|Bethany with Anne Vonskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts (Photo by Kirsten Wilson)|
What was your first emotional reaction to finding out you had chronic health problems?
I kind of did the backward of normal. It completely changed my life, living situation, work, everything. But I was completely at peace. I think because so many people were praying me through it. The symptoms gradually worsened, but the initial diagnosis was easier to bear and accept.
I then transitioned into crying a lot, which was NOT normal for me. The times I would cry most were when I saw wheelchairs or walkers or even people in a movie or a commercial who were running or doing something with their legs I thought I’d never be able to do again. I remember one day my mom bought me a lounge chair to use on the back porch. All I could do was cry. Sitting and lounging around were never my favorite things to do. Before my initial symptoms, I was going for 2-mile walks every morning; right after work, I’d go to the gym and work out; I was on a local women’s softball team (I was obsessed by exercise, in other words!). I wept, because I knew I’d never do those things again.
A few years ago, I went through a very dark time where for months, I wrestled with doubts about God, whether this strong faith (HE had given!) up until then was just a waste; wondering if He had forgotten about me after all; that maybe He isn’t so good because it seems He just takes us through one hard thing to get us ready for a harder thing. It was a horrible, dark, terrible time! But while I was crying out to Him, I felt Him holding onto me, even though there I had anger and questions in my heart as He was doing it.
The “emotional reactions” have been a transition from acceptance-crying-questioning-acceptance. Now, it’s kind of a combination of all of the above – which, I would say, is probably a point where most people with chronic illness finally end up. . .but one that isn’t necessarily a bad place to be.
We don’t ignore that it’s hard at times and painful at times and we have needs we never thought we’d have. But, at the same time (even while we’re crying), we’re accepting it, because the Lord has allowed us to realize the value of all we’ve had to go through and are going through. Or if we don’t realize the value in it yet, we are at least holding on to what we know about Him – which is really the only way we will ever accept the hard things He allows.
How do you deal with the identity crisis that having a chronic illness often involves?
It’s undeniable that a chronic illness changes pretty much everything about you. Much of what was most important about who I was or what I was doing in my life drastically changed. But, thankfully, the Lord drew me to the Scriptures, and I began to study who I really am in Christ--what that really means and looks like. That we are each a re-creation, a workmanship, a person with the indwelling presence of Christ in the setting that He has each placed us.
Our truest identity is not found in having a disease, working for such-and-such a company, being a mom, or being single. If any of those things changed (just like being diagnosed with MS completely changed my life), it doesn’t really change ME, because of who I most deeply, really am.
I like what C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions of millions of ‘little Christs’ all different will still be too few to express Him fully.”
Illness is just our platform for displaying the life of Christ to those around us. It’s not who we most deeply are.
Be sure to check in tomorrow for Part II, where Bethany answers questions including:
How do you deal with the hurt that comes when people either don’t know what to say or don’t say anything at all?
What advice would you share to someone who just found out they had a lifelong condition?