Blogging for Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge

book_hunterDear readers,

I’m very excited to be blogging for the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge sponsored by Wego Health. I’ll be writing about different ways of considering chronic illness, mainly from personal experience. The only limitation is that I won’t be participating on the Lord’s Day. Instead, I’d like to continue my tradition of posting spiritual stirrings posts.

According to their survey, I am a “Librarian” type of Health Activist. I live for the hunt and welcome the challenge of finding more pertinent information and resources. Yup, yup, that sounds like me & my approach to life!!

with love,
Abigail Cashelle

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Comforted

Part of the reason I haven’t posted recently is because I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. And, it’s been getting worse rather than better. Today seemed like the last straw. But, one way or another, I was found the peace I was seeking.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions and the God of all comfort;
Who comforts us in all our affliction that we may be able to comfort those who are in every affliction through the comforting with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
II Corinthians 1:3-4

It all started with a phone call from Alana. She asked me to explain what was wrong, so I started explaining all the things that I was feeling and how nothing in my life seemed to make sense. After I (finally!) stopped talking, she responded in a way that no one has ever responded before. She said, “Abigail, I don’t know the answer. I don’t understand. But let’s take a moment to pause and pray.”

I have no problem with prayer. In fact, I love prayer. But a lot of the prayers people have prayed over me have been, “God, please heal Abigail. Please help her be at peace with where she’s at.” Anna didn’t pray like that at all. She said things like, “Dear Jesus, I know that Abigail is going through something really hard. Please cause her to know, not just in her head but in a deep way, that You’re there with her.” “Wrap Your arms around her. Bring her people where she is who can physically wrap their arms around her.”

Her prayer stopped me. I can tell God that this is hard? He not only cares that I’m suffering, but it’s okay to admit that I am? Now I wasn’t just a person with problems, but God specifically cared about me and about what I was passing through. And while I know that this will turn out to salvation, I also can be assured that He’s there every step of the way, even the hard steps, the impossible ones, the ones that seem so unfair.

Fast forward a few hours, I was meeting Timothy for coffee. Timothy’s wife Grace and I had gone to school together. She was out of town, but she told me to call her husband who is currently finishing divinity school. I told Timothy that I was having a hard time, being sick, and just generally frustrated; he offered to meet me for coffee. It was a bit awkward because I’ve been hesitant about meeting guys for “deep” conversations, and while Timothy is married, we’re also the same age. Despite moments of awkwardness and my nervousness, I’m really glad I got to spend some time with him. He was definitely an answer to Alana’s prayer for someone who lived where I live.

After talking about things in my life interspersed with lighter topics, I asked Timothy if we could close in prayer, meaning, of course, that I was asking him to pray. Like Alana, his prayer was really new to me, really fresh, and really comforting.

Timothy started off by thanking God for the beautiful weather and the wonder of springtime. (Where is he going with this?) Then, he asked that God would work the same work of renewal in our lives as He is executing in the physical world around us. (Oh! A beautiful picture. Wow, all creation reflects the majesty and power of our God!)Like Alana, he told God that he sees the frustration and the trials of my life. He asked not only that God will heal me, but that God would be my comfort and my rest, that God would strengthen me to continue along the path I believe He’s ordained for me. He also thanked God for the people in my life who have been supportive and prayed that they would continue to be there for me and also that those who have been less understanding would come around.

Afterward, he said that he would continue to be praying & asked if he could add my name to the church prayer list for the twice daily prayers for healing.

I left the time feeling completely different. Nothing’s really changed. I’m still in a lot of pain and really exhausted. But I’ve realized that the God who is my Father is not only so big that He orders the seasons, but also so precise that He cares for me even during personal hardships. He’s big enough to free the schedules of the right friends to meet me, and He’s perfect to give them words of comfort and shepherding even as they appeal to Him. And I’m not alone. God is here with me, and my friends are remembering me in their private devotions and public sacred moments.

Reflecting on all this, the verse above came to me. The God of all comfort sometimes comforts us Himself. But oftentimes, He comforts us through others, those who have experienced His comforting before. And I’m reminded again that beauty of God and His amazing way of working and reaching me in particular.

Comforted,
Abigail Cashelle

The Power of a Few Words

I struggle with guilt a lot. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a guilt-based household. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been labeled the “teacher’s pet” and needed to fulfill those expectations. Maybe it’s because my personality is naturally legalistic.

Suffering from a chronic illness has intensified this problem. When things get worse, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking what did I do that caused this?

The words of Dr. Harold this morning stopped me in my tracks and gave me permission to be at peace. He said, “I know we hoped that your spring break trip would be the catalyst for a lot of healing, for getting much better. And you have gotten a lot worse since then. However, you were able to rest and to come home at peace with a lot of things. That counts for a lot. I’m really glad you went. You really needed that.”

And, in a lot of ways, I really needed to hear that. I knew that that spring break trip had a lot of costs. But things might be a lot worse long-term without the benefits of that trip.

Reassured,
Abigail

From a Friend

Earlier this week, I put together a small care package for a friend. She had taken medical leave from school, and I know firsthand how difficult that can be.

Knowing my friend’s weakness for Christian fiction, I packed up two fun novels. Instead of sending real flowers (that would wilt on the way), I crocheted a flower pin for her. And, I included a really silly card written with rainbow crayons.

She sent me a text yesterday when she received it. Her text made my day. I’m so happy to be able to share joy with my friends even in the midst of my own hardships.

Abigail, you’re amazing.
I keep trying to think of something to say but I just have no words. Thank you so much. I love you too. 🙂

Made Someone’s Day Yesterday

I made someone’s day yesterday. I didn’t even mean to, which made it all the more precious.

One family at my church has an open invitation to dinner every Thursday night, and I try to go as often as possible because I really love spending time with them. With chaos of doctors’ appointments and phone calls, the studying in the middle of the night because I can’t sleep anyways, and the “plague“, I assumed that I wouldn’t feel up to going. I even told the wife that I wasn’t coming. But late in the afternoon, I was feeling not as awful, so I texted my roommate to see if she wanted to go. She’s usually terribly busy on Thursday nights, so I figured that that would be a sufficient excuse not to go. However, it turned out to be the one Thursday night in the semester when she wasn’t busy, so we went.

At first, it seemed like a regular dinner of seven church friends. We started talking about the things that we were interested in. I was having a really good time. Then, one of the older men mentioned why he happened to be in town: he was having eye surgery the next day to correct macular degeneration. He had been really nervous about the whole procedure, but having dinner and sharing the joy with us was like being with family for him. He’s retired and unmarried, and his parents and his only brother have passed away. So he doesn’t have any biological family; he’s really by himself. But the time around the dinner table, laughing and exchanging stories, really made all the difference.

We spent time singing hymns and praying together, and it was such an amazing experience. Sharing the love of God and the hope in Christ was remarkable. And a quick dinner turned into a three hour time of fellowship and mutual encouragement. To see the joy and the peace in his expression made everything worth it.

My goal is to live almost every day so that I mattered to someone. This was definitely one of those days. Just by being myself, I mattered to someone in a big way.

Abigail Cashelle

Not the Plague, Just a Chronic Illness

Symptoms have been really bad recently, and I am now getting reacquainted with my bedroom and the ceiling. I’ve had to take the past few days off school, so I started telling my friends that I had the plague. It sounds pretty awful, and that’s what it feels like.

The primary care physician, Dr. Mark, I saw today probably summed it up best: You’re only in your early twenties and you’ve been diagnosed with everyone’s worst nightmare: a general category of disease for which we know very little about and for which we don’t really have treatment. That sounds horrible, especially because you’re so young.

It’s definitely not helpful to live life in self-pity and to walk around thinking, Woe is me! That attitude definitely makes life all the more miserable. At the same time, Dr. Mark is right in a lot of ways. While pushing through and being tough might be the best plans of action, there comes a point when it’s realistic and even necessary to acknowledge the difficulty, the unfairness, and the gravity of a chronic illness, particularly a misunderstood one. In that context, I don’t feel as guilty when the only thing I do in a day is read 10 pages of reading. Actually, it’s really quite an accomplishment.

On Furry Friends

Lying in bed in terrible pain in the middle of the night makes for some interesting time to think. Yesterday, I ran out of interesting things to think about. There was still more time to stare at the ceiling, so I started thinking about animals, especially animals that I like.

I’m very fond of Eeyore. In fact, I’m planning on redecorating my room as a vintage library in sophisticated Eeyore style. (I think that means vintage stuff in Eeyore’s colors, but we shall see.) For my college graduation, my dad gave me a small plush Eeyore. He had seen it in the grocery store check-out line months before, and it reminded him of me. I thought that it was very special, but some other family members felt that it was simply too small and not cute enough. So they went to the Disney Store and purchased a regular-sized stuffed Eeyore for my birthday (which happened to be three days later).

Particularly in times of great pain or depression, Eeyore’s always been there for me. He’s been there when no one else has been: those lonely days when I’m stuck in bed and those scary moments when everything seems fleeting. In return, I’ve taken him all over the country to towns big and small. He’s traveled by bus, by train, by car, by air, and more! He’s even been to the sleep clinic with me although I haven’t taken him with me to any doctor’s or counseling appointments (yet).

The one thing I really like about Eeyore is that he has really long ears. I always told my sisters that his long ears mean that he can listen to me; he really knows my heart. My sisters (both younger) like to make fun of my stuffed animal since I’m the only one who still has one, so, in typical Abigail fashion, I turned it all into a parody:

Eeyore loves me, this I know.
For he often tells me so.
Little ones to him belong.
They are weak but he is strong.

Thinking about it as I was lying in bed, it reminded me of my need for quality time with the people I know. The way I characterize my friendship with this stuffed animals is articulated in the same vocabulary: he’s patient, he spends time with me, and he knows me.

With that framework in mind, it’s not surprising that my favorite kind of dog is the bassett hound, also known for long ears. I had forgotten about this bunny on my Amazon wishlist, but he also has long ears. And, it’s probably not surprising that I don’t really like pets or live animals of any kind. I’ve gotten to the point where I can feel a sense of accomplishment if I can walk within five feet of a dog on a leash! Somehow live animals are really less interested in me as a person.

I’ll leave you with a beautiful story of a young pediatrician who takes the time to meet a little boy on his level, and in so doing, performs a physical exam on a teddy bear.

with love,
Abigail Cashelle

Frustrated

As a historian, I spend a lot of time with political cartoons, particularly when discussing time periods before widespread use of photography in newspapers and other printed materials. I’ve always been a big fan of Jeff MacNelly‘s Pulitzer-prize winning cartoon, illustrating the complicated process of filing federal income taxes.

Why does the federal income tax form have to be so complicated? Why do they need to know seemingly unnecessary details? Why are there choices that seem identical?

Fortunately, for many of us, we can use software to compute our taxes. And, all else failing, we can always read the tax manual that the IRS so kindly provides.


But in a conversation with Dr. Leo today, I realized that health and well-being can be just as frustrating, if not more. Human beings are so incredibly complicated. In addition to all the processes going on within my physical body, I also have to take into account my emotional well-being and the impact falling behind in school can have on how exhausted I am. Every decision with regard to medication, activity, and perspective seems to require composing pro and con lists that make deciding on a college seem miniscule. There’s no manual for these decisions. Even if I was willing to spend hours poring through a table of contents, there simply isn’t a manual.

In this context, I feel like Jeff MacNelly filling out his income tax form. Really? You expect me to spend time figuring this out? Can I just pay $500 and call it done?

In the journey of life, I’m coming to terms with the fact that life is complicated, and it can be very hard sometimes. But there isn’t always an easy way out, and it’s not always in our best interest to run really quickly in the opposite direction. I’m very grateful for people in my life like Dr. Leo who take the time to walk with me down this journey. At the same time, sometimes, I just sigh.

with a genuine heart,
Abigail Cashelle