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Women in the Valley

Women in the Valley: Erica’s Story

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

Tell us about yourself!

Thank you for the opportunity to encourage others through my story. I’m Erica Baldwin – a wife, mom of one active 10-year-old, and freelance writer/blogger who lives in North Carolina. We also have an international high school student living with us, which has been a blessing for us and our son. I love board games, thrift store shopping, watching musicals, fall weather, traveling with my family, and coffee dates with my friends. I’ll choose a salty, savory snack over sweets any day of the week!

I was diagnosed with Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (VEDS) at the age of 33 after the traumatic birth of our son. It’s a life-altering connective tissue disorder that affects my organs and arteries. VEDS caused a ruptured colon (at age 20, long before my diagnosis) and numerous aneurysms, including a life-threatening aneurysm on my carotid artery leading to my brain. I’d never heard of the condition until I was diagnosed, and it was unfamiliar to most of my health care team. Annually, we travel 10 hours round trip to see a VEDS specialist for scans.

After the initial shock of my diagnosis and coming to terms with its implications, I started blogging to sort out my questions surrounding my faith, God’s character, and suffering. 

What has God taught you in your valley of chronic illness?

My chronic illness journey has taught me that life is fragile, and it’s sanctifying work to cling to God’s goodness, even on the hard days. With faulty connective tissues, God is literally holding me together – both my body and my faith. Acceptance of my illness and frailty has allowed me to trade self-reliance for trust in Him.

Secondly, God’s goodness is not dependent on me or my circumstances. In fact, in the valley is often where we discover God’s great mercies that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. God doesn’t expect a perfect response when I’m in pain. When I was 20 and hospitalized for several months, I was angry and despondent toward God, refusing His comfort. My questions were hurled accusations. Still, God was patient to restore my faith.

When I was 33, facing another impossible health battle, I sought refuge in Him. God calls us to pour out our hearts to Him (Psalm 62:8), lament, and rest in Him. My fears and questions are not intimidating to God.

Finally, God’s shown me that hope in Him is never misplaced. Bad news can come in waves that threaten to pull us under, but trusting in God is the life preserver we need – lending us strength for today and hope for the future.  

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

The Psalms, Lamentations, and Job remind me that God invites me to pour out my raw emotions to Him. He gives us words when we have none, then reminds us of Who He is. 

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

Psalm 103 reminds me of the benefits of being His child. Though my disease may not be healed on this side of eternity, I know a day of no more sorrow or pain is coming. The good things may not always mean healing.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5

For when I’m about to go into another doctor’s appointment, I remind myself, “He goes before me, He never leaves me. Don’t be afraid” based on this verse:

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Deuteronomy 31:8

What is the best part of your chronic illness?

Through chronic illness, God has opened my eyes to how He sees people. In the Gospels, Jesus saw the crowds and was moved with compassion –how He must’ve seen the invisible hurts of each individual! He’s softened my heart to seek to understand others better and grow in my compassion for their unseen sorrows. 

God has also given me a deeper view of His character and an appreciation for my husband, who’s been my fierce advocate and caregiver. God’s given me peace in the unknown parts of my story and a resolve to trust Him even when I cannot fully understand.

How would you encourage other women with chronic illness?

God has not forgotten you, so turn to Him in your grief and loneliness. Let Him prove Himself again and again with your tears, questions, and pain. 

Find a group of trusted friends or fellow chronic illness warriors – in person or online. Having a supportive community helps you honestly share your struggles, prayers, and victories. I have a friendship with an 80-year-old dear friend who’s been such an encouragement to me! 

Remember you are not only your illness, but a beloved child of God. Don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking you’re not valuable in God’s kingdom. You may not be able to serve in church like you used to, but I always remind myself, “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” Start an online prayer meeting, write letters, encourage your pastors, or find ways to serve within the limits of your illness.

Practice gratitude. A regular gratitude practices isn’t a band-aid, but a spiritual discipline that draws our hearts back to God and His provision. Start a gratitude journal and track beauty, even the small things. Daily, I try to write down five things for which I’m thankful.

What resources have helped you?

  • Vaneetha Risner – Walking Through the Fire (Memoir)
  • Joni Eareckson Tada – Any of her books, blog posts, Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast
  • Elisabeth Elliot – Suffering is Never for Nothing
  • Invisible Illness Inspiration Bundle (Free download – compiled by three chronic illness friends, including myself) – Playlists, podcasts, quotes, Scripture, video links, tips for chronic illness warriors and their loved ones 
  • Chronic illness friends to send out SOS prayer requests or a place to share grief. Communities like Diamonds or Vaneetha Risner’s Facebook group.

Can you relate to Erica’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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