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Faith Works
Spirituality Column #25

By Rev. A. Stephen Pieters

August 25, 1997

Recently I had a vivid reminder of how faith can work in facing the challenges of being sick. I went to Australia for the General Conference of the Metropolitan Community Churches in Sydney. Many people got sick with the flu while we were there. I caught it too, but didn't begin to feel its full effects until after a few days vacation in Fiji, when it was time to return to Australia, this time to Melbourne for a speaking engagement. The following is from the journal of my trip, and illustrates how I use faith to get me through periods of illness:

Thursday, July 31, 1997

I began getting sick on the bus ride to the Fiji airport. It must be the Australian flu everyone's been catching. I am so sick with chills and body ache on this four hour flight from Fiji to Brisbane, I am just miserable. Can't sleep hardly at all. Just can't get comfortable. The plane is jammed, and I doubt this trip will end. I cough, I sneeze, I ache. The poor American tourists seated next to me are upset they can't get away from me. When I go through Australian customs at 2:45 a.m., I worry they might not let me back in if I'm too sick. I shake with chills as I hand my passport over. They let me in.

I have a three hour wait for my flight to Melbourne. I get a big glass of orange juice, which almost hurts to drink. I stretch out on a bench outside immigration, and drift in and out. Now I'm starting to burn up, and I'm wet with sweat. Even peeing hurts. I am so distracted by the fever. I'm grateful I'm in a safe country where people aren't grabbing my belongings. I don't know how I ever would be able to do anything about a thief, as weak and awful as I feel. I try to sleep holding onto my luggage. This isn't as bad as cancer or hepatitis, or CMV, or adrenal insufficiency, but DAMN! Sick is sick. Sick is miserable. OK, Stephen, just be there with it, remembering that God is with you. I transfer to the domestic terminal, get on the flight, and thank God it's half empty. I'm still sick. I want out of my body!

All through this, I keep trying to remember how I used my faith when I was sick with AIDS and cancer treatments. I concentrate on praying with each breath. I try to focus on God as healer, comforter, lover. My faith distracts me for a moment from my viral battle. I remind myself this fever will not last forever. God does heal. Eventually I will heed the eviction notice, which I know will feel like this, but not quite now. I've certainly been through worse than this and survived.

I'm 12,000 miles from home and there's no one I can call. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just get on the next plane. The movement of the plane means time is passing. The moment when I will feel well again is getting closer. Not yet, but soon, I hope. God does love me. God didn't give me this. A virus did. God is with me. I know that this is something that will change with time. Healing can happen. Just be patient. Is that why we're called patients?

God, feeling this way is too awful. Think about something else. Imagine the farm in New Hampshire. Remember Fiji --- no, too many strange smells and tastes --- I'm sick. Go to the farm. I can't get there from here. Why can't I think of my healing place from here? Because I'm too wrapped up in being sick. Just relax. Breathe. Pray. Let go. Go for the ride peacefully. Think peace, trees, wind, peace.

I sleep a few minutes, then I'm awake with new discomfort from being in the same position for the minutes I slept; then I try to find a good position. But there is none, and I'm back on the endless tape of "Gee, I wish I could escape from my body." It's such an old, familiar song.

Finally, I feel the plane start to descend. It's twenty minutes from landing time. My ears are going nuts with pain from not popping, then from popping. The pilot comes on and says, "We're circling for another 16 minutes." NO! Not more endurance required! I've been so looking forward to seeing Brendan waiting at the gate! All I had to do was make it until 8:20! Not a delay! Not now!

Finally, we land at 8:45. I get off. No Brendan. I make a painful trip to the bathroom. I walk out past security. Still no Brendan. I take the escalator down to baggage claim. No Brendan. I'm too sick to call for help. Whom would I call anyway? The church would have the answering machine on, the pastor is teaching a class somewhere, and I have no idea of anyone else's last name or number. Am I to spend more time in an airport lounge with this body in active rebellion?

Brendan arrives. I embrace him, relief washing over me. "I'm so glad to see you. I'm sick," I say. He tells me so is everyone else. One-third of Melbourne is out sick with the flu.

At last I can really begin to let go. Someone else is here for me. He drives me to High Point Mall, where we walk endlessly to get some food and orange juice and coffee. I actually feel a little better. We go to the pharmacist, who gives me Australian flu pills. Then we have another long walk back to the car.

Brendan takes me to the pastor's where I am to stay. To my relief it is a beautiful, two floor condo, tastefully done, with modern plumbing, and a nice balcony overlooking the skyline of Melbourne. But no heat. I take a long, hot bath, (in the cold, large bathroom). Then I sleep on and off until 5 p.m. Still the fever, sweat and chills, little to no appetite, and a head I just want to take completely off.

But I'm safe. I've got people around who care. The people here in Melbourne treat me like one of the family. They actively love me. I actually feel well enough to do my speaking engagement this evening.

* * * * *

It took a couple weeks, but I'm all well now, safely home in the U.S. Faith saw me through again. God does heal. God is with me. Being sick while traveling alone is one of the worst waking nightmares. But I lived through it. I survived again. Faith works.

©1997 by the Rev. A. Stephen Pieters

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