I'm going back to church Sunday. I am excited to be going back. I've missed my church and my church family. To me they were family. To them...I am not sure what I was, or am.
When I got sick 4 years ago and gradually dropped out of my church activities until I wasn't able to go to church at all, I was scared. I felt alone. And I felt abandoned. Even though I had been on the church prayer list for weeks and weeks, when I started missing activities, people didn't question me. When I stopped going to church altogether, the grapevine reported back to me that my church family thought I was just going to another church somewhere. The one or two who kept in contact once in awhile to see how I was doing just didn't cut it. It was odd. Friends I had who didn't go to my church would run into friends from my church while out and about in town, shopping or running their errands. And I would hear back that they spoke about me. That's how I found out that my church thought I left because I found another church. I've never quite understood this. One report back to me was that I was "isolating" myself. However wrong that report was, it was much closer to the truth than that I had left my church for another one. All these reports hurt. But what really hurt was that I had apparently been forgotten by those I cared about, by those I called my friends. I would hear once in awhile from those one or two who kept contact, that I was being prayed for occasionally in my singles group. But in those 4 years since I got sick, and in the more than 3 years since I stopped going altogether, no one else from my church family has bothered to call or stop over to see how I am doing. Not one person bothered to find out the reason why I stopped coming, or to check about why my name wasn't on the prayer list anymore. I mean...to find out if I got better and didn't need prayer...or if I died and didn't need prayer...or if I just moved on like so many seemed to think.
I could have died. I was sick enough in the beginning. Every night when I went to bed I felt like I might not wake up the next morning because I felt so sick, so exhausted from just getting through the day. My illness is invisible to most. Unless I tell you I am sick and what is wrong with me, you would not know it. I am overweight which is part of the reason you would not notice the illness. Some of my symptoms could be explained away as being because of my weight. But those symptoms are not because of my weight. They are brought on because of my illness.
I've had bouts of Atrial Fibrillation off and on since back in the early 1990's. It was finally diagnosed as Paroxysmal A-fib in May of 1994. Paroxysmal because I only had occasional episodes...in my case back then...about twice a year with each episode lasting about 24 hours or so. Gradually over the years, the episodes came more often and lasted longer, until in June of 2006, they came and never left other than for a few days here and there. Since June of 2006 I have been in Chronic A-fib. I worked and kept my job for as long as I could, but the symptoms I had connected with my A-fib were worsening as the episode lasted longer and longer. Eventually, due to missing work for those times when I felt the worst, I lost my job and ended up on Social Security Disability. I continued going to church the best I could back then. But by then, when I went to church it was only on Sunday mornings because I didn't have the energy to go to work every day and still participate in the evening services and small groups I was part of. By the time I lost my job, I didn't even have the energy to make it to the Sunday morning services with any regularity. And in all the months that this took for me to slowly stop participating in my regular church activities, no one questioned why.
First to go was Choir. I didn't have the breath to sing anymore, let alone do the walking required to get from the room where we practiced to go back to the sanctuary for the Sunday evening service. Walking from the car into the church was almost more than I could deal with. Once inside the church, walking from one area for one activity to another for the service was just too much for me. Then there would be the walk back to the car. Most Sundays after morning service, Sunday nights after evening service, and Wednesday evenings after small groups, my closest friends and I would go out to some restaurant in town for food and fellowship. I completely stopped going out with my friends because I couldn't summon up enough energy to do it and still be able to keep up with my job. I was exhausted and pushing myself as hard as I could just to keep the job. Something had to give. After Choir, I stopped my small group involvements. Then I stopped going to Sunday Evening services and Sunday School. I could barely manage to just go to one service on Sunday mornings. When I did go, I didn't have the strength to stand around and chit chat with the others like I used to do. I especially could not walk and talk at the same time. I didn't have enough breath to do that. I am sure I seemed rude at times. But once I stood up to leave, I had to keep going just to make it to the car so I could stop and breathe for awhile before I could even think about turning on the engine and driving home. All this time I was still on the weekly prayer list because of the A-fib and what was happening with my health. Finally, once I had lost my job, and I was still feeling so sick, it was just easier to stay in bed on Sunday mornings instead of get up and struggle to get to church and back home again. Just that much effort wore me out.
Eventually, because of the loss of activity and exercise, the arthritis I have in my knees got worse and it became harder for me to walk. The strain of walking, along with the pain involved with walking put more strain on my heart which, in turn, caused me to back down even more from activities in my life. Eventually, almost 2 years ago, I gave away my car. I wasn't driving it because it just took too much out of me to have to go anywhere. The few times I did go anywhere, my daughter would take me. Places like to Walmart, and out to eat, and to any doctor appointments I had to go to. To this day, it is the same. I am homebound. I go very few places. The weather has to be right. My legs have to be feeling good (which now since the knee replacement, they feel a lot better). And I have to be feeling good with the heart issues. This means, I can have plans to go somewhere, and back out at the last minute. So I don't make plans.
Sunday, I have plans to go to church. Through Facebook, I have kept in touch with a few people from my church family and last night I posted that I wanted to go to church. One of the ladies figured out how to get me there so I am going. And I am planning on sticking with this plan to go. It will be morning so it shouldn't be too hot for me to go. I've been feeling better since the surgery and since getting a new medication added to my drawer of meds I take every day. I am hoping this works.
Still, my feelings are mixed. The Lord teaches us to forgive. I believe I have forgiven my church family. But the hurt feelings are still there. Our humanity separates us from God in that, though He is able to forgive AND forget, forgetting is difficult for us. And every day for the last 3-4 years since I completely stopped going to church and have been sitting at home feeling lonely, I have felt hurt and abandoned by the ones I cared about the most and needed the most. My brothers and sisters in Christ. The last few times I managed to go to church, I felt like an outcast for the most part. Even though there were a couple people who said hello to me and spent some time talking to me, most of my friends ignored me. I was too sick to stop and talk once I was up on my feet heading for the door after the service. But I was there early enough, sitting in the pew. And I stayed in the pew awhile after most people were leaving so I could get a straight shot out of the door and not be stuck trying to breathe and unable to walk or sit anywhere and wait. So there was plenty of time for friends to get to me to talk if they wanted to.
People who are not sick do not understand those who are sick. Especially if the ones who are sick, don't look any different than they did before they got sick. The only thing that would look different about me is that I have gained more weight since getting sick due to lack of activity. (And now there is a scar on my knee which will not be visible at church.)
I want to start a new ministry at my church, if I am able to keep going. Someone has to reach out to the other people like me...the ones with invisible chronic illnesses...the ones who leave the church and no one follows up with them to find out why...the ones who might just need a friend to reach out to them to let them know they haven't been forgotten. I really needed that kind of ministry in my life. Hopefully I can do something about it to help someone else like me.