Everyday Christian: Just another year derailed

Forget resolutions and chuck out expectations

My life is derailed every year – well, it has been for the last five at least.

Here’s the general pattern: In January, breathing a sigh of relief that I managed to scrape through a tough year, I reset and recalibrate. I muster the last fragments of optimism and energy and write a list of goals for the coming year. It’s a fresh start, I tell myself.

Then, by March, the goals are out the window and life is steamrolling in an unexpected, somewhat unpleasant direction.

I should clarify that I haven’t had to contend with anything life-threatening or a type of all-consuming suffering (for which I am very grateful). Instead, each year has been strung together by a series of niggling, wearing issues.

I made it to Christmas, but spent New Year’s in the hospital emergency department.

2016 started with a bout of anxiety, ongoing insomnia, a broken foot and finally, cellulitis (an infection in the deepest skin layer, which required several intravenous antibiotic treatments). By the end of that year, I realised that my immune system had started to collapse.

Then 2017 arrived, shiny and hopeful. I began a new job (albeit with greater responsibility and a smaller team). My daughter started high school. But just a few months in, my insomnia returned and my oldest daughter began to be bullied. I caught every cold and virus going around.

Relief came in October, when we set out for a restorative long weekend at our friends’ beach house. But, on our first trip down the sand dunes, I impaled my foot on a stick. Too busy to visit the doctor, I put up with the pain for about a week. Eventually, I fronted up to my GP, who sent me to the emergency department for surgery.

I limped (literally) towards the end of 2017, buoyed by the hope of a peaceful Christmas and another new year just around the corner. I made it to Christmas, but spent New Year’s in the hospital emergency department (again) after my thyroid “broke”. It had swung into extreme hyperthyroidism, with my heart racing faster than a Formula One car and my hormone levels off the chart.

2018 looked pretty dull and lacklustre right from the start. I was feeling weak from my near “thyroid storm”, and almost couldn’t face a return to my busy routine of a full-on job, three kids and husband in ministry (alongside his two other jobs).

My oldest daughter had changed high schools due to the bullying situation, and now faced the challenge of making new friends. We also began to piece together that our youngest daughter had learning difficulties, but no-one seemed able to find the pieces that led to a solution.

Over many months, I visited many doctors and took many different medications, but a balance to my swinging thyroid hormone levels proved elusive. Night sweats, hair loss, irritability and constant fatigue were my close companions.

Thankfully, the year was redeemed when I landed my dream job as a writer at Eternity. And so a glint of hope returned to the new-year horizon.

I heard God say to me: “Am I enough? If you are never healed, am I enough for you?”

2019 dawned. I was settling into my new job and growing in confidence and love for the role. My oldest daughter had made some good friends and was enjoying school. Two months of growing optimism swelled, but then March hit.

Cellulitis again (apparently it can be recurrent). Oral antibiotics. Flus, colds. Cellulitis again – different area of the body. Oral antibiotics – two courses at double the usual dose. Intravenous antibiotics for seven days.

Over those three months of increasing illness, I sank into depression and anxiety.

And that’s when I broke, in June 2019. After months and years of crying out to the Lord to heal my failing body and mind, one day in that June, I heard God say to me: “Am I enough? If you are never healed, am I enough for you?”

I knew this didn’t mean that God would not miraculously provide healing; but I also knew that I needed to be OK with the fact that this pattern of brokenness – in body and mind – may well continue for the rest of my life on this earth. Could I still love and trust God if that was the case?

I felt like God was asking me to make that choice, and so I did. Yes, I could and yes, I would. I chose to give up the desire of my heart to be well in body and mind, and to trust God even if these “thorns in my flesh” never left me this side of heaven.

In the final months of that year, things started to turn around. I visited a different GP. She prescribed a new mix of thyroid medications, along with anti-anxiety medication. I felt balanced for the first time in a year or more.

A friend, who had found me sobbing in the corridor at church a couple of months ago, let me know that she had set a daily reminder in her phone to pray for healing for me. I knew her prayers were being heard and answered.

If the pandemic had hit one, two or five years earlier, I certainly wouldn’t have felt this peace.

As 2019 yielded to 2020, shrouded in bushfire haze, I felt a sense of supernatural peace – despite my very real concerns for our burning nation. On a personal level, I didn’t have high hopes for 2020, but I also didn’t have low hopes. I didn’t expect good health, but I wasn’t dwelling on the prospect of ill health.

So when COVID hit, in March, I was shocked but not destitute. Like most people I felt scared, but I also felt safe – not safe from the disease but safe in God’s purposes, whatever they might be.

If the pandemic had hit one, two or five years earlier, I certainly wouldn’t have felt this peace. Like I had done many times in previous years, I would have railed against the “injustice” and the inconvenience of this major disruption to my year.

Of course, 2020 has not been particularly pleasant. Along with COVID-caused disruptions (like homeschooling, church online, changing restrictions and coronavirus tests), four people close to our family have passed away this year. The isolated grief  and socially-distant funerals after their loss has been a small taste of the suffering felt by the rest of our disease-gripped world.

But throughout all of 2020’s challenges, I haven’t felt undone. I simply did what I learnt, over the years, to do when the hopes of days and months begin to unravel: I prayed, I read the Bible and I felt God’s gracious presence.

And now we’ve crossed the 2021 threshold. We’re still battling COVID-19. There are still natural disasters, cancer is still rife and I don’t know what even the next day will bring, let alone a full 365 of them.

But I still feel the sense of peace that God gifted to me in 2019. And I know that whatever this year may bring, he is enough for me.