Language of Friendship

One woman’s definition of the perfect gift for her husband prompted me to think about non-verbal communication, especially among friends. As I write about the special things friends are to me, I’m realizing that my observations are as much a reflection of who I am as on my community.

Curious as to how Abigail’s language of friendship is defined, I took this assessment. Not really believing the results the first time, I took the assessment again the next day. The results were even more skewed away from my preconception.

I had always assumed that I am a person who is materialistic. I love receiving and giving gifts of all different kinds, I haunt the mailbox every single day, and I have tons of nicknacks all over my apartment.

But it turns out that, more than anything, I value quality time with friends, time spent being genuine and caring about the person right in front of you.

Quality time is about full undivided, attention. Being there for this person is crucial, but it’s more about setting everything aside and listening that makes this person feel loved and special. It’s not about doing activities together, going out to dinner, or even completing chores around the house. In other words, distraction and the failure to listen can be particularly hurtful even if the friend is doing favors for this person.

This really explains a lot about who I am and what I value. I treasure gifts from all my friends and will show you the special things that people have given me. I deeply appreciate all the favors and assistance that people do for me.* But it all pales in comparison to spending time getting to know me and for me to get to know you simply by listening, caring, feeling together.

Abigail

*Words of affirmation and physical touch? They really only matter to me in the context of quality time and even then are not that important.

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Isolated?

The trouble with being chronically ill is that it can be terribly isolating. Particularly with an invisible illness, it’s hard for other people to see that you’re ill and as a modern society, we still associate a lot with visual evidence. Plus, if you’re semi-housebound, then you become somewhat illusive. It’s easy for friends or even family to feel that you don’t want to be part of their life even though you really hate missing out on the community you so desperately want to be part of.

As much as chronic illness can be isolating, we, as sufferers, are also responsible for educating those around us. For those close friends who really care or who want to know what it’s like, it helps to be able to point them to descriptions or to invite them over to see for themselves how daily life actually goes.

Here are some videos that I relate to and found helpful:

On Setbacks

On a phone call with a doctor friend yesterday, he said the dreaded words, “It seems like you’re getting worse, and your body is alerting you to the fact that it needs to rest and recover.” In a sense, it was a relief to get permission to rest; it gave me hope that things will actually get better.

But the timing? BAD. And there’s no option to reschedule this for later. Like it or not, physical health takes first priority. If I can’t get out of bed, it doesn’t matter if I have studied for the midterm; I still can’t take it.

Unfortunately, I’ll swamped with reading right now, and I have a midterm tomorrow. I’m planning on passing the midterm (as opposed to acing it), but I still haven’t really cracked open the exam material. Usually, I’d be really anxious by now, but I’ve decided that it’s low on my priority list. What matters for the bigger picture is that I get stronger and not weaker. So I’m going back to bed to rest more.

Until later,
Abigail Cashelle

Blessed by the People in My Life

Some days, I’m reminded how blessed I am by certain people in my life. I’m tempted to post on facebook: “Blessed by someone special today” but I have a feeling that everyone is going to misinterpret that and start asking, Who’s your special friend? When are you getting married? You would think it was the regency era!


This week has been long already. I got called out twice in church yesterday. I have lots of work due tomorrow. My pain is really high and my lack of stamina is really getting in the way of studying.

In the middle of all of this, I had my follow-up appointments with my GI physician, Dr. Leo. Ever feel that you feel so awful that you don’t even want to go to the doctor? That is how I felt this morning. It took forever to find a parking space and then another eternity in the waiting room. The nurse who took my vitals was extremely scattered, and they didn’t have a room for Dr. Leo, so even though I was his first patient, they had to send me back into the waiting room. There’s nothing that I hate more than feeling like the clinic is in chaos. Now, I really wish I was home in bed with a pillow over my head.

Fortunately, they found a room & called me fairly quickly. I know I wasn’t in the room very long because I didn’t have almost any time to stare at the walls or finish my reading. Dr. Leo knocked and then he came in. First thing he said, “Nice to see you.”

He sat down, apologized for not returning my call last week, and then just started talking about my case with me. He was very calm and patient and listened to whatever I had to say. He received a page when he was talking to me, so I politely stopped talking so he could read it; he immediately apologized and asked me to resume my story. I showed him the seven step plan a fellow had written for me at a specialty appointment & explained to Dr. Leo why I hadn’t followed through with anything. He nodded and looked at it and said, “Well, some of the things, particularly the medications, are things that were running through my head.” He explained his reasoning and said, “I’ll have to talk to Dr. Samuel about these new developments and devise a plan to move forward.” We chatted some more about medications and side effects and how things were going in the broader context. Then he asked, “Anything else you want to talk about?”

I really wanted to ask him if he could intervene in my school situation. My program has been giving me a very hard time and asking me to leave because of my physical condition, and it’s been particularly frustrating to deal with all the time. But, in the moment, I could sense Dr. Leo’s compassion and patience. He wanted for me to collect my thoughts, explain my situation, and ask for his help.

I realized that what makes me really comfortable and at peace talking with Dr. Leo is that he’s not in a hurry and he commands respect with his knowledge and humility. All the chaos in the office, even the people frantically talking and walking outside the exam room door — he didn’t let it bother him or distract him. He is careful not to criticize other doctors and their opinions even when he has a different opinion or when I’m clearly frustrated. (One thing that drives chronic patients crazy is when doctors either blame their patients or criticize patients for following other doctors’ advice.) He takes the time to listen to me, even if it means waiting for me to put my thoughts together or returning my phone calls multiple times. He doesn’t constantly talk about his other patients and all the work he’s done; his thoughtfulness and questions he asks testify to his expertise.

I feel relaxed and cared for with Dr. Leo. I know that he’s devoting all his intellect and expertise to my case because I really matter to him and my voice and my feelings matter as well. The blessing that is to a young woman who feels like she’s losing control of the world around her is unmeasurable. As I reflect and thank God for bringing this doctor into my life, I’m grateful for the ways in which God has chosen to bless me and to care for me.

Ever grateful,
Abigail Cashelle

Hope of Glory…

For my spring break, I decided to take a special trip to visit my cousins. My two female cousins both live in the same city (only for another 4 months!), so it seemed like the ideal time to see them all.

Little did I realize that right after I purchased my airline tickets, multiple doctors would discourage me from traveling at all. And, they weren’t kidding. Increasing lack of stamina meant I was engaged in too many activities. All of a sudden, a small spring break trip meant (possibly) my only trip out of town for the entire semester.

It was a lot of pressure for a little five day trip. I spent the majority of the time sleeping. Even though my body is screaming in protest, I am really grateful that I went. The trip gave me the opportunity to connect with extended family, and I was blessed by a very specific conversation.


It started out innocently. My cousin-in-law Walt worked from home & my plan was to study at his house while his wife Elaine was at work — minimal expenditure of energy. Naturally, Walt and I ate lunch together and talked about whatever happened to be on our minds. One way or another we started talking about the past ten years: the struggles going on in my heart and the battles within and without.

Perhaps I’ve focused too much on grief, on acknowledging loss. Perhaps I’m drawn too much to the past. Walt helped me see a whole other angle.

New things in the future were easy to see in my cousins’ lives. Walt & Elaine are expecting their first child and also moving across the country at about the same time. My other cousin Nora is about to close on a condo. She’s started a new position at her company, and Walt is looking for a new job on a different career path. There is a lot of uncertainty and even trepidation when we talked about all these different things, but mostly, we were celebrating. New life! New space! New directions! New possibilities!

By looking forward into the future, Walt assured me that it’s possible to consider healing and restoration. Even musing upon this idea was so helpful.

Walt shared with me about the gospel and its promise of salvation from a host of things. Sometimes, the Lord heals in a straightforward manner. But that’s not always possible and it’s not always His way. Walt mentioned knowing people, not from dysfunctional families, but who literally never had a family. In this scenario, it might be impossible for a nuclear family to be created, but God can still come in and heal the brokenness.

I didn’t really understand a lot of what Walt said. But, one thing stood out to me. I have hope in Christ. That hope has always been there. But my definition of God’s healing and restoration has been too narrow. He’s not limited to rectifying the past.

As Walt prayed for me in closing, I realized that I might not understand what’s happening. I might not be able to find words to articulate my experience. But one thing is certain. God knows what He’s doing. His promise is enduring and encompasses so many things, even things I’d assumed were out of reach.

It was just a simple lunch-time conversation. But it was also deep heart-to-heart fellowship. It was about being genuine about who I was and about what he knew. It was about thanking God for His work in my life and in my heart, praising Him for His blessings and arrangements, and petitioning Him for further healing, physically and emotionally.

Encouraged…

words: soft but so assuring

Jesus! Jesus! Name most precious,
Balm in pain and mighty sword;
In Thy Name, we live and conquer,
Blessed, glorious, coming Lord.

and again

Thy sweet anointing with Thy might
In weakness does sustain;
By Thy supply of energy
My strength Thou dost maintain.

Residing in peace and in thankfulness,
Abigail Cashelle

Just a glimpse…

I’ve started sending postcards to myself to test whether or not the post office is actually delivering mail!! Here’s my synopsis of this past week:

Just a note from — where I’ve been visiting my cousins! It’s been a wonderful five days: lots of resting, exploring, listening, and learning. Everyone is growing up and it’s exciting to see what our grown-up selves are like! Spring break has had its prayerful moments but mostly it’s been about rejoicing for new life, growth, and the work that God’s been doing in our lives.

with love, Abigail

Pain from Stress

I’m currently on spring break from classes & teaching. One of my doctors, Dr. Harold, mentioned at my visit today that I seem a lot more relaxed and healthy right now. Things are so much less stressful now that I don’t have a million deadlines to meet and lots of crazy people to interact with. It’s true, but this observation begs the question:

How should I respond? Should I avoid stress like the plague? What if stress is adding to my pain and fatigue? Is that sufficient justification?

I’ve done my fair share of running in the past. I’ve run from all sorts of things: mean people, places associated with bad memories, suffering, hard classes, etc. Even though I earned my high school diploma in piano, I avoided many things related to music, including playing, attending recitals, and even interacting with musical friends because of the sorrow associated with losing the physical ability to play.

However, there’s a big difference between a mean professor and stress: the mean professor is finite; stress isn’t. It is feasible to avoid the mean professor. You simply don’t take his class. If he’s really mean, avoid walking past his office, avoid getting coffee at whatever shop he frequents, make sure he has no reason to recognize you for anything, etc. You can do whatever it takes to make sure that he’s not a significant part of your life.

Something like stress? It simply can’t be avoided. It’s part of real life. That means that as real people living real lives, we have to confront it. For me, the first step is recognizing that it is difficult and is something that I would like to avoid. Of course, that also means that I don’t go around seeking stressors. Secondly, I want to develop skills to confront stress, to break the stress-pain cycle. Breaking the cycle isn’t about avoiding the stress. It’s about cultivating the hidden courage to remain strong and to still be left standing when the storm comes. After all, the wise man didn’t figure out a way to avoid the storm; he just built his house upon the rock.

Moved by a prayer

From the Book of Common Prayer, page 218:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Solemn Validation

When it comes to a time of crisis, we discover who our true friends are. Some people shrink back or suddenly discover that they’re occupied with other things. Then there are the people who are there for you no matter what, who care about you and what you need, who are willing just to sit there and listen to whatever is on your heart (or just silently absorb all that’s happening.)

When you have a chronic illness (or other sort of long-term trial), you do discover who your friends are. They are people you trust, people who will drop everything to be there for you, people who don’t ask for anything in return, people with the capacity to care and to listen. But I’ve discovered that the same dichotomy plays out with strangers, casual acquaintances, and coworkers.

Earlier this week, one of my classmates asked me for my opinion about my particular graduate program. Taylor is currently in a master’s program in a related field and is considering applying to a doctoral program like the one I’m part of. I told him that honestly I’d been having a hard time, but that is likely due to the fact that I have a chronic illness, more serious than I realized, and the program seems reluctant to accommodate. His reaction surprised me. It was so different from recent conversations I’d had with so many other people, and it was truly telling of his character & person.

I tend to make jokes about my situation because the situation seems too heavy for most strangers to handle. As I told Taylor about my program and my experience, I casually remarked, “Well, don’t forget to keep in mind that I have a chronic illness, which governs my whole experience. Hopefully, that’s not true for you.”

Taylor gave a slight smile but mostly his expression was grave. He didn’t say anything; he just stood there, looking at me and listening. That moment of silence spoke worlds of meaning to me. It was as if he said, “Abigail, just because your circumstances are different, that doesn’t make your experience any less valid. Your journey through the program, your observations, and your evaluations are just as legitimate as that of anyone else.” I realized that, for the first time, someone didn’t discount my experience. I was just as ordinary as the next person.

That moment of silence also was a moment of grieving for both of us. It stands as a moment where we both recognized the gravity and unfairness of the situation and grieved for the loss of what could (or should) have been. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. That moment of acknowledgement was everything.

Taylor was just an acquaintance. He wasn’t in a position to become my friend or to be part of my medical care. But he took a moment in that conversation to validate my experience and to grieve that I felt so different and isolated. For that, I am grateful.

Abigail Cashelle