When chronic illness strikes a family all eyes tend to focus solely on the person with the illness.So many well meaning friends call or stop by to see what can be done.Unfortunately, I know first-hand how difficult a situation this can be.Diagnosed at age 12 with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I experienced years of doctors, treatments, surgeries and more.I was young and naïve and thought the world revolved around me and my illness.Often, family plans had to be rearranged because I would wake up with a flare-up and be unable to get out of bed.My family was always so understanding when this would happen.If they griped about it, they must have done so privately because I was never aware of it.That’s love!
Now, 30 years later, little has changed.The Rheumatoid Arthritis is more active than ever and the number of surgeries has increased dramatically (over 30 to date).In the past 3 years alone, there have been 10 surgeries.Through each and every one of these surgeries I have been truly blessed to be surrounded by so many people who love and care for me.Cards, food, visits, and prayers just seemed to overflow.Their care and concern for my well-being was a huge part of my continual recuperation.It was as if I could feel God wrapping His arms around me to comfort me in answer to all of the prayers sent heavenward on my behalf.
The biggest question I have had to deal with over the past years concerning my illness has been “How do you do it – going though all of these surgeries and still remain positive?”The answer is simple – “I don’t – God does it for me!”I’ve realized over the years that if I tried to make sense out of why I am going through all of this I would end up making myself miserable.Instead, I try to focus on God’s plan for my life.Although I will never know what that plan entails, I do know that God expects me to glorify Him in all that I do.In my case, I took that to mean I need to remain positive so that those watching me can see Jesus in my actions/reactions. I may not always succeed (after all, I am human and emotions sometimes get the better of me), but more often than not, I can feel Him by my side so I know that He is there and I can only hope that His love radiates through me to others. Recently, I had an eye-opening encounter with my Lord Jesus.I was having one of my rare “I can’t take this anymore” days, where I was over thinking everything that had gone on over the past 3 years.It wasn’t so much the pain or even the number of surgeries that was getting me down. It wasn’t even knowing that I had 1 more definite surgery coming up in the next month and a potential toe amputation as well.What really had me feeling so low that day was an image that kept replaying in my mind – my little boy crying to his daddy wanting to know why his mommy had to keep leaving him for surgery after surgery.This image just led me on to think of all the many things that I have missed doing with my family over the years and all of the multiple sacrifices that they have made in order to help me through them.I thought of how my precious son was forced to become a little man way before his time.The responsibilities he has had to take on because of my illness were forcing him to grow up much too quickly.My mind then flashed onto my husband – steadfast and strong, always there to take care of everything.Suddenly, he has to go from being a husband and a father to also being my caretaker, the housekeeper, the cook and in many cases, “the surrogate mom” – all this while trying to keep his mortgage company alive in this time of crisis for his industry. I can say with confidence that I know my God will enable me to bare whatever I physically must bare because I am blessed to be a child of God.But, I am also human and what I am not always able to handle easily is watching my family suffer alongside me.Outsiders cannot fathom how difficult it is for the family members of a chronically ill person.Their lives revolve around waiting for the next shoe to drop (because it almost always does).Missed vacations, unplanned hospital visits, rearranging (or even remodeling) the household to accommodate these illnesses are just the tip of the iceberg.The emotional toll it takes on family members is enormous and extremely difficult to understand for those who have not experienced it.They are expected to always be there – with a smile on their face – ready to do whatever is needed to care for the sick loved one.It is so easy to forget that they experience all of the same emotions as the chronically ill person (save for the physical pain).Fear, anger, depression, exhaustion (to name just a few) are normal emotions for all caregivers, but when they try to express these emotions too often outsiders look at them in disgust, as if to say “stop thinking aboutyourself – you’re not the sick one).If only they could spend a little time in the shoes of a chronically ill family member I think they would quickly change their tune and realize the family members need as much, if not more, support than the ill one.In my opinion, they have the more difficult job because they are helpless to do what they really want to do – which is take away the pain from their loved one. All of these thoughts, and more, were filling my mind this day as I went about doing some minor household chores.As I turned to do something I felt the muscles in my recently operated on knee pop (as if it where tearing again) and I began to fall.Immediately, I thought this can’t be happening again.Somehow, someway I was able to grab onto the wall and keep from falling but I could feel my knee swelling up already.As I climbed down the steps in the garage to retrieve my knee brace I felt my knee giving out once again.This time, my emotions got the better of me and I found myself screaming at God.I screamed all of the typical things such as “Stop already.I can’t take anymore.Why are you letting this happen to me again” and so on.
In the midst of this crying tirade I suddenly felt an unexplained sense of peace overcome me.Immediately I stopped to try and figure out what had just happened.As I stood there quietly thinking, I knew without a doubt that God was trying to tell me something.No, I didn’t hear an audible voice speaking to me but the words were crystal clear in my mind and more importantly, in my heart.Without stopping to think, I spoke the first words that came to my mind.“Thank You Lord for catching me and not letting me fall.”It didn’t seem like much but instantly a light bulb clicked on in my brain,I knew then what God was trying to say to me that day,He could have let me fall like I have done so many times in the past.Instead, He caught me (literally) so that he could show me how He is always there to “catch me”.I know this wasn’t meant to show me that I would never fall again or that I would never need another surgery. It was meant to show me that no matter what the situation is, I can always count on God to be there to lift me up – a reminder that I really needed that day.
Even more important than that message, was the reminder that the real reason for this was that God was gently (okay maybe not so gently) reminding me that I can’t do it all alone and that is why He gave me my beloved husband, Nelson and our wonderful son, Artie.Just as he promised to hold me up, He reminded me that Nelson and Artie were His children too and that He would always be there to lift them up as well.So, even if no one else can understand or appreciate how much of themselves they have given up for me (and continue to give), I know with all of my heart that many sacrifices they have made to care for me.That’s why I will always consider Nelson and Artie my unsung heroes but even better than that, so too will God!
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