~by Tara Wiley
Scripture taken from 2 Corinthians 4-5
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)
“I’m concerned about Kate’s bloodwork, and I’d like to send you to the nearest hospital to order some more.”
With those words, a simple summer day visiting friends in Kansas became the beginning of a new reality.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Almost a decade earlier, I received a similar phone call. I was weary – not just tired, but falling-asleep-at-the-wheel (after driving for five minutes) tired. Struggling to make it to the top of the half-flight of stairs tired. My mind was no longer under my own control. I’d read a paragraph in a favorite book and not remember a single thing. My wandering became almost comical, as I’d enter a room, forget why I was there, walk away, remember, and return, only to forget again. My hair was falling out by the handful. My body ached. I imagined what 80 years old must feel like, and thought I viscerally knew. And the weight gain – oh, the horror. I was eating as healthfully as I knew how. The pounds just kept on coming.
“You’ll have to take medication for the rest of your life.” The words fell crisply from the doctor’s lips, landing on me like a death sentence. “You’re lucky. This autoimmune disease is fairly manageable. Once we find the amount of medication that works for you, you should feel great.” Fairly. Should. Those were the words that came back to tease me as I felt anything but fairly managed, and feeling great was a rare blessing. Instead, I managed my expectations. I managed my schedule, with increasingly less commitments. I managed my naps. I managed my growing list of medications. I managed four surgeries in two years. I managed weeks of migraines punctuated by every common cold and flu that dared to come near me. I managed.
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
I have a heritage of fighters behind me. Conquerors. Heroes. They faced their physical limitations head-on and fought tooth and nail for a quality of life others thought unattainable for folks with such disabilities.
My grandfather built a house on the side of a mountain in West Virginia with one functioning arm. He adjusted his personal expectations and remained hopeful, even when post-polio syndrome took even more of his vitality. He finished his life with a terribly weak body but a fiercely strong spirit.
In her second dance with cancer, my stepsister Rebecca gave her leg – all the way to the hip – to the disease. She also swam, skied, camped, sang, and played with the same passionate abandon of every other elementary-aged little girl. Optimism bubbled up and spilled out of her as bursts of giggles and, when she was too weary to laugh, as sparkles in her velvety chocolate eyes. She finished strong.
They taught me to prove to the world you were undeterred, so I pressed on and through and sometimes under and beside. I kept redefining a new normal, until normal felt like a half baked casserole: all the good stuff mixed into a completely useless mess. Eventually, I found a doctor who offered me a new treatment plan.
The new plan required discipline, an extreme use of the word no. The new plan also gave me ten months of the healthiest living I’ve experienced in years. The new plan gave me hope, and it was good, because my daughter needed my hope now.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
And now my Kate has the same illness. My heart is broken. Autoimmune disease seems too heavy a burden for my daughter’s tender, young shoulders. The mother bear in me roars, “It’s not fair! It’s too much!” As I enter yet another season of shifting health in my own body, I find myself wanting to groan under the weight. I want to take this from her. I want to take this from me. This lifelong battle threatens to crush my spirit, so I return to the truth that sets me free. I will be grateful. I will focus not on death but on life, not on pain but on grace in the pain. Overflowing grace. Overflowing thanksgiving. Overflowing glory. It can all be found here in this broken place.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
It’s my turn now to carry on the heritage given to me. It’s my turn to show her how we faith-filled people do this thing called life and death. And when this life reminds us daily that we are slowly dying, it can be an opportunity for praise.
5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight…9 So we make it our goal to please him.
I’m choosing gratitude now. It is no small coincidence that my adopted daughter and I share the same disease. It is a severe mercy, a gift that God began when He placed her in my arms six years ago. We are a gift to one another, and we will do this thing with passion and purpose. We will make it our goal to please Him in the joy and in the pain. Lord, let it be so.