On Monday, 24 February 2010, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We mourned, we prayed, and we moved on:
We moved on spiritually. We sang “Create in Me a Clean Heart” while on our knees, trusting that the Lord would be glorified even in this apparent tragedy. We attended church services and prayed with nearby brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoicing in God’s precious promises. When we couldn’t find a church that performed foot-washing ceremonies prior to Resurrection Day one year, we had our own foot-washing service at home. We endured surgeries and risky treatments and grueling medical appointments, all in His strength and by His grace. Eventually, we got to a place of reading the Word together each time my mother had an infusion.
Furthermore, I moved on spiritually. On 12 February 2010,God gave me a vision-promise of His glory; on 24 January 2011, the same presence of His Holy Spirit was given to me in a dream, with the assurance that I would soon be filled with such joy that all pain would be washed away. (If you didn’t know before that I believe in the active gifts of the Holy Spirit for today, you know it now…) And then, on 4 July 2011, that promise was fulfilled and I was so immersed in His marvelous presence that all fear, pain, and suffering were banished. At that time, I learned what it truly means to have faith as a mustard seed. My ears had been hypersensitive–likely due to stress and environmental pressures–and I was finding even worship music difficult to enjoy; then, one day as I sat at the feet of Jesus, He healed my ears and all sound became delightful to me once again. More than once, someone would discuss healing or grace or Christ’s eternal love in such a way that it could only have been a word from the Lord. I began getting up early in the morning to worship. I found that there is more joy in Communion than I had ever known before. I read Daniel and Revelation and Ezekiel–most often in conjunction with one another–and found myself understanding in the most beautiful ways possible. On 24 December 2011, I was set free from the anguish of accusations against me by other believers. On 14 January 2012, my relationship with a dear brother in Christ was completely restored. On 17 February 2012, He instilled in me a desire to get a guide-dog for His service–something I had had no inclination to do before. Although guide-dog training was strenuous, the Lord placed in my path those who needed His peace and, by His grace, I was able to give them a tiny measure of the comfort with which I myself had been filled. Although I traveled through a dark valley of depression from September 2012-February 2013, the Lord Jesus set me high upon a rock and immersed me in exquisite peace. I learned what it meant to wait on the Lord, to run to His sanctuary even during trials, to ask not for immediate answers but for peace, and to rejoice if those immediate answers came anyway in God’s own will and timing, to trust for healing but patiently ride out the journey. Gradually, “I calmed and quieted my soul … like a weaned child” (Psalm 131:2).
We moved on, at least in small measure, by developing a Christian network–a tiny support system that nevertheless staved off the loneliness that might be expected from a family who hasn’t yet found a church home. And so, because we really didn’t have anyone with whom to worship regularly each Sunday, we rejoiced in the people whom God brought to us: the family friend who invited me to join her for several hymn-sings, the CNA at the hospital who had attended a retreat with me the year before my mother’s diagnosis, the coworker who prayed with my sister each day, the brother in Christ at my father’s office who sent my mother flowers in a vase adorned with a small cross, the devout nurse whose voice sparkles and dances and sings with the joy of the Holy Spirit… And then, there were my moments–my treasured seconds with people whom the Lord brought specifically into my life. There was the student in one of my classes who, upon hearing of my mother’s diagnosis, first told me that she would be praying and then, taking me gently by the shoulders, repeated over and over again that my mother would be all right–cascading reassurances down upon me until my heart ached for the beauty of it all. And how could she have known that I was desperately terrified for my mother’s ultimate condition? Again, there was the bus driver who, upon hearing me say something about theology to another passenger, immediately turned on a Christian radio station. Another driver asked me what kind of music I might like to hear during my commute to the university and did not object when I asked to hear the soft, gentle refrains of this city’s most mellow Christian music. Somehow, I expected him to tolerate Christian rock but perhaps not praise and worship. Another blessing… There was the woman in the grocery store who, upon hearing me quietly quoting the book of Psalms to my sister, approached both of us and asked a question so intricately-related to God’s plan for my life specifically that it struck me speechless. There are ten thousand ways to ask whether someone might possibly believe in God, and this was among the least common I had ever heard. As we talked, this woman told us that she had been healed of lupus–the close cousin of MS. As we prepared to leave, I asked her why she had approached us, and why she had chosen to inquire about our spiritual lives using the wording she had. Her response: “Well… I don’t know… I really don’t–the Holy Spirit?” Yes and amen. There were people who prayed over us all–complete strangers and close, intimate friends. People who placed in our hands exactly what the Lord would have us to take in. Friends and acquaintances who, without even realizing it, would refer to some Scripture that one of us had just been studying the previous evening. Oh, ’twas glorious!
We moved on emotionally. Just before my mother was hospitalized, she left me a recorded note proclaiming her love and reminding me that our God reigns supreme. Soon, we had each bought cameras in order to capture life’s joyful and difficult moments–a digital camera for my parents, a voice-recorder for me. They serve the same purpose, don’t they? Isn’t an audio picture worth a thousand gestures? Later, we all began attaching analytical, philosophical, symbolic meanings to rather ordinary events. The chimes represented rain, which represented God’s grace, which was poured out upon us, which enabled us to love one another–AGAPE! Every piece of linen we ever owned came to represent purity and righteousness. We read more and quarreled less, hugged more and isolated ourselves less. Oh, yes, we gave in to fear and grief sometimes–but each tear was tempered with a moment of laughter and every sorrow was soon overwhelmed with gladness. We discussed medical procedures, but also more mundane matters–whether Anne Sullivan or Helen Keller actually penned The Story of My Life, the most effective way to communicate ideas in children’s books, the extraordinary need for less base and more treble in music, and the clinic and literary implications of everything from synesthesia to hyperthymesia. We walked in snow so soft and white and beautiful, yet so all-consuming, that it stopped traffic and drifted up all around us, relishing the blizzard for its sheer majestic qualities as one might a magnificent waterfall. There were swimming in a nearby pool, hiking down any trails we could find, and dancing before the Lord for pure joy at all that He had done–despite, or even in and through, the trials. I worked with Natasha, my sister made customers countless cups of coffee and tea and chai, my mother filled her heart with ideas too precious for words, and my father kept up the course of study he had begun a few years earlier. Nothing changed, except that we became closer.
We moved on by doing great, monumental things. We attended our first baseball game–not a tremendous thrill for me, as I’m not a sports fan, but a lovely family event. We went to see my pastor grandfather and were quickly immersed in the art of singing “Because He Lives”, praying about wilderness seasons, and generally praising God together. On another trip to see extended family, we were met by real prayer warriors–people who saw and knew and experienced God’s love and poured it out upon us. One woman had created a hiking trail to simulate all the stages of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Oh, what a joy it was to leave my burdens at the foot of the cross–literally and figuratively! Shortly thereafter, I acquired a guide-dog. All such wonderful moments. On 14 April 2013, the extraordinary and ordinary circumstances of our lives merged when we all ate dinner together at a French restaurant–something my mother’s MS doesn’t generally allow her to do.
On 15 April 2013, my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We have mourned, we are praying, and we will move on.
Sometimes, sorrow overshadows the joy. In ways I can’t explain, my sister’s diagnosis diverges from my mother’s so sharply that it’s as though they were diagnosed with two separate conditions. Treatment is different, emotions are different–even faith seems different sometimes. I have never lost it; my soul will always follow hard after Him. However, sometimes it seems that I now need faith not to move mountains, but merely to look at the rolling hills in front of me before attempting to climb them. Sometimes, I feel weak and fragile and cracked. I don’t know what the next step is–how I should trust, what I should pray for, whether this request or that one is inappropriate. Sometimes, knowledge that I might not always be the best support for my sister drives me to wonder if I’ve sinned, when in fact I have made a simple mistake that requires no actual repentance. (Quiz: Is spilling some water something that requires forgiveness, or a mop?) It’s odd how many things unrelated to my life in the Lord somehow end up getting connected to it.
And this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Oh, how I need the Comforter, the Wonderful Counselor! I knew before this that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose, but seldom have I seen it demonstrated as clearly as I did the week before Kristin was diagnosed. It had been a trying week, filled with medical appointments and tearful moments. One evening, as I prepared for bed, I came upon Psalm 126. This has been one of my favourite passages of Scripture since 2007, when the Lord used it to sustain me through the greatest desert I have ever endured. On this day, I settled back to let those familiar yet ever-new words wash over me.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” read the narrator of my audio NKJV. “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, … bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).
“But, Lord,” I prayed from a heart too weary to silence its questions, “all I have experienced is weeping. I cannot imagine rejoicing, nor bringing any sheaves with me. I just don’t have any joy anymore…”
“But you will.”
The words were so great and resounding, yet delivered in such a still, small voice that I knew this could only be the Good Shepherd. Oh, how great it is is when Scripture is revealed to us and confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit! At the time, having no notion of my sister’s impending diagnosis and believing that I might start skipping merrily on my way in the next hour, I took that promise at face value. “Thank You, Lord. I know I will rejoice, and that any pain I experience will be for Your glory. And thank You for the joy I know You will eventually bring…” And with that, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, entirely assured of His faithfulness.
And what now? Am I still assured of that same lovingkindness? Absolutely! What I know now is that God, in His mercy, promised that He would never leave nor forsake me, and that I would not walk through this valley alone. As yet, we have not moved on spiritually, and even I have had a difficult time returning to the peace I once knew in Jesus; sometimes we struggle to move on in finding prayer support, or emotional support, or in doing anything momentous with our time. But it will come. We will come rejoicing, and He will be glorified.
I have to remember that, for a time, I did not see the glory that the Lord was bestowing on us all. When my mother was first diagnosed, I didn’t see the kindly nurse or experience peace in the Scriptures. I remember only the negative psychology textbook I read in which MS was portrayed in a more negative light than necessary, or the one person who would not pray for me, or the times when I felt that everything I did was either a sin or displeasing to my family or both. In short, when my mother was first diagnosed, I saw only the challenges; I now remember the beauty in hindsight. May it not be that way now; may I see His goodness on every step of this journey, rejoicing in all that He does and praising Him for all that He will do. May I be drawn ever closer as I learn to rely on Him…
Bringing in the sheaves.