The humor of the conference's title wasn't lost on me. I spent a year in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it rains constantly…nearly every day. While in Scotland, I never let the rain stop me or hinder my plans. I went about my daily life, walking to the City Centre (an hour walk!) and making visits to all the major attractions. Even while tempted to curse the miserable dampness that invaded my bones and caused my muscles to ache, I came to see the rain as a blessing. Many cultures praise the rain. Aboriginal traditions, for example, often dance and invoke the spirits to bring rain upon the earth. As cultures and generations have known before us, we need the rain. I began to realize that the lushness, green, and beauty of Edinburgh was precisely because of the continual rain.
For the past five years, I've given my life to disability ministries and work. I’ve written and researched extensively on topics related to physical and mental health, I’ve advocated for churches to become more inclusive of those experiencing disabilities within their congregation, and I have lobbied to end ableism. While fully invested in advocacy for accessibility, I did so as an able-bodied outsider. My ministry was informed by the many people with disabilities who I frequently came into contact with, but the idea of experiencing limitations and disabilities in my mid-twenties, never crossed my mind.
The illness appeared slowly. I noticed my hands felt weaker and I was not able to accomplish many tasks with the same amount of strength as I previously had. Soon, even simple tasks such as cutting food became a burden. Eventually, I was forced to admit that something was not right. I moved home with my parents and tried to regain as much of my life as I possibly could. It was difficult because I could do relatively little. I hated sitting around doing nothing and life felt unproductive.
Similar to the rain in Edinburg, in time I began to embrace this experience as a gift. Being at home and limited physically granted me the gift of rest, a gift that is so precious in our culture, yet one we rarely take time to appreciate or relish. While lying in bed during this time, I heard God whisper that this illness was the perfect opportunity for me to tune into my heart’s wishes and truly learn how to LISTEN.
Eventually, I was able to move out, and I found a position in church ministry. At the time, it seemed that many of my symptoms had abated, but upon starting my new work, I discovered many signs that something continued to be wrong. I visited doctors, did more tests, and tried my hand at medical research (something I wouldn’t advise). The answers kept coming back negative. No matter how many specialists I saw, no one could even scratch the surface of what was happening to me. Through my discouragement, I continued to hear that same voice over and over, “Now is the time to LISTEN.”
I suppose in our culture, being still is not a popular method of preparation or healing. However, I do think it is one of the most valuable. In the Christian tradition, spiritual disciplines including activities like fasting, prayer, meditation, and being still are practiced. Monks and nuns even move away from civilization in order to be alone and listen to God’s whispers into their lives. God's whispers are difficult to hear when we are bombarded by noise and immersed in a culture of “doing.”
During this time of illness and listening, the story of the “Bleeding Woman” whom Jesus healed, came alive for me. This woman lived with her illness for twelve years before a touch of Jesus's cloak brought her healing.
In times of doubt and confusion whether brought on by disability, illness, loss, grief, despair, or hopelessness - the rain may seem to pound down unrelentingly. Yet, it is exactly in the moments when the basement feels flooded that we need to cry out for God’s healing touch. God’s touch doesn’t necessarily come as an immediate physical healing. Sometimes healing comes in the form of an inner awakening by the Holy Spirit urging us to know that He is God even when our minds and our bodies rebel against this notion. Sometimes the real touch from God is not in what doctors know, but in being okay with the unknown, placing ourselves into God’s hands, and allowing Him to turn the soil in our own stillness.
Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a Field Associate and regular contributor to Opening Doors. She is Pastor for Children and Young Families at Trulls Road Free Methodist Church of Courtice, Ontario