The cut of those words. The question, “why?” The future’s uncertainty. The desire to be no burden. Denying it could be true.
I can only imagine the harsh reality so many face upon being given a diagnosis such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, ALS, or the like. It would be only human to resist, deny, reject, and resent. If confronted with such news, I wonder if my faith would be shaken to its foundation, if my hope and will would burn out, if I would sink into the mire of self-pity.
I have often considered these issues, but was brought back to them recently due to the passing of a dear family friend from complications of multiple sclerosis, diagnosed over forty years ago. Stricken in the prime of life, her body was dealt a relentlessly pounding by the chronic war of immunity waged in the central nervous systems of those who have this disease.
Someone so afflicted could have easily become a sympathy sieve, drawing out care and concern from all relationships, or else could have grown progressively colder in stoic isolation and resentment.
Those who loved this friend would have predicted her response. A modern day saint, she would embrace this as her cross to bear, relying on deep faith roots to sustain her and her family through ever-increasing challenges. And that is exactly what she did. Her story of courage and suffering love is one of the most powerful I have ever witnessed. Her granddaughter spoke for many when she said, “She is my hero.” And throughout the ordeal she gave herself for the benefit of others. Even to the end. When all she could do, when all she needed to do, was pray.
At her memorial service her pastor delivered a very true and moving message which was poignant in its entirety, but which contained several especially strong themes. One had to do with the motorized wheelchair in which she was commonly seen by townsfolk. As a neurologist, I must admit I am always a bit hesitant to sign the prescription for such a device, as it signifies at some level a resignation, an acknowledgement of defeat, though it should be more aptly characterized as an acceptance of reality. Once the body comes to rely on the device, there emerges weakness which is left as some struggle departs. But then I remember that acceptance brings the opportunity to relieve suffering and improve quality of life. And so I sign.
As her minister pointed out, what could have been seen as evidence of defeat instead became a channel for hidden blessings. Scores of children in the church and community were able to look her straight in the eye because of her chair, and so were able to receive her affirming, childlike love at their level. Because of her affliction, she was able to enter into a more meaningful relationship with the children. And I can’t think of a better face for them to have looked into than hers, radiant with the light of another world.
How was this incredible turn-about accomplished, this defeat-turned-triumph?
I think she might say it this way…
“I can look lovingly through my pain toward others because my Lord looked lovingly through His pain toward me. He came down to my level, and brought His love. I can do the same.”
The hidden, yet always present blessing is grace, waiting to shine in our darkest days.