What Happened When...Our Son was Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness by Laura Erickson

The dreaded “word” problem. Usually at the end of a math test, these questions would vex me to a state of pure panic as I scrambled to decipher the logic out of it—what equation do I use, and what number goes where? Taking a known computation and applying it to a “real life” situation was never my strong suit. In many ways, the journey of this last year has felt like a word problem. Trials might be considered the word problems of spiritual growth--in which we are challenged to apply our knowledge of truth about God and who He is to our current struggle.

About a year ago we were waiting patiently on a virus to “clear out” of our son Peter’s system. He had just finished the first semester of 7th grade and had been sick on and off for a month or two. Just when we thought he was over the sickness, he would start up with symptoms again. The vomiting and diarrhea were obvious and concerning, but there were less obvious symptoms that looking back I should have noticed…the weight loss, the pale skin, the lack of energy. I remember the night my mom-alarm went off and I knew we needed help. I made the call and pushed for an immediate appointment.

Peter and I sat in stunned silence as our gastroenterologist delivered the news with unsympathetic resignation: “I’m fairly certain that Peter has Crohn’s Disease and we will need to schedule some tests to confirm that diagnosis.” And he left the room. To say we were unprepared for that announcement was an understatement—but to be ignorant of the disease was an advantage at this point. We didn’t yet know enough to be worried. Test after gruesome test was administered and while all of life that didn’t have to do with vomit and diarrhea and colons and intestines was suspended, we quickly got “up to speed” on what we were dealing with. Looking back, we are thankful for a quick and confident diagnosis.

The “wall” was formidable. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is associated with inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. It is chronic, meaning there is no cure—only management of the symptoms. A combination of genetics, environmental factors, and an abnormal immune response seems to be the cause, although no history of the disease was found in either of our families. It exists in various degrees of severity, but in some cases, it can result in significant pain, suffering, and surgical intervention.

 As I researched and learned about the treatments available, I was both overwhelmed by the unknown and comforted by the way God was revealing Himself through the kind words of our doctors, the prayers and care of our family and friends, His own words through scripture, and the growing faith of our son. We took heart in the words of Psalm 91. We began treating the disease with medicine, praying by faith that God was in control of the circumstances. We prayed for wisdom for the doctors, and for the medicine to be effective. I reached out to other moms that had navigated these same waters. We felt God’s hand of healing as Peter began to feel better through the initial treatments and we returned to a life-rhythm that felt almost normal. And then the rains came.

Peter faced some side effects of the medicine that challenged his faith. Perseverance became real to him as he realized this was going to be a life-long struggle. For the first time since the onset, he began to ask “why did this happen to me?”  That was probably the day that I cried the most—watching him struggle with the reality of a diagnosis that made him different than his peers. No 13 year old kid wants to be “special.” They want to be “normal.” There were tears and prayers and mourning for the normal that he would never be. He battled fear as we came to the end of the first phase of treatment and some of his symptoms were returning. We wrestled with the decision to take Peter out of the country on a family mission trip, against the will of his doctor. We battled discouragement when learning his condition was not as mild as we had hoped. There were fights with our insurance company over treatment and anxiety over the new medication.

Still, we prayed, others prayed, and we waited. I learned that waiting is harder for me than fighting. I learned that the kind of waiting that grows our faith is active and purposeful in its design, and that there is no “fast-tracking” the process. As I read about the apostle Paul’s thorn in 2 Cor. Chapter 12, I was challenged by his gracious acceptance of it. Was our son ready or able to take on this attitude? Did Peter’s “word problem” even look like mine? Or anyone elses?  I’m not sure I know the answer to this question, and yet we felt God encouraging us with the truth of Romans 8:28, knowing that He would work through both the good and difficult circumstances for His glory and for His purposes. I took courage in the knowledge that God was and is perfecting Peter’s faith through this trial.

Lately, there have been more good days than bad. The medication he has been taking over the last 3 months has been effective in keeping his symptoms at bay and has even allowed his body to grow—a recent development that has been a long awaited answer to prayer. Praise God!! The application of my knowledge of Jehovah God, His character and His promises into this equation of a complicated health issue is a faith-work in progress. I don’t have it figured out yet--but I do know this: God is always greater than the sum total of our feelings, our resources, and our circumstances. We are laying our stones of remembrance of what God has accomplished so that we do not forget that His power is made perfect in weakness, His grace is sufficient even in the waiting, and that He works in all things—especially trials—for His good.

 

Laura and her family have attended Valley Church for many years.  She has actively been involved in the Creative Arts Ministry using her many musical talents to bless all of us.