Glorifying God while suffering with Lyme Disease

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by Anonymous by Request 10/2021

Fifteen years ago, I began to have health problems after returning home from abroad. I had traveled from my home country, Ecuador, to spend a year in a missionary training school in the US.  As years passed by, following my return home,  I began experiencing new, seemingly unrelated symptoms.  Year after year, I was given many diagnoses, one after another adding pages to my medical record. None of the doctors in my country could explain what was going on with me. After almost ten years, I finally learned that my health struggles were due to a syndrome which was very unfamiliar to me and most medical providers in my country-  I had Lyme disease. 

I remember during a visit to a US doctor, I asked if my double vision would be reversible, if my weight loss would stop, if my fatigue, chronic pain and food allergies could be reversed, he replied: “We don’t know, but if you go back to our country you are not going to make it. Only God knows what is coming for you- some patients recover, but most don’t. For now,  you need at least three years of aggressive treatment and to focus in your health.” 

I faced a period of mourning not only about my health but also about losing the life I had planned.  My life would not be the same again. My plan had been to become a missionary-doctor, because I believed that it was “God’s calling” and my only way to fulfill His plans for my life using the gifts He had given me. I used to dream about being on a medical ship, traveling the world, helping people, providing eyesight to the blind.  Medicine was going to be an open door to tell others about Jesus-  after all, I had a “verse” to prove my calling… John 13:14-15: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”

My whole focus in life was to be a surgeon- the rock star in evangelistic medical campaigns.  Later on, I found out about biblical counseling and I knew I could give physical and spiritual comfort together. It was the perfect plan—godly and merciful—the plan that suddenly vaporized in a few life-altering minutes, when I learned the severity of my condition. 

My heart screamed,” why is this happening to me?!”  Were my desires to serve God in medical missions bad desires? At that time I did not believe that God would allow suffering for His children (unless you had some sort of unconfessed sin).  Why would God change MY life?

One thing was clear- His plan was for “my” life was very different from my plan. This left me feeling lost, broken and confused. What about the verse- “seek His kingdom and everything else will be given to you.” (Matt 6:33) Where was my reward, “my blessing”? This was not what I wanted!! I did not sign up for suffering— no way—it was not part of the plan!  I was going to be in God’s team—you know, the champions and always-blessed-ones.  Being part of God’s team meant I would be prosperous and rich because of Him. I thought that all the desires of my heart would be granted.  (But what were the real desires of my heart??) Had I believed in vain? Is He laughing at me from heaven? Could it be that he is punishing me and I deserve this? 

I want to invite you for a closer look into the heart of a sufferer, a sinful heart, a needy heart…let’s see what I found out about God’s truth through my own suffering:

SUFFERING IS PART OF A FALLEN WORLD IN NEED OF REDEMPTION

If any of the questions above sound familiar, then welcome to the fallen world, where pain comes in without warning, where sickness, death, pandemics, crises of faith, financial losses, betrayals, broken relationships, false gospels, wars, broken families and every kind of evil exist. Here on earth everything, absolutely everything, vanishes in the blink of an eye. (Romans 1: 29-31 ) 

Suffering is real because we live in a broken world- the world after Genesis 3. God created everything in seven days and everything was good until sin came into the world by the hand of Adam and Eve;  that sin keeps replicating with every breath of a newborn. We are born sinners, with a tendency to do evil and not good. (Do we have to teach toddlers to be naughty?)  We are born “dead in our transgressions,”  even when we haven’t even learned how to walk yet…how come? (Ephesians 2:1)

The answer is that we are descendants of the first sinner, inheriting his rebellious nature. Our creator is God, who is meant to be our father, with whom we have a unblemished, pure relationship. But every baby is born fatherless, with the need to be restored to that perfect relationship which we once enjoyed with our creator in Eden. We all need to be found in Him. In that deep need, we seek for identity in everything that comes along our path throughout our lifetime.

WE SUFFER UNTIL WE ARE FOUND

My spiritual crisis came when I truly faced the Holy God, not the one of my own making. His Holiness exposed my shallow religion, my earthly desires, my tiny view of a Great Great God. 

The god I believed him to be was not the Great I AM, instead, he was a god who was like a Santa Claus, or a very rich and generous genie- If I gave him my money, he would bless me with  more money, health, happiness, and a great reputation. (As if God needed anything from me.) He was a lottery ticket, my lucky way to avoid hell, and a name to claim to make my dreams come true. I made a deal with him as soon as I heard, “accept Jesus in your heart, and you can start over, no one will ever hurt you again, poverty will never be upon his children, and every sickness will run away from you. Our pastor has a healing gift- you are very lucky to be with us this Sunday morning.” The deal I made was that I would follow Him/accept Him, and He was supposed to give me everything I desired.

If you are familiar with this teaching, you have been bought the worldly teaching of the “American Dream Church”—the prosperity gospel—the false teachers that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 2 and Paul mentions throughout the gospels. This false teaching will tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear. 

I was not a follower of Christ, I was a follower of man and my depraved heart longed for what the world deemed desirable- pride, honor, praise of man, wealth, and earthly treasures. Was there hope for me? I told myself things like: “If the god I had been worshipping wasn’t really THE God, then my whole life was a lie…right? Maybe?…Oh well, who cares- I am dying anyway, let’s just fix my body and get back to life.” I had no idea that the beginning of my journey with a horrible illness was going to lead to a beautiful encounter with the love of my life- My savior, my God, my Refuge, my Conqueror, my King.

SANCTIFICATION WILL NEVER END
UNTIL WE ARE HOME FACE TO FACE WITH THE PERFECT ONE

There is hope, and it is not just any hope, it is a LIVING hope, found only in Jesus Christ. If you have read the Bible from cover to cover, you will know that pain is present in every book, but simultaneously, you will also find   the promise of hope of a new creation in Christ. The Holy Spirit that empowered the believers of the Old Testament to wonders of faith, now lives in you and me as believers in Christ, a new creation.  Day by day, as we submit to His will, He sanctifies us and CREATES in us Christ Himself, the PERFECT ONE, and only GOOD man that has ever stepped onto this cursed earth. (Romans 8:29)

I started life very religious, attending mass regularly, going to a parochial school, and even considering becoming a nun. Unfortunately, the deconstruction of that rule-based, grace-less faith led me to embrace another works-based religion— the prosperity gospel. But Praise God- He is not limited by anything when it comes to accomplishing His purposes—not by false religion or by where you are born.  You were chosen before you were even born, you were chosen in Christ Jesus, “from the before the foundations of the world.” Ephesians 1:4-5

Jesus is the CHOSEN one, the only who is able to please the Father and to bring fatherless home. He is the older brother who gave up His status, and riches to bring home his prodigal brother. Jesus doesn’t get mad with the Father because He is giving a party in the name of the one who wasted everything in sexual sin, alcohol, and all kind of flesh pleasures. (Luke 15: 11-31) No, Praise God, He is Love- meek, gentle, eternally compassionate, just, all powerful, and the reflection of the one and only TRUE God.  He is the GOD/MAN, the Messiah, the King, and perfect Sacrifice, our Lamb but also our Consuming fire, burning up all the worthless things that keep us far from Him. It is in HIM that I was found and set apart forever, to be HIS ALONE.

Sometimes I think back to how I first heard about Christ, and then remember how I ran away to embrace the world in order to see if I was able “just to be normal” and not that “churchy girl”—boring, and naive.  I can’t find a single reason why He would come after me, again and again. And then the beauty of HIS WORD reminds me that His calling is sufficient and that His will is always stronger than any sinners will. 

What I discovered was the gift of Gods mercy in the midst of my suffering.  After five years of trying to fit in at the “God-wants-you-blessed-and-financially-rich-dream church” and then leaving to try to find myself in the things the world had to offer, only to end up eating pig slop, I returned to Him, broken and lost. It was only then that I understood my need for Jesus. It was then that He brought me to His heart, the church, HIS bride. 

This time I really heard—for the first time— that I was a sinner and that HE WAS ON THAT CROSS for me. He marched up Calvary and willingly stayed on that cross because of me and to pay the debt I owed a Holy God because He loved me. That was my cross, I was supposed to be there, not my Jesus, the perfect, blameless, Holy Son of God who never failed to obey His Father’s will. He willingly handed me His perfect record in exchange my dirty, selfish, evil and perverted one.  

I couldn’t hide who I was anymore- His Word, faithfully preached in my new church, convicted me daily of my sin and reminded me of His holiness. HIS HOLY SPIRIT was and continues to illuminate those precious words, bringing me life, refreshing living water, truth and more and more of Jesus, my Savior. 

The desert of my life, my suffering, the season where I lost everything, exposed so much about the sinfulness of my heart. Its showed me the amount of idols I treasured, I feared, I worshiped and I served. Even though I was a new creature in Christ, sealed with His same Spirit, I was and I am in so much need of sanctification. Putting off sin and putting on Christ, is a daily calling for those who have been bought by His blood. 


HE WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON US

I had all I needed, but I went after idols again, even after being born new in Christ. When my health really began to fail, I ran back to those idols and tried to run away from God again. Thinking that He wasn’t able to help me in my darkest hour, I ran away from the protection of my beautiful, loving and faithful church. I still thought that I was the one who needed to fix my health and my situation, so I left the provision of God (His church) to chase after earthly desires once again. This time, I learned that my deepest need was not to be made physically well, but to learn to know and truly love the God who gave Himself for me.

Today, though I have made progress, I still suffer daily with chronic fatigue, double vision, sleep disorders, allergies, toxin sensitivities, paralysis triggered by mold, which is almost everywhere. I struggle with social isolation because I can’t eat out- even going out for coffee might be pretty dangerous if I don’t pick the right place. I feel alone and often judged by people who don’t understand the severity of my situation because I don’t look sick.  I only have energy to be active for about  5-6 hours per day (and that’s a really good day). I often have to choose between cooking or cleaning, doing laundry or studying, going to church or going to a family meeting, seeing this friend or that one.  I don’t handle noise or fragrances well, so large groups at church can make it difficult for me to serve the way I would like. Driving is challenging- I can only handle about 20 minutes at a time or my legs go numb and I develop paresthesia and facial palsy. Some days I hurt so much that I cry my eyes out, and I still occasionally wish I could go back to my old life.

I often struggle with too many feelings that I can’t process on my own. It’s then that I need to be alone with Christ. He is the only one who really sees me. He sees you too when you are suffering. He sees your pain- the physical pain and the spiritual pain.  I have run away from Him many times, but He has never left me, not once. My good health is gone, but Christ is truly mine now. He is mine!! He gives me the strength to continue to seek after Him, to continue in obedience and even to continue to work on my health when I don’t see any hope in what I’m doing. He gives me all I need to never give up until I see Him again.

As David writes in psalms so many times,  I now understand the sorrow and the joy, the bitter sweet tears that comes when I have no one but Christ. I can’t run away anymore, my heart has found something better than a good prognosis- SOMEONE worthy of my love, passion, reverent fear, service. He is the reason to keep struggling through this life. 

I am not living an empty self-serving life anymore—my purpose is an eternal one and “my life” is not mine (it never really was…) My love for Jesus, makes me care about His reputation, so I want to be able to see and care for other people’s suffering instead of worshiping mine. I have found great joy in living for His bride, the church.

In my journey in seeking to be someone, I discovered that there is nothing greater than the path of a humble, meek, worshipper. The faith that God grew in my heart through my suffering has been a blessing to others by teaching me how to walk humbly with my sisters in Christ. My heart is encouraged when God grants me the blessing of seeing the fruit of serving Him—allowing me to see my sisters repent, confess and turn away from sin and then seek to keep God’s commands out of love for our Savior.  One of them said to me once, “If you were healthy, you would not be here now.” She is right—I wanted to take away suffering by practicing medicine, and now my suffering seems to have been the perfect prescription for a prideful, stubborn, thief of God’s Glory. I am able to see other peoples needs instead of just my own. I can’t pretend to be god for all those around me because of my weak and broken body, so I have to call upon God to do the work that I cannot. 

I needed to run out of my own resources, to come to the only Source of Life, for myself and for the sake of others. Washing the feet of others is done in so many ways. Worshiping God is better than worshiping people, and loving Him will always result in love for people. He is generous and rich. Christ has hands and feet to love us through our family, His bride, the church. And we have the beautiful privilege to bring Him to those who desperately need His rest. 

After years of struggling with my own heart in the midst of suffering, I can tell you that my greatest loss, my physical wholeness, has been my biggest gain. (Philippians 3:8) Everything that I thought I knew about God was mostly established by my own understanding or based on what I absorbed from what people said about God, instead of hearing what He says about Himself.  My heart is deceitful, making me look to worship and trust in anything but God Himself.  (Jeremiah 17:9)  When you are suffering physically and emotionally, you thirst for peace, rest, love, help, relief and freedom which really reflects the deep longing of our souls that hunger for the same things. 

Christ alone is PEACE, REST, LOVE, FREEDOM, and the ultimate HELPER. He has conquered death, sin, and everything in this broken world. In this life, we will suffer in Him, with Eternal Hope, and our broken bodies will continue to cry out for the coming and return of the only true Deliverer. Christ is the only one who brings meaning to suffering and redeems it. When we faithfully submit to Him in our suffering, He is glorified and we are made more like Him, until we are finally made completely whole in Christ, free forever from the presence of sin!

 

References

Matthew 6:33
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Romans 1: 29-31
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

Ephesians 2:1
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodya] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”

Ephesians 1:4-5
“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”

Romans 8:29:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Luke 15: 11-31:
The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out toa] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’b] 22 But the father said to his servants,c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

Jeremiah 17:9
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?”

Philippians 3:8
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

 

 

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