God’s Grace in the Face of Lyme

Today is Lyme Awareness Day. If your friend circle looks anything like mine, you may have noticed more and more people are being affected by Lyme Disease. It’s a condition that causes whole body symptoms that look different for each person. Often, it can cause life to slow significantly or even stop for those battling it.

You may not know that several of our True Woman blogger team are battling this disease themselves. From where I sit, watching their lives, it’s easy to see God’s grace working in them through intense suffering, so I asked them to share a bit of their stories with you. Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell are moms, authors, and speakers; Katie Laitkep is a seminary student and hospital teacher; and Leanna Shepard is a writer for Revive Our Hearts. We hope their words will encourage you in your own trials and give you some ways to help those who are suffering with a chronic disease.

Q: Would you be willing to share a brief testimony about how God is working His grace in you through fighting Lyme?

Sarah Walton: Fourteen years ago, I said “I do” with stars in my eyes and great expectations for what was to come. Little did I know that those rose-colored glasses would soon shatter and the painful road of chronic illness, special needs, and long-suffering would become my reality. From a young age, our eldest son began displaying behavior that was defiant and destructive and has caused a decade of confusion and chaos in our home. Countless doctors, tests, and evaluations seemed to leave doctors shaking their heads.

Along with that, my own health grew worse, and after I finally received a diagnosis of Lyme Disease, it became increasingly clear that all four of my children’s symptoms were the result of Lyme Disease being passed down from me. This was no longer just my battle—it was a family battle. As my son’s disorder continued to overwhelm our family, confusion and hurt began to grow in our other children, and our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all.

I was on a scary journey that it seemed no one else could relate to. As the struggles intensified, I found myself pulling away from those I cared about, staying home, and pushing down the stress and emotional turmoil building within me. In the confusion, fear, and uncertain future, I felt utterly alone.

But over these lonely and painful years I have discovered within me a thankfulness for the hard road I have been given to travel. Walking it has brought me a greater understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to know Him not only as my Savior, but my comfort, sustainer, hope, and strength. There’s something about having our worldly comforts stripped away that allows us to begin to experience the true depth, length, and height of His love for us. Christ has walked the road to Calvary so that I would never have to walk any road apart from Him.

Kristen Wetherell: By my junior year of college, the healthy, pain-free life I had known began to disintegrate. Over a period of six years, I went from running and doing theater and energetic days to perpetual weakness, inhibited movement, and chronic fatigue that put me in bed at 8:30 p.m. I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of being a professional actor, and soon I moved back home again, exhausted and in pain.

I knew something wasn’t right, but no doctor could give me an answer. Every new visit left me with the question mark of defeat, as the easy answer would be repeated: “You’re fine. You’re young. Go home.”

Yet the problems worsened as the years passed.

After a long day of typing at work, my arms and hands would ring with aching pain to the point that I couldn’t perform simple tasks like opening jars, doing laundry, even holding a pencil. My knees and feet raged with a similar pain, and my ability to exercise—even take short walks—vanished completely. The fatigue felt like waves of heaviness, like crawling through a dense fog, that would keep me from focus and any sense of normality.

There were days when I wondered if my health was completely slipping away.

After six long years, my husband, Brad, and I saw a Lyme Disease specialist (LLMD) because my symptoms matched those of Lyme Disease. The day the nurse called with confirmation was bittersweet—so good to have an answer; so scary to realize the road ahead of us.

By God’s grace, and after a few years of treatment, we have every reason to believe the Lyme is gone (I joke that I now stay up later than Brad some nights!). Even still, as we sometimes say to people, “The war is won, but the city is ravaged.” My body has been left weak and has years of rebuilding to do. Some days are long and hard and strewn with discomfort. My struggle with pain looks different now, but it’s still an everyday fight to persevere in hope.

These years have been dark and difficult, but this place of weakness—of sharing in the sufferings of Christ—is where Jesus has drawn me closer to Himself. He’s shown me that my greatest need isn’t actually bodily healing but salvation from sin. And He’s taught me the beauty of a life totally dependent upon His strength, joy, and peace when I have none of those in and of myself.

Leanna Shepard: Battling Lyme Disease and its accompanying roller coaster of emotions was never part of my plan. But remembering what Christ suffered for my sake arouses in me feelings of awe and gratitude that soothe the festering wounds of hurt and fear.

While I don’t have a choice in what I face from day to day, I do have a choice in whether I’ll gladly share in Christ’s sufferings or resist and question every moment.

Just as “not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed” (Josh. 21:45), I can trust in God’s faithful character and know that He has not failed me either.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I wake up every morning with a smile on my face! Most days I fight hard to see light through the darkness. But I’m learning (ever so slowly!) to appreciate the growth that comes from pain and suffering:

  • I am much more limited and helpless than I ever recognized or acknowledged.

Jesus is stronger and more loving than I ever imagined or gave Him credit for.

  • I am prone to place myself in the center of the universe and forget there are others who are suffering.

Jesus, the Creator of the universe, set aside His rights and gave up His life to save a sin-sick people.

  • I am not the savior with all the answers.

Jesus is the Savior, and He has everything perfectly under control.

  • I am a frail being who needs to admit her needs and ask for help.

Jesus is all-sufficient, kind, and good. He supplies everything I need.

The list could go on, because suffering is a school from which I’ll never graduate this side of heaven. Thankfully, though, God is a patient teacher. He doesn’t grow weary of me when I grow weary or become irritated with me when I’m irritated. His love and grace are constant even on my worst days.

Katie Laitkep: When I was about ten years old, I started struggling with physical illness. For ten years I faced worsening symptoms, and my family took me to doctor after doctor, some of the best in the nation, specialists who would take hours to study my case just to refer me on to someone else in their field or to provide a treatment solution that did not last.

We moved away from the home where my brothers and I had grown up, and when my symptoms became too severe, I withdrew from my high school. My identity, built on accomplishments at school, fell to pieces; my friends were suddenly far away; my future lacked the certainty of a world I once thought I could control.

Desperation changed my relationship with Christ. It was when it seemed like I had nothing that Jesus became everything. I was not diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease until a decade had passed, and in the process, I learned what it means to throw yourself on the mercy of Christ.

People tend to assume that the worst part of living with a chronic illness is having to withstand the physical pain, but that has never been my primary struggle. I can often muscle up enough strength to make it through the day, but I’ve often wondered what to do with disappointment. Over the years, I have banked my faith on blood tests and pill bottles, and when healing did not come, when I woke up with fever or with a migraine that was too much to manage, what I could not handle was the pain of a broken heart.

Chronic illness is a lonely place to live. I have cried more tears over the isolation and loneliness of Lyme than over any physical symptom I’ve ever suffered. This is the side effect of sickness that I would not wish on anyone, and yet I thank God for how He has used it to pull me closer to Christ. In those moments, the Holy Spirit’s whispered grace has proven that Jesus is enough.

Q: What are some ways we can help our friends struggling with Lyme (or other chronic illnesses)?

Sarah: The people that have been helpful over the years are those who have been willing to long-suffer with me, giving me space to grieve, yet also sharing a word of encouragement and reminding me often that they are praying. Practical help from others has often been a tangible way the Lord has shown His faithfulness to us as well. Rather than asking me how they can help, someone will simply tell me that they are bringing me a meal and ask which night works best. Or when the needs have been so great in our family, someone dropping off a basket of snacks that fit our specific diet and little gifts for the kids has been such a sweet touch from the Lord.

Kristen: If you know someone with Lyme, they’ll be blessed to know you’re praying for them. It also helps when you can serve in unexpected ways: grab groceries, clean their house, watch their kids, send a gift, or make a quick phone call. A little goes a long way! Another helpful tip? Talk about Lyme. Help us raise awareness. More research is being funded to identify, treat, and eradicate this awful disease, but there’s a long way to go. I’m so grateful our Lord Jesus is sovereign over it!

Leanna: It’s humbling to ask for help, especially when you know you have nothing to offer in return. I’ve been most encouraged by friends who consistently check in with me. Here are a couple tips for helping the one in need:

  • Follow through on your offers to help.
    It’s nice to know you’re being prayed for, but I can’t tell you how encouraging it is when a friend proves her genuineness through her actions.
  • Kind words are golden; a listening ear is priceless.
    Be the friend willing to listen and comfort, not the one who sees everyone as a problem to solve.
  • Be careful not to rush to conclusions.
    The way each person processes grief, chronic illness, or any form of suffering is complicated and varied. Please don’t assume you understand how someone feels or why they’re facing a particular trial.

Q: What are some resources that have encouraged you in your season of suffering?

Leanna’s reading list:

Sarah recommends:

Katie: Over the last decade, I cannot think of a time when I have not had a book by Joni Eareckson Tada, Elisabeth Elliot, or Amy Carmichael on my nightstand. They have become manuals modeling how to fight hard for faith in the midst of suffering. All three women continue to teach this slow-learning patient what it looks like to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Q: Any last thoughts to leave our readers with?

Katie: At the end of the day, I don’t want to be a spokesperson for Lyme Disease. My hope is not in my doctor or in my treatment or in increased public awareness. My confidence is in Christ. He is my hope. The God who heals, sovereign over sickness and sin: He will be faithful to the end.

For more encouragement and writing from Kristen, Sarah, Katie, and Leanna, check out their personal blogs by clicking the links. 

About the Author

Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins is a biblical counselor based in northern Indiana who finds joy in helping people find help, hope, and healing in Christ. Reading, hiking, watching soccer, collecting records, and chatting over coffee are her everyday delights. Hayley formerly served … read more …

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