Working to pay the bills but also making your family a priority.
Eating healthy meals but not obsessing over everything that goes in your mouth.
Being active and faithful to exercise but also allowing time for rest and relaxation.
Practicing self-care without becoming self-focused.
We deal with this concept everyday. It's a topic that doesn't have simple answers and what may be a balance for one person may not be for another.
As a Christian ( a Christ follower), I try by God's grace to "balance" the areas of my life through Biblical eyes. God says to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Mathew 6:33). So first and foremost on the priority list is my relationship with Christ and advancing His Kingdom. Next comes our family with Christ being at the centre. "For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church" (1 Timothy 3:5)? And in the family, because marriage makes you one flesh, your first priority is your spouse (Gen. 2:24), followed by your children (Eph. 6:4), and relatives etc.
These Biblical priorities help us set up the framework for our work, ministry, and home life in a balanced way, but we know it isn't always that easy. It takes huge discernment to know how to identify God's boundaries in every situation. When to stay at church to help prep for an important event or go to your child's soccer game. How to navigate the many needs of your new baby and try to prioritize time for your spouse. Where to draw the line on providing for your family's financial needs and spending quality and quantity time at home.
Only by following the Spirit's leading can we answer these personal and ever changing situations we face. It's a daily discipline to discern God's will for our walk with Him, our families, our work, our ministry, and our days. Sometimes it's minute by minute, hour by hour, asking the Spirit to show us what to to do when the Bible hasn't given us a simple black and white answer on a particular decision.
I find that very hard, and it's a discipline I'm not even close to mastering.
Then we bring in a new factor, chronic illness.
In high school, I would stay out late, participate in several extra curriculars, hang with friends whenever possible, and in general just be busy! I lived on a couple hours of sleep a night and I functioned fairly well. Yes, I was dealing with some health issues, but they weren't a huge concern for me at the time. I just lived. Then post high school, I worked for a year before going to College. I lived with a friend and worked 2 full time retail jobs. I would start at 6am at Payless ShoeSource until mid afternoon, when I would work until 9:30pm at Laura Secord, and then go out with the staff at night. I was living it up. However, during this time, my health really began to decline. I started going to one doctor's office after another and I knew my undiagnosed symptoms were getting worse, but I didn't let it slow me down. You can guess how that ended...badly. Several months after living this lifestyle of work/play all night and all day, my heath did a nosedive. I had to break my lease on my apartment, making a huge financial mess and destroying my friendship with my roommate. I moved back home with my parents and spent most of my time in bed.
During this time, I was treated for Lyme Disease and depression and I basically spent each day just getting to the next day. Day by day over many months, my mind and body got stronger. I had intense treatment and therapy and got back on my feet. I was able to go to college for Business Administration and even get an office job afterwards. During this time, my high school sweetheart and I got married and started our life together. The diagnosis of Lupus really helped me understand my limitations. I was able to recognize what I should or shouldn't do to keep symptoms at bay. It took trial and error and several hospitalizations, but I felt at that time I knew my "balance" in life. I decided for my health, a 40 hour work week just wasn't sustainable and I had to have limits on activities. I learned to swallow my pride and say no to things, and accept that people may not always understand. I learned that if I wanted to do the things God was asking of me, (I was a part time Youth Pastor at the time), I had to say no to other things I wanted to do. During that short season of life (2 years), Adrian and I had so many incredible experiences together. We experienced the joy of being newlyweds, working as a team in ministry, discipling young people, growing in our faith, and really learning about the Gospel in our daily lives. We are so thankful for those years in our little basement apartment in Brantford where we served Jesus together. It was a beautiful short season that God used in powerful ways. I'm grateful to look back and see how God lay the groundwork of balance, letting go, acceptance, surrender and obedience. He needed to lay the foundation of healthy and Biblical priorities in my heart because He knew in a short time, my idea of balance would be challenged and stretched like never before.
Fast forward 2 years - We live in another city, serve in a completely different ministry, currently pursuing deeper paths of Kingdom living, and are raising two little boys aged 2 and 1. Our lives are totally flipped upside down and believe me when I say, in this new season, I don't have the "balance" thing figured out yet!
How do you know what is real?
To quote the Matrix "If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."
I love to be the centre of attention. I love birthdays and praise and admiration. Being affirmed and words of encouragement are definitely a love language for me.
Children need attention. They spell love, T-I-M-E. They need their parent's love, support, understanding, guidance, and encouragement. When they don't get this kind of positive attention, all that's left is negative attention, and I jumped on that bandwagon pretty early.
At birth, I was born with eye problems that required a lot of doctor's appointments, surgeries and comfort. As I grew older and puberty began to hit, other things came up. Joint pain, strange rashes, recurrent infections, exhaustion, migraines, memory issues and more. It didn't take long in my childhood for me to clue in that when I was in a health crisis, I got attention.
My parents loved me and my brother. They worked hard to give us a comfortable place to live and did their best to give us the time and attention we needed, but life doesn't always happen the way we hope. Working as a full time RN, my mom wasn't around very much and my dad worked a lot too. When they changed jobs and became involved in full time camp ministry, things really changed. It was a 24/7 lifestyle. Our house was onsite and for 5 years, I saw more of the staff than my parents. I'm not laying blame. There has since been so much growth, understanding and reconciliation on both our parts and forgiveness is so powerful.
During that time, I felt more alone than ever. Don't get me wrong, there were great times too and fun memories of camp life that I'll always treasure. But I wasn't parented very much. I grew and tried to figure things out for myself, and I got a lot of things wrong. When my new health problems began to arise, it was like I was finally being noticed again. My parents swarmed around me like flies as we tried to figure out what was going on. From the paediatrician, to the allergist, to the immunologist to the infectious disease specialist. The list went on. No-one really had an answer. Blood tests were positive for some things and negative for others. Symptoms would come and fade and come again. I started to wrestle with this concept of "sickness gets me attention, but this is not fun and I want it to stop." I battled that a lot.
As a preteen and into my teen years I was a drama queen. I completely admit it. I would ham up a situation, or exaggerate a story quite frequently. I'm not proud of my past but am so grateful for God's grace. I poured my heart out to Him long ago about my lies (because they were in fact lies) and my manipulative behaviour. Jesus' blood has washed me clean and I'm so thankful I can lay it all at His feet.
Sometimes it was hard for me and people around me, because they knew I liked to dramatize things but I also had some very real and scary physical symptoms happening. So what was real? We battled for years looking for answers and each doctor seemed to have their own opinion and treatment. Looking back, I know there were some friends and even family who thought I was just hamming it up again, and I couldn't blame them. I had blown the trust on that but I knew these things were real. I have pictures of me at around age 15 with a rash covering my whole body. My eyes were swollen shut, my joints so inflamed that it was hard to hold a pencil. And this went on for months, then years. After high school, things really started to slide downhill. I was sick ALL the time. I would catch a cold and it would turn into pneumonia. I was in the hospital getting IV antibiotics regularly for infection after infection. I couldn't keep food down and my joint pain was so bad, I barely moved. I was scared.
My parents and I finally had enough of fighting for answers and decided to act on one doctor's advice. At Sick Kid's immunology department, one doctor suggested I might have Lyme Disease. I had most of the symptoms and I had lived at a camp, so the pieces fit. Trouble is, Canada at the time didn't take treatment for Lyme very seriously. The doctor gave me 30 days of oral antibiotics and said that should cure it. Well it didn't. We decided to do our own research and remembered that we knew a girl who had Lyme. She required extensive treatment that the US was using on Lyme patients and it seemed to work. So we contacted a specialist in Buffalo and took a leap of faith. For 3 months, we drove there daily to have my blood removed and oxygenated, IV antibiotics, physical therapy and be in a hyperbaric chamber. My diet and lifestyle was totally changed and you know what? I started to get better.
I am so incredibly thankful for Canada's free healthcare system. It's not perfect but I'm so grateful I can be admitted to hospital and know I won't come home to a $15,000 medical bill. This treatment I was getting however, was even more expensive than that. My parents did all they could to pay for this treatment as long as possible but we finally had to stop because it was just too much.
I remember being with a 14 year old girl at the clinic in Buffalo. Her family lived in Ontario as well, and the parents took out a second mortgage on their home to give their daughter this treatment. She was almost completely paralyzed from Lyme Disease when she first came to the clinic and it was a privilege to see her begin to walk again as treatment went on.
Being in Buffalo and doing that treatment really seemed to do the trick. I had life to me again, energy and eagerness to actually move forward, and for about a year that's what I did. I wish I could say that was the end of my health problem journey, but it wasn't. Familiar symptoms began creeping back up, and new ones started. We felt like we were right back where we started.
Looking back, I know that wasn't true. We went through a tremendous amount during those years but we learned a lot. My parents and I grew together during that time. We discovered a lot of the brokenness in our relationship and were able to repent and seek forgiveness from each other. We started to heal from old wounds that happened before and during the camp years. I was able to confess my brokenness and sins I committed as a teen and young adult, and I was able to mature from a drama queen to something more. It was the during this time that Jesus began to pull on my heart. Slowly stripping away the legalism and false religion I was stuck in.
It was the first of many lessons in knowing my true identity. Not as a lonely little girl, a dramatic teenager, a victim, and not as a sick person. God began to show me, I am His and He defined me.
I'm still learning that lesson today. I'm constantly being reminded of who I am in Christ and I need those reminders daily. Those strongholds started in childhood aren't easy to break but God is faithful and full of grace.
A couple years later I was diagnosed with Lupus, Common Variable Immune Deficiency, and Hemiplegic Migraine Condition. Three big diagnosises. I finally got the label we had searched for to put with all the symptoms. After all the years we finally had our answers, but you know what? It didn't matter as much anymore.
For years I NEEDED a diagnosis. A diagnosis would prove I wasn't faking, that it was real. I thought it was the answer. True, I now have the treatment I need and the proper tools to manage my illnesses, and that has been a big blessing, but I didn't need the diagnosis for the reasons I thought I did.
Being honest, 100% honest isn't easy, and trying to be completely in-tune with your body in that way is even trickier for me. So what is real? What's real is that I'm a child of God who sinned by using illness to get the attention I craved. What's real is that I'm forgiven. What's real is that my body has limits, big ones that do exist. And what's real is that neither the sin nor the illness defines me, God does.
4 weeks old.
That's how old I was when the first medical crisis started. My dad was changing my diaper and noticed my left eye wasn't responding to light or movement. Unsure of what to do, the Paediatrician set us up with an Ophthalmologist, and I was quickly diagnosed with a Cataract. At one month old, I had my first operation. They removed the lens in my eye and began putting a contact lens on top of my eye. Several months later, the other cataract developed and they repeated the surgery on my right eye. Two more eye surgeries followed in the next couple years to remove scar tissue and tighten the muscles. I've worn contact lenses on my eyes ever since.
Looking back, my parents joke about how the neighbours must have thought they were torturing me every morning and night as one of them held me down, screaming while the other placed or removed the lenses. In those days contact lenses were relatively new and quite finicky. They were a rounded, hard, plastic-like lens that if not placed perfectly on the iris, were quite painful. They were removed each night by a tiny little plunger that suctioned them off of my eyes. For many years, to not mix them up, they were given two different colours. Most of my pictures of me 10 years and under, are of me with one blue eye and one green eye.
Next came the eye patch. After the cataracts were removed, poor vision remained, and my left eye was substantially stronger than my right. To improve my vision I wore an eyepatch over my left eye to strengthen the right. How I despised that eye patch! It was itchy, hot and pulled my skin, not to mention made me a target for onlookers with questions and jokes. Once standing in a line at the bank with my mom, a man behind us looked at my mom and said
"So did you punch her eye out?"
Kids were more curious than cruel. I would get asked if an eyeball existed behind that patch on a regular basis but I didn't mind. Sometimes I would even come up with silly responses to freak them out.
"Oh no, not behind the patch, but I do have it here in my pocket!"
It was just part of my daily life and we learned to deal with it all. My dad had a hard time getting my lenses in and out (he was the one who'd pin me down while mom did the lens job), so on nights when mom was working, he would pack me and my brother up and drive to her work so she could take them out there. It made things like sleepovers and being watched by babysitters tricky, but we made it work. Eventually technology improved and lenses became more like the soft pliable material we use today. I was then able to put them in and out myself.
Along with the cataracts came an eye condition called glaucoma, which means the eye has a high build up of pressure from the fluid. Every 6 months or so, we would make the trip to Sick Kid's Hospital to see Dr. Levin. He performed a few of my surgeries and remained my doctor for several years. I would take eye drops to keep the pressures down and he monitored them closely. My other doctor who maintained my contact lenses was Dr. Brent, a kind and caring man who actually was part of the team to first use them on children. He was passionate in his field, extremely intelligent, and so gentle. I never left his office without a handful of smarties. I continued in his care until his retirement in 2016.
Other specialists became involved and I was bumped around to handle issues that came up over the years. Further surgeries were needed to tighten my eye muscles, correct double vision and combat my glaucoma. I was even once involved in a clinical study to advance research on children born with cataracts. My parents did genetic testing when I was a baby but no explanation was found as to why my eyes are the way they are.
Did God make me this way on purpose? Were my eyes just defective? Is it just a result of living in a broken world? I don't have the answers either, but I do know some things.
I know if I had been born 50 years before my time, I would have grown up blind.
I know God doesn't make mistakes.
I know that I appreciate my eyesight everyday. There are many children who were and are born like me and aren't able to get the care I received, and even some that did, are still considered blind.
I know that God works all things for good and that He used the struggles we went through to tell a story of redemption and provision.
I also know that our bodies are a gift, a beautiful and complex gift and all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made.
I don't know what the future holds for my vision. I still see doctors who monitor my sight and pressures and I know more surgeries will probably happen as some point. Will I keep my vision for the rest of my life? I really don't know. Some doctors have told me it will deteriorate with time, others say my glaucoma could suddenly knock it out all at once. What I do know, is that God has given me the ability to surrender it to Him. I pray that I will see our children get married, our grandchildren be born, and my husband's stunning eyes as a 90 year old man, but I trust that even if those things don't happen, I will be okay. My sight was a miracle as a 4 week old infant and it'll be a miracle for the rest of my life.
Author - Erin
Follower of Jesus, on a journey to glorify God and to advance His Kingdom while battling Chronic Illness in the everyday life. Diagnoses include Lupus, CVID, POTS, IBS, Hemiplegic Migraines and other Autoimmune conditions.