Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lyme Disease Awareness Month: The Church

It's Lyme Disease awareness month, and since so many of my readers deal with Lyme and dozens of other similar, horrific illnesses, I want to bring awareness to chronic invisible illness in general. I will be writing posts weekly for the rest of the month to help combat common misconceptions about people living with chronic invisible illness.

I hope many of you can share these posts on your social media to raise awareness about the hidden, grueling, and isolating battles caused by Lyme, CFS, CIRS, Fibromyalgia, POTS and so many more insidious illnesses. 

My healthy, church-going friends: this post is especially for you, and I think it’s the most important.

I have talked with hundreds of Health Warriors over the years, and most of them have reported the same thing:

The church is not rallying around Warriors with chronic invisible illness the way they are for others with more familiar, visible challenges. 

I have talked with hundreds of Health Warriors over the years, and they have almost all fought their health battles without ongoing church support.

Recently, I took an informal poll on my Instagram to see how often my followers' churches organized meal-giving for them during their illness, and 83% of participants did not receive a single meal during their years-long battles with chronic invisible illness.

Here is the reality: if the Church is not helping these Warriors, it is likely that very few others are; and if others aren't helping them get food, they will not eat. They are just too sick. In fact, if you were to investigate some of their conditions, you would discover official medical research comparing their physical incapacitation to cancer and AIDS.

But eating is not the only thing Health Warriors need help with. They have to research and select good doctors; visit doctors, sometimes five times a week; sift through relevant medical research; and talk on the phone with insurance companies to sort out bills. They need prayer, cleaned houses, regular encouragement, and big sums of money to pay for relentless medical bills.

I love the Church so very much — it has been the single most life-giving community I have known — so I know the Church wants to help our invisible Health Warriors, but I think a few things are interfering:

1) Because Health Warriors with chronic invisible illness are confined to their homes almost around the clock, they are invisible to the church, and thus the church forgets about them, or does not know about them to begin with. Furthermore, Health Warriors are often reticent to make their needs visible because of the rejection they've experienced in the past upon asking for help and the shame their limitation evokes.

2) If the church does know about their Health Warriors, they do not understand the scope of need and the lack of support, and therefore do not step into a supporting role.

I think there are many other contributing factors related to church culture, priorities etc., but I won't explore those here. Instead, I want to suggest a few ways you might advocate on behalf of Health Warriors with CII in your church family.

1) Give them visibility by telling the elders and deacons about them and their needs.

2) Assemble a team of people who can rally around your Health Warriors. Because Health Warriors have so many needs over a long period of time (years, usually), it's important to create a team big enough to make the service project sustainable.

3) Start an official ministry to Health Warriors that delivers meals, cleans houses, raises money for medical bills, prays, and sends notes of encouragement.

4) Start a Go-Fund-Me for a friend's medical bills and be intentional about promoting it. Or, start a Facebook group inviting people to donate for a Health Warrior's medical bills. I did this awhile back for a friend who needed an iron transfusion, and the response was wonderful — more immediate than a GoFundMe. Best of all, it gave her needs visibility, and her church stepped up and paid for her next iron transfusion.

5) Talk to your Health Warriors and ask them how you can help. When they share their needs, follow through. They will struggle to ask you again if you do not follow through, since your lack of help feels like rejection, and they struggle to carry the burden of rejection on top of everything else they are carrying.

If you belong to a church, would you pray about how you and your church body might bring visibility and support to the people with chronic invisible illness in your church body? For your reference, here is a list of chronic invisible illnesses to look for:
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
  • Lyme Disease
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) (this is also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but ME is a preferable title since Chronic Fatigue is so wildly misleading)
  • Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
  • Ulcerative Colitis
This is list is not even close to comprehensive, so if you have something to add to it, please put it in the comments below!

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© by scj

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