, and they are alright, too. I think I will start talking to Jesus as my brother more often now.

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10 Things I Want You to Know About My Life with Chronic Illness

On June 30, 2013, my life changed. I woke up with an excruciating pain in my abdomen. I ran to my parents’ bedroom gasping, “I need to go to the hospital!” Before this happened, I had had little whispers for a few years prior that indicated maybe something was up with my insides, but those whispers turned into a scream when my ovary twisted two times to alert me that I had a 14 cm cystic mass taking up most of my pelvic area. After spending a day in the hospital trying to figure out what was going on, a well-humoured gynecologist told me that I would need to have emergency surgery, but not to worry as this procedure is very common and straight-forward. So after my initial panic faded, I had an optimistic outlook: maybe I would even feel better after this surgery! Maybe I wouldn’t always have to undo my fly after meals because of weird discomfort. Things would be okay.

I never fully recovered from that surgery, and I still don’t know why. The gyn. that did my surgery told me that I had endometriosis, but if I started the pill right away, everything would be fine. But everything was not fine. And almost immediately after surgery I started having weird digestive problems. This eventually evolved into chronic discomfort all over my body, painful periods and ovulation, bouts of anxiety, depression, and paranoia, migraines, and what felt like a million other unrelated symptoms at that time. Fast forward almost three years, 11 conventional healthcare practitioners, 10 complementary practitioners, thousands of dollars and hours, and here I am with a hypersensitive nervous system, chronic hypoglycemia, a hurting reproductive and digestive system, a very confused immune system, and a body that can only tolerate apple sauce, pureed squash, avocados, bananas, and a hypoallergenic meal replacement.

I am not sharing my story because I want people to feel bad for me. I really don’t. In fact, my life is really great outside of my struggling body. I live an extraordinarily privileged life and I don’t want to take that for granted. I am sharing my story for a few reasons: 1) Yes, shit happens, but that shit can be redeemed. 2) There are a lot of people that suffer from invisible illnesses (people you probably see every day), and I want to bring awareness to that fact. 3) I think being honest about my struggle in this way may bring some healing to me. 4) Maybe, just maybe, someone who reads this will relate to my experience and feel a little less alone. 5) So that I can look back at this and remember what is important to me when I am having a hard time. 6) Everyone has a story and I think they should all be shared. 7) I have a few things I want my friends and family to know about my life with chronic illness.

10 Things I Want You to Know About My Life with Chronic Illness

*My thoughts about things change from time to time, so maybe one day in the future these won’t be the things I want you to know about my life with chronic illness, but until then..

1) God has not abandoned me and, boy, do I know it.

I have felt closer to God these past three years than I ever have. Perhaps it is because I’ve never felt I needed Him so intensely. When I have days, or weeks, or months where things just seem to be getting worse no matter how hard I am trying to give my body a break and feed it the things it needs to get better, there comes a point where I realize that this is all in God’s hands. When I am alone and in pain and feel like giving up, the most healing thing for me in that moment is imagining myself through God’s eyes and feeling how much he loves me. I know that God doesn’t want me to suffer, but I also know he has the power to take this suffering away. If I am still suffering, it must be for a reason that will ultimately bring me more joy than if I were to be healed. If it weren’t for my confidence in God’s plan for me, I don’t know where I would be today.

2) I am trying.

Sometimes I get this feeling that people assume that because I am not actually getting better, I must not be trying. I have never stopped trying. I have put more time and money into taking care of my body than I ever thought imaginable. BUT. Sometimes my body needs a break from trying things. Sometimes my spirit needs a break from trying things. But I trust that these breaks are doing me more good than if I kept pushing when my body is telling me no.

3) Doctors don’t always know everything.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if doctors weren’t human and actually did know everything? But they don’t. I always have people asking me, “What do the doctors say?” And when I say that they don’t say much, or that they haven’t been able to find anything wrong, people might say things like, “Oh, well why don’t you just start eating normally then?” or “Well if they can’t find anything wrong it must be all in your head.” I think there are more loving ways to support someone who hasn’t been able to eat real food for almost a year.

4) I would eat that pizza if I could.

So trust me when I say that I can’t and don’t push it. 🙂

5) I might not ever get better.

I feel that most people in my life expect me to always be getting better, especially if they don’t know me very well. I may have seen them a month ago and they ask me if I am feeling any better and my answer is always, “Not really.” Every time I say it, I feel like I am letting someone down or as if I need to apologize for still being sick. The usual response to me saying “Not really” is “Well you look really good!” I appreciate that you think I look mighty fine, but the fact that my illness is invisible to you somehow doesn’t make me feel any better. I do realize, however, that these comments come from either a place of really caring for me or just not being sure what to say, so I get over it really quick. The truth is, I wish that people would be okay with me not getting better, because than I wouldn’t feel the pressure to be better. Help me be okay with where I am at.

6) My life isn’t what I thought it would be and I am okay with that. Really.

For the first 21 years of my life I had dreams of becoming a teacher and having lots of kids. I thought that was what would bring me fulfillment in life. I am currently in a place where I don’t know if I’ll ever be well enough to finish my Ed. degree. I also don’t know if I will ever be able to have children. Everything is pretty up in the air. But I am happy with what I am doing with my life. I have the most loving husband to share my life with. I have amazing family and friends. I enjoy my work as a substitute EA, and I have a God who loves me. Music exists. You don’t have to feel sad that I might not ever be a teacher. Or that I may not ever have kids. Yeah, these aren’t ideal situations. But I don’t need them to feel like my life has value.

7) I can have joy every day in my life with my illness.

My life isn’t my illness. It’s far more than that. And to be honest, I do have joy every day in my life. Even when I am having a hard day, the hardness of that day isn’t everlasting. I laugh constantly. I cry tears of happiness sometimes. I look forward to things. My life isn’t over.

8) I am not the fragile person you might think I am.

I am strong. Stronger than I ever was.

9) I wouldn’t want to go back to who I was before I got sick.

This used to be so tempting to me. I would day dream about how awesome things were before I got sick. But truthfully, things are a lot better now. Sure, I can’t eat pizza or pie, but I am a much better person now. I am much more satisfied with my life. I know what is important and what isn’t. Life is simpler. I feel more capable of loving other people. Ultimately, my life has much more meaning than it did before.

10) All I want you to do for me is pray and hang out.

I think most people like to fix things that are broken. But I do not want you to fix me. I just want to have you in my life. If you still want to fix me, pray for me. Nothing could brighten my day more than if you say you are praying for me. Pray that I have strength, faith, and healing. Also pray that one day I will be able to eat pie. Because that would be awesome 🙂

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Untitled (a poem)

In the warmth

of blankets and arms

that soothe me to peace and quiet.

In the crispy potato wedges

that save me from exhaustion

and taste decent.

In the fresh air

that clears my mind

and feels new on my face.

In the frankincense and mint

swirled in castor oil

to stop my head from spinning.

In the person

who understands my crosses

before I say a word.

In the notes

that ring so perfectly

I want to be them.

God is in the little things

that make all the difference.

Always reminding me

that he’s carrying the weight I can’t.