I have Lyme. I’d like to not have it anymore. I also just want cake.
“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
St John 11:4
Writing something a little different today.
I read this verse on a whim recently; a moment of exasperation, if you will. I was frustrated and feeling fear over some Lyme-related thing and specifics don’t matter. I was tired and having one of those “what if this is for life” days. I was so exhausted having to carry all the unknowns related to my illness that nobody can alleviate for me, and I guess things just over-flowed. I dramatically plopped on my bed, with all the weight of this illness plopping too, and just grabbed my scriptures and opened them randomly. I do this sometimes. My eyes instantly fell on that verse from St John. I just love it when God reaches back.
The verse was setting the stage for the well-known New Testament story of Lazarus who was brought back from the dead. In many ways, I felt dead. I’ve felt dead for four years now. There was a point in the beginning of my illness where I just felt sick, and frantic, and desperate. Everything was confusion and no one could give me clarity. No one could see all of the chaos happening inside of me… much of me was lost to it, this much they could tell. This eventually gave way to just some sort of death. These circumstances and loneliness turned me to God a lot. If no one here can help me, surely you can, I would say.
“Father, she whom thou lovest is sick”, I echoed, just as was written about Lazarus. My ears would strain and my mind would grasp and my heart would long for some type of answer. I waited…. And waited. He does love me, He has to. Right?
In St. John it is recorded that Christ heard of the dying Lazarus, and then we are reassured he loved Lazarus and his sisters lest we take His next move as a sign of ambivalence or disregard. But He didn’t immediately run to his dying friend. He waited days, even. Deliberately. God is mysterious in many ways but the one I have found to be the hardest is how and why God waits. I mean I get some waiting, but such excruciating waiting? For many months my tortured existence was something I thought a loving God wouldn’t keep me in because He is supposed to be love. And love, as the world teaches us, is comforting, alleviating, lifting up, and protecting. It’s kissing skinned knees and rubbing away tears. Yet my pain, for a long time, only got worse. Apparently, God’s love is different.
As the record goes, Lazarus died the day Jesus was informed of his illness. They dressed him and placed him in a sepulcher while His healer was no where to be found. But Lazarus’s destiny was not that cold and stony grave. As I underwent month after month of treatment, I spent much of it housebound and feeling like an absolute waste of existence. Like Lazarus, I was floating in this dreary and confusing limbo between the living and the dead, not able to commit and find place with either. My home was my sepulcher, and oftentimes, my will was my death. I never doubted God, but I doubted whether I would get better again. Would I ever be called from my sepulcher? Maybe my prayers “got lost in the paperwork”.
But God always comes.
Christ eventually came to Lazarus’s sisters four days later. Weeping with them, He, with tear stains on his dusty cheeks, tenderly asked for his beloved friend, now passed long beyond the point of help, that He may reach for Him with His healing touch anyways. “Where have ye laid him?” Can you imagine anything more profound in your life than God, determining it is now your moment to rise, with loving tears in His eyes as He has mourned with you this whole time, finally asking for you? Will you still be there? Will you still be open-hearted? Will you be found still possessing the precious faith necessary for you to hear from behind the stony walls where you now reside? Will you, in the darkness of your home with the suffocation of your life on hold and your cupboards full of medications and your symptom charts that have grown so weary of holding so many symptoms, still be there to hear Him? Will you still be holding and guarding that priceless willingness to suffer the costs of mortality for Him? Or will you have checked out by then. Given in. Not having given up necessarily, but having excluded God from the process on account of His apparent absence. Will you be found going about your existence ignoring the little potted plant of your faith as it withered in the scorching sun of trial long ago? My heart breaks at the thought of the tear-stained Master calling his beloved friend Lazarus from his grave, but Lazarus is no longer listening. It will take grit for us to still be there. Grit and love for God. Far more often than I’d like to admit I also felt like Martha, the sweet sister of Lazarus, as she exclaimed “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died”, as she fell at His feet consumed in her loss and her grief. It is such a backward facing focus, isn’t it? But also human. Why had He let it get this far? If only this, if only that… so many if onlys. For all of us.
But I get it. Don’t you feel irreparable? Don’t you feel far too broken to be fixed? Do you feel like you’re just trying to hold back waterfalls with bandaids? The way my brain feels, doesn’t feel fixable to me. The way my nervous system erratically processes the world and governs my body doesn’t seem reversible. I really do at times feel that what has happened to my body is something I can’t imagine healed. It is a hard to describe feeling but I suspect many of you will immediately relate. You don’t feel like you’ve got a flat tire or that your chain needs grease, but you feel like your chain is completely locked up and broken, your spokes missing… your brake wires cut. You feel like you’re at this place where the only option is a new bike, but we don’t get new bikes. We are only given one bike to make work, and if it doesn’t, well, the world of shiny bikes passes us by.
Why does God keep us in this bleak limbo, waiting with our broken bike for so long? I’ve had plenty of time to think about that while I have been trapped in said limbo. Why did He not immediately rush to Lazarus? Why allow such grief to persist for days among those He loved? Why wait until by all appearances restoration is FAR from the realm of possibility? That the glory of God might be seen? What if I didn’t agree to this object lesson for the world? Is it an object lesson for the world? The more I think about it, the more I see this “glory” as something He expects to shine through me. God does His best work through broken vessels.
Our limbos need not be lulls. In fact they shouldn’t be. Who can you touch? Who can you serve? Who can you be a light to? In human suffering the potential to be a conduit for the light of God to others is increased. In your own suffering the potential for you to be a recipient of that light is also increased. Our best selves can emerge under our most extenuating of circumstances, is that not divine glory in action? Will you accept it? Will you consider it worth the cost? Will you accept the suffering-filled price to reflect the glory of God? That stubborn optimism and strength amidst a situation that normally shows neither, is glorious. Will you witness that the light can shine in any sort of darkness?
You aren’t the first to feel forgotten…to feel the silence from the heavens. To feel to say as Job, another Bible character made famous not for his great wealth and stature before his epic losses, but for his suffering after them:
“Thou liftest me up to the wind; thou causest me to ride upon it, and dissolvest my substance”.
I felt like God did that to me… that I was capable and full of so much potential, but instead He took me and dissolved me and my future plans to nothing. However, the journey of faith my illness has embarked me on, often unwillingly, has become without a doubt the most moving part of the entire thing. I did question, I did mourn, I did feel alone and forgotten at times, and I did feel (like Lazarus), that God deliberately delayeth. I fought my thoughts and my heart and my will the entire way. I fought to be a source of uplift and light despite the darkness I felt co-existing in my life. I fought to ignore the dark so that I could hear the voice of God when it did come. I wanted to be found with my head up, not focused downwards, should He call me. I didn’t want to be too busy mourning my brokenness that I became oblivious to His healing appearances. And He did, in such small and subtle ways like little bread crumbs to the starving, just to get me by until His full arm’s power would be given. It was just enough to motivate me to make something of this dust I now felt I was. Those breadcrumb moments filled my soul and reassured me He knows best, even if it is painful.
God’s love isn’t like the world’s concept of love. God’s love is big picture. I have this little cherry tomato plant out in my backyard. It’s the kind that grows wildly to the size of a Buick if I don’t manage it. Every day I have to go out there and prune it, cut it, rip off some shoots and pick at it so that it devotes its nutrients to growing fruit instead of wild vines. My little tomato plant has no idea what it’s planted there to do. It isn’t aware of just how sweet and perfect its fruit can be. It just wants to grow and assumes growing big and impressive is best. But if I let that happen it would grow less fruit and what fruit it did produce would not taste as sweet. This plant does not know and I cannot tell it that it must endure the pruning pain in order to be its best self. Guys, we are the plant. We don’t know what the Gardener knows. God’s love isn’t manifest in letting you be wild and free until the proverbial summer has passed and fall comes and our time is over and you have no fruit to give. God’s love is in your development. Sometimes that means parts of our lives won’t make sense to us and other parts will hurt. Grow and radiate the wisdom of your Gardener.
I imagine Lazarus came back from the dead with quite a story to tell. A story he paid for. And whether you believe it or not, it is still a beautiful story of illness, pain, tears, grief, loss, faith, and ultimate redemption. I imagine Lazarus became such a force in reflecting the glory of God for the rest of his life, through the way he lived the rest of his life. I don’t believe he questions why any of what happened unfolded the way it did. As his limbs grew warm and pink again and the sparkle came back to his eyes, the time for his faith was over and replaced instead with knowing. We will get there someday too. May we live the kind of life during our suffering so that the evidences of God are manifest in us. May we be a walking testimony of how goodness can swallow up the pain of difficult circumstances. May we rise to that faith that comes when we, with truly open hearts, accept that He may “tarry” in coming to heal us, for a greater ultimate good. And may we yet still believe He can, even when circumstances feel unfixable.
In doing so, may you someday hear the very voice of God calling for you this time, bound in your figurative burial clothes and certainly bearing the scars of your pruning experiences, to “come forth” out of your dreary sepulchers. And, wracked with achy bones and painful joints, a spinning head and a pounding heart, may you experience that love as He looks at you, hopelessly sick and trapped in your circumstances, and finally commands your troubles as He commanded Lazarus’s bounded body, “Loose her, let her go”.
The sweetest fruit of all.