Blog by Katie Llewellyn
Life can often come out of nowhere and take us by surprise, and the difficulties and challenges we face may not always resolve as quickly as we think they should. This week at *Sisters, two women shared their stories of staying the path through life’s difficulties.
Our first interviewee is a 26yr old youth pastors wife who has been married for 4 years.
Q: You were first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) when you were 13 – how did you react?
A: “When I was 13 I had been having some pain and swelling in my knees and was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. JRA, simply put, is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and stiffness. Even though I was uncomfortable sometimes, I figured out how to work around my symptoms. Around the age of 16 I noticed that I had less and less “bad” days, and eventually my symptoms stopped.
A couple of years later during my first year of college, I remember waking up feeling as if I’d been hit by a truck. Everything hurt. This time the inflammation wasn’t just in my knees – it was in my spine and neck, as well as my hips, ankles, wrists, shoulders and collarbone and it wasn’t going away.
After several trips to various doctors, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s an autoimmune disorder with all the typical pain in your joints that inflammatory arthritis causes, but your spine can fuse together over time. Getting out of bed could take 30 minutes, and showering or even just getting dressed made me feel as if I had run a marathon. I was immediately put on immunosuppressant injections to try and keep my body from attacking itself and to slow the progression of the disease.
We were unsure what that would mean for me with being able to have children, how quickly my disease would progress, and how my body would react to the heavy medications I was prescribed. There were a lot of unknowns.”
Q: How did you cope with diagnosis?
A: “Some days I didn’t cope so well. In my mind, I had been doing all the “right” things and didn’t understand why I was still hurting so badly. I prayed, I read my Bible, I lead and attended a Connect Group, and I didn’t miss Sundays. I was doing everything I knew to do and I was fighting as hard as I could. I was frustrated with God and with my body. I felt like a total failure, like there must be something defective about me.
One day I was reading my Bible and a verse just stuck out to me.
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I felt God was telling me that while my body may not feel at rest, my soul could. He wasn’t offended by my questions or doubts, and He wasn’t intimidated by my fear. He wanted me to learn to rest in the fact that He loves me, is trustworthy and that He would see me through this. I just needed to surrender those feelings to Him and let Him work it out.”
Q: What keeps you anchored on a bad health day? How does your faith help you stay the path?
A: “I definitely had good days and weeks through all of this, and on bad days I could grin and bear it and keep going about life. It’s when the bad days turned into bad weeks (and I couldn’t remember the last day that I wasn’t in pain) that I had to really take charge of my thoughts and steer my mind away from negativity. I had to remind myself that God is good and that I can fully place my trust in him.”
Q: We all have a support system – what does your support system do to help you stay the path (stay on course with God)?
A: “Chronic illness can be very isolating, and I had to learn how to be vulnerable. I had tried for a long time to keep my issues to myself because I didn’t want to bother or burden anyone else, but I really needed the people around me to encourage me and help me along.
My friends, leaders, family, and husband really stepped up to pray for me and let me know that they were with me through anything I was going to face, and it was so encouraging to know that I didn’t have to walk this journey alone. “
Q: You are about to become a new mom. Do you have any concerns?
A: “It was nerve wrecking when I had to stop taking my medicine to try and get pregnant. I had to be medicine-free for a year due to the devastating effects it could have on a developing baby, but I was afraid that I would end up worse than I had started.
There was also an internal battle going on. I knew it would be selfish and unfair to pass this disease on to a child, but Luke and I really wanted a family. My doctors actually ran a genetic test to check if I had the specific gene to pass along, and it turns out that I don’t. It was such a relief to hear.
I really had to trust God that all would go well and that I would be able to get pregnant easily with no complications. The great news is that I have felt well the past year and am expecting a baby boy this Fall.”
Our next interview is with a beautiful 66yr old pastor, who is now a widow after 40yrs of marriage.
Q: How long has your journey been? Tell us a little of your story.
A: “My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer 16 years ago. We were taken completely by surprise and were crushed. We started looking for ways to treat this cancer. We had ups and downs, but prayed more than we had ever prayed.”
Q: What were the things that helped you stay on the path during the diagnosis and treatment of your husband?
A: “Well, we knew we were in a real battle. We listened to many CDs, started looking for as many scriptures concerning healing and peace as we could, and anything that would help us keep focused on God’s word.
We knew God’s word never would return void. We turned off the TV and any distractions and quoted scriptures to each other. We helped each other every time the other was down. We kept renewing our minds and keeping track every time God put someone in our lives to encourage us.
I remember the day of the diagnosis – the receptionist came into the room to tell us God is with us and she would be praying for us. Things like that reminded us how big God is and how much He loves us. He knows the number of hairs on our head – that is a Heavenly Father that loves us dearly.”
Q: How did you stay on course when things didn’t turn out as you had planned?
A: “I really believed my husband would not die from this, but he did. It was not the way I told God to work this all out. I wanted my prayers to be answered a specific way, however God is God and His way is supersedes ours.
I remember one time at church, people were at the front for prayer. Leaders and Pastors were asked to pray for them. The thought crossed my mind —”Why would you go pray for anyone? Your prayers don’t work”. I knew those were not the words God would say to me. So I stood up and thought – I don’t answer prayers, God does and I will not let fear stop me from praying. I realized that I needed to do anything God put in my hand, even though I was uncomfortable.
It was hard for me, but I kept coming to church. I kept praising God through tears. Many times I would wake up in the middle of the night. During this time when it’s dark and you feel alone is when your mind can focus on all the negative things. I used this time to pray in my prayer language (pray in tongues) – not because I am so spiritual, but because I needed God’s help. I know His ways are always higher than my ways. I had to keep remembering all the times He has helped me with things, and I had to keep my mind on things that were positive.
Philippians 4:8 NIV
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.“
Q: What advice would you give to ladies experiencing major life changes?
A: “Nothing takes God by surprise, He is always there to help.
- Do not isolate yourself. Have friends around that can speak life and truth to you
- Speak God’s Word
- Get up every morning and thank God- get out of your pajamas
Psalm 118:24 NLT
“This is the Day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.“
God, no issue of mine is too big or too small for you. Thank you that you see me, that you know me and that you love me no matter what. I love you too! AMEN
*SISTERS is the Women’s Ministry of Wave Church and meets most Wednesday mornings at 9:30am (except for summer break). Check out the Sisters schedule via http://www.wavewebsites.wpengine.com/wave-women/