Women in the Valley

Women in the Valley: Jasmine’s Story

Thank you, Jasmine, for sharing your story with us!

Tell us about yourself!

I’m an Aussie, and I live around 1.5 hours’ north of Sydney, New South Wales, with my husband of nearly eight years, Dave (he’s a champion!). I’m originally a clinically-trained psychologist, but right now I’m working as an author of Christian fantasy and a freelance editor. I also do some freelance graphic design work on the side.

I have so many hobbies (maybe too many, haha!): piano, floristry, reading, thinking about lasagna… yes, I’m most likely Garfield in human form 😉. I’ve done a bit of martial arts in my time and I enjoy sport (soccer, swimming, basketball), though I’m not playing any sports at present.

My husband and I are very close, but things have been tough for us for most of our marriage. In our first year of marriage, I nearly died from two extremely rare medical conditions and my husband was diagnosed with epilepsy. My health issues continued to multiply until 2018, when I started experiencing symptoms that were somewhere between a migraine, a stroke, and a seizure. In late 2018, my symptoms escalated and I was forced to leave my job overnight.

After years of tests and treatments, I was finally diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) in mid-2021. Shortly after that, my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). Thankfully he’s now in remission, but it’s been a very hard few years for us, especially as we’ve both been undergoing treatment alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

What has God taught you in your valley of chronic illness/What is the best part of your chronic illness?

Before my illness, I was incredibly self-reliant and fiercely independent. I was a psychologist, so I was accustomed to helping other people work through tough times in their lives. I sacrificed a lot of things (including my own health) at the altar of frenetic busyness. Then, when I got sick and basically had to forfeit my job overnight, it was like God stripped away everything that made me me. I went through a long process of grieving the loss of my career, my clients, and especially myself. 

Over the space of a few years (and even to this day), God has really been breaking down my pride. He’s broken my spirit of self-sufficiency and shown me how to reach outside of myself—first to Him, and then to others around me. One might say that it was only at the very end of myself that I really discovered Him. And so today, I feel very broken, but good broken.

Chronic illness has taught me things that I never would have understood if I hadn’t gotten sick, to the point that if God offered me the chance to go back in time and never get sick, I wouldn’t take it (I know that’s a big call!). I’m thankful He has shown me the things He has. And I realize that even though I have less capacity than I did before, I’m a much better wife, a better friend, a better daughter and sister… all because Jesus is sitting in His rightful place in my life.

What Scriptures have spoken to you in your times of need?

One of the passages that has spoken to me the most is the Parable of the Vine and the Branches in John 15. I’m the kind of person who lives my life for fruit (the real stuff and the spiritual stuff), and every sufferer knows that fruit is scarce in the wilderness. You get stripped back. You get pruned, sometimes brutally so. John 15 is a reminder to me that pruning is a season, and that if we stick close to Jesus, our lives will produce fruit in abundance… yes, even the life of the chronic sufferer.

I have two Bible verses permanently tacked to my computer screen. The first is Psalm 42:7:

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

It’s such a poignant picture of suffering and being overwhelmed by all that life is throwing at us, and yet it’s also a wonderful reminder that the deep in us calls to the deep in God. When we’re going through hard times is when we are closest to Him and He to us (Psalm 34:18). We have this depth in us that is merely an echo of the depth of God, yet He draws close to us anyway. 

The second verse I like to remind myself of constantly is Psalm 127:1:

“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.”

Oh boy, do I need to see this every day. It’s a timely reminder not only of God’s sovereignty, but that nothing we do without Him will ultimately succeed.

As a Christian, and even more as a Christian writer, I’m tempted to think that I’m in control, that everything depends on me. But it doesn’t! God is ultimately in control, and my Number 1 task is to invite Him into every area of my life. As Elisabeth Elliot so eloquently puts it:

How to deal with suffering of any kind. Number one . . . ‘Recognize it.’ Number two, ‘Accept it.’ Number three, ‘Offer it to God as a sacrifice.’ And number four, ‘Offer yourself with it.’

How would you encourage other women with chronic illness?

Three words, really: don’t lose hope. And by that, I mean several things. For years, I held on to hope that I would get better, that I’d be able to return to work, that I would pick up the threads of my old life, hopefully as close as possible to where I left off. It was a dear friend who kindly pointed out to me that I was really putting my hope not in Jesus, but in an outcome that may or may not eventuate. God might have healing in mind for me (we worship a God who heals, absolutely!), or He might not—even thinking about that possibility felt torturous. 

The old saying (I believe it’s attributed to Marilyn Monroe) goes, “Good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” But if you’re a Christian, then the better thing is Christ. He is our better and our best. So have hope—the wilderness doesn’t last forever, and God’s mercies are new every morning—but make sure that you’re ultimately putting your hope in Jesus. Once He’s in the No. 1 slot, everything will be in its proper place. 

I also want to say that there’s no greater comfort for the broken-hearted than God’s sovereignty. If you’re suffering, God hasn’t left the wheel or taken a nap (Psalm 121:4). Everything you’re going through is part of God’s plan and under His ultimate control. As Elisabeth Elliot reminds us: there’s nothing in the cup of suffering except what is necessary. There’s so much comfort and reassurance to be found in that. So lean hard into the truth of God’s sovereignty, because it will sustain you when anxieties about the present and the future creep in and you are tempted to doubt God’s goodness. 

What resources have helped you?

Ah, too many to name! I’ve been so encouraged by the writings of Joni Eareckson Tada (basically everything I can get my hands on), C.S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters; The Problem of Pain), Corrie ten Boom (The Hiding Place), Elisabeth Elliot (Suffering is Never for Nothing), Dane Ortlund (Gentle and Lowly), Paul David Tripp (Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense), and Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton (Hope When It Hurts). 

There’s a wonderful little book edited by Nancy Guthrie called Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering which includes classic and contemporary readings on the problem of pain (from Tim Keller, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, and so many others). I’m slowly working my way through Tim Keller’s book Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, which is absolutely fantastic, but a lot more dense.

It was a while before I really deep dived into the Christian suffering literature, but in the early stages of my illness, I got so much encouragement from blogs and Facebook pages (including The Unraveling by Kelli Bachara; Ann Voskamp) and I love basically everything published by The Gospel Coalition.

When you’re really sick, it’s hard to read a full-length book on suffering, but little bite-sized encouragements on Facebook—and when you’re up to it, slightly longer articles, sermons, or podcasts—can really help to keep your focus on God. I particularly love Tim Keller’s sermon “How to deal with dark times.” I’ve also got a YouTube playlist called “Hard Times Praise & Worship” that I listen to when I’m really low, and it helps me to be thankful to God when I don’t have any emotional energy or words left.

I’m also a huge fan of Christian fiction. When done well, it really engages the heart and the mind simultaneously and can speak truth into our lives in a difficult season. I love Catherine Marshall’s Christy, Joanna Davidson Politano’s works (but particularly A Rumored Fortune, which focuses heavily on the John 15 metaphor), and multiple books by Francine Rivers and Tamera Alexander. I could talk about books all day! 😊

Can you relate to Jasmine’s story? What part of her testimony most encouraged you? Any words you would like to leave for her in the comments?

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