Instant Healing—Just Add Patience
IT'S THE LITTLE HOUSEHOLD CRISES that get to me. This time, my toddler's favorite blanket was lost. In an effort to discourage her thumb-sucking, I'd hidden it. Bedtime had come and I couldn't find the fuzzy pink thing. The memory lapses that come as a fringe benefit of my chronic illness had me opening kitchen cupboards and drawers as my daughter cried, “Find it now, Mommy.” Her demand was a perfect parallel to my petitions to God: “Fix me now, please.” Like my toddler, I sometimes want to throw myself on the floor and demand instant healing. I struggle to understand why it hasn't come.
My son finally found the blanket stuffed in a closet. I let my husband finish the bedtime routine while I went hunting comfort food and answers. I felt personally let down. Things like this weren't supposed to happen to church-going, testimony-bearing LDS people. I'd had serious trials, including medical problems, before. But those times, the Lord always blessed me with complete and relatively quick recovery. For a long time I'd wondered: how would I handle it if I asked Lord to heal me and his answer was no?
I stared at pantry cupboard boxes of cereal and crackers, realizing I was now taking long-term adversity for a test drive. My particular model is an undiagnosed illness that leaves me exhausted, sick, and dizzy. Three years ago, I knew was something was wrong. First my long 6:00 a.m. runs turned into short, slow jogs. Six months passed, and I struggled just to drag myself out of bed each morning. By evening I just wanted to curl up on the couch. This night I did just that, but first I by-passed the healthy food and reached for the chips hidden deep in the back of the cupboard. It wouldn't help, but right now I was mad—tired of the fatigue and neurological problems. Our youngest daughter had never seen my normally energetic self. After numerous tests and two surgeries that didn't cure my problem, I couldn't even remember the definition of energetic.
I took a handful of chips, then stretched into the dent I'd worn in the sofa, my mind as exhausted as my body. Lines of orange cloud floated past the window, and I focused on them as if they were scriptures to answer my questions. Wasn't it time to be healed? After my initial pleas to feel better, I tried to patiently adjust to a messy house and days when going to the grocery store was too difficult. After realizing I could spend this time at home on my children, I decided this was a season to focus on them. Sometimes my time on the couch became snuggling or talking moments with them. Still, after years of messy closets and children's clothing substituting as wall-to-wall carpet, I'd begun to wonder—hadn't I been patient long enough?
The clouds outside faded to purple as I questioned. Did I need to repent? I knew some problems came as a result of wrongdoing. Yet although I still have a way to go in handling my tired, frustrated feelings without translating them into yelling, that night I felt the Lord's love, reassurance, and acceptance. He knows I'm honestly trying. His answer that night really helped, and I'm grateful.
Yet now as I sit at my computer, I'm still puzzled over many things. My desires for healing seem righteous. I want to trust the Lord's will, but I also want to do so many things. Many days my “to do” list looms over me, undone, until I'm about ready to drown my sorrows in a vat of chocolate. I come from a heritage of strong LDS women. My grandmother, impatient to begin the home addition she would use for her home business, took a sledgehammer to the back wall. I love that “get it done” heritage. So I yearn for some figurative sledgehammer as I look around my house. Every room holds something that needs cleaning or repair—dented and purple-finger-painted walls, pink-stained carpets, winter clothing spilling out of summer drawers. There are so many good things I want to do, with so little energy, that at times it feels as if my life is a desk-high stack of bills and I am a thirty-two dollar checking balance. I'd like to beg for an overdraft account.
My computer desk is where I go when my energy account is overdrawn. Today I'm spilling out my frustrations on paper. I'm still aggravated about not having a diagnosis. Please tell me, I want to say to the doctors, that it's not all in my head, that I'm not just tired because I'm just not strong enough or faithful enough to deal with life's stresses. Unless I tell people, most of them don't understand. I can't blame them—I really don't fully understand my ups and downs myself. I drive, I exercise, I don't have purple spots all over my face. Not being able to tell people, “I have X diagnosis” leaves me feeling foolish. I had to tell the painter—I'm sorry to be in my pajamas at 3:00 p.m., that I can't focus enough to decide on a paint color, and that I wrote your check for nine dollars instead of the right amount. And I had to explain to the karate teacher—I'm sorry I didn't come to pick up my kids, but I fell asleep. People who do know give lots of well-meaning advice—stop eating this food, do eat that one, take this supplement, change your mattress because the pillow top foam makes people ill. I know they mean well, but it all adds to a long list of confusing choices.
I knew I needed help to solve this muddle of confusion. In April, after much searching and prayer, I found a new doctor. He suggested I might have Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.). I began more tests and waited for a diagnosis. In the process, the doctors discovered a heart defect. They suggested my symptoms might be the result of a series of mini-strokes that mimicked Multiple Sclerosis. Although not excited about another surgery to patch a small hole in my heart, I was thrilled to think I had my answer.
One month after surgery, I stood up from the couch and almost blacked out. Over the next few weeks my old symptoms continued. Sometimes I staggered more than walked. I still had times when I felt trapped on the couch. Depressed and frustrated, I realized my illness wasn't getting better. I thought I'd finally had an answer to my petitions for healing. But was this answer the “no” I'd feared? I called the doctor's office. While the receptionist connected my call, I twisted anxious fingers through my hair, wondering what had gone wrong this time. Had the procedure failed, or did I need to go back in for a M.S. workup? When the nurse came to the phone I described my concerns. She told me it would take at least three months before I even knew if the procedure had fixed my problem. The patch device on my heart wall couldn't automatically fix me. The problems wouldn't stop until the cells in my heart grew their own covering on the patch.
I felt relieved to know the surgery wasn't a failure. But I'd adjusted my mindset to “as-soon-as-I-get-better mode” and I had made big plans—writing projects, much-needed house and yard work, hiking with my kids. I thought I was through with having to be patient. I guess patience seemed easier when I didn't realize I'd have to practice it for so long. I've done hardly any of the things I planned to do with my children this summer. Perhaps patience is dealing with the scaled-down, adapted-to-my-energy-level plans without complaining—camping in the backyard, letting my daughter make a gingerbread house out of crackers and peanut butter when I'm not up to making frosting. Yet I felt so ready to move on to grand scale things. My husband and I even contemplated visiting Africa—doing humanitarian work, maybe climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with an uncle and cousins. I put down the phone and decided this time patience meant putting off my plans for just another three months.
After exactly three months, I sat in the heart clinic waiting for my test results. I was so ready to box up this trial and stick it in the closet marked “experience.” Instead, the box fell back into my lap. It was supposed to be good news—my heart is healed. However, the news meant the end of blaming my continuing illness on my heart. Something else was still wrong. I drove home trying not to cry, then went to pick up my daughter. As I walked into my friend's kitchen, one innocent comment made me crumple. She hugged me as I nearly flooded her floor with tears.
I was back to wondering—now what? I'd adapted, put off summer plans, waited one more time. It was time to get my prize. Instead I opened my gift box and found it empty.
What happened to the neat little package trials were supposed to be wrapped in? I want them to come with an instruction manual: What I'm Supposed to Learn, Parts A, B, and C; What I'm Supposed to Do, Parts 1, 2 and 3. Right now I don't know if this is a God-given test. It's very possible this is just one of the body glitches humans are subject to because we live on Earth. Whatever the reason, I want to trust my belief that the Lord can use this illness to bless me.
For the moment I've stopped throwing things at the wall and gone back to looking for the Lord's answering gifts in small, perhaps overlooked, packages. I believe God hasn't really said no when I've asked for healing. He has said yes—just not in the way I anticipated. He says yes when He helps me have the energy to get my kids to most of their lessons, do my church calling, cook enough meals that my family doesn't have to chew on the pizza boxes. Maybe I don't have zestful energy, but somehow I make it through each day.
I wanted instantaneous healing. In the same way, I've expected automatic perfection, automatic answers. Although I will continue to seek the Lord's guidance, my answer sheet of instructions complete with the bonus gift of perfect patience hasn't come yet. Whether it's choosing new medical treatment or deciding if I'd better trade in Africa for a backyard barbecue, I realize now I'll have to wait and work for the direction I'm seeking. And I'm discovering that like my heart wall, my spiritual heart needs time to become strong. Like it or not, I've been granted lots of time to learn.
While in school, Rebecca contemplated being a writer, a lawyer, or a dentist. Her BA in English and JD from the University of Utah has given her the chance to dabble in the first two. Her only dentistry experience came while accidentally extracting her son's loose incisor with a toothbrush. She feels grateful she can stay home with her four children, two boys and two girls, and just wishes someone would invent a self-cleaning house.