Once upon a time, life was a simple story. I was strong in mind, body, and spirit. Sure, I had a few aches and pains, but mostly I ignored them and kept active.
I stayed as healthy as possible to honor the body God had given me. I felt his presence, especially in the beauty of the natural world. I adored the outdoors—walking in the woods with my husband and son, working in my garden. But once upon another time, the story of my life was rewritten.
It started in the summer of 1999, when we lived in Illinois. I’d been hiking with my family. I pulled a tick from my leg, a creature no bigger than a period on a printed page. Later I stood in the bathroom, craning to look in the mirror.
“Dennis,” I called. “Come here. My back is just itching right off!” My husband saw an angry red rash spreading across my back. “Probably from the heat, honey,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
Who had time for worry? I was a busy mom with a 6-year-old. We were renovating our house, and I was doing much of the work myself. The rash went away, and I pushed myself as hard as ever.
But over the next few months I didn’t have my usual energy. I was short of breath. Often I felt my heart pounding. “It’s probably stress,” my doctor said. Some may have called my schedule stressful, but to me it was living life to the fullest. I wasn’t sure what to think.
Gardening with Dennis one day, I was suddenly so dizzy I collapsed on the ground. My doctor prescribed extra rest. But the dizziness sometimes got so bad I had to crawl on my hands and knees until it passed.
I went to specialists and was poked and prodded. Blood tests. Scans. Nerve tests. Steroids lessened the dizziness, but the spells continued.
Some days I couldn’t get off the couch because of the numbness in my legs and arms. We got help at home because I couldn’t always take care of my son. What was happening to me?
I spent every day cooped up in the house, in doctors’ offices or waiting rooms—completely cut off from nature. That was where I had felt assured of God’s presence. So where was he now?
“I’m so tired of complaining all the time,” I said to Dennis one day. “I’m so tired of being sick.”
So many things went wrong. I wrote down each possible diagnosis—vertigo, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune inner ear disease. I had surgery to remove tumors and cysts. I felt like I was losing my mind.
Finally, in 2006, a neurologist came up with a new diagnosis, Lyme disease. Lyme is a tick-borne illness named after the Connecticut town where it was identified. I remembered the tiny creature I’d pulled off my leg and the rash I’d had six years earlier.
The neurologist explained that the bacterial infection had been wreaking havoc ever since.
Lyme is curable, but treatment is most effective when given immediately. Some people are never cured. I didn’t want to think about that. “I know what’s wrong now,” I told Dennis. “I can fight and move on with my life.”
A month of intravenous antibiotics convinced me I was right. I felt incredibly better. I still had numbness, and all my energy hadn’t come back, but I was determined to put this nightmare behind me.
I ignored the lingering symptoms. I could again be the mom I wanted to be. I worked in my garden. I walked in the woods. I signed up for our church’s annual retreat. The theme sounded perfect: “A Time of Renewal.”
“You’ll like the guest speaker,” a friend said when we registered at the hotel conference center. “You have a lot in common.” My friend left it at that.
Natalie Nichols gave an impressive presentation, which explained my friend’s mysterious remark. Natalie had been down a road like mine. Exhaustion. Arthritic pain. Depression. Endless doctors and medication.
“I still struggle with Lyme,” she said, “but God sustains me.” She talked with a zest for living, as if she didn’t have an illness at all.
Later that evening I noticed Natalie was sitting in the hotel lobby. I walked over to introduce myself. “I had Lyme disease,” I said, “but I’m well now.”
Up close, Natalie’s eyes were deep and dark. She seemed to look directly into my soul. “Do you have any numbness?” she asked. “Fatigue?”
“Yes,” I confessed, “but it’s better since the antibiotics.”
Natalie motioned for me to sit down. “Lisa,” she said, “I know it’s hard, but you have to face it.” Her voice was full of compassion. “You still have Lyme,” she said. “You may always have it. Accept the diagnosis and get further treatment.”
I started to shake. Natalie took my hands in hers. “I want to be healthy again!” I said. “I want to forget about Lyme disease!”
“God is always with you, Lisa. You can live your life as fully as possible, whether you’re healed or not. Knowing that will help you feel renewed.”
The power in Natalie’s eyes was irresistible. She prayed with me until I felt calm. Just when I started to wonder if she was some kind of angel sent from heaven especially for me, she brought me back down to earth. “Here’s the name of a Lyme specialist. He will help you,” she said. I believed her.
I came home from the retreat a new woman. Perhaps I was stronger in mind and spirit than I was in body, but that too would come in time. I couldn’t deny my illness. Not until every symptom was gone.
Meanwhile, whether I was hiking in the woods or sitting in a neurologist’s office, God was with me. He had hired a guest speaker to tell me so.
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