“Why do you think God gave you Lyme disease?”
Oh my. This isn’t going to be the typical inquisition.
When I’d walked into the building this morning, I had sensed the shift, but it was solidified when the small sixth grade class shared devotions just before other students poured into their classroom for my presentation. The eleven and twelve-year-olds stood in a modest circle in the center of the room and listened to their teacher read scripture from her smart phone. Her voice was soft, tender, reverent.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” –Isaiah 40:31
In polo shirts and khakis, the students had discussed the meaning of these words, sharing their insights and experiences with their peers. I’d sat in the distance, prompted by their conversation to think back over the last six months of my life.
Not having the strength to get out of bed, much less to run. Having trouble walking. Fainting almost daily.
I was drawn to that tricky word–hope. I can’t allow myself to think too far back or I’ll get lost in dwelling on what I can’t do now compared to what I could have before my sickness. Instead, I find hope by looking at how far I’ve come since I felt those first stabs of pain between my shoulder blades. My hope resides in focusing on my gradually improving strength. I can’t run, but I am thankful to be able to slide out of bed everyday, to have collapsed only three times in the last month, to be able to walk to the mailbox and back.
Just a few days earlier, I had managed to walk a little farther than normal, and Izzi had relished it, riding her bicycle at a snail’s pace to allow me and my cane time to keep up. It was on this little jaunt that Izzi declared, “I feel like I’m in God’s house!”
I thought she was referencing God’s beautiful craftsmanship –the hues of green (finally!) coloring the landscape, the crisp breeze, the smell of spring. Even the birds were singing praises at the break in the weather. When I asked her what she meant though, she summarized with maturity beyond her years.
“I feel Him in my heart.”
That’s how I felt as those sixth graders openly discussed the Bible verse. At the beginning of an awkward age in their lives, all knees and elbows, they were comfortable talking about God with their peers and teacher, relaxed in ways I don’t know that I’ve ever been. They did not appear fearful of their classmates’ judgment or teacher’s reproach. There was an ease between them, a trust. They lifted up friends and loved ones in prayer, speaking with confidence and faith.
These children and many throughout this school have been praying for me since November. I know this because my nine year old daughter Gracie is a fourth-grader here at St. Patrick School, and the kids, their teachers and their families have been praying for “Gracie’s mom.” Every. Single. Day.
Kids don’t just pray. They pray with complete faith in God. They voice their prayers and genuinely trust that God will take care of it. He’s got this, and they know it. Unlike adults, jaded by inevitable disappointment and sorrow, children love Him without doubt, without fear. They have a relationship with Him, not just occasional chats. The most sincere words are those of a child, and I know when these kids tell me they’ve been praying for me, they mean it. They haven’t just posted “love and prayers” in a comment section or dropped a get-well card in the mail; they’ve been on their knees, hanging out with God, lobbying for my recovery.
After the room became cramped with around sixty students, I’d thanked these kids, though words could not express my gratitude or the way I felt “God in my heart” while looking at those little prayer warriors. I started my presentation, talking to them about my journey, sharing photos and videos. Holding back tears when I described missing out on Gracie’s first back handspring, then lightening the mood by joking about the awesomeness of the sitcom Big Bang Theory. We talked about ticks and all their grossness. How to avoid them and how to remove them. For the entire 45 minutes, they were enthralled. Eyes meeting mine. Zero side-conversations. I felt like a teacher again, and this audience was even better than most of my high school classes. These kids wanted to be here. I was Gracie’s mom, the woman they’d been praying for –they were invested in this story.
Then, fifteen minutes or so into the Q&A, the question I had wrestled for months hung in the air.
“Why do you think God gave you Lyme disease?”
I inhale. I blink. About sixty children peer back at me, waiting.
I’m not prepared for this. Ask me about ticks or medicine or Lyme disease. I’ve read dozens of books and countless articles. I know that stuff. I don’t know the answer to this question. I’ve only read one book on this one.
And the more I read, the more unsure I am. Not of it’s truth. I’ve got that. But of the meaning in the words.
I’m not as confident as those sixth-graders speaking up during devotions were.
Ask me one day, and I’ll tell you that my loving God would not do this to me, just like he would not take an innocent life.
But a 34-year-old mom died in a stupid car wreck on her way home from work and a twelve-year-old boy died in a stupid flash flood in a teeny tiny creek and a two-month-old baby girl died of stupid whooping cough after these same St. Pat’s students prayed and prayed for her.
And unlike children, I doubt. I question. I pray for understanding, for healing, for strength, but often my prayers are more bribery and begging than belief. I read the scripture, searching my Bible for clear-cut answers. I feel like I am being tested, handed a pop-quiz I didn’t study for. I want the questions to be in multiple-choice format.
I try to find A, B, C or D in His words.
But God’s quizzes are more like True or False.
I’ve always struggled with those. I over-analyze. Sure, the answer could be true, but if certain variables are added, the answer might be false. In college, I often scribbled variables onto my answer sheet, just in case the professor was posing a trick question. No matter how much I’d studied, I was skeptical, on the lookout.
For the last six months, I guess I’ve feared that this is a trick question on God’s test for me.
The idea that God chose Lyme disease for me is bewildering. As a parent, it’s the same as willingly choosing to hurt my child, to inflict gut-wrenching pain on my own flesh and blood. In a conversation a few months earlier, a friend tried to explain the “bad things in life” as Satan’s work, arguing that Satan is the reason for this darkness.
But God allows it. Isn’t that the same as me turning my head, allowing someone else hurt my child?
I can’t rationalize it. It doesn’t fit into my definition of good parenting.
When reading the only book with answers, I’ve often returned to Psalm 139:13 & 16. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb….Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
So this suffering that has consumed my life was determined by God himself? Every time I read this line, I wonder what kind of Father does that? Thirty-eight years ago, he created my body, including the parts that would be stricken by Lyme disease, and He knew then that I would scream from pain in my knee, cry over the loss of vision, and beg for relief from a constant headache.
He knew I would share my story with these children today. He knew I would be asked this question.
Though the answer had evaded me for months, in the quiet of that classroom, in the space between a blink and a breath, understanding washes over me.
God trusts me. He trusts that my love for Him will not be lost in this struggle, but instead I will grow in my faith. Sure, I have faltered, but He believes in me in spite of it. He hasn’t forgotten me, and He hasn’t been a neglectful parent.
I picture my Izzi on her bike. Just the day before, we’d let go of her bicycle seat, letting her coast down a meager hill and taste the joy of that freedom. She was cautious, as is her character, but on the third time, the training wheels wobbled. The bike swayed, and she panicked. Rather than pushing the pedals to brake as she had countless times before, she put her legs down, trying to stop by using her feet. We reached for her, but she sped out of our grasp and, in slow motion, toppled to the asphalt about five feet away. I quickly scooped her up, examining her tiny elbows and knees for blood. There was none, but there were plenty of tears.
As difficult as it was to witness, that first crash was not a measure of my love. In allowing her to learn to ride, I had not chosen the wreck, the pain or the tears. It did not make me a bad parent, and she did not love me less as a result of it. In fact, she nestled into me as I comforted her, wiped her eyes, and helped her back onto that bike.
Hasn’t God been the same with me? Allowing Lyme to change my life does not mean he’s neglecting me. On the contrary, he is holding me in His arms, wiping my tears, and renewing my strength. Giving me the wings to spread awareness and to share His story with these children.
And with you.
I answer that little boy’s question. It not a clear-cut A, B, C or D. I manage to do it without scribbling variables on the chalkboard though, and that’s progress.
Twenty more follow. Can my dog get Lyme disease? What do I do with a tick if I find one? What is the best thing that came from your Lyme disease? Will you always have it?
I answer. I smile. I thank God for strength, for wings, and even for quizzes.