Is This Renovation? Beatitudes and New Diagnoses

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In January, I went to my gynecologist mildly concerned about some itchiness and pain in my nether regions. I expected a simple diagnosis—some kind of weird bacterial infection or an allergic reaction. Instead, I learned that I have a chronic condition called lichen sclerosus (LS), which is believed to be an auto-immune disorder. Basically, my skin down there is malfunctioning. My white blood cells are changing my skin’s cell structure in ways that increase my odds of skin cancer by 400% and also could produce permanent scarring. 

My cells are remaking themselves into something new.

Is this renovation? 

When my symptoms are under control, LS is an annoyance, but lately, trying to get on a dependable medication regimen has proved tricky. Standing in line in the drug store last month, my legs weak from the pain I was experiencing, I thought, “This is going to change me.” 

Is this renovation?

Quite honestly, I prefer a home renovation. Remodeling expresses your personality and makes your home yours. It’s also a profoundly consumer experience. We choose what to change, and either take up a sledgehammer or hire out the heavy labor. We’re in charge, and the end result is created to our specifications. That kind of renovation generally feels like a win. 

I’d take short-term inconvenience in service of a long-range payoff any day. That kind of made-new comes to order, suits my taste, and, with enough money, is easily controllable. I like choosing a new light fixture or the color of my house. I like the compliments I get when the project comes together.

I do not like being made into a new person who realizes that she and her husband have to have serious talks about their married life. I do not like becoming a new person who is sometimes in pain.

When I talked to a friend who had neuralgia (nerve pain) in her face for four years straight, she said, “Pain changes you. It changes your personality.” 

Is this renovation? 

I was braced by her honesty, grateful for her testimony about how God has come alongside her, but also terrified of experiencing what she did.

A half-year into life with LS, I still mostly feel like myself, but I feel a great deal of anxiety wondering if that will change.

When I got the diagnosis, at first I felt alone. I have a rare-ish disease that’s poorly understood. But you know how when you buy a new car, you start seeing the same model everywhere? Lately, everywhere I look, I see people made new against their will. People I know get cancer, MS, or arthritis, tear their ACL, find out their thyroid is malfunctioning, or discover they can no longer run marathons because of osteoporosis. 

Even worse, each of us have to deal with the biggest renovation of all—death. I believe in the resurrection and the life, but everything is taken from you before you walk through that door. I am hopeful, but I am also scared.

In a consumer culture, being made new seems a matter of choice and convenience. Very little prepares us for the loss of control that change often asks of us. Soul renovation, is, by definition, a grave change. I do not prefer new and unfamiliar; I want my comfort and my own pillow.

New does not necessarily mean easier or more to my taste or popular to discuss at dinner parties. New might mean vulnerable. That does not mean it’s not of God. It just means it’s not an easy thing to say yes to.

Still, the more I live with the disease that has now become a part of me, the more urgently I’m wondering—how do I say yes to the uncomfortable renovation I’m faced with? 

A few years ago, in a crisis unrelated to health, I was utterly changed by the words of Bruce Kramer, a writer who died of ALS. He asked, “How do we grow into the demands of what is beyond us?” 

At the time, I trusted Kramer more than I usually trust writers (which is saying something). His words went down to the bone. In the middle of tremendous grief, Kramer pointed me away from self-pity and anger and towards dignity and love. 

Looking back, I think I clung to his example precisely because of his illness. He had faced demands I could not comprehend—terminal disease that traps you in a progressively paralyzed body with your mind fully intact—and had tried to grow into them as best he could.

I trusted what he said because he looked into the abyss, yet kept his heart whole.

Death and illness are the great shadow. They stalk us no matter how many crunches we do or bowls of kale we eat. Each one of us, in the end, will give in. 

Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit and those who mourn are blessed, and the more I face pain, the more I know that’s true. I’m thankful that before I was diagnosed, I began reading writers like Kramer, Alia Joy, Tanya Marlow, Kate Bowler and Shannon Dingle—people who face chronic illness and write honestly about the aftermath. 

When I got diagnosed, their examples steadied me. They kept me from giving into self-pity and anxiety. They gave me a flashlight in the dark. 

Learning from those who currently face the shadow is an urgent task. They can teach us what renovation really means, and help us survive it. Their witness forces us to abandon shallow thinking and rest in the beatitudes, where deep grief and real pain bring the uncomfortable presence of God.

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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