In the August 10th entry of the popular devotional, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes “Energy and time are precious, limited entities. Therefore, you need to use them wisely, focusing on what is truly important.”
Seven weeks ago I was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). Commonly associated with and commonly the cause of Mononucleosis (Mono), this virus is very common but only manifests itself in a small percentage of the population. Essentially it renders one weak, tired and achy and it can take weeks and even months (and in some cases even longer) for the body to fully recover. A former colleague from African Enterprise (AE) recently wrote, telling me of his experience with EBV. He contracted the illness a week before his wedding and was essentially “man down” the first year of marriage. It took him a full year to recover and five years before he could safely call EBV a memory. In another case, a friend contracted EBV three years ago and is still dealing with the challenges of this virus which has morphed into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Does that sound encouraging? No, it doesn’t, and it has not been an easy road for Kristi and I to walk these past three months. Towards the end of June, our doctor in Nairobi gave us the go-ahead to return to Juba, but he cautioned me to take it easy and to “tithe it out.” Since our return, we have been balancing my getting rest with learning a new language, building relationships in the community, and simply getting to know our environs. I have begun a daily log whereby I record how well I sleep each night, how many naps I take each day and the length of each nap, each activity I do and how it affects me, and I rate my energy level each day on a scale of 1 – 10. My energy level hasn’t been over 7.5 since I began recording eight weeks ago, and averages at about 6.5 per week. I try to average 2 hours of rest each day, napping. Our hope had been that I would be 90% strong before returning to Juba. That didn’t happen…so here we are, having made the decision to return but still waiting for and seeking to promote healing, doing our best to navigate this place under less than ideal circumstances.
So, how does one deal with a health challenge while adjusting to a new culture and language while also still grieving the loss of ministry and identity in another place? Well, I am no expert and please do not look to me as a guide. On many days I feel that God has dealt us an unfair hand. It often feels like life has become unfair and the scales of the Universe have tipped against us. “Why?” is a regular refrain on our lips. We have prayed for healing as have countless others, but it feels like the heavens are silent.
What I am learning, rather slowly and obstinately, is that the challenge and dark companion of an illness like EBV can actually become a teacher. In the entry entitled “For a Friend on the Arrival of Illness,” the late John O’Donahue in his wonderful little book called To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, writes most poignantly regarding illness, saying “You feel that against your will a stranger has married your heart.” Those words have bounced off the echo chambers of my heart - so true! While O’Donahue uses poetic turn of phrase to identify the pain and frustration of illness, he also encourages the friend to embrace the illness as a companion and teacher. He encourages one to listen to the illness which can illuminate new qualities that will emerge within you. He encourages the friend to ask why the illness came, what it wants you to know, what quality of space it wants to create in you, and to ask what do you need to learn to become more fully yourself so that your presence will shine in the world.
Going back to the quote from Sarah Young’s devotional, I am learning how truly valuable and precious time and energy are. I am learning that both are limited entities, having to choose only what is needful and necessary and not doing many of the things I would otherwise do and enjoy doing. I cannot exercise as I normally would, and I am obliged to limit my outings from our apartment, only doing what feels most important. Throughout the day I am constantly napping and needing to forgo the desire to be productive. As an example of my limited energy, last Sunday we went to worship at a local church. The entire outing was about four hours long and it took me two full days to recover.
On a positive note, when I do go out, I tend to notice things and enjoy the experience more than I might otherwise. Simple conversations and experiences are perhaps cherished more because they are in short supply. I cannot say that I am good at embracing this new way of experiencing life. There are many days when I feel somber and depressed at my current life state; I just want to curl up into a cocoon and bid the world “adieu.” However, I am slowly learning to accept this illness as a companion and teacher that will indeed develop important qualities in me, qualities like patience, compassion and humility.
If you are a person who prays, I welcome your prayer for me to learn all that God wants to teach me through this illness. Of course, I also welcome prayers for healing and full recovery. Whatever happens, my hope is that my life will be surrendered to God and bring Him all the glory. Thank you for reading.