Hi, I’m Rachel Donnelly, mother of three beautiful kids, and member of Wayne Presbyterian Church. This is a writing I did about the challenging season of life, and parenting, that I am currently in. Although it doesn’t give a new perspective on how-to-do parenting, I hope it does allow others to see how sharing our stories is so important. Being vulnerable is tough, especially for parents who are trying to keep it all together for our families. Being vulnerable as a parent illustrates to our children that we are not superhuman. It shows them that we are just like them, and that we need our faith communities, our family, and most of all God, to get through the hard times in our lives that are sure to come.
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-1
What does it mean to wait? For me, waiting is very difficult. In the last season of my life, waiting has been the central theme... waiting on the diagnosis, waiting to feel better, and waiting to know.
It started out with a severe flu-like illness in February. As a Mom of three, and a fully capable and independent person, I was stopped in my tracks. I was completely taken out of commission. Paralyzed by whatever was ailing me. I remember lying in bed with my 8, 6, and 2 year old children hovered around me. “Mommy, read me this book!” “Look at how high I can jump on the bed!” I didn’t move. My body ached, my ears were ringing and full fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks, my limbs weighed one hundred pounds each. Even worse still, my mind was racing. I couldn’t move my body, but my brain wouldn’t stop moving. Even in complete stillness, every nerve in my body was vibrating with pain and anxiety. I lay there silently screaming, “What is this??”
The sickness lingered on for weeks through doctors’ appointments and ER visits. I was asked to complete an array of screenings and tests including several rounds of blood work, EKG’s, an MRI of my brain, x-rays, and one memorable appointment in particular that involved a neurologist sticking a needle in my skin in various locations until it bled, to make sure that nerve damage had not occurred. Some days I was a good sport. “I will get through this, and I’m not afraid.” Other days, I begged the Lord, “Please hold me and let me rest.” All the while I was waiting…. waiting on the unknown, waiting on God to heal me, an answer to be revealed.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Each day came with its own set of challenges, sometimes I felt up to it the task, and other times I was crushed under the pressure. My husband admits now that at the time he didn’t recognize me as the person he married. Friends saw a personality shift, family members started to worry about my mental well-being. One day on my way to the gym in my car I became completely panic stricken and simultaneously action-less. I called my mom and cried to her on the phone that I didn’t know what to do. I was only a couple of miles from home but didn’t know how I would get myself and my two year old home safely. I was completely consumed by whatever this was. Nothing mattered except feeling better, and getting back to being me. My doctor said “It is just anxiety, all of your tests are normal.” Read this book and take this pill, and you will start to feel better. I know now, through experience and talking with others, that there is no such thing as “just anxiety.” Anxiety can be completely debilitating for some, and it is fully manifest in physical and emotional symptoms. Anxiety was a definite piece of the puzzle, but the gut of my ordinarily healthy body told me that there was more to come.
I began to cope by following a strict routine. I had no choice but to get up early. Usually I awoke with pins and needle sensations that ran along my shoulders and down my arms. My first thoughts upon waking from a restless night’s sleep were, “Make it stop!” I would carry myself down the stairs, and consider what to put on my achy stomach. It wanted nothing. My usual breakfast of hard boiled eggs and coffee would be rejected, even water caused upset. I would walk, that’s what I would do. The fresh air, the birds chirping, the sun that was too bright for my eyes, surely that would make my body feel better. Upon returning from walking I would sit down with Jesus Calling, and open my Bible to the corresponding verses for the today. I began journaling my symptoms, my thoughts, and my hopes for better days ahead. I wrote Bible verses, I recited them, I checked in with my Moms group and my spiritual guidance group. For the first time in my life, I knew why the Bible was called the “Living Word.” The verses that I was reading and relying on sustained me. I developed a several times a week yoga practice that would zap me of energy but ease the anxiety and depression. I started centering prayer and tried to spend time with God in this way, every day for 11 minutes. I ate healthy and cut out alcohol. I had a vitamin regimen that would impress any health store guru. I went to therapy a couple of times a week, and I talked to friends who were also having difficulties. I prayed, and I begged, and I pleaded for God to intervene. I leaned in on my church family. I asked others to pray with me and for me, and they kindly did. I did ALL of this….and God’s response was, “Wait my child, wait.” Just like an eager child on Christmas morning, I wanted the gift to be revealed. I wanted the anticipation, and anxiety, the striving and hoping to be over. I wanted to be free from it all.
Days turned into weeks, which turned into months. I would feel well for a few days, and think that the agony was over, and then it would strike. Prompted by a change in weather, or a hormonal shift, I was right back to being paralyzed by an illness that was illusive, undefinable, and awful. There were thoughts in my brain that did not belong to me. Why was I so terrified by that kitchen knife? Why couldn’t I get that vivid and violent news story out of my brain? Where did my joy go?
I went home to North Carolina to visit my family over the summer and had lost twenty pounds. My skin was pale, and I had bruises all over. I looked sickly, and my family knew that I had changed. They poked and prodded, as any good family does -- “What’s wrong with you, why are you losing weight?” Their well-intentioned concerns went without answers. Throughout the struggle, I found simplicity. I accomplished only what I could do in any given day. My dear husband went to a conference and heard a collegiate basketball coach speak. He returned with BELS. The recipe for a good life is BELS. Everyday, read your Bible, Exercise, write a personal Letter, complete a Special project. I would try that. I helped my mom out on the farm, and learned how to milk the goats from start to finish by myself. This gave me a sense of accomplishment, and working with the animals gave me a glimpse into a side of me that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Meeting needs became my goal for the day -- getting food in the human kids’ and animal kids’ mouths, trying to take care of myself, and keeping it really, really simple. I had no interest in TV anymore, so I started devouring every book I could find about developing spiritual strength. The more I read, the more that I realized that I wasn’t set apart. I began to see suffering as an inescapable part of life, something that I had fortunately never really had to consider before. I realized that I could live with difficulties, as long as I had God. I began to hope that I could survive, even though I felt at times that I couldn’t. I realized that light and darkness are codependent, and that both are contained within any human being.
Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. Isaiah 41:10
I returned home and tried to settle back into a routine. Being without extended family, and having to take care of my kids all day while my husband worked seemed impossible at times. Good days and bad days, ups and downs. During this time of consistent challenges, my prayer life seemed to blossom. My prayers were more specific than in the past, and invited closeness with God that felt new. I would ask God moment by moment for what I needed. Today I need strength, Lord. I need to be able to get through my day. Today I need to feel your joy, Lord or Today, I need your peace. Prayers came in the form of whispers and wails, while walking, or in crumbled anguish in front of the bathroom sink. Jesus, I would murmur, to remind myself that he was by my side. One day I met with a dear friend to have a devotion at the Y. Her gentle guidance made me realize that I was full of fear. Fear of death, fear of leaving my children, fear of feeling this way forever. That same day, I went to get yet another chest x-ray. On my drive there, all the emotions that combine to make fear welled up in me. The frustration, and anger, sadness, and distrust all came together at once. I screamed at my windshield, “I AM NOT AFRAID!”
Through the difficult times, I never doubted God’s presence. You may ask, “You were in complete agony, and yet God was fully present with you, wading through this horrible life situation that is being thrown your way?” Yes, that is what I said. Am I just a faithful Christian whose heart has never held a doubt? No, I am not. In fact, it’s probably true to say that I’ve been a FAITHLESS Christian for more years of my life than I have been a FAITHFUL Christian.
Lord, you alone are my portion, and my cup, you make my lot secure. Psalm 16:5-7.
My Spiritual Director asked me, “Do you want clarity around why you got sick?” Yes, I did. “Why don’t you ask God for clarity?” So I prayed for clarity. I prayed that God would answer some of the unanswerable questions. Nearly eight months after I first got sick, I found, with God’s help, a specialized doctor who ordered some additional blood tests. “You have Borrellia Myamotoi Disease.” BMD is a somewhat rare tick-borne illness similar to Lyme Disease. She advised me to take a four-week course of antibiotics, and that hopefully some of the symptoms would begin to subside. I completely broke down. Finally, the wait was over. God had given me the clarity that I asked for, and I was also the recipient of so much more. My husband says I’ve gotten stronger, and that I’ve learned to tolerate adversity. Maybe that is true. I know I have learned to wait. Learning to wait sometimes has to been learned, and relearned, over and over again. Knowing that God is never failing makes the waiting possible. Knowing that he is my portion and my cup, allows me to confidently wait.
As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:47-49
I feel immense gratitude. I am immensely grateful for being eaten alive by the smallest tick on the planet, which in turn transmitted some strange Japanese bacteria that may or may not linger in my blood stream for the rest of my life. Really? Yes, really. Without that tiny tick, I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of this computer writing about my relationship with God. I wouldn’t have such certainty about the ability of God to be everything I need, in the moment when I feel that I have absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t know that my husband and I can weather a storm with such determination of spirit. Maybe I will look back and this will only be a stray shower…maybe there are much windier, rainier, and scarier storms ahead. This is life after all, and we can’t predict what will be next. I do predict however, that with my eyes on God, I can put on a raincoat, open an umbrella, and wait for life’s next storm to pass.