I’ve been writing the first part this post in my head for the last year, but until now I haven’t been ready to open up this part of my life. And honestly, the first part on it’s own would be a one sided story. It’s the second part that brings meaning and clarity for me– so don’t leave before you get the full picture.
After a couple of months of not feeling well, seeing a few different physicians, and having a barrage of tests thrown at me, the week of my birthday in January 2015 I was diagnosed with Severe Ulcerative Colitis. Since my initial diagnosis my staging has been refined to Severe, Chronic, Left-Sided Ulcerative Colitis (UC). In short, UC is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores in your gut that manifests itself with a host of systems. There is no cure -just symptom management with the goal of extended remission of the disease.
Unfortunately, even with the best of physicians and going through nearly all the therapy options available, I have not been able to obtain remission. Which means I have been actively sick for nearly two years. I say this not for sympathy, but to set the stage. The thing about most IBDs is that from the outside you more times than not look OK despite the severity of your disease. And because you seem fine many people think you are just fine -when the reality is you are not.
In fact, severe UC significantly impacts the way you live your life, whether the casual onlooker recognizes it or not. You are extremely limited on the type of things you can engage in and with anything you do decide to take on you have to make very calculated accommodations. Even things like sitting through a service at church require the orchestration of medication doses and meal times. And when you have weighed the options and decided against something you tend to not want to explain when someone questions why you are not involved. I often times find myself averting those confrontations by playing the disinterested card rather than being up front about it because the fear people – even those with whom I’m closest, are tired of hearing me “complain”. By doing this you come off disconnected and distant, not because you are but you are focusing so much on not being a burden. But the reality is, we want to be a part. We want to play with you. We want to come along for the ride, to hang out, to see that movie, to practice our shot, and a host of other things. When it comes down to it, we just want to be with the people we love, but the nature of our disease goes far beyond the physical, it ostracizes us socially, and strains even our closest relationships.
It is in this daily struggle that it can be easy to let your guard down and start to focus on yourself rather than the bigger picture, and that’s exactly where I’ve found myself stuck these last few weeks. This is why I’ve decided to write today. While living with UC is a significant part of my life, it would be devastating if at the end I looked back and it was the only part I focused on.
So with any major life defining moment, whether acute or chronic, you have to decide how you will stand up in its wake.
Ryan and I have told our college guys often over the years, if you put yourself in a position to fail, more often than not – you will; and the flip side, if you put yourself in a position to succeed, more often than not – you will. The key to that proper positioning is knowing ahead of time, before the life defining moment, how you will respond. Knowing this requires you to know who you are and what you believe to be true.
In January of 2015 I was firmly planted in who I was and what I believed to be true. I believed I was a child of God and that He works out all things for the good of his glory – whether that meant answers for me or not. And I found great comfort in that, and was able to stand firmly in the wake of living with UC. I was in tune with the fact that my body was temporal and at the end of the day even the best I could conjure to experience in this transient life would only pale in comparison to the promise of the union that awaited me beyond this terrestrial state. And while I have had my moments over the last couple of years where my grasp on this reality was looser than it should be, I’ve have experienced GREAT PEACE in allowing God to shoulder the weight of this new normal on my behalf.
But guys; these last few months, specifically the last couple of weeks, have been rough! Anxiety, depression, fear, and insecurity – you name it and it has manifested itself in my life. There have been days that I have utterly failed and lost sight of that peace. I’ve learned though, in moments like these, I have to dig in even deeper and hold on even tighter to those truths I just mentioned. They do not change.
Lately I’ve had to tell myself often, the truth that pulled me through the beginning of this diagnosis is the same truth that will sustain me through the chronic reality of it.
One of the things that comes out of dealing with something like UC is that it puts the mortality of this earthly life and its entanglement in sin front and center every single day. And ironically, having a grasp on that makes depending on God a much easier pursuit.
I take great comfort in Paul’s writing when he reminds the Corinthians that this perishable and mortal body we have must put on the imperishable and immortal. When that happens, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
The victory he mentions is not victory over illness, it is victory over mortality that sin has caused. And that anxiety, depression, fear, and insecurity I mentioned – that is sin, sin that will kill me if not kept in check. But through the grace of God and the daily positioning of Christ as head of my life, I can keep it in check and have VICTORY. And that victory paves the way for living a life that is FULL in Him, regardless of my circumstances.
My prayer is that whatever situations I find myself in over the course of this life, when the moments come and I try to shoulder the burdens on my own those moments would be short lived, and few and far between.
Would you pray for me during this journey with UC? Not just for physical relief but that I would be steadfast and immovable always abounding in the work of the Lord.