Everywhere we turn today, we’re hearing the same sentiment repeated over and over: I just want things to go back to normal. Six months into a global pandemic, and nothing looks the same way it did back in January. From shopping to school to concerts to birthday parties – it’s all drastically different, and the general unrest is growing. The deeper into this we get, and the more we fight against it, the further “normal” seems to drift out of reach.
I have a genetic disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which means that my connective tissue is defective. All of it. For most of my life, that meant mysterious (and frequent) injuries. I had a closet full of knee braces, elbow supports, and ankle wraps. When I hit my thirties, though, everything changed. I began having intense, unexplainable pain. Headaches that never ended. Symptoms that seemed completely unrelated and had me at the mercy of dozens of doctors and specialists, all of whom could only seem to shrug and refer me elsewhere. I did have a few diagnoses thrown at me along the way – lupus, gastoparesis, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome. As my health continued to worsen, it became increasingly obvious that there wasn’t going to be any “get well soon” in the cards for me. This reality hit home when my primary care doctor wrote on a disability form, “Recovery is no longer the goal; the best we can hope for is management of symptoms.”
Up until that point, I was still stubbornly clinging to the idea of getting back to normal. I thought surely, the next scan will show the answer. The next med will magically work. If we could just find the root of all of this, I’m certain we can fix it. Eventually, the answer did come: a genetic disorder with no cure, no treatment, no end. There would be no normal, not as I once knew it. I would not be going back to life without wheelchair assistance, a life in which I could shower daily and dress myself without injury or fatigue. I would not return to working in the community, teaching art workshops and networking at local events. I was not going to be cooking from scratch or cleaning the house. Instead, I was mostly homebound, often bed ridden, and completely blind-sided. I found myself in the middle of the wilderness.
When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he takes them through the wilderness. As we read in Exodus:
“When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17, NLT
God knows how fickle we are. He knows that we cling to what we know. The siren’s call of what’s comfortable is hard to ignore. Even the Israelites, who were brutally overworked as slaves in Egypt, cried out to return there more than once in the wilderness. Even that retched existence was better than the uncertainty they were now facing. Their fear meant they’d rather flee back to the horrors they know than risk whatever might lie ahead. They curse Moses for removing them, saying “It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!” (Exodus 14:12, NLT) Moses simply replies, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.” (Exodus 14:13, NLT)
And so, I took Moses’ advice. I stood still. I stopped yearning for my old normal, and found the courage to watch, to see what God would do now. He showed me all the ways he could work in my pain. He showed off his mighty power in the wake of my weakness. Now that I had to depend fully on him, he had room to move in my life. Those art workshops that I could no longer teach? He led me to train others to teach them instead, and now there are workshops happening all across the country – and even in South Africa! Could I have ever taught in South Africa? Not on my own power, even before I got sick. I could have stayed angry that I had that ability stripped from me, or I could stand back and let God do something even greater.
How will you respond to this invitation to stand still? Will you let go of your desire to return to normal? Can you find the courage to trust in our God to be mightier than the unknown? After all, he may be trying to rescue us and do something greater through this pandemic, to create something new, to fulfill his promises to us. And wouldn’t it be a shame to let fear keep that from happening?
May you find the courage to embrace the “not-so-normals” of life!
Brianna Heida is a chronically-ill mama to four kiddos (two bio, two bonus) in the beautiful chaos of a blended family. She hosts the Creative Salvation podcast and runs Painted Prayers, a nonprofit that teaches art as a spiritual practice. Ever the creative, she’s built her life, her home, and her family with intention, love, and hand-crafted goodness. To read more about Brianna’s ministry, Painted Prayers, visit http://paintedprayers.org. You can also check out her podcast at http://creativesalvation.org. Find her on Instagram @briheida.
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