I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in May 2004 at the end of my Junior year of high school. Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease and mine happens to be in my terminal ileum at the end of my small intestine. When I first went to the emergency room seven years ago I felt like someone had reached into my gut and started twisting my organs around while I was digesting glass. It was, and is, extremely painful and nauseating. It was about the sixth day in the hospital when the doctor diagnosed me. I wept once he left the room because I knew that this had ruined my life dreams of serving in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst. Well, seven years later I can look at this disease and honestly say that it has been one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me.
I’ve had a flare up (reoccurrence) about once a year since I was first diagnosed. I refused long-term medication for a while since it started out as a mild case and medication wouldn’t allow me to join the Army. I graduated high school and took a year off before going to college so I could work with the Army and doctors so I could enlist. My attempts fell short and I could not overturn or appeal my medical disqualification. It had been my dream since I was a young child. I have a very patriotic family and both of my grandfathers served. My mother’s father was an NCO in the U.S. Air Force around the Korean War and worked with nuclear bombs. My father’s father was an officer in the U.S. Navy and served on the U.S.S. Dauphin. I felt it was my duty to serve my country. I excelled in J.R.O.T.C. in high school as the Battalion Commander, the leader of over 250 other cadets and I was one of the most decorated (if not the most decorated) cadets in the school’s history. I studied government until my second semester sophomore year of college. I knew then that I was called to something greater; I knew that God had a specific purpose for me and his purpose was greater than anything I could have planned for. I then became an undergraduate biblical studies student and I’m now a philosophy graduate student. However, these are peripheral details that resulted from my Crohn’s. The blessing is so much greater than any classes I’ve ever taken.
God used Crohn’s to alter the course of my life. This one event was a catalyst for so many changes. Since getting Crohn’s I have gotten saved. Since being saved I started asking myself the deeper questions of life and existence, which led me to study philosophy. My relationship with God continually grows and I think about God throughout the entire day. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about God or ask him questions about him and existence. God has used Crohn’s as a means to demonstrate my purpose in life. Well, it’s not so much that I know my meta-purpose, so to speak, but it’s a way that God has shown me that I do have purpose and meaning. When I think about the way my life would have been without Crohn’s I don’t believe I would appreciate my existence and God’s work as much as I do now; because of that I have no problem believing Crohn’s is a gift from God.
My Crohn’s has gotten worse in the last six months. Last December I spent four days in the hospital while visiting family in Pennsylvania. I had bad Crohn’s pain and vomited nearly two dozen times in just a few hours. I’ve been in another flare up for the last two weeks and the pain has gotten bad in the last few days. Yesterday, as I hovered over the sink having just vomited, sweaty and in pain, I thought to myself, “Is this really a blessing, Max? Is this really a gift from God?” My inner monologue soon responded with and emphatic “absolutely…” Why do I equate all the [what would usually be called] happy or good things with blessings (i.e. achieving a challenging goal, having a surplus in the family budget, good health, making it into the right school, getting the right job or career, etc.). Why do we not always consider pain and suffering a blessing? My pain and suffering have been very minimal, and that too is a blessing (I’m not going to neglect the usual “good” things either), but pain and suffering have allowed me to be spiritually and intellectually honest with myself, others, and God. So many times we equate “bad” things like disease, cancer, disasters, etc., with pointless suffering or judgment from God. Why is suffering always unwanted? Perhaps because it is what it is, painful. Not only is the pain physical but mental and spiritual as well. Disease, cancer, and disasters wound and kill. Why is death feared and always treated like an enemy? For those who do not have their sins atoned for they are justified in fearing pain and death because this is as good as it gets for them. I’m not anti-medicine. I believe we should do what we can to stay alive but if we’ve done all we can to alleviate pain and prolong life why make an enemy with what remains?
This isn’t always easy. Pain and suffering are ideally avoided, but when it happens own it. I believe God controls every tiny detail in life from allowing you to stub your toe in the morning to suffering through painful cancer, there is purpose and meaning in that. The first chapter in the book of James calls for us to consider trials a joy. This is a beautiful paradox because our knee-jerk reaction to trials, pain, and suffering are usually turning against God or being angry. It’s quite the contrary. God uses trials, pain, and suffering as a means of preserving us through his grace and this grace is what enables us to persevere in faith. Remember, this grace is manifested in the pain and suffering and we need to know that there is purpose and meaning in it. We don’t have to know what it is but we need to know it’s there. I’m still going through Crohn’s pains right now and I’m currently being treated with long-term medication. This disease is incurable and it can only be controlled at best, but I thank God for giving me this disease.