It started with numb feet and fatigue. But when you are living in Arizona, 120-degree summers made everyone fatigued. Numb feet led to my legs feeling chronically asleep, which eventually felt more like knives stabbing my legs with every step. Weekly doctor visits, where one diagnosis after another was eliminated, eventually led to the diagnosis that 30 years earlier took my grandfather’s life: multiple sclerosis.
The Lies of Chronic Illness
When I was first diagnosed, Satan had a way of speaking lies that felt so truthful. Lies of fear, loneliness, steroid sleeplessness, MRI anxiety, and bills that slowly ate away my dream of owning a home.
But there was one lie that was called out the day after I was diagnosed. I heard Satan whisper that if a man didn’t want me without this disease, I would never find someone to love me now that I had MS. A good friend and his wife prayed for me the evening before. They called out this lie immediately.
I Have Multiple Sclerosis, But God Has Me
From that moment forward, I chose to embrace my life with multiple sclerosis by leaning into the Lord through:
- the Word (along with some pretty kick-butt Saints)
- suffering and surrender
- the Sacraments
It was July 2008, the year Pope Benedict called for the Year of St. Paul. The words of St. Paul provided a script for my year. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 taught me to embrace the “thorn in my flesh” and rely on God’s grace. For I would “rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”
Great Saints and mystics inspired me the first year I was diagnosed, as well as the over eleven years that have followed. I love the bluntness and sass St. Teresa of Avila spits out of her mouth when she speaks of suffering:
One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much, more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.
St. Faustina wrote, “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.”
But the Saint that stole my heart and allowed me the courage to surrender this disease fully to God was St. Therese of Lisieux.
I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God I choose all!’ I do not want to be a saint by halves. I’m not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that You will!
St. Bernadette and Lourdes
Another Saint I never anticipated encountering on my road of suffering was St. Bernadette. I was blessed with a pilgrimage to France to bathe in the healing waters in Lourdes. Bernadette became a companion of mine as I prayed in the Grotto where Our Lady of Lourdes introduced herself to Bernadette as the Immaculate Conception. I had never heard of the Marian apparition in Lourdes, France, but God wanted to reveal His mother to me in a powerful way.
So off I went to Lourdes to be healed.
I was not healed physically, but mentally, depression and helplessness were settling into my being. I am certain my depression was healed in Lourdes along with the understanding that, like St. Bernadette:
I must die to myself continually and accept trials without complaining. I work, I suffer and I love with no other witness than His heart. Anyone who is not prepared to suffer all for the Beloved and to do His will in all things is not worthy of the sweet name of Friend, for here below, Love without suffering does not exist.
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Suffering and Surrender
After Lourdes, this mental strength would be put to the test when my co-workers chose to run (or in my case, walk) a Rock-n-Roll half marathon. At the time, I couldn’t walk a mile without severe pain settling in. But one of my friends at work believed I could do it, so I registered. Alongside staff and my best friend, Shannon, I completed the entire half-marathon. I’ve complete four other half marathons since.
You see, most diseases are 90% mental and 10% physical. If you can offer up the physical pain to the Lord as a prayer of redemptive suffering, you will find suffering to be an embrace of the Cross of Christ. Suffering will not be a chronic complaint; rather, it will be an offering of praise. Whatever you are facing becomes an offering to the Lord, a petition placed in the hands of Mama Mary. Even when it’s excruciating, attempt to view the pain and suffering as a splinter of the Cross.
The 10% physical will feel like 100% on some days, and that is when you call in your tribe.
Help! I Need Somebody! Help!
It is important to realize that not even Jesus could carry the Cross the entire way on the road to Calvary. He had help! Remember a bystander named Simon? If you are going to thrive—not just survive—whatever terminal or temporary disease you have, you need a Simon.
What makes you think you can handle any level of a disease without help? This was the biggest lesson I had to learn and one I have to remind myself of more often than the shots I have to give myself daily. I hate asking for it, but I must admit I need help! I can still hear the lesson on grace I was given early on. When I deny someone’s help, I deny them the grace God wants to pour into their lives to provide me the help I need. Why would I deny someone grace from God? Why would you?
Allow God’s Grace to Flow
So, when you need help cleaning your home, or require a drive to a doctor’s appointment, or you just don’t have the strength to make a meal, call in your tribe.
This is where my Blessed is She sisterhood has given me the greatest strength. They have driven miles and miles to participate in MS Walks with me, brought wine and ice cream over during flare-ups, wiped away tears, and prayed for healing over and for me.
Never hesitate to allow God to pour grace on your tribe and grace upon you through them from a simple word of admittance: help!
Sacraments and Love
Ultimately, the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist have provided me my greatest strength.
I can still remember standing in the church and feeling various symptoms like Lhermitte or crippling fatigue. With all the strength in me, I went forward to receive the Eucharist with the full knowledge that His strength would be sufficient in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I can still recall the confessions where I confessed my greatest fears, my doubt of His love, and the grace being poured over me to move forward not relying on my own strength but instead relying on God’s.
I know I hid most of this from the world. When you have a terminal disease, you become a really great actor. Oscars could be given for some of my early performances. But I could not hide anything from God. Not in my prayer, not in the confessional, not in my pain. And I couldn’t pretend to surrender; surrender was a necessity.
There is still a desire to hide much of my disease from my family and friends. Honestly, I believe watching someone suffer is harder than suffering yourself. No one can take the pain, fears, symptoms, debt, or moments of desolation from someone they love. But the love and prayers you receive from the people in your life and from the Lord Himself will get you through the valleys.
Invite Him In
You will have hard days and you will have days where you feel like your energetic old self. All I know is unless miraculous healing could provide God glory and bring a non-believer to believe, I would never wish to be healed of multiple sclerosis. Sure, I say that now when I feel pretty great. But I said this when I was temporarily blind, when I struggled to walk, and when I was still being tested and unsure of what I even had.
This disease will have family questioning God’s presence and possibly even have you questioning why He is allowing this suffering in your life. Invite Christ into everything your disease will bring you: each chemo appointment, every ache and pain, every appointment, MRI machine, and surgery, each restless night of sleep, every tear you shed.
Invite Him to be present in all of it and listen to Hear his breath exhale on your restless soul. You will hear His heartbeat the closer you rest your face to His chest in Adoration, and you will gain a relationship with the Lord that rivals the Saints.
He is Making You a Saint
He is making you a saint through this trail. And like the Saints, this splinter of the Cross will open the gates of Heaven to receive you. We do not belong to the world any more than Christ belonged to the world (John 17:16). This suffering is temporary.
Endure it the way Christ embraced the Cross, and every person you encounter will encounter Christ in you.I Have MS, But God Has Me #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Tricia Tembreull is a regular contributor to the BIS blog and a devotion writer. She is a California girl with a boundless passion for life. After two decades of ministering to teens and youth ministers as a trainer, ministry mentor, and speaker in Catholic youth ministry, Tricia now serves as Campus Minister at USC Caruso Catholic Center. She loves adventure and seeks it everywhere she goes. As an avid foodie, she enjoys testing new recipes out on friends and family, gathering them around the table to encounter Christ in one another and be drawn to the satisfying unity we crave in the Eucharist.