“Who am I when my body fails me?” This is a question we must face when injury or illness takes its toll on our lives. How do we respond to physical, mental, emotional stresses? How do we view God when we are weak or in pain? How do we cope with the losses we experience? A series of posts which deals with these questions was first published in 2016. It may be time for some of us to ask this question again – or for the first time. Individual posts in the series have been revised and will be re-posted on Tuesdays and Saturdays for several weeks. Suggestions for appropriate Scripture passages, prayer, and quotes or questions for reflection have been added.
It seems as if the tests will never end. A lab technician fills nine tubes with blood and it is determined that, among other things, that an antibody named “IgA” is running amok in my blood. More blood tests show a worsening of kidney function. A full spinal x-ray shows no bone damage. Another blood test finds too much calcium in my blood. A full body x-ray shows no bone damage. Increasing pain and numbness in my hands and arms along with hip and leg pain add new dimensions to the diagnosis. A bone marrow biopsy proves that cancer has invaded my plasma cells. We finally have found the probable cause of two blood clots and kidney issues in the past 10 months. I have multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that is treatable – but incurable.
Who am I when my body fails me? I am a learner. I visit website after website. I ask my new doctor question after question. I talk to the pharmacist and the chemotherapy nurse about potent new medications. I then become a messenger and an educator trying to explain to many what I barely understand myself.
Who am I when my body fails me? I have always been planner; keeping track of my husband’s surgeries and multiple tests and appointments has always been my job. Now I am a master planner, adding my appointments with two doctors and more lab tests and a weekly treatment session at the hematologist’s office. I am also the coordinator of transportation and chauffeur because my husband no longer drives.
Whom am I when my body fails me? Someone who takes afternoon naps. Someone who schedules multiple pills all through the day every day. Someone who regularly pokes fingers to determine blood sugar counts and pokes thighs to administer insulin will now will add major weekly chemotherapy injections. Someone who has to learn to manage side effects of new medications: The very strong dose of steroids will increase my blood sugar. This new pill will prevent nausea. This other pill will fight off shingles: the side effect that comes with the new pill.
Who am I when my body fails me? I am a beloved child of a God who takes great delight in me. A God who calms me with his love and who rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3: 17). I am someone who lives in the unshakable kingdom of God; no matter what happens to me, I am safe. I am someone whose greatest joy is living among others as a wounded healer, and I recognize that this disease is another training session for that calling. I am someone who has had life-long experience with overcoming spiritual and emotional battles with the strong arm of God always holding me up. Now those arms will be wrapped around me as I struggle physically.
Centuries ago, the Israelites were hemmed in between the sea and the approaching Egyptian chariots. They panicked! Then Moses said, “The Lord will fight for you; you only need be still” (Exodus 14:14). Later in their history, the Israelites no longer trust the prophets that God sent to rule them; they want a king. Samuel, very upset at their lack of faith, recounts how God has guided them and protected them in the past. To prove God’s power, Samuel advises, “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes” (I Samuel 12:16). He calls upon God to send thunder and rain. And it thunders and rains.
I don’t believe that God causes cancer or any other bad thing. And there is much I can do to fight this cancer. But God’s message for the Israelites and for us is clear. We are to be still and stand still. This battle against our failing bodies is not our fight. The battle will reveal God’s power. But ultimately my life is in God’s hand. I will be the winner of the battle, no matter how or when it ends.
Mull it Over: Do you feel like God’s beloved child? Do you hear God singing over you? If not, how did you lose your way? What can you do to regain your belief in the goodness of God the Father? Do you trust that if you “be still” and “stand still,” God will fight your bat-tles? If not, test the promise. Be still and stand still and see what God does.
Prayer: “I refuse, O God, to live feafully or cautiously. I name my fears one by one and turn the over to You, and find them simply trivial when set alongside your majesty. I will live in Your light and salvation, through Jesus Christ. Amen” (Eugene Peterson in Praying with the Psalms, February 16).
Thought: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller).