Yesterday, I was added as a contributor over at The Mighty, a website that publishes “real stories by real people facing real challenges.” It’s an amazingly honest and encouraging place for people who have disabilities, chronic/rare diseases, or mental illnesses. As someone who has one of the many conditions listed on their site (Multiple Sclerosis or MS), I was thrilled to be able to add my voice to their robust community. If you’d like to read them, please click here.
Seeing my story on their page and reading those of other people whose lives have been impacted by MS, I started thinking about the value of words. Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved working with them, stacking them end to end to make a beautiful sentence or poetic phrase. I love the way certain words sound (Go ahead and say “mellifluous” out loud and fail to enjoy it. I dare you.) And even after 30+ years of using them, I’m still amazed at the way they can morph from noun to adjective (novel), adjective to verb (stiff), verb to noun (grid).
But I didn’t come by this lifelong obsession naturally. Many of my family members are readers, some more voracious than others. But only a few are writers, and most of them are in my generation. I have a few letters and handwritten notes written from loved ones who have passed, each of which I treasure, but there are entire branches on my family tree that have died without leaving a single syllable behind.
I have sermon notes and a short letter from my great uncle James.
A letter from my paternal grandmother, Betty Lou Hill, given to me just weeks before she died.
I even have a postcard and a book inscription from Myrl Rhine Mueller, a lady in my hometown who published a book about the history of Greene County. When I was in third grade, I lugged a boom box to her little house, which was down the street from my grandparents’ and conducted an interview with her for a history project.
But there are no diaries, no journals, and no handwritten notes in the margins of beloved books.
It’s an absence I’m feeling more acutely these days as members on both sides of my family pass away. I can no longer ask Papaw, my maternal grandfather, his thoughts on a current event or hear about the things he had a passion for. He loved to sing. I know that for certain, but I don’t know how singing made him feel or why he enjoyed it so much.
He played a small role in the Civil Rights movement too, but no matter how many questions I ask or how deeply I dig, I’ll never know the entire story.
In the early 1960s, he was the assistant manager of an S.H. Kress & Co. in Memphis, Tennessee. For many weeks in the late summer and early fall, young black students would stage sit-ins at the Curly-Q Luncheonette inside the store. He was given strict orders that if one happened on his watch, he should immediately stop service and turn off the lights. Some time after this, the protesters would get up and leave. It was always peaceful, always respectful, but every time Papaw flipped those lights, he felt pitiful. He was a boy from rural Arkansas—a farmer’s son, dirt poor in every sense of the word—and some of his closest friends were black. He believed in their cause, but because he had a wife and two young daughters at home, he had to toe the company line and keep the job. But he did the one thing he could do: he apologized to each of them as they walked out.
It’s not a big story of great sacrifice or drama, but it’s his. That makes it mine too in some small way, and I love it, despite the fact it’s secondhand and shaggy around the edges.
Our two kids, who we are adopting from the foster care system, already have a lot of holes in their stories. Several members of their birth families were also adopted or given up for adoption, so there’s no way of knowing exactly where they came from, who they favor in looks and temperament, who their “people” are. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I do want to leave them a legacy, a heritage of sorts.
There will be notes in my favorite books, so they’ll know why I loved them. There will be journals, short stories, poems, essays, and articles. I want to leave behind an ocean of words for them to swim in—to find me and perhaps, in some small way, to find themselves.
Whether it’s a marriage that has lasted a decade or an object that stands the test of time, when something makes it to the ten-year mark, it’s worth celebrating. And that’s precisely what I’m doing tonight. Wayne is out playing a gig with the Peachtree Jazz Edition, and I’m relaxing in our beautiful home. A fire is crackling in my living room, Debussy is playing on the radio, and I’m curled up in my pajamas, cozy as a cat.
Ten years ago, things weren’t quite so copacetic.
On the evening of January 25, 2004, I was writhing in a hospital bed, suffering from a spinal headache I’d gotten from a spinal tap I’d undergone that afternoon. In the throes of that searing pain, my neurologist came in and told me, “You have MS. It’s not the end of the world. You can find more information on the Internet than I could ever tell you. Good night.” I’m not kidding; that’s all I got from him. After he’d left, we asked the nurse to call him and prescribe a pill for my headache. Both Wayne and I had been too shocked to ask when he was there.
A word of advice—NEVER look up a health question on the web. For Gregory House, M.D., everything inexplicable had to be lupus. For the Internet, it’s cancer and certain death.
Well, we did look it up, and we got the absolute worst case scenario for an MS patient. After an hour of scouring the web looking for a scrap of good news and bawling like babies, Wayne slammed the laptop closed and told me, “That’s enough.” That night, I was convinced that I’d never have a normal life ever again. And in some ways, I was right. I’ve not been the same since that day, and that’s a good thing.
The eight year anniversary, which I wrote about here, was a big milestone for me. It seemed like an unreachable date, and now here I am, two years beyond what once seemed impossible. I’ve since learned to use that word sparingly, if at all. Why? Because, as Matthew 19:26 tells us, “with God all things are possible.” He proves that to me on a daily basis.
The MS was just the first body blow in a five-year boxing match with life. I won’t go into the sad details here, but let’s just say that pretty much everything that could go wrong—short of one of us dying—did. But, as the speaker in Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” says, “I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’, / And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
Today, life isn’t without challenges, but there’s no cause for complaint. It’s not because I’m a saint; I’ve just learned that every difficulty has a reason. I know it because God has used the last ten years in a mighty way and transformed me into a usable vessel. But no matter what hardships happen, I know I’m far more blessed than I deserve. I have a wonderful husband who I adore, a loving family, a comfortable, safe home, an amazing job, and friends out the wazoo. I also recently became an aunt. (See adorable picture below for visual confirmation of the poo-dubber in question.)
I didn’t earn these blessings; they were freely given to me by my God. He has bestowed it all on me with a loving, liberal hand, and my life is marked by his loving-kindness. And tonight, as I sit nestled in my home, I can tell you the words of Isaiah 41:10 are true and trustworthy: “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” I can say they’re true because I learned to say it when the prognosis wasn’t as good, when the place I called home was a crummy apartment, and when I basically felt like Job sitting on the ash heap. And if he sees fit to take it all away tomorrow, I can say, “Yes, God is still good.”
I recently watched an episode of the BBC’s Call the Midwife in which the narrator says, “Health is the greatest of God’s gifts, but we take it for granted. It hangs on a thread as fine as a spider’s web, and the smallest thing can make it snap, leaving the strongest of us helpless in an instant. And in that instant, hope is our protector and love our panacea.”
Those words resonated with me because I’ve know what it feels like when that gossamer string snaps and you free fall into the unknown. I know what it is like when your body betrays you and you realize death and decay are eager to strip away what they can with their spiny fingers. However, I choose not to dwell on such things and live a life marked by hope and love instead. I count it all joy.
That’s something God made possible, and that’s the reason why I’m looking forward to the next ten years.
Fantasy author Bryan Davis wrote, “Assumptions are unopened windows that foolish birds fly into, and their broken bodies are evidence gathered too late.” But I prefer my grandfather’s take on the matter. He always told me, “Jamie, when you make an assumption you make an ass out of you and ‘mption.'”
For those of you who don’t know, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine years ago. If you don’t know what this disease is, I’ll tell you in a nutshell. It is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild or severe, depending on which course of the disease a person has. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. If you want more information, you can visit the homepage of the National MS Society and read until your heart’s content.
I am among the 85% of MS patients who have relapsing-remitting MS, which means it comes and goes and never progresses. Basically, I have an exacerbation every so often. It doesn’t get worse each time, but each time I experience one, permanent damage is done. Depending on where it attacks my nervous system, I could lose the ability to see, walk, or remember. These periods of disability could last weeks or months. I might recover from them. I might not. As you can imagine,when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t take it well. In fact, I wrote about it last year in In Touch Magazine, which you can read here.
I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. I’m telling you so you can better understand the rest of this post. I am handicapped. Not everyday. Not all the time. But because of my disease, things have changed. I sometimes become incredibly fatigued—so much so that it takes me several days of rest to recover after a stressful week. I am also more prone to headaches and body aches of various sizes and intensities. When I’m tired, my feet often go numb. My vision gets blurry at times, which makes it much more difficult to do my job, to read music, and even to drive.
That’s why I applied for a handicapped permit using a form signed by my neurologist who I see every three or four months. There are times when I need to save my energy. I live in the South, and it can get fairly warm. (If that’s not the best example of litotes I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is.) Heat isn’t great for MS and can actually bring on an attack, so when it’s 98 degrees with 100 percent humidity, I might whip that parking pass out to cut some time out of my walk across a parking lot. However, I try not to abuse it. If I’m feeling okay or there’s only one handicapped space left, I leave it and go in search of another one. Why? Because I know someone else who has a disability might need that space more than I do.
But if several are open, I feel I have the right to utilize one, which is what I did today when I went shopping for a few new outfits. When I came out, I found a note tucked under my windshield wiper.
I’ve been harassed for using a handicapped space before, so this is nothing new. But what galled me was the fact that this person automatically assumed that, because I wasn’t using a walker, crutches, or some other device, I wasn’t “allowed” to park where I did. There are dozens of diseases including fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis where patients look perfectly “fine” on the outside but are struggling to get through the day thanks to extreme pain and fatigue.
Having one of these “invisible diseases” has taught me just how important it is to never judge someone or her situation before I know all the facts. I have no idea what burdens a person is carrying during the course of a given day. And even if someone does something that I don’t agree with or that hurts me personally, I try not to retaliate because I have no way of knowing what the source of that anger is. I always try to smile at people, to say hello, thank you, and excuse me. I always try to give a person a kind compliment. I open doors for people. I share. I do these things not because I’m a saint, but because I know how much those small gestures meant to me when I was at my lowest.
But that’s not what this person did. He or she assumed I didn’t have a care in the world, that I felt perfectly fine. (For the record, I didn’t. Long Friday = Tired Saturday) Instead of thinking about the situation and giving me the benefit of the doubt, he or she felt the need to wag a disapproving finger in my direction. And rather than confront me directly, which a few people actually have done, this person chose to tut-tut-tut me from a safe distance where I couldn’t explain my situation. To me, it was cowardly. Haughty. Pharisaic.
Dear Sir or Madam, I really am handicapped.
I may not have looked like it to you. I may not have lived up to your preconceived notion of what a handicapped person is, which is yours and yours alone. And that doesn’t make me wrong. It makes you wrong for addressing a problem only you thought existed.
If I could give this disease (and the handicapped parking permit that comes with it) back, believe me, I would. I would love to live without yearly MRIs that show me what new parts of my head are damaged by lesions. I would truly prefer to live without the small splinter of fear that’s permanently stuck in my heart–the one that pricks me when I think about waking up one morning and not being able to see, to think, to walk, or to care for myself. But, as there is no cure for multiple sclerosis yet, I can’t. I’ve learned to live with it, to embrace it, and to recognize it is one of the many things that has shaped me into the woman I am today.
You began your question with “What if…,” and I would like to respond in kind. What if another person’s life is much more complicated than you thought? What if you considered things from my perspective and reacted with kindness rather than judgment? How much better would your life and mine have been today if we had crossed paths and exchanged a kind word instead of a critical one? I don’t know how you felt after leaving the note—justified, righteous, maybe proud. But I know how I felt the moment I saw it. I was deflated and even a little ashamed for something that isn’t my fault. Today, you reminded once again that compassion isn’t everyone’s default setting, and I am more determined than ever that it will always be mine.
Annie J. Flint’s “He Giveth More Grace” contains one of my all time favorite choruses:
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men, For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again.
My article in the October issue of In Touch magazine is proof of that truth, and I am humbled and privileged to share it with readers. Remember, you can always get a freesubscription to our magazine by going here.
If you are dealing with an illness or something that is causing you sleepless nights, please leave me a message below, leaving whatever information you feel like sharing. It would be my honor to pray for you!
Because I’m a writing fool (who also happens to have MS), I have volunteered my services for the Georgia MS Society, which is located here in Atlanta. In fact, today I went to a training session in order to become an official peer counselor for newly diagnosed people, which will likely be a post of its own once I’ve had enough time to process everything I absorbed today.
Here is my first piece for their newsletter, a service provider spotlight for a local neurologist who is taking steps to eliminate Multiple sclerosis. If you would like to read it in a larger format, click on each page and the the + sign when it is full screen.
I’m exceedingly blessed when it comes to my health. Seriously. I don’t have a single allergy. I’ve never broken a bone (despite having done many stupid things that merited one). I’ve never had acne, suffered from insomnia, or been required to have surgery.
Other than an incurable case of Multiple Sclerosis, I’m the picture of good health.
I wasn’t always so glib about my disease. Trust me on that. There was a time after my diagnosis when I didn’t speak to people so much as grunt, and I spent my days creating works of mixed media “art” (notice I use the term loosely) involving naked Barbie dolls, their chests full of dynamite, suspended by barbed wire in black boxes. I only stopped doing both due to a prolonged pleading session from my grandmother who begged me to throw it all in the trash–both my anger and my terrible attempts at visual art. Thankfully, I had the good sense to comply.
For those of you who don’t know what Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is, here’s a basic definition courtesy of PubMed Health:
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects women more than men. The disorder is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age. MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. It is unknown what exactly causes this to happen. The most common thought is that a virus or gene defect, or both, are to blame. Environmental factors may play a role. You are slightly more likely to get this condition if you have a family history of MS or live in an part of the world where MS is more common.
Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms (remissions). Because nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged, patients with multiple sclerosis can have symptoms in many parts of the body.
Isn’t that just peachy? (If you’re interested, click on the link before the quote and look at all the symptoms. It gets better.)
Now, imagine facing that diagnosis when you’re twenty-five years old and perfectly healthy. Reading an article like this one is how I learned about my condition. The doctor who diagnosed me was brilliant, but he also had the bedside manner of a damp dishrag. He decided to come tell me about the two little letters that would change my entire life the night I was suffering from an LP-induced headache ( LP= Lumbar Puncture, also known as a Spinal Tap). His advice to me was, “Look it up on the Internet” because “there is more there than enough information online.”
So, like any good graduate student, I searched. Each page my husband and I read was worse than the last, and we finally shut the computer and cried. What they forgot to mention was that MS is such a variable-ridden disease that the only way to confirm it is my eliminating dozens of others. Honestly, being diagnosed is a little like being a patient on House. There are different forms of MS, ranging from almost benign to severe, and there’s no telling what type you have until your second exacerbation occurs.
I didn’t hear this information until the same benevolent and wonderful grandmother put me in contact with a woman named who called herself Cookie. She had had MS for many years and told me that while the websites and doctors told me “facts,” they hadn’t told me “truths.” She told me stories about people she knew who, like her, had manageable symptoms, and were living pretty normal lives. One girlfriend of hers, she assured me, hadn’t had an exacerbation in eight years.
I told myself I wouldn’t make it eight years and couldn’t even fathom living that long with my condition. The uncertainty is the most stressful thing about having MS. Believe it or not, a lesion can show up at any time. I can quite literally go to bed one night and wake up blind the next morning if the disease flares up in my visual cortex. My legs can stop working, my memory can be effected, and even my personality can be radically different. These changes are sometimes temporary, or they can be permanent—it all depends on where, when, and how long and often the disease attacks. That’s a reality for me now. Naturally, I could only see the long days in front of me, and living nearly a decade with that worry over me was more than I could stand. I saw eight years as little to celebrate.
But get this. Today–January 25, 2012–marks my eight-year anniversary of having MS.
Eight years have passed, and I’m still here.
Not only am I still alive and well, I’m living a better life than I did before my diagnosis. Yes, I’ve taken care of myself and am in better shape physically. That makes things a little easier. However, the greatest change has been the one in my relationship with God.
Before my diagnosis, I was the classic case of “Raised in Church.” I went forward during Vacation Bible School when I was a child and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, but no one followed up with me, no one taught me and led me to the next step. Everyone made the assumption that being from a church family meant that I knew exactly what to do. Sadly, that was not the case, and I spent most of my childhood and adult life never fully grasping what salvation was and what it meant. I thought going to church and trying to be a good person was enough.
What I had assumed was that the MS was punishment, that God had it out for me. But, in truth, it was His love for me being made manifest. He loved me too much to leave me where I was and took a drastic step to change my path. Beth Moore, a Christian writer, says that we can either bend our knees and bow before God, or He can break our legs. Either way, we’re going to get on our faces before Him and acknowledge that He is in fact the great I AM. That’s what MS was—God “breaking my legs” and telling me, If you’re going to live the kind of life I have in store for you, you are going to have to learn to depend on me for everything. You’re not ready yet.
During my recovery, I did just that. I collapsed in a heap on the floor of my parents’ bathroom and prayed. I begged God to take it away, that I wasn’t strong enough for this, and that I was terrified out of my mind. I’d like to tell you that I had a “Damascus Road Moment” and got myself straight with the Lord right there, but that’s not the case. It took many, many years for me to become spiritually mature to understand the promise of Romans 8:28-30:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He alsopredestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
Yes. I firmly believe MS was given to me for my good. Why? Because it was what started me on the long spiritual path that would conform me to the image of His Son. I am becoming more Christlike every single day because of my disease and how it has changed me. Like Paul, I have this “thorn in the flesh,” one given to me that I might not be fooled into thinking I was self-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In eight years, I have learned the meaning of God’s strength being made perfect in weakness and decreasing so that He might increase (John 3:30).
God knew I would need MS, so He allowed it in my life. However, He also provided me with a supportive family, a marvelous husband who has never once wavered in his support of me, and a series of church homes, jobs, and Christian role models that prepared me for the task He’s given me. Eight years ago, I wasn’t ready to work at In Touch Ministries. I sometimes feel like I’m still not ready, but a still small voice always reminds me, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).
The first eight years I never though I’d make it through are now over, and the next chapter in my story is beginning. However, rather than dread what tomorrow brings, I look forward to it with expectation because I am guided and protected by the One who promised, “I will not fail or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Eight years—2,920 days— after I started this journey, I now understand, “[whosoever] the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6) not because He is cruel or capricious but so “He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). I know this sounds antithetical to the warm and fuzzy gospel so many pastors want their followers to believe, but being a true disciple of Christ does not come without some discomfort and sacrifice. Yes, I was humbled and broken, brought so low that I thought I would never rise again. However, that was allowed in my life so that I could be rebuilt on a firmer and more lasting foundation, and He who has “begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). If someone told me they could give me those 2,920 days back and make MS go away, I would have to decline the offer because, as Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Tomorrow, I begin working with the MS Center of Atlanta as a peer counselor. After my training, I will be one of the people they can call upon to visit those who are starting their own journeys with MS and who can share the truth as well as the facts. Yes, I get to be the “Cookie” for someone else starting tomorrow; I can look at them, say, “I understand what you’re feeling,” and truly mean it. Will it be difficult at times? Certainly, it will. However, I am but the vessel that carries Christ wherever I go. Those who see me will see Him, and I will have more than enough strength to accomplish whatever good works he has appointed for me (2 Corinthians 3:18; 9:8). Yes, I am indeed blessed when it comes to my health, and I truly do delight in my infirmities. MS might stand for “Multiple Sclerosis,” but it’s also “My Salvation.”
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to get into ruts. I become comfortable in a routine, and I stay there so long I border on turning into an Ent. Now, while there is some pleasure to be taken in routine, especially in the security and predictability it provides, it is also dangerous because it makes me myopic. I tend to only see what is directly in front of me, and like a Beagle after some elusive scent, I put my proverbial nose to the ground, only to look up several miles later in a place I don’t recognize and without a clue as to how to get home.
However, I can always count on God to provide me with something I’ve come to term “Etch A Sketch Moments.” If you’re my age or older, you remember the toy I’m talking about. The red frame, the dual knobs, the line that snaked its way across the flat, gray screen as we turned them in frustration. I don’t know about the rest of Generation X, but more often than not, my tongue was often stuck in the corner of my mouth in total concentration as I tried to draw Castle Grayskull or Soundwave, my favorite Transformer. Unlike the talented soul who created the reproduction of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the image to the left, my attempts at art often ended up looking more like something Salvador Dali might have created after a long night spent consuming Ouzo and playing Cootie (in that order). All I ever created were lopsided stick figures all connected by a tether, because I could never figure out how to double back and cover my lines, or the generic depiction of a house–blocky, square windows, triangle roof with a smoking chimney hanging off it at a perilous angle, and a door smack in the middle.
When I put my creation on display, my poor family members would all put their heads together to try to discern the meaning of the Rorschach Test I’d created, hoping to guess correctly and avoid hurting my feelings. When they’d guess “Choo Choo Train” instead of the Thunder-Tank from Thundercats or drew a blank at my rendering of the scarf wearing and umbrella toting fawn, Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I’d perform my patented eyeball roll (which could never be interpreted as anything but exasperation) and shake the poor Etch A Sketch until my otiose attempts at creating visual art were no more.
I’ve often wished that my mistakes were as easily erased as those crude drawings, but alas and alack, life is not as simple as the Ohio Art Company would have it to be.
However, when I say God provides me with “Etch A Sketch Moments,” I don’t mean he gives me some sort of celestial mulligan. I mean that He sends someone or something into my life to shake me out of a certain way of thinking, to erase some stale and lifeless pattern I use to interpret the world. He removes all those limits I and others have placed in my life and makes me see the world in a different way.
Today, a wonderful gentleman named Christopher Coleman spoke at our weekly chapel at In Touch Ministries. You can click on his name and visit his website where a more detailed testimony can be found, but here’s the long and short of it. When he was born, the doctor’s pronounced him dead and went on to work on delivering his twin sister. Fifteen minutes later, after another doctor worked on him, he began to cry! He had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes, and doctors told his mother to send him to a home and forget about him because he had cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, or speak.
Well, thankfully, she didn’t…and he did.
Now, he’s a college graduate (the only one in his family) who travels around the world telling his life’s story and showing people that God is truly able. When Christopher was called by God into ministry, he asked the Lord, “Do you see me? Do you see my hands that won’t stay still, my feet that go in every direction but the one I want? Do you hear my voice that’s so hard to understand?” God replied to him, “I don’t have to look. I made you. You are exactly what I planned for you to be because I don’t make junk.”
He shared several scriptures with us during his presentation–my life’s verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the story of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda found in John 5. With regards to the latter, Mr. Coleman pointed out that Jesus Christ asks an odd question, one that bears some consideration. He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be made well?” What is this man’s answer going to be “No”? He’d been a cripple for thirty-eight years, unable to provide for himself or move without aid. Of course he’d love to be healed! However, Christ asks him because, if made well, this man would be compelled to spend his days walking and telling as many people as possible about the blessing he’d been given by Jesus. He would no longer be living for himself because his body would be a living testimony to Jesus’ power and mercy. I’d never considered it that way before but the truth is that Jesus understands our wants better than we do. I love it!
Throughout his talk, Mr. Coleman amazed me with his wit, his positive attitude, and his joy. He said that people often look at him and wonder, “How can he, with all his physical challenges, be so happy when I am whole and miserable?” The answer is a relationship with God! Not having that one amazing thing can alter and skew our perspectives in such a way that we forget just how blessed we are–how loved and how cherished we are by God the Father.
Sure, I could always want for more money, more things, more security, but no matter how much I acquire, none of it will never make me happy. Thankfully, that’s not what makes me feel joyful. From time to time, I do get into ruts as I mentioned earlier, and I forget the things for which I should be truly grateful. I can look over those things, take them for granted, and forget just how marvelous they truly are. For instance, I am, above all, a child of God who will one day be with Him in heaven. That alone is cause enough for lifelong celebration. However, while I am here, He blessed me with an amazing family who loves me unconditionally, a husband who cherishes and cares for me, a mind that is able to handle complex ideas and problems, and a body that is healthy and whole despite my illness. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I tell you that I am thankful for it because it is what keeps me mindful of God’s hand on my life. Without it, I was on the completely incorrect path. I wasn’t relying on Him, and I wasn’t living the way He would have me live.
Now, I wake up most days and wiggle my toes to make sure I can still feel them. I blink my eyes and check to make sure I can still see. For seven years, I have been able to do all that and more! Let me tell you, when you have MS, it can compromise your life in a multitude of ways, so when I wake up each day and discover that I can walk, talk, see, and do any and everything I want, every task I complete is done in joy. Taking out the trash is more fun than a field trip to the zoo, and running errands is more fun than a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue because I can do them without a struggle! However, there are some days I roll out of bed and don’t think about that simple truth, and that’s when little things frustrate me. I lose my gratitude, my perspective gets skewed, and my life is much less mirthful for it.
Mr. Coleman was God’s way of sharing that truth afresh with me today. I am like him in that I have that thorn in my flesh that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. But my thorn is not Paul’s thorn, and it isn’t Mr. Coleman’s thorn. Ours were given to us at different times and for different reasons because we all have our own roles to fulfill in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. However, as I looked around the chapel today and saw my co-workers being taught and blessed by him, I was reminded again that, like the cripple by the pool, my body is healed so that I, too, can be a witness for Christ. Like I often did with my Etch A Sketch, God shook me up today and erased all the crooked lines in my mind, and He will no doubt help me create a more accurate rendering of my world.
I have but to consult Job 5:6-9, 17-19, the words of Eliphaz, to keep my perspective accurate. He tells his friend Job:
For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. . . .Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles.Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.