On Chronic Illness

April 4, 2006

Today, I preached in the Billings Sermon Competition here at Harvard Divinity School where I am studying. I was not chosen as a finalist. As Wolfgang (my partner) pointed out to me, I’ve not been feeling well, and I am feeling particularly poorly today and I shouldn’t take it too hard. Not enough time to practice in the midst of preparing an already-late paper and doing work for The Kettering Foundation and visiting a friend over Spring break. But, for me, as I told Wolfgang, it just adds salt to the wound. What is the wound you ask?

The wound is being sick again. I do not have a cold, the flu or any other normal thing that I would really actually be glad to have. Slowly, over the past six months (or maybe even a year) my body has started to slow down… again. From age about 15ish until my early 20s I struggled with a chronic illness — constant fatigue, finger nails falling off, teeth falling out, naseau, vomiting, headaches. None of the twelve doctors that I saw was ever really able to figure out what was going on. As one doctor said, “All your tests indicate that things are just really out of wack.” An endocronoligist I visited said, “I’ve never really seen anything like this,” and declined to take me on as a patient.

So, not winning the sermon contest, to me, just represented one more thing that was marred by tiredness, headaches, exaustion. One more thing that I would normally enjoy and be glad to do that became an exausting ordeal, only not to work out well in the end. I got some test results in the mail on Saturday, the first tests I’ve taken since 2003, and they were, as I should have expected, out of wack. I feel as though seeing that on paper reminded me that I am not just tired, not just a little lazy (as chronically tired people will tell you that they often feel), but that I am actually “sick again,” the phrase itself a reminder that neither I nor my doctors have yet to come up with any name for this.

I do not write this to complain, but rather to help us appreciate our health, our vitality, our freedom to do and be without pain. I have had had some sores on my lip and in my nose for the past week or so, and it has reminded me how much we can take for granted the simple fact of our bodies cooperating with us. I know that there is another young woman, not far from my age, in our congregation who suffers from chronic illness, and a young girl who has had to and will continue to face chronic health issues. And, I imagine that there are others that I am not aware of, that none of us are aware of who carry silently in thier bodies the burden of illness… of dis-ease. Given this, I’ve decided to change my sermon on April 23 from the topic of sustainable living to healing. I hope that this won’t only be a sermon on healing, but rather a service of healing. I’m thinking of ways to involve the congregation in the service. If you would like to participate or have ideas, or have wisdom or stories that you want to share, please be in touch either via comments or email.