Illness has the ability to change perspectives. Though it's another thing in life that is out of our control, it can deceive or provide clarity, depending on what we choose. We decide the outcome of illness whether there is a cure or not; whether we live or die. We decide our end even if we cannot control the circumstances or pain level. Truthfully, we decide our end whether we are ill or not.
I've spent half my life in and out of gastroenterology offices. Most of the doctors I saw were quick to give me a simple diagnosis, in spite of not truly listening to all of the symptoms. I never want to hear the term irritable bowel syndrome again. I believe it does exist, but I think there is more to it than that. Then, I met a doctor who listened. Who cared. Who truly, sincerely wanted to help. He is nearly 80 and he's seen it all. He's seen enough to know that he doesn't know everything, and that patients can offer more insight on their diagnosis than they're often given credit for.
Before my first visit, I was convinced that intolerances were behind it all, due to some kind of inflammatory issue. A few tests suggested that my feelings weren't completely invalid. I cannot tell you how close the doctor was to diagnosing me with crohn's disease and how close I was to believing it; we were both surprised to discover that my colonoscopy results were normal. It was a blessing, but I was worried there wouldn't be any kind of treatment for whatever mystery issue was ailing me.
Despite having a fairly high deductible that I wasn't even close to reaching, the gastro ran every test under the sun. He was the first doctor to test the function of my pancreas. He was also the first gastro who didn't think I was crazy for thinking a missing gallbladder might be the other part of the problem.
It turns out, we were both right. He was more right than all the other doctors combined. I found out I have something kind of uncommon, exocrine pancreatic enzyme insufficiency, and something not quite as uncommon, bile salt malabsorption. The names are complicated but, thankfully, the treatment is simple...but definitely not cheap!
I met my $5K deductible. Health is priceless. I would pay it again if I had to. I feel like a different person. When your digestive system isn't functioning the way it should be, and you're constantly aware of all the cramps, noises, and gurgles. And constantly worrying about weight, how to respond to people's rude comments about your struggle to maintain it, or even how you'll explain to random friends or strangers that you cannot get together because your life revolves around your food choices and toilets...life can feel a lot like...no life at all. What hit me hardest, though, was feeling like I couldn't be the mother to my children that I wanted to be, because I couldn't always keep my promises. I feared missing out on more than just dinners with friends and church functions; I was afraid that I might miss out on some of my kid's greatest life events, from their college graduation to the birth of their children.
This all may sound dramatic, but these were real concerns. I am at least 15 pounds lighter than I was in college. I definitely didn't have healthy eating habits at that time in my life (not even close--who does?), but I was more sturdy. Honestly, I believe it's somewhat of a miracle that I didn't miscarry my children, considering my body was not digesting food properly for so long.
The topic of self-confidence can be a cheesy one. We're told to believe in ourselves, to not care what others think, to focus on what's inside and not outside. But is it really possible not to care about how others perceive us? Humans were made for relationships and we want to feel loved and accepted...totally. God created us with that desire so that we would seek him for our sense of wholeness, but while we are in these bodies we will be tempted to view ourselves as inferior, because we don't have his eyes.
Our eyes scrutinize the wrong things. We can criticize someone's character or appearance, and who are we to do that? We don't know their past, we don't know their struggles, we don't even know if they feel loved. How would you feel if your judgment of someone caused you to completely avoid them, and then, after it was too late, you discovered they were dealing with loneliness? How would you feel if someone told you that maybe you were lacking true friends because you couldn't even be honest enough with yourself to realize the way you looked at others, literally--that first glance, kept them away.
When you meet someone, do you look with bitterness and insecurity, or the love you deserve to see reflected right back at you? Maybe you're too busy studying the way their jeans fit to notice the love they're willing to offer you in that very first glance which begins a friendship?
I can tell you who my true friends are. They are the ones who have prayed for me, cried with me, called me, offered to help, and, in the end (or the beginning :) even celebrated with me...they are the ones who still saw me when I was struggling to see myself. They are the ones who remind me of Christ in their sincere love that looks beyond me and, somehow, still right at me.
They are not the ones who criticized, gossiped, and only looked with judgmental eyes and hearts. My friends are too full of true confidence to steal it from someone else. That's because their confidence comes from a source outside themselves, not a job, an income bracket, a diet plan, or a mirror.
I have known what it's like to feel desperate for an answer and solution. I have learned to see that same longing in the eyes of others, as a result of my own experiences. I know those people need a friend the most, but they're also the most likely to receive judgment for their struggles. I have felt that kind of judgement, but never from a true friend.
I saw the longing in someone's eyes yesterday. I was talking to the pharmacist when a stranger overheard the name of the enzymes I was prescribed. She quickly ran to my side as soon as I turned around, and in an almost excited tone she asked, "Does your daughter have cystic fibrosis?". I could see her heart sink when I said no and explained that the medication was for me, and that I didn't have cystic fibrosis. Pancreatic insufficiency is common among those with cystic fibrosis. I do not have it though. I have a faulty pancreas for one of two reasons 1) genetics or 2) the gallbladder surgery I had many years ago. I do not know what it is like to have a child with cystic fibrosis and, as a mom, I felt for this woman when she told me about her daughter. I wished that she could experience the same relief and peace I felt, knowing my condition was simple and treatable; everyone deserves good health. I can only imagine how she has struggled. This medication is not affordable. At ALL. In fact, without insurance, it is $2,000. Yep, that is 3 zeros. It is unjust and criminal.
How have our judgements of others created a negative domino effect outside of our lives and hurt our society? Those who need healthcare the most often struggle to afford it. From baby formula shortages in food banks to postpartum depression, so many stages in life are made worse by our own judgements and inabilities to empathize and love sincerely, the calling that unites us all.
We are all vulnerable when we are ill. And we are all ill. Our illnesses can manifest themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. If we are honest enough to admit to these weakness that we share, we might become strong enough to see that we are all in need of the same thing, each other. And instead of being blinded by our projected insecurities that convey themselves as judgments, we might see each other, and our capacity and necessity for love. Our ailments provide the opportunity for our greatest healing to happen. It's no mistake that Christ called us to take up our cross and follow him. The very cross that Christ carried paradoxically lifted him and us up; it became a symbol of the greatest victory of life over death. We can be healed and united in love because of his sincere love for us to the point of death.
1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.
Romans 12: 9-18
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.