Happy Valentine’s Day beloved reading community! Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge holiday in our family: my husband and I don’t really celebrate it, though we did go out to the Chinese buffet today for lunch. The most excited member of our family for Valentine’s Day is definitely my three year old daughter.
However, I do love any excuse to celebrate all the people in my life I love. I’m a very thankful person, because I believe I have a lot to be thankful for, especially on the people front. My ability to be thankful while still being chronically ill is directly thanks to all the truly fantastic people in my life, and the God I believe gave them all to me.
One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2016 was that I am more than what I do. One of the biggest lessons that has already been reinforced to me daily in 2017 is this: my support system is stronger than my chronic illness. It’s bigger, too.
There are moments where my illnesses feel huge and all encompassing: when I’m swamped with appointments or cry about new symptoms or thinking about scary things like brain surgery that might not actually help. But then, I remember: I have people for that. I have a diverse, varied, beautiful community of people that surround me and give me strength, and this post is a tribute to all of them.
First and foremost, there’s my husband. We married young–a week before my 22nd birthday–and had a baby nine months later. Life has definitely thrown a lot at us, and I can easily get into a trap of feeling guilty that he married someone chronically ill. But he is always my rock. He reminds me that we are always a team, and teams take care of each other. He reminds me that he knew I was sick back when we met, even if I wasn’t diagnosed yet, and he married me anyway, and reassures me he would make that same choice again. He is also an incredible father, and steps up in incredible ways whenever either of us need it. I am so, so lucky to be on this adventure of life with him.
Our three year old daughter is a beautiful ray of sunshine and love in my life. She is also my little nurse, and an incredibly empathetic, loving kid, always showering me in kisses and hugs and band aids. She is so resilient, and if she does inherit my genetic conditions, I am confident she will thrive through them. She has such a beautiful little soul, and I love that I get the honor of getting to watch her blossom into the little person she’s becoming.
My biological immediate family–my mom, dad, and sister–all live six hours away, but I still know I can lean on and trust them with anything. They are always checking up on me and my health and making sure I’m OK. My sister, who is two years younger, and I fought nearly constantly growing up, but she has grown into one of the strongest, most inspiring, happiest people I know. Her happiness is contagious, and she reminds me to do my best to take care of myself and cultivate happiness every day.
I am so thankful that I married into a family as wonderful as my own. My mother in law is one of the strongest people with one of the most beautiful hearts I know. My sister in law lives in Japan, but whenever she’s home on leave she makes spending time with my daughter such a huge priority to her. My in laws, both immediate and extended, live closer than my parents do, and are very often the village chipping in to raise my child. My daughter loves her frequent weekend sleepovers at her Nana’s, and I love what good care they take of her–and, by helping out with her, what good care they take of me. My husband also has a great group of friends that he grew up with that welcomed me in as one of their own, but are super understanding when he has to attend one of their weddings or parties alone because I’m too sick to go.
I also have the best friends in the entire world, friends that help and sustain and support me everyday. I have friends from a few different areas of my life, and they all help me in different ways that have become absolutely essential to my support system.
I have a few very close local friends, one of whom is a coworker, who I am lucky enough to get to see every week, oftentimes several times a week. I moved to my community just over a year ago, so I haven’t known these friends as long as I have some others, but we have gotten close fast, and they have become so essential to my life. They make me smile on a daily basis, and are often there for babysitting, coffee dates, lunch, moral supports, volunteering when I need an extra hand, or just to meeting up with me and letting me talk something out. One of them also has an adorable daughter who my daughter absolutely adores, so that helps, too. These ladies have made moving here a very smooth transition, and were also there holding my hand when I got my various diagnosises through the year.
I also have five wonderful girlfriends who have been there for quite some time now: all for at least seven years, one has known me nearly as long as my biological sister. All five were in my wedding, and not one has “dropped off” or gotten distant when I got sick, despite the fact they all live a minimum of six hours away (and one of them all the way across an ocean!). They are there whenever I message or text me, but also have been so patient and understanding when I fall out of communication for a little while because of the unpredictable nature of my illnesses. One of these friends even encouraged me to research my now-diagnosed illness and helped give me information, even before a doctor even uttered the words “Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.” My girls have become like sisters to me, and they are just incredible people to have in my corner.
My three years of graduate school were a weird transitory time in my life, and the time which my daughter was born, so there were many times, especially throughout the first two years, where I thought I was never going to make any meaningful friendships. Luckily, I was incredibly wrong. I have one strong, enduring friendship from grad school, and that friend quickly became the older brother I never had. As someone else in ministry, he can relate to the unique ministry challenge parts of my life, but also has become another safe person that I can talk to about my illnesses and never, ever accuses me of complaining too much. He, and all my friends, help me to be brave in the face of the often overwhelming enemy that is chronic illness.
I am also a member of several incredibly supportive online communities, many who have come to be dear, trusted friends. Some are moms, some other bloggers, some deal with the same realities I do of chronic illness. Wherever I might know them from, I know they are sources of support, encouragement, and love, and they make every day easier. I may have never met many of them in person, but I still count them as dear, dear friends.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention all the incredible ministry colleagues and church family that I have at many churches I have had the honor to either grow up at, attend, or work at in some capacity. There are families at several different churches that have come to be second and fifth and three-hundredth families to me. There are the role models in ministry that shelter me under the wings, show me the ropes, and listen to my stories. There are the incredible volunteers at my current and past churches who sacrifice their own time to help me out. The outpouring of love I get from so many people every day, in ways both little and huge, takes my breath away.
The more I think about all the wonderful people in my life, the less I feel the need to dwell on the realities of my chronic illness. Not only that, but they support me through all the realities of my life: sickness, young working motherhood, being new in ministry. My support system is incredibly, unbreakably strong: way stronger than anything chronic illness can ever throw at me.