If I were to tell you that Thanksgiving this year was just another day for me, I'm willing to bet that you'd think I'm the ultimate Debbie Downer, and I wouldn't blame you. The statement in itself seems like a cavalier way to proclaim that Thanksgiving isn't a special day, or a refusal to engage in today's common practice of making declarations of thankfulness across various social media platforms. But you don't have to settle for the statement itself, without context, because I'm not interested in being a person who makes a statement of such seeming pessimism, and just leaves it at that. Context is everything.
When I say that Thanksgiving is just another day for me, I'm not minimizing the importance of thankfulness in the slightest. I'm also not downplaying the value of spending time with family, some of whom I don't see very often at all, due to either living away or my inability to leave the house most of the time. What I mean when I say that it's just another day for me is that over the past couple of years, as a result of Lyme & Co, I've learned the importance of living a LIFE of thankfulness. On a daily basis, I make it a practice to spend time thinking about those things for which I'm thankful. I try to take time out of each day to just thank God for everything with which He has blessed me. (I say "try" in an effort to not portray myself as some saint-like person who never complains and constantly speaks words of thankfulness--even though that's what God deserves from all of us--I do complain, I do get run-down, but I still try to maintain the practice of giving Him thanks for each day and the blessings therein). The truth is, living life with Lyme et al. has actually made me a MORE thankful person. As crazy as it may sound, I'm actually thankful for this battle with Lyme and all its assorted co-infections.
Before I go any further, let me assure you that I'm not thankful for the SYMPTOMS of Lyme, nor the fact that it has completely derailed not only my life, but the life of my husband, and essentially the lives of my parents. I'm not thankful for the lack of knowledge/understanding from the mainstream medical society, the legal issues Lyme doctors face when diagnosing and treating patients, nor the difficulty of getting a diagnosis in the first place.
But I am most certainly thankful for this journey.
I'm thankful because living with this illness day in, day out has forced me to focus on and appreciate the little things in life, which, it turns out, are actually the big things (who knew?). Two years ago, before Lyme had completely overthrown me and I was eventually given a name (of course I had a laundry list of misdiagnoses and "idiopathic" chronic illnesses before then), I never would have told you that being able to type a blog post as I lie in bed was a huge blessing. After all, a lot of the time I wasn't at work, I was home on my computer, mindlessly refreshing my facebook feed, writing posts for the blog I used to keep, and feverishly recording things in my journal with ease. The rest of the time I was driving, shopping, skating, taking myself to doctor's appointments, attending church twice a week, going to the movies quite frequently, and all kinds of other "normal" mid-twenties, young couple-type things.
Today, I'm thankful for the fact that my words and sentences are coherent, something Lyme stole from me for a solid year (and still does, sporadically). I'm thankful for every single thing that Roger does to keep our home together, and I appreciate the times I'm able to help with housework as the blessings they are. I'm thankful for the gift of nutrition and the whole foods God has put on this earth for our sustenance and health, and I appreciate the body for what it can do in ways of repairing and healing with those sources of nutrition. Some days I'm thankful to be able to take a shower, other days I'm thankful to be able to just lie in a comfortable bed with clean sheets, even if I can't move or am in immense pain. Some days I'm thankful for the ability to make my own meals in the kitchen, other days I'm just thankful that my stomach takes a 2-minute break from pain/nausea so I can take deep breaths without dreading the side effects of such an action (needless to say, on those days eating is completely out of the question, much less making my own meals). On rare occasions, I'm fortunate enough to be thankful for the ability to see a movie in theaters with my husband, and on many occasions I'm thankful to have aids such as my blackout curtains, my sleep mask, my ear plugs, and my prescription sunglasses so I can block out every little light and sound. And the list goes on.
There are a few things I'm thankful for every day, regardless of if it's a good-for-me day or a bad-for-me day, the first and foremost being my wonderful husband, Roger, and his absolute devotion to making our lives more manageable--and even fun--in any way he can. I can't explain in words how much everything he does means to me. He keeps me smiling and laughing when I think I've forgotten how, he works a full time job (his real job), and then comes home every day and works multiple other jobs (nurse, chef, hairstylist, chauffeur, waiter, therapist, and so many more I haven't mentioned), something no 31-year old guy would choose if given the choice. And he does all of this not because he feels like he has to (although maybe sometimes he feels that way), he does it because he loves me and he wants to make our life together as "normal" as it can be, given the totally not normal circumstances we've faced in our first three and a half years of marriage.
I'm thankful for my parents, and each and every thing they do to help us out as we navigate this journey. I'm particularly thankful for the times they're able to step in when Rog is away with a band trip or a late practice and come over to keep me company, fix my meals, help with our household chores, or run errands for us. I'm also beyond thankful for their financial help with my medical expenses, because with me not being able to work, and with the expensive nature of Lyme treatment, most of my doctors visits/treatments/medications wouldn't be in the realm of possibility without their help. As with Roger, my thankfulness for my parents goes far deeper than I could ever explain with mere words.
More than anything, though, I'm thankful for the unique platform I've been given as a result of Lyme & Co. I've always been vocal about my Christian faith, and even before the Lyme diagnosis was given to me, I had struggles that strengthened both my faith and my testimony of God's grace in my life (namely my 11+ year battle with an eating disorder, but others, as well). But I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had as a result of fighting Lyme to share how God is working in my life on a daily basis, even on those days when I feel life's challenges are insurmountable. It's hard to get to the place where you view such a debilitating chronic illness as a gift, and like I said, I'm not always thankful for everything that comes along with Lyme and its buddies, but I view the experience as a whole as a gift indeed. Never before in life have I been given literally no choice but to fully lean on God to such an extent as I have the past two years (of course I know that fully leaning on Him is something everyone needs to do daily, regardless of health, but what I'm saying here is that the inherent need to do this on a 24/7 basis has become so much more apparent to me as I've battled this illness). And as a result of that, never before has my testimony of His grace and healing power been so strong.
No, He hasn't completely healed me yet. Yes, I still believe He can--and will--do so. But regardless of how I may struggle health-wise on a daily basis, that doesn't change the facts:
His grace is more than sufficient.
His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
His blood was spilled so that I, an unworthy sinner, could have the free gift of eternal life, without paying the ultimate price myself.
God never once said that our lives on this earth would be easy. In fact, there is example after example in His word about how hard our earthly lives will be. But we're given the promise that everything we endure is just a stepping stone to the ultimate gift--Heaven--and we're told we'll always have what we need to make it through any circumstance (we just sometimes fail to realize that He is really all we need).
This year, Thanksgiving was just another day for me, but that doesn't mean it was any less filled with thankfulness than it ever is. No, it just means that I've experienced the dire importance of not just giving thanks on the fourth Thursday in November, but in giving thanks daily for the innumerable blessings God has given me. Honestly, I think being able to live a thankful life on a daily basis is one of the biggest blessings of all, and I'm glad that I get to continue doing so today--even though Thanksgiving is over--and every day to come.
**I began writing this post a couple of weekends ago, during which time the Centre College homecoming festivities were taking place, but due to various reasons, I wasn't able to finish the post until today.**
(Originally written on October 26, 2014)
As this weekend draws to a close, my mind is simultaneously racing and slowing down (admittedly the former is my brain's natural state), but I wanted to get one thing typed out before I turn in for the night. This concept has been pinging around my mind all weekend, and typing it here will not only make it easily accessible in the future, but will hold me accountable for believing the truth presented below even during times when I'm just not really "feeling it."
This weekend was homecoming at Centre College, the place where I spent 4 glorious years on a beautiful campus and one year eating in the airplane-hangar-ish-temporary-dining-facility called Chowan, where I cried over countless assignments when I truly believed there was no way I could submit work worthy of passing grades and where I graduated in 4 years (by the grace of God alone), where I formed friendships more treasured than I ever imagined possible, and spent more time in the student health center than probably any other student on campus, where I learned that I may not be right about everything (okay, for Rog's sake, or really to just drive him crazy, I'll say that one's still hard for me) and that getting a grade less than an A does not mean I will necessarily die a painful, early death by imperfection, where I began to reconnect with a part of myself that had been lost for several years and where I gained an immense appreciation for the sound of Middle English. And that doesn't even make a dent in the list of life changing experiences I had during my time as a Centre student. I truly loved college, and I loved just being on that campus. I loved the environment, the invigorating energy that could always be found somewhere (even during finals week, although the energy was probably fueled by coffee and energy drinks at that point), and the true sense of community unique to small colleges.
For someone who truly loved every aspect of their college experience (okay, except maybe first-semester Econ 110...), the phrase "homecoming weekend" instantly brings to mind anticipatory excitement of the very best variety. Naturally, when someone has such a yearning to attend such an event, but is unable to for one reason or another, that excitement turns into disheartened longing. For me, this year, as last year, being unable to return to campus for homecoming made my heart hurt. I'm not going to lie, I spent a good portion of homecoming weekend lamenting over how I wished I were at Centre, how I felt so out of touch with everyone, how I would do anything to attend the DSU reception and socialize with the friends I love and miss so very much. But as Rog and I were watching our Sunday night shows, one phrase kept playing over and over on the record player that is my brain.
Do your best, be your best, no regrets.
Now, Centre students will undoubtedly recognize this phrase, but for those of you who didn't attend Centre, this is kind of a trademark phrase the President of Centre College, John Roush, includes at the end of every email he sends to the student body, in every speech or address he delivers throughout the year, and in any other capacity where appropriate (and it's always appropriate). The phrase itself seems simple enough, and too many times I personally took it at face value and applied it far too simplistically--I did my best in my classes, I tried to be the best person I could be when it came to relating with other people, and I claimed to have no regrets about anything (a nice notion, but not totally true for me as a college student...or beyond).
It wasn't until this weekend that I realized this concept isn't just meant for students who are up against deadlines and papers and exams, or who are juggling schoolwork, volunteer work, and sports practice with little down time. No, this is a a philosophy we can apply to any and every situation we face in life. Throughout this battle with Lyme & Co, it's been easy to get down on myself and feel guilty when I'm unable to do even the most basic of life's necessities (showering, cooking/eating, vacuuming/washing dishes/other housework, helping contribute to our household income, etc.), and the reason it's easy to do that is because there have been times when I was able to do all of that and more. So when I compare my abilities today to my abilities before "the crash" in January of the year between 2012 and 2014 (I don't like typing the number), it's hard to accept that I'm doing or being my best right now, much less claim that I have no regrets. But what's cool about all of this is the malleability of the phrase, the ability for the phrase to maintain its inherent meaning while at the same time being adaptable to any circumstance life throws our way.
For instance, here's what "Do your best, be your best, no regrets" looks like in my life today, as I continue to fight this battle against Lyme et al:
On rare occasions, God blesses me with a day where I'm able to leave the house for a short period of time to attend my church life group meeting, or go to the craft store to pick out a Christmas puzzle, or even just go to my parents' house to celebrate my sister's birthday. Those are good days! Whatever the case may be, on those rare days I'm able to do something semi-normal (even if it requires using my wheelchair anywhere outside the home), I am doing my best, being my best, and regrets are far from my mind.
Some days I am able to get out of bed and shower, put on actual clothes (as opposed to pajamas), eat a meal or two, use my walker to get to the living room and catch up on TV shows with my husband without having to wear sunglasses because the screen is too bright for my eyes to handle, hold lucid conversations with minimal train of thought derailment, and use my walker to get back to the bedroom on my own when it's time for bed. And if it's a day when I'm able to do those things, then I am doing the best I can, being the best I can, and there is nothing to regret about that day. It's a good day!
However, for the majority of my days, I'm completely bedridden, except maybe to crawl to the bathroom and then back to bed, unless it's a day when Rog has to pick me up and carry me for even something as simple as that. Many days I don't even have the energy it takes to sit up on the couch and watch TV, so I lie in bed doing the only thing I physically can do--rest, and pray that the next day may be a little better. Some days I'm so unbelievably sick that I can't even stomach something as tame as lemon water or tea, so I lie here bargaining with my stomach to please just cooperate enough for me to tolerate small spoonfuls of a green smoothie as Rog feeds it to me when I have no energy to even transfer the spoon from the cup to my mouth and back again. And in the interest of not holding anything back, showering isn't even in the realm of possibility on days like this. HOWEVER, even on a day when all I can do is lie here in bed with sunglasses on, earplugs in, blackout curtains closed, electronics of all kinds put away, and any combination of essential oils applied to various places on my body and diffusing throughout our house, that's what doing my best on that day looks like, it's what being my best on that day looks like, and there is nothing worthy of regret on days when the above scenario plays out.
I've learned now that doing my best, being my best, and having no regrets doesn't mean I have to obtain another impressive degree or be working my way up the ranks of a highly-esteemed corporation. It doesn't mean that I have to be working a full-time job while using my free time to train to run the Boston marathon. It doesn't even mean that I have to be a person whose home is meticulously kept with everything always in its place and no traces of dust or piles of stuff on the table (despite how nice that would be). It simply means that I have to do my best with whatever curve balls life throws at me on any given day. It means I have to be my best when it comes to how I approach aforementioned curve balls, which means remaining positive (yet also allowing myself to feel the negative feelings when they arise) and reminding myself that while my best today isn't the same as my best of a couple years ago, my best of a couple years ago was drastically different from my best in college, high school, or any other time in my life, that certainly doesn't mean there's reason to have regrets about my current circumstances.
After all, I firmly believe that the foremost reason God has me on this earth is to witness for Him and to help win souls for His kingdom. Honestly, I think He's given me such a great platform from which to do just that--and if someone, somewhere, gets encouragement from God through something I've written or said, why on earth would I have regrets about anything at all? The answer is obvious: I wouldn't.
Picture from 2011 (sorry about the quality): "Dessert with the Roushes" event that President John Roush and his wonderful wife, Susie, host at their home for Centre seniors every year. Of course I wanted to get the memory on camera, and they were more than happy to pose for a picture with me. The small college experience is truly a special one, folks.