Thank you, Sara, for sharing your story with us!
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Sara Willoughby, I’m the author of He’s Making Diamonds, about faith in God in chronic illness. I am also the founder and host of the Diamonds conference, a free online conference for Christians with chronic illnesses, and a Young Life leader. I am recovering from Lyme disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and Toxic Mold Poisoning.
I love writing, reading, and really most types of adventuring. I also enjoy making jewelry, eating dark chocolate, watching superhero movies, and . . . German longsword fighting. Yes, for real.
I currently live in Arizona, but I’ve also lived in Florida, South Korea, Washington state, and Montana!
What has God taught you in your valley of chronic illness?
So much that I wrote a book about it, haha. But I think one of the biggest things that shaped me in my valley was asking God a lot of questions. Why? Why me? Why now? How could you allow this? Why my loved ones? How do I survive this? How do I reconcile my childhood baby faith with the reality of suffering I am currently facing?
I think so often we try to push our questions down, thinking that they are somehow wrong. That if we had faith, we wouldn’t have such questions. But I think when we push questions down, we distance ourselves from God. We put up a barrier between us and Him. The reality is, it is faith that allows us to ask questions. We ask questions because we trust that God can stand up to it. He isn’t going to be phased by anything we are wondering and feeling.
When I asked questions, it grew an intimacy with God that I had never experienced before. Instead of being wrong or pushing me away from Him, it drew me closer to Him. So friend, ask God your questions — especially the messy ones.
What Scriptures have spoken to you in your times of need?
My favorite verse is II Corinthians 12:9, which says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” When I was at one of my lowest points, I printed it out, colored it, and tacked it to the wall in my closet.
I was choosing to believe that God could hold me no matter what. That even when I failed, He was enough. When I wasn’t enough, when I couldn’t do it, He was still in control and He was still good. I was choosing to believe that God could work in my weaknesses and even be glorified through them — and He was. He still is.
It reminded me that my weakness was not wasted, that my weakness was powerful in the hands of my loving God. In the hands of your loving God.
What is the best part of your chronic illness?
What an interesting question! I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. I think the best part of being chronically ill has been the understanding that it has given me. A greater understanding of who God is. A greater understanding of myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, and how I function. But especially, a greater understanding of those around me, and how to love them well in suffering.
I think so many chronic illness warriors feel alone, and misunderstanding definitely contributes to that. But with understanding from experience, it gives me the chance to look someone in the eyes and say “you’re not alone” and know some of the weight of those words. Experiencing suffering also has given me a better ability to understand and come alongside those experiencing many other types of suffering.
Even if our outward experiences are vastly different, human hearts are amazingly alike.
How would you encourage other women with chronic illness?
Sister, you are not alone! I know it feels like you are. I know that when people don’t understand, it is so isolating. I know that out of sight, out of mind is too often a reality. I know you might feel like you’re the only one in the world who is going through the suffering you are facing. I know that lifestyle changes have shaken up your connection with community.
But you are not alone. I mean it. There are so many who understand — look around this blog! There are others who are living it. And there are also healthy people who have supernatural understanding and compassion for what you are going through (see 2 Cor 1:3-4). Who want to help you, but might not know how. Who are watching your silent suffering and you don’t even know it. I say this from experience, not just wishful thinking.
And beyond anything else, our Lord is with you. He does not sleep. His love endures. He sees. You are seen by Him, truly, an you are loved by Him. He does not leave us or forsake us (see Deut 31:8). And that has nothing to do with us, it is just how is is. Who He is.