I feel thorns where my crown was. I be weak but I’m alive. From the dusk until dawn (yeah) I’ll survive because I got sweet victory . Nobody can take it from me.
-Trip Lee from the song Sweet Victory
And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation. 2 Peter 3:15
“Honey, I think evil little elves are chewing on my bones from the inside.”
Most of the people in our lives, including family and friends, have no idea what my life with chronic illness looks like because I hide it from them. My wife, by my own reluctance, is privy to my physical weakness and knows sometimes even before I do, that I need to stop and care for my body. It’s frustrating to feel trapped within the confines of the body I have sometimes. Most of the time I take it in stride or hide it, but some days I cannot remove the sting of this particular thorn.
If you have long-term degenerative debilitating chronic illness, you know the struggle and pain. If you don’t, it’s nearly impossible to convey what day-to-day living is really like in this paradigm, unless someone is close enough to be a witness. Every day is a new adventure in being…well…sick. One day my wrists will feel like little mean creatures are biting them internally, other days I can’t walk for one reason or another. Some days I literally cannot see or can’t leave the bed. I’m pretty sure I haven’t experienced a single day where I can say I feel good, as in well rested and physically capable of doing everything I want to do. Moments are caught where we can go out and do something, but such times are often followed by hours, days, and occasionally weeks, where I have to pay for it physically.
I’m wading in my weakness, He made me dependent. I’d be lying through my teeth to say I don’t resent it.
When I first heard Trip Lee’s Sweet Victory, off his album Rise, I cried. It was the first time I heard in music, no less Rap music that someone felt like I did. The video to the song is pretty inspiring as it depicts this broken down messed up old Cadillac leaking oil and covered in electrical tape over cracks. He drives the car (it still runs just like us) and the car is abused by having paint and bottles thrown at it. Next the car is smashed by a man wielding a baseball bat. With each smash to the windshield a woman featured in the song sings “The crown of thorns declares you’re King, a scarlet robe can’t cloak your majesty. They nailed your hands, you nailed our death. From the cross you reigned, Your kingdom knows no end. Oh Jesus, you won it all.” The final image in the video is the appearance of blood flowing out from the car. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=982PKhPsIHk
What is captured from Lee’s song and video, for me, is the understanding that faith or even non-faith, doesn’t save us from hard times and being broken. When I first got sick I never asked “why me?” Of course I did wonder if there was some punishment or “karma” involved in all my pain, but when I hear Lee rap “I’m 26, I should feel better by a mile” I got that this is just how things are, regardless of how godly someone is. God’s ways are still a mystery to me, but Jesus’ brutal death on the cross reminds me no one gets away from suffering. In that way His sacrifice holds me up, and alerts me to the temporal and finite nature of our bodies. And if all on this earth is temporary then the disciple John is correct in saying “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof (1 John 2:17 KJV).”
My sins are not why my body is like this, but I have lamented the troubles of my body in pure Jeremiah fashion. “He hath set me in dark places” says Jeremiah in Lamentations. “He hath filled me with bitterness,” “He hath sent his bow, and set me as a mark for his arrow.” Whatever reason(s) my life has been marked illness, it doesn’t mean I feel remotely happy about it. Wailing and gnashing of teeth has been already a reality in the midst of pain so bad I’ve had to have multiple surgeries and ER visits. My anger and sadness in moments have taken over and I’ve questioned it all. Yet like Jeremiah, when I turn again to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40-41) and I lift my heart with my arthritic degenerating hands unto God, somehow my spirit is transformed, and I remember who I really am.
Keep all your anecdotes and cute quotes. I’ll pass on clichés for true hopes.
One of the reasons why I find the Bible to not only be true but my primary source of strength and inspiration is because we get 6,000 years of witnesses to all the perils of life. Besides Jesus and Jeremiah, most of God’s faithful suffer. None of His disciples got off easy. All save for John were brutally murdered, and John spent his latter days in lonely isolation. From barrenness to sibling jealousy to persecution by those who claim faith in God or other gods, believers don’t float on holy fumes emitted by their works. Believers suffer. Believers are killed. Believers are persecuted for their faith. No matter the quick fixes to avoid suffering, pain is part of the price for life and faith. No one leaves this world as an adult without having been touched by war, disease, hunger, and hopelessness. No matter income or health, we all come in contact with strife.
And as things are going in 2017, we may see in my lifetime religious peoples, especially Christians and Jews, persecuted in mass again. Just look to Senator Dick Durbin’s recent asking of Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Barrett if her Catholicism would get in the way of making legal decisions. Senator Diane Feinstein said to Barrett “dogma lives loudly within you.” Since when in America is it improbable that a law maker can’t put their faith aside for law?
Therefore my hope is not in this world or the leaders of it or even the laws of this society. My only hope for all things is in Jesus. I cannot count on modern medicine or technology or spiritual fads to relieve my deepest pain. I can use these things (except the fads) to help relieve temporarily my physical pain, but the spiritual pain of living cannot be fixed by man-made means, no matter what they promise. I took Lupron Depot for years for my endometriosis and when I got off it, mere weeks later, my body got smacked with debilitating autoimmune diseases (yes plural). That’s what hope in man-made relief got me. This drug is now being given to young people with gender dysphoria to stop their puberty. We may eventually see a nation of sickly transgender people because of hope in an unnecessary medicalized intervention. Hope in antidepressants is making people more depressed. Hope in leaders is making people less sure of them. Hope in man’s laws and inventions are making us less sure of the order of the universe…and each other.
That’s the paradox that don’t fit in your merry box. You might not understand ‘till you walk in this pair of sox. The victor ain’t the one that’s winning seventh inning. Trophies don’t go to the ones that got a good beginning.
When I say I win I don’t mean this day I’m in. I’m winning ‘cause I reign with him.
My victory doesn’t come from my good or bad days. It comes from faith in action. That means reading the Bible, including the parts that might make me confused or admonish. It means honest raw prayers (where it’s unnecessary to chant or repeat sayings) confessing my sins, telling my truth, asking for forgiveness, and asking to extend that forgiveness to all people. It means seeing my own hate rise up in my itching ears – and seeking truth and love instead. It also means that when the pain, suffering, desperation, and loneliness of illness comes knocking at my heart, I can see the suffering for what it is and can have a greater connection to those our culture forgets or even seeks to destroy (down syndrome kids in Iceland for example). My faith and hope in Christ has never let me down. I cannot explain it so I won’t. I’ll never be able to say I have no sin (1 John 1:8) and it’s likely I’ll experience more suffering in my days, but today and every day, even when I forget, I have sweet victory. And truly, no one can take it from me.
This is the way that life will be. Infinite You made finite me. By your grace help us see, This is Your design. –from Limitations by Trip Lee