Joy: The Unlikely Choice

Joy: The Unlikely Choice

I was staggering as I made my way to the car, disoriented and weak. Fumbling with my keys, I clicked unlock, opened the door and collapsed into the driver seat. I began to hyperventilate uncontrollably, each shaky breath becoming more and more erratic. Everything around me began to spin as I lost feeling in both my hands. 

My fingers began to curl into themselves, my face went limp and numb. In a frantic blitz of adrenaline, I jumped out of the car and spun around to see one of my friends standing there looking concerned. I slurred out in a long groaning voice, “I need to go to the hospital.”

There were several shouts across the parking lot calling for help, as people around me dug through my car for my travel bag containing my medical information. Focusing all my energy on staying lucid and conscious, I slung my bag over my shoulder with my arms seizing up to my elbows. They helped into the car and everything went numb. It was around 4:15 in the afternoon. May 9th, 2015.

That was the day I lost my independence.

Our lives are often marked by a few defining moments. Accomplishments, milestones and special days we will never forget.

Our lives are often marked by a few defining moments. Accomplishments, milestones and special days we will never forget. I like to describe my journey through chronic illness as before and after the seizure. It lasted close to an hour from the moment it started to the moment when the convulsing ceased. Even still I did not regain full motor skills and speech until I left the emergency room in the early hours of the morning almost 10 hours later. It took almost a week to regain strength enough to simply stand outside without feeling like passing out.

It may have been just one day, but even as I relive it to write this, I realize how much raw emotion I still carry from the events of that day. I remember being in the MRI room lying on the gurney. This machine surrounding me chirped and clanked as tears streamed down my neck thinking about my mom getting the phone call in the checkout aisle of Bath and Bodyworks. Running out the door and leaving a shopping cart full of things she was buying for herself. She never buys things for herself. And she wouldn’t that day either.

But the emotions I still carry today aren’t pinned up from an event that exists in a vacuum, they largely exist because of how that day impacted my life forever.

Just one day before I was working full time, living with a good friend of mine, physically active, riding over 100 miles a month on my distance long board, and making plans for marriage with my girlfriend. I was living my life the way I felt like I was supposed to. And even though the precursors of my sickness had been building for years, even after receiving my Lyme disease diagnosis two months prior, nothing was holding me back from the endless possibilities that life had before me…so I thought.

Just one day after the seizure I was living with my parents, making phone calls, and cancelling plans. I wasn’t allowed to drive or even be at home without supervision. I was losing hope. I was losing my mind. I was losing my life.

I did a lot of thinking that week after my seizure. As I handed over my hopes and plans one at a time to my new reality, I had to make a choice to not hand over my joy no matter what.

As I handed over my hopes and plans one at a time to my new reality, I had to make a choice to not hand over my joy no matter what.

A lot of people ask me how I am able to maintain my positive outlook on life despite my illness. I simply tell them, “If you don’t stay positive, you lose.” Losing just isn’t on my to-do list.

Back when I was “invincible” and “care-free” before my diagnosis, I was living my life with my whole future vividly before me as I marched towards my dreams. And while I miss having that outlook, I now find that outlook undesirable. In the same way that living in the past is a dangerous choice, I believe living in the future can be just as harmful. I have learned to live within the bounds of today; one day at a time.

Being broken doesn’t mean you ‘need fixing,’ it means you are in a position to grow, and that stretches out over the emotional, spiritual and mental parts of who we are.

As a Christian, I have had seasons of life that have challenged my faith and wellbeing. I, like many, thought that one day, I would hit this magical level of faith were I would be so fortified and steadfast that nothing would be able to challenge my faith. I would be rock solid like so many of the men that I look up to — men who appear to be wise and stable on the outside. But I came to realize that on the inside, we are all hurting, we are all broken. Being broken doesn’t mean you ‘need fixing,’ it means you are in a position to grow, and that stretches out over the emotional, spiritual and mental parts of who we are. The conditions of this life, our brokenness being one of them, limit us to live one day at a time.

When I live every day for itself, I am able to take on the challenges that life and Lyme throw at me. I am able to have joy even when happiness is nowhere to be found. Joy is not an emotion, a feeling, or anything subject to our circumstance. It’s a choice. 

Still, I catch myself wondering what would have been. Every day in fact. Literally.

These days, I am at a very odd threshold. I am a functioning “Lymie.” That means that I am healthy enough to carry on with normal life, but everything I do is in some way affected and limited by my illness, at times completely hindered. Everything I do is calculated, taken into consideration, and executed within limits.

By occupation, I am a youth pastor at a church. It’s a high energy, high responsibility and, at times, high stress position. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t view it as a job; I see it as what I’m meant to do. But the constant reminders that I’m living with chronic illness are everywhere. There are many late nights when my head finally hits the pillow and wonder, “How much longer can I do this?” 

Joy is not an emotion, a feeling, or anything subject to our circumstance. It’s a choice. 

My hope extends beyond the thought of being healthy again. What gives me hope is knowing that, in this tiny blip of time that I have on this earth, I, like everyone reading this, have the capacity to make a difference.  We are all loved by the Creator who made us, who cares for us and endured pain and suffering like me and for me. He knows what it’s like to be scarred. He knows what it’s like to be in pain. He knows what it feels like to be rejected and completely alone. Yet he is all powerful and on our side and He wants to enable us to do more than sit in our sorrows as our bodies wage warfare over our illness. Now, more than ever in history of mankind, we are able to make a difference in the world even if our bodies keep us confined to our beds, phones, laptops and IV infusion rooms. We can choose joy, choose to reach out to others in our chronic illness communities and share that joy!

And while Lyme could someday take my life, I can choose joy because the suffering in my body cannot possibly compare to an eternity surrounded by love, without any pain, tears, fear, or sickness. I can choose joy because, even through my suffering, I can make a difference in someone’s life. I can choose joy because this life is worth living even when we are pushed to the brink of death.

Whether you’re in sickness or in good health, whether you’re rich or poor, whether your life is better or worse than it once was…choose to live today. 

Choose joy.


 

 

Written by: Matt Johnson

Matt is one of our People Hope Tribe members living that sunny California dream. Despite his ongoing battle with Lyme Disease, Matt has made waves and touched countless lives through his work as a youth pastor and as an advocate for other Lyme patients. His happy place is on a longboard, eating sushi, playing guitar or drums, but probably not all at once. 


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Mary

Preface: Few people are more invested or effected by our sicknesses than our mothers. The best of them journey with us, advocate for us, and comfort us. Our mothers have their own stories to tell, and I was immensely grateful when my mom agreed to share hers. Although we lived the same events, we view them through entirely different lenses, and neither of us walked away from this battle unscathed. We both now carry different but permanent scars of sorts, mine obvious and physical, but hers perhaps deeper still as only a mother can understand. I couldn’t be more humbled to share her voice and honor her story in the hopes that it will resonate, validate, and ultimately bring hope and comfort to so many other moms just like her, in the same way that she’s always brought hope and comfort to me.

— Anna Kowlessar, Founder of People Hope

From the moment a child is born, they are inexplicably knit to their mother’s heart. This doesn’t change, no matter how grown they become. Their joys are her joys. Their triumphs are her rejoicing. Their struggles are her reason to be on her knees. And their pain is her anguish.  Because when a child hurts, a mother bleeds. I was about to experience this on a whole new level.

...when a child hurts, a mother bleeds.

I had all but finished raising our youngest daughter, Anna. She was attending college a thousand miles from home, enjoying her new-found independence while I was constructing my now empty-nest reality. My husband Bill and I were proud of the woman our girl had become and were anxious to see the course her life would take. 

It was a mid-June afternoon. Bill and I were canoeing on Lake Superior when my cell phone rang. It was Anna. I quickly put my paddle down to answer the call and was immediately immersed in an all-too-familiar conversation about the strange and growing number of health problems she was experiencing. The onslaught of mysterious symptoms had started suddenly just a few months before. I thought she had developed food allergies. But, despite the dramatic changes to her diet, things were not improving. In fact, they were getting much worse. She and I talked and cried together for over an hour, as Bill prayed on the other end of the canoe. I had grown perplexed and frustrated by her persistent symptoms and felt completely helpless trying to problem-solve from such a distance. I needed to be with my girl and give her hands-on care. She agreed to the recommendation to return home, at least temporarily.  Four days later she was in my arms. Sick and exhausted, but at least she was home. I was certain now I could get her the help she needed.

I watched her eyes swell with tears as my sense of hope began to fill her tired places.

I remember sitting in a Barnes & Noble coffee shop with her, now with several doctor appointments already scheduled. I grabbed her hands, looked her squarely in the face and said with fierce conviction that we would get to the bottom of this thing. I watched her eyes swell with tears as my sense of hope began to fill her tired places. I was seeing a now 21-year-old woman on the threshold of her adult life. I was sure a few calculated medical tests would provide a diagnosis and treatment plan to get her well again quickly. There had to be a simple solution. I was wrong.  

Our first few visits to specialists proved to be our baptism into the sterile corridors and stuffy waiting rooms of the medical environment Anna and I would soon know like the back of our hands. The tests began to come back “normal,” one after another. So we looked deeper. Another hospital gown. Another paper-lined table and cold stethoscope. Another account of the baffling symptoms. Still no explanations. I felt a growing warrior mentality rising within me and solidifying my determination to to find a diagnosis.

I felt a growing warrior mentality rising within me and solidifying my determination to to find a diagnosis.

I watched my daughter become an unwitting professional patient of sorts, stoically sitting in one exam room after another. Never complaining, grateful for the opportunity to search for answers. But test results would teach her not to pin her hopes on a solid diagnosis. Often, she and I left appointments in complete silence, knowing that words would only give the disappointment more fire. Together we choked back despair and I tried to swallow her pain.  With every doctor visit I watched the hope drain from her spirit. It shattered my heart and galvanized my resolve to make her well. 

I tried everything I could think of. Doctors, specialists, chiropractors, physical therapists, wholistic and functional medicine. Blood tests, allergy tests, muscle tests, hormone tests.  Scans, ultra sounds, CT’s, MRI’s…you name it. I threw everything I had into this battle, desperate to give my girl a healthy future - wishing I could take on her illness myself.

The first time I rushed my daughter to the ER I saw her in excruciating pain I had never witnessed before. Her body writhed in agony while her face bore the weight of utter distress. I rubbed her back, her arms, her legs and offered words of calm reassurance. It was all I had to give. I instinctively assumed the role of her advocate and firmly pleaded with the medics to relieve her pain. Inwardly I screamed in desperation of my own. It wasn’t until we finally returned home that I removed my armor and let the experience flood my senses. It was powerful and overwhelming. I suddenly realized I was emotionally hemorrhaging from places I never knew existed. The image of my daughter in unspeakable pain, now forever etched in my memory, is still nearly too much to bear.

I was emotionally hemorrhaging from places I never knew existed.

Moms are supposed to guard their children from harm and shield them from pain and patch their wounds and love them so deeply that they cannot help but be strong and whole and ready to thrive. I had poured decades of my life nurturing her every step, celebrating each achievement, nudging her to new heights. This was the time she was supposed to be finding her wings. And I was not able to help her, nor able to make her painful reality less invisible to the medical world. I was powerless and in desperate need of strength and wisdom beyond myself. Day by day, and sometimes moment by moment, my empty hands reached out to God for the encouragement I needed…

“Do not fear, I am with you.  Do not be afraid; I am your God.  I will help you, I will strengthen you.  I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” - Isaiah 41:10

I was powerless and in desperate need of strength and wisdom beyond myself.

During the months that followed, I resolved to take on any role that might prove helpful. I was only too happy to be the cheerleader, the midnight nurse, the appointment keeper, the listener, the researcher, the prayer warrior. When countless doctor visits, tests, and procedures gave us no diagnosis or treatment plan, I developed broader shoulders to bear the looks of sympathy and those of disbelief. Above all else I became the torch bearer of hope, beating off the darkness of discouragement and the encroaching boundaries of chronic illness.  

At the time, I rarely allowed myself to think about how I was feeling. It was my daughter, after all, that was suffering. She was my sole focus. Even now it is difficult to shine a spotlight on my own experience. But, in all honesty, I know I suffered right along side my girl. It was a suffering of the heart and it was real.

Few people understood what we were going through. How could they, really, unless they had gone through it themselves? But the lack of understanding was isolating at times. Sure, well-meaning people offered medical tips and suggestions, many of which we had thought of or tried months earlier. Most challenging, however, were fellow Christians that sneered with judgement when my daughter was not miraculously healed following prayer. That cut me to the quick.

Of course I had prayed. Every day since the ordeal began. I prayed for healing. I prayed for insight and wisdom. I prayed for revelation. I prayed for a miracle. And I knew all the while I was praying to the God that had the power to provide all of it. Without so much as a full breath, my God could make my girl healthy once again. Yet, in His Sovereignty, He chose not to. At least not yet. This was hardest on Anna. I watched the knees of her faith buckle at times as she wrestled with this reality and asked the question, “Why? At the same time, God reinforced my faith with an understanding that as much as I loved my daughter, He loved her even more and she was always and forever on His mind. I would need to walk in total trust and faith…enough to carry me and enough to uplift Anna as well.  

And so she and I walked. One foot in front of the other. We walked through days with ups and downs and began to settle into what would become Anna’s new normal. Not the life I had dreamed of for my little girl, but the one that God was carefully laying before her. The one He was equipping her for. The one that I would continue to trust was in His faithful hands.  

Years have passed since Anna’s illness began. She has since stepped into a life on her own with a faith that is more tenacious than I ever dreamed possible. She has developed methods of dealing with most of her symptoms and she continues to learn ways to cope as new health issues arise.  She has poured out her life, her experiences at the feet of Jesus and He is using her in remarkable ways to touch the lives of others in need. That alone is enough to fill my heart with joy and immense gratitude.  

I am no longer Anna’s primary health advocate. I passed that baton to her loving husband, Randy, when they married last year. It was hard to let go though, having gripped it so tightly for so long. But I am comforted to know there is someone with my girl when she has a need - someone I trust completely to hold her hand and reassure her when symptoms flare.  

 Wedding Photos courtesy of  Geneoh Photography .

Wedding Photos courtesy of Geneoh Photography.

My main task now is to pray. And prayer, I’ve learned, is no small thing. Every time I pray, God listens with intensity. Although He hasn’t healed my daughter yet, He’s far from finished writing her story. So my prayers continue and my hope is held high.

I feel so privileged to have been at my daughter’s side through some of the darkest days of her life. It deepened my relationship with her and greatly enriched my faith. God has been my lifeline of hope through every trial and disappointment. He has given me peace every time my circumstances gave me turmoil. I don’t fear for the future. God has patiently taught me to trust Him with the days ahead, even those that will undoubtedly be hard.

God has been my lifeline of hope through every trial and disappointment.

I have also learned that motherhood is a life-long journey of the heart. Though painful at times, it can be one of the greatest gifts on earth. For those who mother a child with chronic illness the venture is not easy. But with God, a mother is never alone. And with His faithfulness and promises to stand on, there will always and forever be hope. 


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Josiah

You see the core of who somebody is in their toughest moments.

What happens when you wrestle with illness from a young age? How does battling chronic illness challenge you specifically as a man? Josiah gives us an honest look at the things he's learned along his own journey. Through his experiences and an unwavering vulnerability, Josiah's story boldly challenges us with his perspective on who we're becoming throughout the process.

When you get frustrated with something,
you have a choice of how to respond.
This isn’t an end. This is a new beginning.
This is a new opportunity for you to live your life in a way that compels people more than maybe you could have before.

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To Have & To Hold

To Have & To Hold

“…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”

I said those vows at age 21, knowing what they meant, but not understanding their weight until later in marriage. My husband, Jace, and I considered ourselves to be an adventurous couple. We enjoyed traveling, hiking, biking, and running next to one another in our local gym. Two miscarriages at the end of 2014 activated an autoimmune disease in my body. I started losing physical functions, which quickly became crippling. Only a few months later I had lost significant abilities, causing me to struggle just to climb stairs or lift my arms above my belly button. I began falling with the inability to get myself off the ground as my muscles significantly atrophied. After a blood lab, a three-day hospitalization, and a muscle biopsy surgery, I was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease.

The vows Jace said to me on our wedding day came to light the moment I entered our apartment for the first time after leaving the hospital. I had become weaker since I checked myself in the ER just three days prior. We lived in an upper apartment, and because my legs buckled easily, our new normal involved my husband putting the gait belt around my waist to help me walk up our stairs. I think for both of us chronic illness became real at that very moment. Despite being prescribed a strong medication, my disease rapidly took over my body. My weakest point had hit. 

I was reminded of our vows when I cried out in tears from the restroom for Jace to help me. To be fully transparent, I could no longer get myself off the toilet. No matter how hard I tried my body was too weak to go from the sit-to-stand position. As he helped me up, tears streamed down my face, recognizing this as a true representation of “in sickness and in health.” 

As he helped me up, tears streamed down my face, recognizing this as a true representation of ‘in sickness and in health.’ 

I was reminded of our vows in the middle of the night when I would wake up from medication induced sweats and I was too weak to kick the covers off. In tears, I would wake up Jace, begging him to pull the covers off my body.

Our marriage had inevitably changed. Our workouts together turned into him manually lifting my legs and arms for physical therapy, and our outings became doctor and physical therapy visits. As with the trial of our miscarriages, our marriage had to grieve what was lost. Jace, a full-time, working college student, had to take on the additional role of a full-time caregiver for me when he wasn’t occupied elsewhere. But when it felt like our world was shattering, as it so often did, we made the decision to remain “unbreakable us.”

But when it felt like our world was shattering, as it so often did, we made the decision to remain ‘unbreakable us.’

It’s been almost three years since my diagnosis, and so much life has happened since. My body has healed significantly, I’ve seen periods of relapse, learned to manage lingering weakness, and even given birth to our micro-preemie baby boy. My new normal has been filled with celebrating the grace and mercies the Lord has given Jace and I. On the other hand, at times this new normal has also left me feeling the pangs of grief over all I’ve lost to my disease.  I’m learning that there’s a space and time for grieving my illness in my marriage. To be honest, sometimes Jace and I still grieve the season in our marriage when my body was healthy.

We also keep believing that one day I will wake up healed, and my physical health will be completely restored. But what if that day doesn’t happen for you or I on this side of heaven? Are our marriages considered less fortunate than those who have a clean bill of health? Can our marriages endure the hardship of a spouse being sick, and still ground ourselves as unbreakable? Dare I say that I believe a marriage can actually flourish despite the reality of chronic illness?

The cold, hard truth is that the list of things Jace and I both grieve and dislike about my disease far exceeds the benefits of having a chronic illness in our marriage. There’s money every year spent on medical bills rather than romantic trips together, constant bruises on my skin from infusion pokes or blood labs which couldn’t possibly make me feel sexy, vacation days used for doctor visits, and physical weakness and exhaustion that dictates how much time we spend together. The list goes on.  

Dare I say that I believe a marriage can actually flourish despite the reality of chronic illness?

But, believe it or not, there is a list of benefits to having chronic illness in a marriage. So, while the list of “cons” could far exceed the “pros,” what I’ve come to understand is the life lessons from the “pros” far outweigh the “cons.” Chronic illness has given Jace and I a healthy challenge to change our perspective about the circumstances we face.  It’s tested and grown our perseverance, humbled us to become more patient, and reminded us of the extraordinary gift of the present. 

Jace and I have had to learn to change our perspective about our challenges to be able to remain grounded in our marriage. This change certainly didn’t happen overnight. When I was so weak and the list of what I couldn’t do outweighed the list of what I could do, we had to learn to look at our situation with gratitude and focus on the positive. We may not have been able to be running buddies, but we sure could still compete and play a mean game of cribbage together. We may not have been able to have the time of our lives exploring, but we could most definitely have the time of our lives laughing over and over as we watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” or “Home Alone.”  When we changed our perspective and found gratitude for what we could do rather than what we couldn’t, our hearts changed. We no longer took on the weight of the significant trial upon us, but rather took every day as it came, and trusted that we would be given the grace to tackle the next day if we were given. 

When we changed our perspective and found gratitude for what we could do rather than what we couldn’t,
our hearts changed.

During my weakest times, we kept holding onto hope that our sufferings wouldn’t be wasted. Romans 5:3-5 states, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We held onto hope through these verses and kept persevering that one day we would see beauty from the ashes. 

We learned quickly what it looks like to be patient and kind to one another, and what it looks like to humbly serve your spouse. We quickly recognized we are a team, and while we both experience different responsibilities and stresses that come along with my muscle disease, we must work as a team. There have been seasons in our marriage over the last three years when we haven’t agreed upon things. We could be disagreeing with one another about a minor issue or battling an ongoing issue, but at the end of the day, no matter what we are disagreeing on, chronic illness has taught us that we have to drop our pride and stubbornness and represent love to one another. At night when my legs feel numb and tingly and I no longer have any energy to crawl out of bed to grab myself a glass of water, Jace still shows me unconditional love by grabbing a glass of water for me. He also serves me by taking on most of the nightly duties of having a medically fragile child in our home. On days when I have extra energy and my disease doesn’t feel completely present, I love to serve him by doing extra household chores. While there are extra stresses and lifestyle changes that have had to be made, my diagnosis has softened our hearts and encouraged us both to find ways to lovingly serve one another. 

Lastly, we’ve been reminded by my disease and the many trials in our lives that have come from it, how important it is to be present with your loved ones. Our marriage has grown from a deeper understanding of how fragile life can be. If it weren’t for my diagnosis, we wouldn’t have come to understand how important it is to take the time to be present with your spouse and loved ones. We both have been taught that tomorrow, if we are even blessed with that gift, is worth celebrating! We have come to know that we may not be given tomorrow. Yet, if we are, and my health isn’t in the best shape, we will tackle that challenge tomorrow. Until then, we’re given today. 

Jace and I have come to fully understand the weight of the blessing of today. Our hearts continue to beat and our lungs continue to inhale and exhale. Oftentimes these two intricate functions get overlooked and we believe these need to be a profound life-altering heart change for those of us with chronic illness. The many negative aspects that can accompany chronic illness in marriage could cause us to become bitter, angry, and sad. Yet how can we focus on the negative aspects when we have the gift of life? We’ve been blessed with the present; therefore, no matter in sickness or health, for better or worse, we will choose to find joy in today.

...no matter in sickness or health, for better or worse, we will choose to find joy in today.

 

Written by: Lacey Klimeck

Lacey is one of our amazing People Hope Tribe members, representing all things hope in Wisconsin. As a wife and mama bear, she wears the title “superwoman” better than just about anybody we know. You can find her sipping French press coffee while she daily battles her own chronic illness and loves on her micro preemie son! Give her a journal, a Bible, and a good sunrise or sunset, and she’s a happy camper. 

Photos of Lacey and her family are all courtesy of our friends at James Stokes Photography.

All rights reserved.


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Sentiments for the Sick & Single

Sentiments for the Sick & Single

If you’re anything like me, that heart of yours is wavering a bit more than normal lately. The shops are full of every shade of pink. There are hearts painted on every store window. Social media is overflowing with engagement announcements and wedding pictures and anniversary posts. “Love is in the air,” they say. 

Maybe you’ve heard that small voice in your heart whispering “What about me?” That voice tells you to lie in bed awake for another night, wondering if you’ll ever find a love worth savoring. It’s the same voice that tells you you’re too much, you’re too broken, and you’re too sick. No one could ever possibly love you and all of your scattered pieces. 

Do you want to know a secret? 

You are not alone.

I hear that voice too. 

I hear it when I open Instagram and see another cheesy love post. I hear it when I’m shopping with my friends and they pick a new outfit for their anniversary date. I hear it when I see a couple kissing on campus. I hear it as I relive the memories of my last catastrophic breakup. It’s a loud voice. It drowns out the cries of my own heart and the endless chatter of my inner thoughts. This voice demands to be heard and sometimes it overwhelms my very weary soul. 

I know your pain, even if just in the slightest way. It’s a pain that’s deep and feels eternal. It’s unlike the pain of an aching joint or swelling limb, although it seems to be just as familiar. 

I was thirteen years old when I was diagnosed with a disease that may last a lifetime. I was given the list of things that I can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t ever do again. I was prepared for the prognosis of a life filled with physical pain and endless medical treatments, but nobody warned me of the damage that would wreck the sacred spaces within my young and impressionable mind. 

“You won’t be able to live on your own,” they said. “You may never fall in love. You may never have a family of your own.”

In that moment the doctors convinced me that my ability to be loved was dependent on the quality and capability of my physical body.

In that moment the doctors convinced me that my ability to be loved was dependent on the quality and capability of my physical body. I was led to believe that my very broken mess of flesh and bones was the sole determinant of my future relationships. It was as if the qualities of my heart and spirit meant nothing to anyone. Could my loyalty ever mean more to a man than my ability to physically grasp his hand? Could the attraction of my passion and empathy overshadow the detraction of my atrophying muscles and pale skin? Would anyone ever see past the medical devices, the service dog, and the treatment side effects? Is there even a man out there who is willing to stand by my side through it all? Could anyone truly vow to love me in sickness and in health? Is loneliness meant to be just another side effect of illness?

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Again I tell you that you are not alone. Not at all. 

Friend, let me hold your hand for a second and tell you that I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t know what our hearts will one day conquer or what the future looks like. I wish I did. I wish I could tell you. I want you to have that hope just as much as I want it for myself. What I can tell you is that it’s okay. Whatever your heart feels today, tonight, tomorrow – that’s okay. We are fragile beings with delicate skin. Sometimes our souls become just as frail as our bodies. If you have been fed similar lies that you are incapable of being loved, please hear me when I say that those words are simply not true. 

When the weight of your singleness becomes too much to carry, give yourself permission to put it down. Set it down amongst the piles of laundry, the lists of doctors to call, the bottles of medications to be refilled, the groceries to be put away. 

Could anyone truly vow to love me in sickness and in health?

Society seems to have this inexplicable desire to paint a picture of love that is completely unrealistic and unattainable. The movies make it look like romance is waiting to fall into your lap at any moment. Are we really meant to believe that love may catch our eye in the most mundane moments, like on the way to the mailbox or in line at the grocery store? Social media and tabloids make love look adventurous and desirable and all consuming. We’re raised to believe that adulthood means college, followed by marriage, and ending with a dreamy retirement with our soul mate.  But what if we stepped back into reality and discovered that love doesn’t always look like a white dress and matching wedding bands? It doesn’t always feel like a hand to hold or a warm embrace. 

I want to remind you today that love comes in so many forms and can be found in so many unexpected places. Look for it. Really look for it. Find it in the voicemail that your best friend left you a year ago. Discover it in the scent of the candle that your sister bought you for Christmas, or the cold dampness of your dog’s nose. 

Most importantly, allow yourself to encounter love in its most forgotten form: The eternal love of Jesus that seems to find you no matter how deep you bury your heart under your own human flaws. You can find this love written on every page of the Bible. Its etched into every scar on your broken body. This is the kind of love that doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, status or health. It’s a love that you don’t have to choose, because He chose you first. Let that love consume you and carry you through the heartbreak. If you ask me, that’s the only way we’ll ever make it to the other side of this season of singleness. 

I know that this journey is painful. I know that there are times you want to surrender and denounce love all together. Your fight for love and acceptance is not for nothing. Your spirit, even when broken, is beautiful and brave. The courage that you have within you is powerful and protective, even if you feel small and weak. That bravery comes from a God who promised to never let go of your hand, no matter how deep the waters get. 

One thing I want you to carry with you is hope. As hard as it is, hold onto the hope that love is real and attainable and you have every right to experience it. Don’t give up on the prospects of relationship simply because you’re currently stuck in a season of singleness. You never know what’s up ahead, but I assure you that those new seasons and experiences will bring with them their own obstacles and questions. None of these things are too big for God. Despite the ever-changing circumstances around you, His love within you is unfailing and never-ending. 

Has anyone told you today how deeply you are loved? 

No?

Allow me to do the honors:

Friend, you are far more loved than you will ever know. You are strong and brave and loved for who you are as an individual. The goodness within you is not tied to the actions or affections of any other person. Your heart was created to be known and cherished and cared for. Not a single part of you is meant to be defined by your age, your health, or your relationship status. There is nothing you could ever do to change that. Jesus says that you are fully loved from the first page until the very last. You may not feel it now, but that love is there. It always has been and it always will be. That’s one promise that I know will stand true for eternity. 

You are so loved. 

Plant the seeds of those words deep into your heart right now; cover them with the soil of gentleness, kindness, grace, and fearlessness. And let them grow into a hope that will continue to protect you and nurture you on this journey. 

Next time you find yourself walking amongst a sea of pink hearts at the store, distracted by that small voice coming from within your broken and wavering heart, remind yourself that you are loved in more ways than one. As that voice attempts to convince you otherwise, gently whisper back the truth that you are known and loved for exactly who you are in this moment. You always have been, and you always will be. 


Written by: Ally Zinsmeister

Ally is one of our beautiful twenty-something People Hope Tribe members residing in Texas. Through her own battle with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Ally keeps us all guessing what barrier she’ll overcome next, with the help of her service dog, Malibu, of course! She loves sprinkles, pillow forts, and 2nd Corinthians. If you need her, she’s probably in a coffee shop somewhere. 


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