But just because I can dish it out doesn't mean I can take it. Just because I hear it time and again doesn't mean I've found joy in inactivity or freedom in pain.
Sometimes I think I'm an idealistic fool to believe that anyone with chronic illness can rejoice in joints that are on fire and a body that creaks and snaps at every turn, and find freedom in a life of poverty, loneliness and inactivity.
Every once in awhile, however, my god throws a little experience my way just to show me how a life lived in communion with Him can dull the knife of difficult circumstances, as His love is made larger than all things.
If you don't believe in God or your god is not a person like mine, then you may only relate to the following abstractly. In any case, I think you will agree that it is possible for the unseen to be more powerful than what is seen.
I have a friend here in Costa Rica, Rosalina, who radiates God's love like the brightest beacon of light I have ever seen. You might as well be a mile away and you would still get blasted by her light, so brightly does she shine. With a grand heart of gratitude and compassion, I often see her soothing the ailments and aches of others. She is a display of smiles, songs and hugs, and when she opens her mouth, words of mirth, joy, peace and encouragement flow forth.
You would think she had been given the world to be so joyful. Or that she's in some kind of denial about how difficult life really is.
But Rosalina has a pretty rough life.
Last weekend, I traveled to a very sketchy part of San Jose to bring her and her mother some chicken, beans and rice, because she had no food at home, due to not being able to work and buy groceries because of an injury. I was a bit confounded by her joy and claims of a "blessed life" when I walked into her home, a dilapidated shack with a few cement walls, an aluminum roof, and a sloping, potholed, dirt floor. She has no refrigerator, no stove, and no place to cook. Her living room is the size of my bathroom with only two chairs and a broken television.
And whenever the skies would release their fierce storms upon San Jose, as she explained to me, she and her mother had to lift their mattresses from the ground, so that they wouldn't get soaked and ruined in the floods.
Rosalina is forty-eight. She has no husband and no children, but has always longed for a family of her own. She lives with her seventy-year-old mother. Since she injured her legs at work, she must rely upon charity in order to survive. Even when she does work, it's evident she doesn't get paid much.
But the light doesn't leave her. Yes, I am sure she gets sad and discouraged at times, just like all human beings, but she's not a soul to complain or curse God for her difficult lot in life. You just know by talking to her that negativity isn't a part of her existence, and if it is, it doesn't infiltrate most of her conversations.
"God provides, God is good," she often says. It strikes me as paradoxical. I have always wondered if it is possible for the homeless man on the street to be joyful without food or a place to live. If the chronically ill can be as happy as the more physically put together. My friend seems to be living proof that yes, indeed, all things are possible with God.
We often hear about how the circumstances of chronic illness cause depression. If pain and fatigue and Lyme bugs don't do it, then loneliness and financial ruin will. And not only do we have reason to be depressed, we have more than ample reason to be negative.
No doubt about it, the cards are stacked against the sick, and I still think it's idealistic to imagine that Lyme disease sufferers who are stuck in such circumstances can live completely free of sadness or depression. But can we live with joy? Is it possible for us to wake up in the morning, feel the pain in our limbs, and yet believe that God can free us from the greater pain of despondency
that physical pain causes?
That God can help us to sing when there's nothing to do but lie on the sofa, or to see with eyes of prosperity, when the world would say that all is scarce in our lives? Can God provide us with such a faith to believe in healthier days ahead, no matter that the world's wisdom would dictate that we might be sick and alone forever?
My friend is proof that anything is possible, because I don't think she was born a cheery, so-happy-you-want-to-smack-her soul, and neither was she transformed overnight. At some point in her life's journey, however, she was given grace to believe in a loving god who cared about her needs and well-being, despite the apparent contradiction of her life's circumstances. She also chose to spend her life in communion with this god, pray, submit her will to Him, and to counter the world's wisdom with that which she heard in her conscience; that which God spoke to her deep in her heart. That wisdom, she would tell you, is different than the world's wisdom, and it is what has given her joy and enabled her to see life from a perspective of prosperity. She knows she is loved.
And while she longs for a better home and the family she never had, she will yet tell you that she lives a prosperous life in her little shack. That's because her joy and her freedom have come from above, and from within.
Her medicine is more powerful than any drug, and more potent and effective than any therapy. It is a medicine that I believe we can all have a little bit of, if we believe in a god whose love can be made larger than circumstances, and if we listen to that quiet voice that speaks to us through our conscience and intuition. If we have faith to hope for things that are not yet seen but which will one day be manifest. If we spend time searching for truth, knowing that truth is often found in the spirit and not in the circumstances set before us. If we believe that our creator who made the heavens and the earth can also do above and beyond all that we ask or think, and is willing to do so, if we just ask. Just be prepared, because God's definition of prosperity may be different than yours; instead of getting a diamond, you could be made into one, that sparkles, just like my friend Rosalina, for all the world to see.