Happy New Year dear reader. 2017 was a deeply shaping year for me I have to tell you, though not in nice and easy ways.
I deliberately haven't shared too much here in this public format about my health because we really didn't know where it would end up, and I wasn't emotionally ready to deal with where this year could have gone, at least in this space.
In the spring of the year after a winter of tests and probing and some interesting things discovered, it was found that I have the genetic disorder that eventually took my dads life. It's effect had already reached into my lungs and they were running at about %66 capacity. They had lost about a third of their ability and that can never be recovered. While there were other symptoms, that was the primary one.
Because the condition effects people differently and because its a bit of a rare thing, there aren't normal ways to predict its behaviour. It did effect the early death of my father, but his twin brother who also has the condition, is still alive and though it hasn't been easy, he is still around. So the doctors worked to try and help me lengthen my life prospects while preparing me for really bad news that would only be seen in the ongoing development of this genetic time bomb in my body.
This news was absolutely shattering to us. The encouragement by the doctors to keep encouraged and positive yet plan and consider the worst was one of those moments I have walked with others through, but never thought I would see myself.
That led to four months of emotional upheaval and calling out to God. Many tears were shed as we began to see our future in terms of months and years rather than decades. Dreams for the future were let go of as we tried to think how to finish well, though sooner than we had expected. Lauralea and I had to have emotionally charged conversations about where to live and what it would look like even if or when it might be without me present. Such difficult times in late spring. I recall wave after wave of emotion rolling over us.
The kids were great though processing it all themselves. The morbid Friesen sense of humour took over on the really hard conversations and emotion was released in the form of laughter. It was better to have that than all the tears.
The church here was amazingly supportive. They walked with us through the days giving us what we needed in terms of time and space, even as they were trying to process it themselves while not knowing the extent of the condition either. And they began to pray for us very focussed prayers and we were held by them. We felt the difference the prayers of the people made. There was grace and strength for each day and each conversation. In that way it was a most blessed season of life. To be prayed for is the most precious of gifts one soul can give another. And we were prayed for.
Though the summer different symptoms would come up and we were unsure if they were part of the condition or some other thing. The doctors helped us as these things arose and we dealt with them as they came up.
By late summer we felt mostly normal though I couldn't do heavy labour or run a marathon. I noticed a bit of stress when the smoke from the forest fires settled in here, it was harder to breathe. But mostly things settled into a good rhythm, and I felt quite myself.
I should note the presence of God we felt in our daily lives was a wonderful gift to us. It was, He was, a tangible presence here. I experienced what it was like to be the care receiver rather than the care giver. To be the one in the figurative hospital bed rather than the one standing beside the bed offering spiritual care.
One of the biggest spiritual challenges to me was to face my personal identity if and when I would need to be on disability. Would I have any value to God if I couldn't work for him any longer? I have often preached that we are not valued by God by the work we do for him, and I do believe that. But this, this was owning it myself, and I was not honestly sure I could do that. My counsellor held this before me and walked through it with me. I came to really see myself as the beloved of God. In fresh ways seeing myself as completely unable to add to my value before God by the things that I do. It was a deeply personal and fresh epiphany. It is one thing to preach it and believe it but it is another deeply personal thing to experience it for oneself.
(And may I here add a personal encouragement for having an experienced counsellor in your life, especially if you are a leader of people? The value of this resource is immeasurable in terms of spiritual, emotional and mental health.)
The other big growing area was the weakening of my strengths. I have always been proud that due to the voice lessons I took in college, I could usually project my voice clearly and loudly enough to be heard, inside or outside or whatever the context. I own that I was proud of this ability. Well, either the meds I'm on or the condition itself has effected my vocal chords so that on some days I have to struggle to be heard. My voice is higher in pitch and some days it just sounds like I have a very bad cold and can't talk loud at all. It's been very humbling.
When I stopped being angry about this change, which I mostly am now, I began to discover that in this weakness there seemed to be more strength in my spirit, to preach well. I began to trust in God to actually get the message out even through the weakness of my own body. This new weakness has opened up new ways for God to be God in power, in me yes but also through me. Turns out He doesn't need my strong voice. This is deeply humbling too, but grace filled and merciful.
The testing of my foundations this year, the deepening of my spirit and my connections with Lauralea and our kids and God and this church, that's what this year has been about for me here in this field.
My counsellor asked me last time we met if the year of emotional turmoil and physical struggle was worth all that I've gained through it. With a moment of reflection I replied "Oh yes, without any question!"
This autumn I went in for my six month lung check up and much to the Doctors pleasure and mine as well it showed that there was no further deterioration in my lungs. So things are holding and the condition isn't progressing right now. The doctor says he is "Cautiously optimistic."
I can live a long time with 2/3rds of my lung capacity, as long as Lauralea doesn't walk too fast.
God is still writing this story it seems.
It was, I would say, a very good year.