When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
A few years ago, my dad told me that this hymn was the one he wanted played at his funeral. Horrorstruck, I asked how he could think of something so sad at this point in his life, and he explained to me that his funeral would be one of joy because he’d finally be home with his Father. That even though it would be sad for those of us left to mourn, that we would be able to rest in the assurance that my dad would be with his Maker. And though I didn’t understand it at the time, I think I’m finally starting to now.
Something I haven’t talked much about on my blog is my the fact that my mom’s struggled with chronic illness for the past 18 years. When I was 6, my parents were preparing to take our family to China to serve as missionaries. We were living in Florida so my parents could attend seminary in order to be able to teach once we were overseas, and things were moving along quite nicely when my mom’s health took a sudden and serious nosedive. She found a strange little bug bite on her leg, and shortly thereafter became scary sick. Words like “cancer” and “leukemia” were being thrown around, and we spent more time in and out of doctors’ offices than I can remember. In the “end,” they diagnosed her with Lupus, an autoimmune disease where your white blood cells turn on your body and start attacking vital organs. Despite most of that year being a bit of a blur, I remember the first Christmas after she was diagnosed with Lupus with razor sharp clarity; she was so sick that she couldn’t even roll over in bed to sip a glass of water. Since my dad had to work that Christmas, I stayed with her to make sure she was hydrated. I remember being utterly terrified, not knowing exactly what was going on, but knowing that something was terribly wrong. Shortly after that, it became incredibly clear that China was no longer an option for our family with my mom being as sick as she was, so we moved back up to Virginia.
Over the past 18 years, my mom’s Lupus came and went in waves- some years were better than others, some were harder. Every morning she’d take a handful of various medications to keep her body from rebelling against itself, and every so often it’d rebel anyways. She was always tired, always sick. And I spent a long time being angry with her for missing out; band concert, football games, wedding planning.
Then last summer, my mom started to explore the possibility that she may have been misdiagnosed all those years ago, that maybe the reason she wasn’t getting any better was that because they were treated the wrong thing. After months of more doctors’ appointments, we finally found out that she was indeed misdiagnosed- that bug bite? It was from a tick. She has Lyme Disease. Tears of relief were shed- after 17 years, we finally had an answer. Hope began to swell in all of us- maybe now that we knew the problem, she could start to get better. Maybe she’d get her energy back. Maybe we’d finally see a glimmer of her old, boisterous self.
The thing about Lyme is that if you catch it early enough, with intense rounds of treatments doctors can usually eradicate the disease from your body. But with 17 years of Lyme rooting itself firmly in my mom’s body? From where I sit, the outlook is a bit bleak. She was prescribed a year and a half of treatment cycles. That’s a year an a half of more medication, of self-administered shots, of fatigue so intense that she can often sleep for 48 hours straight. A year and a half of impaired cognitive function, of missing out on family gatherings downstairs while she rests in my parents’ bedroom. The side effects of the treatments were severe enough that my mom had to temporarily stop working as an elementary school teacher this past Spring.
Throughout all of this, I’ve been battling to keep hope. I’ve all but stopped praying for a cure because after 18 years of watching medicine fail, I’ve lost faith. And after months of watching insurance companies (pardon my language) screw my family over when their job is supposedly to BE there for you, I’ve become resentful. Angry with a system that’s failing us, angry with the universe for the hand we’ve been dealt, angry with God for letting my family suffer in all the ways we’ve suffered. Angry that I was robbed of the joys of planning my wedding with my mom by my side, frustrated over all the things she missed when I was growing up. I feel robbed, jipped, slighted.
But God never promised me this life would be easy. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you suddenly get an EZ Pass to blow through the “trials and suffering” lanes. Quite the opposite- he tells us to prepare for the suffering we will endure. 1 Peter 4:12 says “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…” WHEN it comes, not if. And the beauty of having my trust in Christ is that I know it’s NOT all for naught. That’s there’s some purpose behind all of this, that even though I may not be able to it right now, I can trust in the Lord with all my heart to lead me and love me through it all. So that even when my parents’ appeals are rejected and the insurance company refuses to cover her Lyme, even though it downright sucks and I’m on the brink of hopelessness, He’s still there. THAT’S what the song “It Is Well” means. Peace in the face of fire, faith in the face of hopelessness. No matter how bad things get, Jesus is my rock and my salvation, and then when everything else seems unstable, I can cling to Him and He will keep me grounded.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that I can’t get angry about the injustice of a broken insurance system, and it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for me to cry out to God when I’m hurting. But it does mean that I have the peace of knowing my God has NOT forsaken me, and even though I don’t understand the purpose behind these 18 years of sickness and suffering, that I can rest assured that none of it takes God by surprise. That he will never leave me and my family, never hang us out to dry, never let us alone to figure it out without Him. And though it’s frustrating, uncomfortable and sometimes rage-inducing, that He will always be in control. And that as bleak as the outlook may be, it’s never hopeless.
Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Happy Wednesday, friends.