Grateful for Adversity
I once sprained both of my ankles. On the same weekend. The right ankle went on a Friday evening; my right leg had behaved mischievously for several weeks, refusing to play along at my attempts to walk normally, collapsing underneath me several times a day with no warning. The left ankle joined the fun mid-morning on Saturday. Trying to walk on a bum ankle attached to a misbehaving leg resulted in a fall and left side sprain.
Fast forward a few years. I woke up one day with a funny feeling on the left side of my face. I could see a bit of a “fish hook” look in the mirror, as if the left side of my mouth was being pulled upward. I wasn’t in pain, but I was certainly disconcerted.
At my doctor’s office - a busy practice which had begun to rely more and more on physician’s assistants attending patient visits, I met with Emily, a P.A. new to the practice. She took one look at my face and ran from the room, returning moments later with my primary care doctor. Both practitioners kept their distance as my doctor informed me I was possibly having a stroke, needed an MRI as soon as possible, and their office would be unable to assist me further.
It was a moment straight out of The Twilight Zone,
and not something I would soon forget.
I was 27 years old and rather than a jolt of fear, I felt as though I’d been given a heady dose of laughing gas. I called my husband in a state of perplexity, giggling nervously as I shared what had transpired in the doctor’s office. As the medical professionals I’d trusted to care for me turned me away, they warned me not to drive; operating a motor vehicle was ‘inadvisable and potentially dangerous’ given the precarious state of my condition. So I called my employer and waited in the parking lot for my husband to leave his own busy workday to pick me up, shaking my head at the thought I could be completely free from pain and a ticking medical time bomb at once.
An initial MRI and neurological consultation led to further testing: a spinal tap; bloodwork; extensive questions about the state of my cognitive and physical function. I recalled those pesky sprained ankles - a total of three over the course of a year. And my non-working leg - dragging myself across my college campus in embarrassment with a heavy load of textbooks in my arms, hoping no one would notice my hobbling. Double vision for several months; the symptom disappeared within an hour or two of waking and I applied makeup with one eye closed to make sense of the picture I saw. I hadn’t taken a hot shower in some time; but the resultant twitching and swelling in my left eye never hurt, and the issue didn’t seem worthy of a doctor’s visit.
Within the confines of an MRI machine for the second time in several months, a message in the form of song came through the headphones I’d been given: East to West by Casting Crowns. “Jesus won’t you tell me just how far the east is from the west? One scarred hand to the other.” A song about sin and forgiveness, but for me the words were a poignant reminder:
There was nowhere I could go - even inside a clanging,
claustrophobic MRI machine - that Jesus wasn’t right there with me.
On November 13, 2007 the answer to years of health-related riddles was pronounced by a Denver-based neurologist: Multiple Sclerosis. A chronic, progressive affliction with a foothold in my future.
A year later I met for coffee with a friend and colleague, my 6 week old daughter, our first child, asleep in a carrier at my feet. We’d been hoping for a baby for two years when I was diagnosed. Despite the neurologist’s advice to begin treatment immediately, we chose not to let MS derail our dream of having a family.
“You seem to be dealing with all of this so well,” my friend observed. “How are you doing?” My breath caught at this question no one had been bold enough to ask, and I took a moment to answer the question for myself before I replied.
“If I choose to mourn the loss of my health now, when I am still in relatively good health, where will I have to go if things get really tough? I’ve always considered myself a faithful person, and now that I know - really know - that I can’t rely on people, circumstances or even my own body…
MS is a constant reminder to turn to Jesus,
the only one on whom I can truly rely.
November 13th marked nine years since the day the bottom might have dropped out - but for faith. On that day, as on every day, I am so grateful for a God who is faithful, and whose presence never falters. I am grateful for the opportunity to choose faith again and again. Blessed with the gift of faith, I am grateful for the adversity that reminds me to turn to Jesus again and again.