Hey there, fellow digressors. So today (or, well, yesterday, since I'm posting this after midnight), I went to church. Shocking, I know. What on earth was I doing in church on Sunday, of all days? Well, besides watching a video about Noah's Ark (put out by Answers in Genesis; they're awesome) and sitting through a slightly different (but still good) sermon by a local missionary, we sang the song that the church in general has set to memorizing over the past several weeks: 'Like A River Glorious'. During Family School (which is like Sunday School, except with the whole family together), one of the pastor's sons told us the story of the hymn's author, Frances R. Havergal. She wrote several hymns, actually, including the popular 'Take My Life and Let It Be', 'Who Is on the Lord's Side', and 'I Gave My Life for Thee'.
While her hymns are beautiful and inspirational, and her life story is fascinating, the part that leapt out at me was the account of how she once became very ill -- with a severe cold that caused inflammation of the lungs -- and, upon being told that her life was in danger, exclaimed, "If I am really going, it is too good to be true!"
That seems a little off, doesn't it? When you find out you're within an inch of your life, you're supposed to panic. You're supposed to gasp and cry and frantically look for any way of prolonging your life a little further. Such news is supposed to rock your world. It's only natural.
But the peace of God is far beyond natural. It is supernatural.
I know this because I have been in Ms. Havergal's approximate position before.
No, I've never faced a doctor and been told I might die. I was once informed that I had a chronic illness that would take years to beat, but it's not bad enough to be fatal. But... Well, maybe the best way to explain it would be to tell you a story. It's a story I've lived several times over the past few years. It goes down a little differently each time, but there are some common characteristics, enough that I feel I can share a relatively accurate account with you now. It'll be somewhat fictionalized, since no two instances are exactly the same, but here goes.
It was a day like any other. The sun rose long before I did, as did most of the people in the house. Physical pain was either faint or nonexistent, but I awoke tired and sluggish. I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed my trusty cane -- which I often call my "buddy," not to be confused with Sohrem -- and made my way down the stairs. My feet dragged a little, but with much concentration, I managed to avoid tripping or making it too visible. I spotted our dog, Mia, nearby and leaned down to pet her before going to the refrigerator and looking for something to eat. There was plenty available, but the slight churning of my temperamental stomach warned me off of anything too strong. I would have to find something non-threatening to feed it.
My gaze fell on a carton of almond milk, some farm-fresh eggs, and some maple syrup, and I pulled out these ingredients to make an egg nog. I noticed throughout the process that every move required a bit more strength than usual, and as I finally mixed everything together, a flash of heat went through me. That didn't bode well. I quickly rinsed off the stir-stick, put away the various ingredients, took a sip of the egg nog, and grabbed my buddy. I took a moment to check my pocket. Yep, my phone was there. Good. That was one less thing to find before I crashed.
I reached the stairs, set the rubber grip of the cane against the first step, and thrust downwards, then dragged my foot up onto the step beside it. Another step, another thrust, another foot grazing the step as it passed over the top. This might have been simpler if my mind didn't insist on counting the stairs and stepping in a certain sequence on the way up. It was hard enough taking the steps in the first place -- counting them and insisting on taking them in a certain way? Come on.
A wave of heat passed over me again, and my legs started to get shaky. I gritted my teeth and thrust again, and a faint groan escaped as I scaled the next step. I'd have to be careful not to slip -- a tumble down the stairs would not end well. A little while longer of doing this, and I reached the top, and walked across flat ground again. Finally.
My walking had almost turned into plain old tripping by this point, and I managed to grip the doorframe with the same hand that was holding my buddy without losing hold of either. Just a few more steps. A few steps, and I could lie down. I took a second to be thankful that my family helped me haul most of the junk out of my room a few months ago. There were fewer things to trip me without it. I made it to the bed and had to work hard not to fully collapse onto it. I took a seat, then hauled the cup of egg nog to my lips and took a sip. My arm begged for relief almost before I got any of the sweet liquid into my mouth. I slumped a bit and set the cup on a hard surface nearby, then let myself collapse onto the bed. Great. I'd only been here for a second, and already my body had decided that this was where I would live out the rest of my life. I always was an ambitious sort, I supposed. Maybe there were worse things to do with my life than lie in bed all the time.
Well, drinking that egg nog I made for myself would also be nice, but the inches between me and the cup seemed to have stretched into miles. No way would I be drinking out of that anytime soon.
The next half hour was spent mostly in staring at the ceiling. There was a faint fluttering in my chest, and breathing evenly took concentration. Funny how these things I learned to do so well as a baby and a toddler seemed like Olympic events to be championed now that all my energy had been drained out of me.
The bed vibrated. I blinked and turned my head, and after a moment determined the source of the buzzing. The phone in my pocket was ringing. Uh-oh. I took a second to muster strength, then dragged my hand along the bed beside me and hauled the heavy device from my pocket. Another moment's concentration, and I hit the green phone button and pulled my phone to my ear. "Hello?"
"Hey." Mom's voice. She sounded like she was at the store.
My tongue felt impossibly thick, but I managed to make it move. "Hey," I slurred.
"How're you doing?"
"Um... A little worn out." Ha. That wasn't an understatement at all. "It's a low-energy day."
"Oh, no. Have you eaten?"
"I made an egg nog. What's up?"
"Jonathan and I are out running some errands. Do you know if we're out of almond milk?"
Almond milk. I forced my scrambled brain to recall how much liquid had been in the carton downstairs. "I think we're getting low." I swallowed and tried to combat the slur that blurred my words together. "Unless we have some outside. Do you know?"
"I'm not sure. I'd probably better get some just in case."
"'Kay." The fluttering in my chest got worse, and I forced my lungs to draw a breath long enough to speak again. "Mom, I've gotta go. It's hard to talk."
"Okay. Call me if you need anything, okay?"
"I love you."
"Love you, too."
The line went dead, and I pressed the red 'off' button before dropping the phone. Its landing sent another vibration through the mattress beneath me, but I didn't care. I was too busy breathing. I closed my eyes and focused. Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out. That's all it takes.
Now if my heart would have just stopped fluttering, I might have actually been able to sit up and do something. Breathe.
A thousand items from my to-do list flashed through my mind, and tears bit the corners of my eyes. How was I supposed to write anything or even pick up something off of my bedroom floor when it took a feat of strength just to breathe normally? I felt like I was dying. Keep breathing.
Maybe I was dying. I'd heard of people dying from Lyme-related complications before. They had heart attacks or some such thing -- I couldn't remember all the different anecdotes, but they were out there. They really happened. What if I turned out to be one of those people? Air in, air out. Goodness, this is hard.
Of course, logic told me that I probably wasn't dying. I had these attacks every few weeks, if they even had the courtesy to wait that long, and I was still here. I was still breathing, even if it took a lot of effort. And that fluttering in my chest told me that my frail heart was still beating. A normal doctor would probably do a check-up on me and tell me there was nothing wrong.
But then again... what if I was dying? What if I was wrong this time? Would I ever muster the strength to get out of bed again?
I took a moment to take stock of my emotions. They were a little hard to gauge, as the concentration it took just to breathe detracted from everything else, but I didn't feel particularly afraid. A little bit, sure. I was worried for my family. How would they react if I never came downstairs? Would they have to rush me to the emergency room? Would they think I'd done something to myself? Given my history of psychological issues, the idea of being found in my room unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate terrified me. I'd at least want to be able to explain what had really happened.
But at the same time... I was okay. And that didn't really make a lot of sense. But when I thought hard about it, I realized that whatever happened, it would be okay. Of course, I didn't want to upset anyone, and I definitely wanted to get up out of bed and check off those items on my to-do list. I wanted to greet Mom when she came home. I wanted to help her carry in the groceries, carry on a normal conversation with her and the rest of my family, get out of the house and live a normal life again. I didn't really remember what having a "normal" life was like anymore, but it had to be simpler than lying there struggling to breathe and contemplating my immediate life expectancy.
I looked up at the ceiling again. Talking was out of the question, but at least I could pray silently. God, help. Wow. My thoughts were so articulate. I focused on dragging up the proper words to use. I'm really tired. If You want me to get up again, please give me the energy. And if You don't, please help my family be okay. I've gotta admit, Heaven sounds really good right about now, but I also still want to do some stuff for You down here. So it's Your call. I trust You.
And with that, I felt calmer. My situation had not changed. I still lay in bed, focusing intently on drawing life-giving breath, heart fluttering in my chest. I still couldn't reach the egg nog nearby, and I still dreaded the idea of having to talk again.
But I knew it would be okay, one way or the other.
It would be hours before I had enough energy to do anything productive, besides what could be accomplished by hauling out my cell phone or iPad, but eventually breathing became easier, and the fluttering stopped. I heard noises outside my room, indicating someone had come home. The idea of getting up still wasn't appealing, but it appeared I had made it through another day. I felt a bit silly for being so melodramatic throughout the incident, but it really had been crippling. Still, you would think I'd learn after the first dozen or so energy crashes.
It has been three and a half years since I contracted Lyme disease, and over two years since I received my diagnosis and began treatment, and these attacks are still a normal part of my life. I have attacks of other varieties, too. Depression, anxiety, neuropathy, restless leg syndrome, OCD, chronic fatigue, and other issues all play a part in my everyday routine. I battle them constantly. And I have little doubt that, if I had to battle them alone, I would lose. But the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keeps my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. To say I do not struggle to feel that peace sometimes would be a blatant lie. I struggle just like everyone else. I have moments of terror, despair, and hopelessness. But in those moments, I can hold to the hope that I have a God who loves me and will never abandon me, even when life seems impossible to bear, or even when it seems like I might not have much life left at all. The peace of God truly does surpass all understanding, and overcomes everything else when it matters most.
Little wonder, then, that Ms. Havergal penned the words, "Stayed upon Jehovah, heart are fully blest, finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest."
Turmoil and pain are a normal part of life, whether you have a chronic illness or are completely healthy, believer or otherwise, wealthy or impoverished. But as believers, we can take comfort in the fact that, when we reach rock bottom, when we feel like we have nothing left, God's perfect peace is ever-flowing, and sustains us in the face of everything else.
And beyond all this, I know that somewhere down the road, whether it's in fifty years or five, or even next week, when God calls me home, I will have peace. This fatigued, degenerate body is only a temporary dwelling. None of these trials are permanent. Even if the Lyme never goes away, even if I struggle with these trials for the rest of my mortal life, I will find freedom in Christ and in His salvation.
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 15:50-58, KJV
"Like a river glorious, is God's perfect peace
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do.
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
'Like A River Glorious', by Frances R. Havergal