I have two chronic diseases.
I’ve shared slightly on my blog about my health, and the problems that it gives me, but I’ve mostly talked about my mental health, which I’ve been realizing stems from my physical health. But today I’m going to talk quickly about my own problems with my physical health, before interviewing Sara. I deal with asthma and life-threatening allergies.
My asthma keeps me from doing a lot I want to do, because if I sing a whole song, I’m winded, and when you can’t breathe, you grow so tired. (The past few weeks, I’ve had to swallow my pride and just realize that I can only sing one song at church, instead of all five.) My allergies keep me from a lot I want to do as well. My symptoms flare if I even smell seafood, so I’m unable to go to many restaurants, and even some church functions because I just can’t be around seafood.
So when I found Sara Willoughby’s ministry, it just helped me understand more about my illness and accepting that I can serve God and others while taking care of my body.
Because going from a healthy child, to a teenager with problems that stop me from living a “normal” life has been hard. It’s been hard to accept that I do need to take care of my physical health, and to understand what taking care of myself looks like.
This weekend is the Diamond’s conference, which is an online conference for Christians with chronic diseases and illnesses. And oh my. The sessions I’ve listened to so far have been so good and encouraging.
So today I’m honored to be able to interview Sara! Thank you so much, Sara, for your ministry, for this conference, and for coming on Crazy A today. 🙂 My questions are bold, and her answers are regular text.
1. From my understanding, you were a healthy child, and at the age of fourteen you became sick and just never got better. Did you deal with depression during that time? Was it hard to trust God?
Yes to both. At first, I experienced the usual despair that comes from having hopes crushed again and again with each misdiagnosis. That was bad enough. But eventually, as I got sicker, I also had deep depression brought on by the brain damage my illness caused. Those were some of my darkest moments, and I felt like I was failing as a Christian. I definitely had many a moment when I struggled to trust God. I continually asked Him “Why me? Why did you allow this? When will this end?” Honestly, that’s one reason I ended up clinging to the song “Diamonds” by Hawk Nelson. It spoke of the purpose God has in pain, and I remember one day, in particular, kneeling in the kitchen home alone at a friend’s house, scream-sob-whispering the lyrics over and over again. Chronic illness brings so many unknowns, and it is so hard to not know what you’re going to face tomorrow. But while I sometimes struggled to believe it, my comfort was that God was in control and that He loved me.
2. When you were so extremely sick, what was one thing that kept you going?
God is the one who kept me going in a thousand ways. Every time I would be on the verge of giving up or at one of my worst moments, I would get an email or text or hug or flowers would bloom on the bush outside my window, and I would be encouraged to hang on for just a little longer. My family also kept me alive by doing all the practical things for me when I could no longer take care of myself.
3. Your ministry and testimony is so very encouraging to so many people dealing with long-term illnesses. If you could tell fellow Christians dealing with illnesses one sentence, what would it be?
Aw, thanks, I’m honored God is using my story. I would tell them, “You are not alone, God’s grace is sufficient for you, and this won’t last forever.”
4. When it comes to sports, and outside activities, does your health limit you? How do you deal with those limitations?
My health does limit me. Before I got sick, I was an athlete. I lived in the Pacific Northwest and I loved to run, hike, swim, and play flag football or paintball or capture the flag with my siblings and the neighborhood kids. We had so much fun. But when I got sick I could no longer do those things. It was incredibly hard, sitting on the sidelines, watching my friends laugh and run and play. As my health has improved over the last year, I’ve had to learn to “play” again and let myself join in the fun. I still can’t play organized sports and I still can’t run, but I try to participate however I can, even if that means being creative with the rules or games. And when I can’t participate, I find another activity to enjoy that doesn’t require as much physical exertion.
5. A lot of people pray for healing from their illnesses, and can be discouraged when it seems that God isn’t answering, or at least, isn’t answering in the way they expected. Did you ever experience that? And if so, what are some words of encouragement for those Christians?
You’re asking some super deep questions! 🙂 I did experience it. All throughout my illness people have prayed for me, laying hands on me, commanding the illness to leave my body, praying over me in tongues, anointing me with oil — but my healing didn’t come. And when I finally did start to get a little better, it happened very slowly in the most mundane way possible. When people had prayed for me in the past, I often felt a whispering in my soul that God was going to heal me. But there was no instantaneous healing. Eventually, I realized that God was using my illness and my slow healing for His glory and my good. It was not at all what I imagined, but I finally saw that He was using my story to encourage others. So if someone reading this is struggling with God not answering your prayers for healing, please be encouraged that He does have a plan in this too. It isn’t pleasant being sick, but Him not answering your prayers the way you want Him to doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong. God can use illness and your reliance on Him for His glory and to shape you into a diamond.
Thank you so much, Sara! And I think that is so beautiful. That God will use the pain, the forgetfulness, the pain, to give Him glory, and to shape us into a beautiful diamond. That also follows the idea that God will refine us into a brighter kind of gold.
Keep pushing forward and wait on the Lord, for as Isaiah 40:30-31 says, “Even youths shall faint and grow weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint.”