I’m so glad to feature fellow Redbud, Dorothy Greco, sharing reflections on thanking God in light of our frailties.
When our youngest turned one, a virus took up residence in my body and refused to be evicted. After two months, it morphed. I suddenly needed to sleep for ten, twelve, sometimes even fourteen hours a day. Unrelenting, debilitating pain became my new normal. After two years of scans, scopes, and visits with specialists, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. One year later, celiac disease was added to that list.
The chronic health issues have impacted every aspect of life: my work as a photographer, my parenting, our marital intimacy, my sleep (or lack thereof), traveling, eating out, etc. That’s a lot of loss. Though I continue to ask God to remove this thorn from my flesh, I am now thankful for this broken body.
Perhaps the depth of my loss inspires, or at least contributes to, this curious gratitude. And that gratitude is not so much WoHo! I’m sick! but WoHo! Look how Jesus has met and changed me through this loss.
Prior to my health issues, I lived a fiercely independent existence. My autonomy and competence was a source of pride. Because I rarely needed help, I thought I was better than those needy people.
I had to press through the shame of being one of those needy people during the early years of my health crises when all three sons (under the age of six) looked to me day in and day out for both their care and education. (We had decided to homeschool them just a few months before my body began to betray me.) My husband worked three jobs and though we were part of a vibrant church community, we did not have family members in the area.
In the course of a few months, I went from independence to I can’t get through my day without others pitching in. I could not carry groceries up the 72 steps from the street to our house or transport the laundry from the basement to the third floor. I could barely wash my own hair, never mind leaning over the tub to bathe our toddler. I had to ask for help dozens of times every day single day. And initially, I hated it.
If the definition of idolatry is anything we put our trust in other than God, my health issues became a furnace bent on purging this idolatry of self. The heat was so intense that dross bubbled up to the top and splattered over the sides. It was messy and ugly. A skilled metallurgist would have been able to identify equal parts pride and judgment in that dross.
This uninvited refining process successfully knocked me off my pedestal. It has called me out of my self-contained—and self-important—story and into the more compelling story of Christ. It’s impossible to perceive yourself as better than when you need help accomplishing everyday tasks such as vacuuming or making beds.
Last week I had my annual eye exam. During the chart reading portion of the appointment, the lights dimmed, I covered one eye, and I focused solely on a single line of type. The smaller the font, the more I squinted. Is that a D or a B? Similarly, in the midst of this ongoing trial, I can find myself struggling to discern what God is doing. Particularly in the middle of those nights when I can’t sleep, I have to train my eyes to both see God and remember his goodness so that I don’t slip under the waters of despair.
Though I often wish I could return to my former active life, sleep through the night, and eat pizza or homemade bread, I increasingly find myself giving thanks for this broken vessel that houses my spirit. Day after day, it reminds me of my mortality. It is a sticky note on my forehead which reads You are made of dust. (It may be holy dust, but it is dust just the same!) God has used this crisis to remind me to bow my knee before Him. The fact that I often need a hand to get up simply reinforces the lesson.
Like Paul, I long for the day when these tent pegs will be pulled from the dirt and my earthly canvas folded up. But until that time, I will continually thank God for each day of this beautiful, fragile life.
Dorothy Littell Greco works as a photographer, writer, speaker, and pastor. Her passion is helping other believers pursue holiness and reconciliation. She and her husband have three sons and one daughter-in-law. You can find more of Dorothy’s work on her website or by following her on Twitter (@dorothygreco) or Facebook.