Today's guest post tells one girl's story that speaks very powerfully of God's sovereignty in situations where we cannot seem to see a plan, or understand our situation. It is a beautiful presentation of what true joy looks like. We have found this an incredibly life-giving testimony and we hope you will too.
Standing in my gown outside Durham Cathedral in July, I don’t think I could quite take in the fact that I had made it to the end of three years and that I was actually graduating. Everyone says going to university is a life-changing experience, but when I started the journey north in October 2011 it was safe to say my expectations were way off course!
Having heard about freshers’ flu, when I succumbed to it in week three I felt it was a rite of passage and I could now share the experience of my peers. However, by week six, when I was still bed-bound and feeling as though I had been hit by a sledgehammer every morning, my rite of passage seemed a very different experience.
I spent the winter months trekking up and down the hills of Durham, falling asleep in lectures, and struggling through my essays. I tried my best to keep praying and trusting God that I would get better soon, that the doctor would give me a diagnosis, and that I would start enjoying university life.
Second term became more harrowing, however, after the doctor confirmed that I’d had Glandular Fever and had now succumbed to Post Viral Fatigue. A diagnosis provided an explanation as to why the description of being tired had taken on a whole new meaning. However, there is no end date or recovery time frame that goes with the explanation, nor any way of curing it. It is debilitating and life-changing.
Over the next six months, my body and mind continued to take a painful and terrifying battering. I spent countless hours and days trapped in my college room, held back by pain, fear and worry on a scale I had never experienced before. I clung onto a dim hope that God would pull me through. (Of course, with hindsight, I can say that that hope wasn’t dim at all - God was shining through the darkness!)
In a letter I received from my boyfriend, he wrote these words:
"You are loved by God, therefore find strength in him… Your purpose in Durham will be revealed and I know you can find strength in God”.
He then quoted Deuteronomy 31:8:
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you, He will never leave your nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.”
This verse came to be my source of strength and comfort as I battled on, not knowing or understanding why I felt so much physical and mental pain, but knowing that God was beside me, protecting me, and would see me through.
As I re-read my diary from first year I can re-live the nights when I would be awake until the early hours frightened, worried and confused, or the days when I could hardly function due to pain or exhaustion. And yet I would still have incredible (albeit miniature) moments of calm, where God would break in and restore order and give me peace which transcended all understanding.
My room became plastered with bible verses as visual reminders of what to do when it all became too much. 1 Peter 5:7 was stuck above my mirror – “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” – reminding me to lay all of my worries, problems, fears and thoughts before God, to trust him to make sense of things because He loves me.
What I found most challenging was the battle going on in my mind. According to a rather blunt doctor at home, “having PVF means your body is depressed, so obviously your mind is going to be depressed too”. Depression was another bombshell I had not anticipated and wasn’t ready to accept, even if it was one facet of the illness and normal for those who have had Glandular Fever. Being a Christian and being depressed seemed just totally unacceptable – I was supposed to have the joy of the Lord inside my heart which would make everything better! Yet despite the fact I was clinging onto the certainty that God would get me through to the other side, I suffered panic attacks, nightmares and insomnia.
The summer of 2012 saw me reach the lowest and darkest point of my life to date. I was so ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t pull myself out of it, and of the pain I was causing to those who I loved most.
But God was working in the darkness, shaping me and moulding me.
Since my GCSE year I have loved Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
During the darkest time I couldn’t make out the plan, understand it, or see what lay ahead but I knew God had one. Trusting when everything else crumbles sometimes feels like you’re clinging onto a rock on the side of a cliff with one hand. But that is faith, and it gave me the strength to push on.
Looking back over the three years, I can clearly see how God brought people into my life to support and sustain me. I became surrounded by people who cared for me and prayed for me persistently, never getting annoyed or bored by the seemingly unending tiredness and despair. I found a church and cell group who, I think unknowingly, became the foundation for my security and stability in Durham, and provided me with spiritual nourishment to turn a corner and fight on.
So after contemplating dropping out over a dozen times, attending less than fifty percent of my contact hours, and battling with my body and mind for two and a half years, I actually finished university on a high. It may not have been the university experience I expected, but God pulled out all the stops. His grace was abundant, his provision perfect, and his power immeasurable.
Illness, especially when out of the blue and long term, has the power to define and crush you. It took me on a journey which I didn’t want, hadn’t bargained for, and didn’t enjoy. But I am thankful for what it taught me. It forced me to live day by day.
When you are seemingly left with nothing, God provides time and time again, and brings you joy in the smallest and most insignificant of things. I realised that being joyful and experiencing joy in the Lord has nothing to do with always smiling, being the most involved Christian, or even being overly happy.
It is the quiet, unshakeable knowledge that God is Lord of all, he is faithful, and he will deliver you from evil, even if you can’t fathom how, when or why.
Since graduating Lucy has moved back home to south-east London and is just about to start a job in the city. She loves singing and performing and has (nervously) ventured to ballet classes. She is excited to see what comes next in God's plan and is still learning what it means to find joy, and to trust God amid everyday life!