Wednesday Writings

Broken Dreams and Gold Dust: When Chronic Illness Changes Your Life

It’s been a decade, but the dreams still come. Each is a warped version of the same dilemma: I’m trying to find my way to my class, I have all the wrong books, I have no schedule, I’m too late to register, I can’t find my way to my dorm room, or some such problem.

Sometimes it gets stranger, more complicated: I’m trying to live in the dorm with a baby, or my husband needs to work at the same time I need to be in class, or I need to replace a full schedule of classes but the school doesn’t have my major any more, and I can’t figure out how to make it work.

It sounds silly, but these dreams are anything but. They often leave me entangled in a mix of confusion, anguish, frustration, and loss. In my dreams, I’m stuck in the middle of college, and I can never get back to finish.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Ten years ago, my life came to a stuttering halt halfway through my junior year of college. I’d been experiencing chronic health issues since high school without any answers, and things kept getting worse until I realized I just couldn’t keep going. It was as if I were watching my life drain away before my eyes–the quality of my schoolwork, my leadership responsibilities, my relationships, and even my daily functions had deteriorated to the point where it just wasn’t worthwhile to stay in school.

With reluctance I decided to sit out a semester until I got better. But one semester turned into two…which turned into switching to a two-year version of my degree and taking three online classes from home so I could graduate.

But I never went back. And that unfinished feeling nags at me to this day.

It’s not always the results of that decision that I wrestle with. I’ve changed so much in the years since then that I look back and marvel that God knew I would be in such a different place now than I ever imagined then, even when I was convinced I knew what His plan was for my life.

Actually, it’s the broken dreams that still twist and stab at me every so often. I thought my dreams were God’s will for my life, that there was no other option for me because I knew so clearly the direction He had called me to.

And maybe that was true at the time. But God took those dreams and my timeline and smashed them to pieces around my feet when I suddenly could no longer fulfill any of them because of my health.

In that next year and a half I spent at home, trying to find a diagnosis, drowning in grief and depression and bone-deep weariness, I often felt broken, just like my dreams. The shattered pieces tore at me, and I would pick them up over and over again to try gluing them back together.

But they only ended up falling apart again, leaving me drained, empty. Everything I had been so sure of leaked out into a muddled mess among the shards.

Image by Devanath from Pixabay

But somehow God kept me coming back to Him, even if it was only to hurl questions or cry at Him or sometimes just to fold up and hope He was still carrying me.

Slowly He showed me that He was putting me back together: I finally received a diagnosis (chronic Lyme’s disease) and a treatment that was eventually successful in clearing my diseases just before I got married.

Slowly my energy started coming back, and with it my ability to do the things I loved again. He even gave me five years of doing what I believed He’d called me to do before He changed things again (a story for another time).

And as my life began to rebuild, my hope grew with it. But not because I was experiencing healing or had my dreams handed back to me. I often felt like a hollow, broken version of what I’d dreamed of being, and those shards of my dreams seemed to mock me with their reflections of my expectations, now beyond repair.

Yet God was not done. He was putting those dreams back together, but not in the way I’d wanted. Instead, He made something even better.

The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi practices a method of restoring broken ceramic pieces by reattaching them using gold dust and resin or lacquer. The result is a vessel that is neither broken nor fully complete—but fully usable, and beautiful.

This craft “refocuses our attention from what should have been toward creating something infinitely more beautiful with what remains, and perhaps far more honoring of who we were made to be all along.”*

Like kintsugi, God was rearranging and reframing my broken dreams, fusing them with His perfect dreams for my life.

He reminded me that I am a vessel made of clay, but that I hold the treasure of showing His surpassing power, not my own (2 Cor. 4:7).

His ways are not my ways, His thoughts not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

He is refining me and using my broken dreams to bring me forth as gold—purer, stronger, and even more beautiful than before (Job 23:10).

Guggger, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now, instead of being an unbroken, perfect vessel that is admired for its own beauty, my cracks draw attention to the loving hands of the Potter who is so tenderly reshaping me into His image. The cracks show my brokenness, but they allow the light to shine through all the more clearly. And how humbling to be allowed this privilege of being, in a small way, like the One who said, “This is my body, broken for you”—and who still bears the scars of that brokenness even in His perfected state!

I will probably never go back to college, or at least in the way I started out. God has redirected my life along different paths, and today I’m living some of my dreams in ways I never even imagined. He allowed me to serve for five years doing what I’d planned but never needed a degree for anyway, and then cleared the way for bigger, different dreams—ones that are bolstered by my life experiences rather than a piece of paper earned at the end of college. And though I feared my years of chronic disease would cause infertility or complications, I have been able to carry and give birth to two beautiful sons.

Even though I still carry the effects of those chronic health issues, and some of my dreams may never be fulfilled in the way I want them to be, He has used this journey through my broken health to teach me that my hope is not in my dreams but in Christ, and that my wholeness is found in Him when I surrender to His working.

It’s been a decade, but the dreams still come. They’re less frequent now, the edges not quite as sharp as they used to be. And if I look closely, I can catch a glimmer of gold.

*Magnolia Journal, Issue No. 12, “Wholeness”, p. 16

By Kristi

With a life of various health struggles, including over six years of undiagnosed Lymes disease during high school and college, Kristi has learned that the everyday, ordinary things are gifts too—along with all the extraordinary. She lives in Maine with her husband and two little boys and writes and creates from the beauty of those everyday moments, never far from a good book, hot cuppa, or a bar of dark chocolate (ideally all three at once!).

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