For weeks, it felt like the world was spinning uncontrollably around me. Lifting my head off the pillow sent my body retching. Food repulsed me, and my empty stomach only made the nausea worse. Never before have I felt my body rage against me. There was no reprieve, nothing that could calm my aching body, super-heightened senses, overwhelming fatigue, or constant vomiting. I couldn't read, couldn't watch t.v. or even try to have a conversation because it took too much concentration, would send me spinning and paying for it later. The days seemed endless. All I could think were apocalyptic comparisons and my poor sisters in other countries who are sick like this but must yet somehow keep going to survive.
I could not keep going. As much as I willed myself, I couldn't even stand, would spend days working up the courage just to take a shower. I could only lay in bed and think about Sami, my husband and house, my church responsibilities, and all of the things that I wasn't able to do. I was tormented perhaps as much by guilt as by sick. I saw the laundry piling up, our empty cupboards, the new layers of dust, all of the extra burden my absence was putting on Jim and our parents, and I couldn't stand it, hated myself for not being stronger.
I didn't understand why I wasn't able to better deal with the symptoms. In my mind I could hear what people were probably saying, could read the annoyance in their faces and imagined that no one believed I was really that sick. I willed myself to be stronger, tried thinking positive thoughts, telling myself that it really wasn't that bad . . . but my body rebelled against me, literally flattening me no matter how hard I tried to stand up.
Prayer was impossible. I don't know how to explain it, but I have never felt further from God. I literally couldn't pray, couldn't formulate the sentences, couldn't find the strength for faith. All I could think about was my pain, my flesh, and I felt myself becoming increasingly selfish. I thought about elderly people, and how difficult they can become and I understood why; a failing body consumes every other care. I was depressed, overcome with melancholia, and I remember thinking that if I didn't know that I had a life in me, didn't have the hope that this would one day end, I'd have wanted to die. I kept thinking about people with terminal illnesses and how desperate they must feel.
I had called the doctor's office early on to ask them about my morning sickness, and they told me the usual things; eat crackers, drink coke, rest . . . and so it wasn't until I had been unable to get out of bed for weeks, had lost fifteen pounds and felt like I really was going to die, that I called the doctor again and she wanted me to come in. She sent me right away to the hospital.
I cannot begin to explain what relief I found in that hospital! The fluids filled up my drained body and my strength began to return. They gave me medicine that finally calmed my raging insides. I was away from my home and the constant reminders of all the ways I was failing. And finally, somebody was assuring me that it wasn't just my imagination, that I really was that sick.
After about twelve hours of fluids and rest, a nurse brought me a simple cup of chicken broth, and it was the most delicious meal I've ever had. I was holding a magic cup, and as I drank it my body was restored. Just a warm bit of nourishment, and so much more. I sipped and my hope returned, even joy. I was able to smile, to thank God for the fact that my body was preparing life! My eyes were opened. I saw everything new, through the eyes of hope, with a body at peace. How much joy enveloped me in that hospital bed, alone, drinking from that cup!
In my greatest anguish, I'd found a reprieve. Those weeks made me painfully aware of the state of utter hopelessness, loneliness, pain and death that my flesh dwells in. I was given just a small understanding life apart from God, and then came salvation.
We don't often have to accept infirmities in our society. There are medical cures, pain relievers, therapies for nearly everything. But experiencing debilitating physical illness helped me understand why Jesus went purposefully to those who were physically in need, those most aware of their desperation and longing for salvation. Longing is disguised in our culture, and we have innumerable distractions to keep us from giving voice to that secret ache for new life. But we all ache for it.
It came as a surprise, it came as joy. When at the end of hope, the end of myself, love came to me in a warm cup, and there was life.
This is the Gospel. At the end of hope, Good News! At the end of myself, Good News! In desperation and death, Good News!
And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. Luke7:21,22