Congratulations! You have been selected for “Living with Pain!”
That’s the notification I received in my inbox one morning several months ago. And I was excited.
This seems like an odd thing to get excited about. But the irony in that is just one more reason I did get excited about being chosen to author the “Living With Pain” unit for TOGETHER curriculum.
In a way, I had already accepted having been chosen to “live with pain” as a badge of honor bestowed upon me by God’s plans for His glory, when I had made peace with my diagnosis with chronic Lyme disease five years ago as the cause of the neurological and physical difficulties I had been experiencing for years. Chronic Lyme disease is a debilitating illness that causes a wide range of symptoms in the body and brain, which can show itself in fatigue, joint pain, sleep issues, depression, headaches, vertigo, and more. It is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, etc.
Being chosen to author “Living With Pain” was like the badge of honor I received when Social Security deemed me “Disabled” – which was a huge relief, financially (treatment is expensive, and a good portion of what actually works is not covered by insurance). Receiving that status also validated Lyme as a disabling illness. There are many doctors, politicians and agencies that will not recognize that the disease can be chronic, nor that it is the cause of debilitation. Actually, when I “won” that case, there was relief over several things that I think apply to the conundrum of our Christian challenge to live in victory, but also live with pain. I had been fighting for years to find a diagnosis for my symptoms. Once diagnosed, I had relief and a fair amount of overwhelmed, trying-not-to despair. Then I dove into treatments of all kinds, often fighting doctors for what was truly real, best and helpful. Then began the battle of fighting for Disability insurance, which also took two years, two tries and a lawyer. I did not achieve victory when the judge declared me “disabled”, nor when the doctor finally found a diagnosis. I had victory already, though not yet. It is this conundrum that caused me to start my blog Victory and Lyme, to articulate and share my thoughts and learning, because I realized (what believers the world over for centuries have testified to) that I could have victory and also have (Lyme, causing) disability, even while I was seeking victory over the disease.
Pain, like Lyme disease, is everywhere–whether we admit it or not. It can cause us to feel and do horrible things. But it can also draw us closer to true victory than anything we might strive for on our own “good feelings.” What I found in my sessions researching and writing this unit was validation, peace, truth, and so many stories of people who had already learned what the pain of this world shows us. To borrow a quote, which I used in one of the lessons,
“If you didn’t suffer, you would think this was heaven on earth.”
–Father Joseph Clark, Diocese of Arlington VA
While that doesn’t seem very pleasant at first, it sums things up well. Read in the belief that we will be in heaven when this physical life fades, it offers great perspective on our hope. It was an idea I could resonate with. I could go through my own pain as long as I remembered heaven is yet to come. We aren’t there yet. When my life was easier, it was also easier to forget about the true, holy, glorious presence of God. But when I struggled to sit up long enough to write lesson plans for the unit, undergoing treatments as long as 8 hours of intravenous doses at a time, and when my body and brain would give way to the illness, it was so much easier to look for something better, to look for perfection, freedom, God’s radiance and restoration. I could rejoice that this earth and life is not all there is.
This project gave me something to focus on, to stay awake for, to think about, and most importantly, a reason to dive deeply into God’s Word for answers, tools, messages, truth, hope, peace, and something to share with others. When I was done I was relieved (once again), yes, and so grateful for the amazing editors who I knew would take it and make it really work, really look and feel engaging and clean up all the things I didn’t catch or that I might have written in a way that didn’t quite make sense, or at least might not have been the best way of presenting an idea. They are incredible. This unit was a gift to me. And my prayer each time I worked on it was always that it would be a gift to those who used it or participated in a group using it. That God would break through their pain and fill them with the relief that comes only from truth. That it would bring a taste of heaven to their suffering and help them live (really live, even) with their pain.