On my seventeenth birthday, events began to unfold that would turn into the most significant struggle in my life, both physically and spiritually.
After having blood drawn for testing, I was found to have dramatically elevated liver enzyme levels that earned me a referral to Seattle Children’s Hospital. The symptoms that led up to that day were alarming: I had been suffering from medium grade fevers almost every other night for weeks and I had joint pain that was so severe that I couldn’t fully close my hand around a spoon to eat. This pain presented itself as swelling and stiffness, similar to the effects of arthritis, in the most major joints in my body.
At first the doctors didn’t know what to think. Their first thought was that I had developed rheumatoid arthritis, which, thankfully, wasn’t the case. My usage of a certain antibiotic that I was taking was stopped immediately. Further tests including ultrasounds, a liver biopsy, and more blood draws than I can remember led the doctors to diagnose me with drug-induced hepatitis and drug-induced lupus. They determined that my body had had an auto-immune reaction to the antibiotic and this was the result. The other problem was and continues to be that most people get well after stopping the medication.
The doctors at Children's Hospital and UW Medicine, where I am now being treated, said that I don't fit into any box they know. One of the doctors at Children's told me she spent many sleepless nights doing research and only found four documented cases in the world like my condition, but she couldn't know the outcome because the research had ended.
The diagnosis process took months. During this time, my family would pray together every night, hoping that one day we’d have answers. Unfortunately, even with a diagnosis the truth was difficult to deal with. Initially, I was being bombarded with so many crazy things that I didn’t even have time to think about why it was happening. Since then I’ve been on a course of medication that stifles the symptoms in the hope that my body will recover on its own. The drug doesn’t always work and sometimes I have lingering joint pain.
Now I’m twenty-two and I’ve seen the symptoms go away completely for almost a year, but return in full strength almost two years ago. That event alone was hard to handle because it seemed like I had fully recovered. Now I often wonder if I will ever be completely healed.
Last summer I was in Boise, Idaho for an internship. I was many miles away from family and friends and even though I was attending church and a Resonate remote village, I began to feel incredibly isolated. Mars Hill’s Pastor Mark Driscoll was in the middle of a sermon series entitled, “Who Do You Think You Are?” Each sermon dealt with a separate place that we might find our identity other than Jesus and how we can retune our hearts to be aligned with Christ.
I remember my family recommending that I watch his specific sermon called I Am Afflicted, which addressed Christians who are suffering. Throughout the entire sermon it seemed like Pastor Mark was speaking directly to me. Since that night last summer, I’ve started to appreciate some important truths. It’s been a long process where I’ve grown a lot, but I believe this trial always has significant things to show me about who God is.
I began to understand that we are called as Christians to identify with Jesus and the suffering He endured. I realized that in my suffering I’m able to draw closer to Him. His sacrifice on the cross to take on my sin is worth amazing celebration, and Isaiah 53 is a passage that I have found incredibly sobering. Jesus endured the most terrible trial of all to save me from death and to reconcile me with a perfect God. If my suffering can help me identify with Jesus’ suffering and push me to worship Him all the more while living this temporary life, then I’m all in.
Suffering takes many forms; it may be a health condition, sin, or a difficult life circumstances, but I’ve come to believe that suffering silently is wrong. In a community of believers, we are to share our burdens with each other, pray for one another, and even cry with one another. I am constantly being convicted in this regard, because I have a tendency to hold things inside so I don't burden others with what I carry daily. But I’ve since found, from the connections with my family and closest friends, that sharing the burden of your trial constitutes spiritual growth for everyone involved.
Trials are part of our walk with God. I have found myself in the toughest times when I feel like God is silent, only to realize later that it was the most significant time for growth in faith and maturity when He was the only constant. God’s wisdom surpasses mine infinitely, and as soon as I was able to trust that His plan is the best, I found it much easier to let go of the pain and mystery that this trial presented. The truth James speaks about is something I’m starting to understand through my suffering:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Ultimately, I found that faith in the Lord’s sovereign plan is my greatest source of strength and hope in affliction. If you’re suffering, know that you’re not alone. Share it with others and don’t suffer silently. Maybe I will get better during my lifetime, but maybe not. One day however, I know everything will be healed.