Annette’s Story – Finding Purpose in the Pain
In the summer of 2007 I contracted a cruel and demoralising disease. After being afflicted with a nasty bug I then developed pneumonia and glandular fever and following that I was eventually diagnosed with Acute Post Viral Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Fibromyalgia. One day I was active, healthy and loving life. It never occurred to me that the very next day I could wake up sick and feel like I would never be healthy again.
In the beginning, I had a fairly strong attitude towards my diagnosis. I recognise now, it was a product of naivety. I had no idea what Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was or how long it would last. Honestly, who does? It’s a mystery illness that no one really understands. For each sufferer, it can look and feel different.
For me it looked like no longer being able to work. Most of the time I was not even capable of driving. Attending church or social gatherings were scratched, I was simply too fatigued to stand or sit upright for any length of time. My husband and I have two sons, so school assemblies, attending sport carnivals, cheering them on at soccer games – all that was gone. I could no longer look after our home or take care of my family. On many occasions I couldn’t even sit at the dinner table with them. I could no longer read a book or watch a movie, it simply required more concentration than I could muster. For exercise, I used to run. Now, I couldn’t even manage to walk around the outside of my house!
It felt like I was being punished! I walked through grief, suffering the loss of my life that I used to love. I tasted heartache and severe loneliness, as I could no longer go anywhere or do anything with anyone. For most of the time, I lived in despair and defeat. I also perceived that I was useless, helpless and hopeless. I could no longer identify my purpose in life apart from being a burden.
All these emotions can be reduced to a one syllable short simple word – pain!
In addition to the emotional pain, I was also experiencing physical pain. CFS with Fibromyalgia is similar to what the body exhibits when falling victim to a flu but multiplied extensively. The pain consisted of agonising muscle spasms, severe headaches, kidney and liver discomfort, and constant nausea. I encountered arthritic pain in every joint and bone, regardless of movement or lack thereof, it seemed my skeletal frame was moaning and groaning in protest. Then there was a physical heaviness weighing me down, my body felt like it was made of lead.
With all this going on physically and emotionally, I initially struggled with major adjustment issues. I simply couldn’t come to grips with this new way of living, which to me didn’t look like living at all, more like existing. When every aspect of my healthy life was stolen and wiped from existence, I found my identity was challenged. Who am I now? Since the age of five, my Heavenly Father has always been the centre of my life. However, I discovered I had found my identity not in who I am in Christ, but instead in what I did. As time went on, I developed depression. Amidst that, there were periods that were so deep and dark I didn’t think I’d ever find my way out.
Time passed, life for everyone else went on, and the suggested months of respite turned into years. My husband (along with my encouragement) searched for a cure, or at the very least, something that might improve my quality of life. We tried everything. You name it, we tried it, but nothing turned out to provide even slight improvement, in fact a couple of the treatments almost claimed my life. As time went on I lost more and more weight, and I became weaker and weaker. Therefore, when my body had to endure even more stress than it had to deal with each day, it had nothing in reserve to fight. On these occasions I cried out for God to take me, but when He didn’t, I decided I should take matters into my own hands. I came up with a plan, but ironically, I never had the energy to execute it.
Of course, we also looked to our Great Physician for healing. Besides praying daily, we also sought out spiritual leaders who carried the gift of supernatural healing. On five different occasions we attended healing services where I went forward for prayer, and each time I walked away unhealed. On my part, it took so much effort physically and emotionally, that when every possibility of being put back on my feet again failed, I felt like I lost a little more of myself each time. After countless let downs in both the medical and spiritual world, I was becoming more and more unglued.
In the middle of this dilemma I had a choice, either hold on to hope or give up on God. For me, giving up looked like remaining stuck in the middle of my nightmare, but without hope! If I threw the towel in and decided I wanted nothing more to do with God, who appeared to be nonactive anyway, well, nothing really changed except I no longer had anyone to lean on, find strength in, or comfort from. I decided giving up wasn’t really an option.
I couldn’t let go of God, I needed Him too much.
I couldn’t survive this without Him.
Choosing to hang in there meant there was still hope – hope that God would one day heal me, and things would get better, and hope that God would give me everything I needed to move through this.
Looking back, if I released my hold on hope and lost my faith in God, I would never have received my healing, and I would not be walking the victorious life of freedom that I am thriving in today. When God isn’t answering our prayers the way we desire or in the timeline we are proposing, that doesn’t mean He is doing nothing! In my case, God was working on a much bigger plan. There were countless occasions when I asked God where He was through all this. I had moments where I experienced His presence closer than my skin, and other times I could swear He was nowhere to be found. There were instances where He blessed me with visions and spoke to me ever so clearly, and other times He was starkly silent.
Where is God when we can’t hear Him or see Him or feel Him?
Does He simply disappear?
When storms in life inevitably arrive, the foundations of our faith are put to the test. Depending on how strong or weak our foundation is, tumultuous times will either cause us to cling to our Rock or collapse in a heap and be swept away (Matt 7:24-27).
The devil is a master of deception. He takes a little bit of what is true and wraps it up in a delicious looking lie for us to devour. It’s so easy to get sucked in and believe the lie that presents itself as being true. There were times when I fell for it hook, line and sinker, and other times where I was on to his tricks. Those moments I armoured up and fought against it with the belt of Truth. The voices in my head said I was a burden to my family. It was true, my family were my carers, but the truth was – that’s what love does. Depression told me I was useless. True, I wasn’t physically able to do much at all. The truth was, I was there for my family, to talk with them and listen to them. My family preferred me there in that minimal capacity than not at all.
I had to learn to distinguish the difference between what is true and what is truth.
It was true that I was severely lonely, but the truth was, I was not alone. If my family and friends were not present, my Heavenly Father certainly was. The truth in the Bible tells me, He will never leave me nor forsake me (Deut 31:6). In that case, it was true I couldn’t hear Him, I couldn’t feel Him, and I couldn’t see Him, but the truth was and remains, He has never left my side and He has never taken His eyes off me!
‘Jehovah himself will watch over you;
He’s always at your side to shelter you safely in His presence.
He’s protecting you……both day and night.
……He continually watches over you.’
Psalm 121:5-7 (TPT)
One particularly bad day, I received a text message from a good friend of mine, it was Romans 8:28 ‘all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.’ That day, my heart was not ready to receive this encouragement. I scoffed at this verse and threw my phone on the floor, plopped myself on the couch and declared with all my pent-up frustration, “There is no good that can come from this! No good at all! Ever!”
Far out! Nothing could’ve been further from the truth!
Just over five and half years after my illness began, our church was holding a Wonders Conference, a weekend where the Holy Spirit is invited to come with signs and wonders (Acts 14:3). The church was fasting and praying in preparation for this event, and as each day got closer the church’s faith rose, they were believing for miracles. Our Pastor who had always been my advocate, believed that this weekend we would see the natural and the supernatural converge (1 Chron 22:19) and people will be healed. As a family, we decided to begin to praise God in anticipation of what was going to happen, not only for me but for our church.
The conference began on the Friday night, and finished on the Sunday morning. It was the last session when Jesus reached down from heaven and healed me. The miracle I received involved a brave drummer, an unashamed worship leader, a courageous Pastor, an obedient husband, a congregation of five hundred worshippers, and a surrendered servant of the Lord who had the attitude…. ‘I know my God can (heal) me, but if He doesn’t I will yet praise Him.’ (Dan 3:16-18). At this point, I had come to the place where I relinquished all control to my Lord and Saviour.
I desired the Healer more than the healing.
I knew God had done something because I recognised that some kind of shift had occurred, but I was unaware of exactly what, or what it would mean. During the days and weeks that followed, healing began to reveal itself as my strength and energy slowly and steadily beginning to rise. From there, I gradually grew stronger. Normal activities that had previously been impossible for me like walking to the shops, cooking meals and enjoying the company of friends slowly returned to my life. The joy of experiencing those things again is hard to adequately describe.
My pain through those years was horrendous, but our God is into flipping things. He turned my pain into gain. The ‘good’ He has brought out of my illness still amazes and astounds me to this day. Those treacherous years were not all about me. Unbeknownst to me, God was outworking a much greater plan. Through sharing our story and due to His anointing upon it, He has brought healing, and restoration, breakthrough, transformation, revelation and encounters to individuals which is far beyond the story itself.
If you are currently experiencing pain… whether your pain appears as illness, finances, loss, or maybe a breakdown of a relationship or marriage, I pray you have found hope through my story. He will bring you through. He cares for you and loves you more than you will ever understand. He has you in the palm of His hand. He is holding you and your situation, and has everything concerning you under control; even though at times it may not feel that way. Not one thing is going unnoticed by Him. He has a plan and a purpose for you. His timing is perfect. He is never late in responding. He is never delayed in arriving. Regardless of what you’ve been through or going through, be assured God will use it for good, if you allow Him.
I am living proof…. There is purpose in the pain!