From one "New Normal," to the Next - Autoimmune Disease and a Pandemic

In 2016 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease - Celiac. At age 18, the concept that pizza, bread, and pasta, would now essentially kill me, seemed to be the craziest thought in the world. Five years later as the world lives in constant fear/avoidance of a pandemic, that fear of my own "new normal," is long past. Instead, I believe it prepared me for a Covid-19 in ways I never could have imagined. _____ You never expect to be diagnosed with a life-changing illness, but you expect it far less in your first month of college. It was not easy. I spent months trying to understand how to avoid this thing called, 'gluten,' and navigating how much cross-contamination I could handle (hint: the answer was, 'none.') Overtime, across the months that followed, I became accustomed to checking every ingredient-list, cross-examining every waiter/chef, and carrying along with me an emergency supply of 'safe foods.' I began to move from a stance of uncertainty at the unknown to one of survival and coping. I slowly moved from fear, to hope, navigating a "new normal." When you can get sick from literally everything around you (sometimes even through the air you breathe) life takes on a new meaning. Sick-days were inevitable, and asking clarifying questions about what sorts of accommodations I'd find at the other end of a journey, became commonplace in my world. I became very accustomed to saying "no" to stay safe, and avoiding anything that may have touched the dreaded gluten. In short, I lived life with something deadly all around me, and I learned to cope again, live again, and even enjoy life again. In the process, I learned to trust. To trust myself, to do what I had to, to keep my body safe. To trust that this 'new normal,' was not the end of the world. To trust that His plan was, and is, greater than mine. What I didn't realize, was that this was all to prepare me. This photo is from my "last minute of normal," on a missions trip, in March of 2020. What I mean, really, is my last moment of what was already MY "new normal." The last moment of my life where my own gluten-related fears were the worst part of my world. The last moment of my life when I would feel guilty for wearing a mask if there were gluten around me that could make me sick, or where I would have to apologize for missing class due to being so sick. The last time I would have to watch as I seemed to be the only one who noticed if someone didn't wash their hands between touching something else, and making my food. The last time I would ever wonder if anyone else knew how terrifying it can be to know that there is literally something that could kill you, all around you. Most of all, it was the last time I would ever consider Celiac to be the disease that changed my way of life the most. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about just how much Celiac prepared me for Covid-19. See, Celiac was a reminder for me of so many things. It reminded me that life is short and should be lived to the fullest. It was a reminder that I am not invincible, and that I cannot rest on my strength, alone. It was what reminded me the most of the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9: "But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me." During 2020, and now 2021, many of us have been reminded of the truth of that verse. It is easy to just dwell on the after of Covid-19 - on how incredibly difficult the past two years have been for so many. However, I think there is something beautiful about what God taught me through Celiac, and in that last-minute before... Psalm 46 states, “There is a River whose streams make glad the city of God.” In the midst of a passage about desolation, the roaring of the waters and quaking of the earth, wars, and a reminder that God is our help in times of trouble, there is that short sweet reminder. There is a River. There is gladness. There is a city of God. I see that in this photo. I think of what it was like to sit there, by the water, and soak in God's presence on land dedicated to doing the work of the Lord. God used those moments “before,” (in my 'during') as a time to quiet my heart and mind, reminding me that, in the midst of a season where I'd have to remember that He is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble, there is, also, gladness, peace like a river, and the city of God. There...is...hope. Celiac reminded me to find strength through Christ, alone. Covid-19 reminded me that strength is found only in His presence. Someday, each of us will find we are in the last minute of our time on earth - our own "normals." What will we each be doing when that moment comes? What would be our final legacy? My prayer is that “in His presence” would be my answer. Will it also be yours?

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