Another Side of Growth {Through Chronic Illness}

This week, I’ve happened across two posts from some very sweet bloggers, Kaylie and Kelly. Although the content of their posts were not meant to be connected, they came together as one very tender thought deep in my heart. Kaylie shared a powerful yet graceful call to people in their twenties to live intentionally. Kelly shared a tender confession via vlog of how painful it is to be chronically ill and unable to live out ambitions, laced with beautiful hope that our worth is so much more than our productivity. In their contrast, one ached over the burden of able-bodied young men and women who live immaturely and wastefully, and one ached over the burden of physically incapable young men and women who are spiritually and emotionally mature as well as very driven, but physically limited. Their words stirred up the question so familiar to anyone young with a severe chronic illness, “Why is it that we cannot do what we’d love to do, yet others waste the energy we would so dearly treasure?” There’s so many sayings out there that tell me others have faced similar questions. “Life is not fair”, an expression that can be both cold or caring depending on the tone. “Life is not a wish-granting factory”, Augustus Waters painfully says in The Fault in our Stars. And we know these things to be true, but they do not satisfy the aching question deep within. As I pondered the question, opening my heart to Christ’s companionship through the aching, a simplicity washed over my heart reminding me of what it truly means to grow, mature, and live independently — something truly nourishing to reflect on.

The truth is, we have so many opportunities to grow into adulthood, even with the physical limitations and tremendous pain. Some of the most important parts of being an adult are the things that come within. It’s the drive that matters, at the end of the day. Anyone of reasonable age can accomplish physical tasks. It’s something that can be done almost automatically. But truly growing into an adult, embracing the person you are, and living intentionally — that’s something that takes work. And the good news is, it’s work that we can do!

Quite a few things spilled into my mind last night. The more I thought about it, the more that kept flooding in!

The first thing that came to mind is that

One of the most important marks of maturity is how we handle our relationships.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:32

Whether terribly ill or remarkably well, we will always have personal relationships. We will always interact with other people. We will love and be loved. How we handle our relationships, when I really stop to think about it, says a lot about who we are, what we believe, and how mature we are. We have the option to spiritually and emotionally mature in our relationships as we enter into adulthood, but it is a choice, after all. It’s not something that happens as naturally as physical growth. One way that we can grow and mature, even when severely ill, is by growing in our understanding of love and of healthy relationships. Loving others with compassion, extending grace to them like we ourselves have had extended upon us, forgiving them when we are wronged, choosing to highlight their strengths rather than their weaknesses, not speaking ill about them, not spreading gossip, being honest with them, seeing things from their perspective, caring about their passions and interests, thinking of their needs, truly listening to them. Not only that, but also learning (and applying) boundaries. Yikes, I think that one makes us all want to shudder. Boundaries are so tricky! But part of growing is setting boundaries, being honest about our heartaches and physical limitations, and taking the bold step of getting out of toxic relationships with kindness, gentleness, and honesty.

And the list continued into…

Understanding that health is something tended, not granted.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ~Romans 12:1-2

Caring for the body is something that we have been forced to do, but that is truly a blessing in disguise. Over the years, I have learned so much about the body and how to truly and holistically care for it, and that has been such a treasure. While I cannot cure myself, I can care for myself, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is listening to the body, and with that, the difference between masking problems and tending them. Learning about nutrition, physiology, pathology, eastern and western medicine, and exercise are such powerful lessons. Taking care of ourselves and listening to our bodies is such an important part of living maturely! If we cannot care for ourselves and only mask our pains, how can we care for others without masking their pains? And I’ve found that when we’re living health-fully, we sometimes get the very special blessing of inspiring others to do the same 🙂

Learning is not always measured in degrees and experience is not always gained in the workplace

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. ~Acts 4:13

This year, I had the sweetest surprise of getting to work with my college to receive credits for topics I had studied independently. It was such a blessing; a door opened that I never knew existed! But if our learning is never converted into “credit”, knowledge and wisdom are not only measured by colleges and employers. Christ draws near in every moment, taking what’s broken and making it meaningful. In her book, Life Interrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties, Laurie Edwards shares that she has sometimes been mistaken as a medical professional because of her extensive medical knowledge. She says that,

I realized after my conversation with my nurse Tracy that … I was an expert, whether or not I even wanted this distinction. I haven’t gone to medical school and I’ve never received training as a nurse, but I have something even more valuable: a lifetime of experience.

The things that we have learned both medically and personally add up to a hefty load. Medical information becomes so normal to us that we forget that it is not actually common knowledge. We also learn very valuable lessons on compassion, empathy, sensitivity, and grace that sometimes become so close to our hearts that we forget they are rare treasures. We can apply these lessons, even if not employed for them. We can extend this knowledge, even if not professionally. I’d like to encourage you that even if you cannot study full time at a college, it does not mean you are not learning full time. You certainly, certainly are!

{That cancer you didn’t want to fight may carve out a well of compassion within you that refreshes others. ~Holley Gerth, You’re Going to be Okay)

We can decide what we fill our minds and our lives with

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~Philippians 4:8

Another big part of growing up is being intentional about what we fill our minds and lives with. There are a lot of things that we can do as adults that don’t mean we should do them. Independence can be a freedom to do anything, or do what is good. Maybe we do not have the wellness to even want to go out and do what many twenty-somethings do, but we have plenty of choices of entertainment that we can choose to be classy about. Choice in friends, choice in language, choice in movies and music and books, choice in what kind of websites we visit to pass our time, etc. This is a choice to make, sick or well, as you grow older. What will you fill your mind with? Because what we surround ourselves truly does influence us. Part of growing is cleansing that.

People need other people

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. ~1 Corinthians 12:26

Community is so beautiful. But we live in a very independent day and age. Community and family systems are not always treasured and valued. Perhaps being sick is one of the times that remind us most how much people truly do need other people. It’s not shameful to have needs. Of course, we shouldn’t take advantage of one another! We shouldn’t take what we do not need and consider it something granted. But it’s okay to be in true need. It’s okay to need help from family members and friends and caregivers. There’s such a big difference between needing support and bumming. Just because you are sick does not mean you are lazy or not up to par. It means, simply, that you have a very severe and life altering illness. I think our caretakers appreciate our gratitude and love more than our guilt and striving.

Of course, that goes with the greatest point of all that,

God is our strength

Perhaps when we are weakest is when we see this as truest of all.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. — 2 Corinthians 12: 9

 

I hope you find these ideas helpful to reflect on. I’d love to hear your thoughts and additions to the list below!

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4 thoughts on “Another Side of Growth {Through Chronic Illness}

  1. Hello dear,
    What a lovely, meaningful post. 🙂 You inspire me with such grace! And, I love
    the spoonie gift post too…so much fun to keep looking through! Happy Thanksgiving,
    (I am thankful for you!! 🙂 love, W

  2. lovely post, truly reminds me that 20somethings can be wise and compassionate beyond their years. You definitely are, Rachel, and that is no small accomplishment. Keep learning, keep writing, keep inspiring the rest of us (because we all have dragons to slay and sometimes a well-chosen word on a rough day can make a big difference …)

    • Alexandra, your kind words have touched my heart so deeply. It is so humbling to know that you see me and my posts so lovingly. Thank you for taking the time to not only read them, but also to respond so graciously! I can tell that you, too, have such deep compassion

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