Most of you know that I have mastocytosis, a very rare and nasty genetic disease involving mast cells. We all have these histimine-producing cells, but mine are out of control and too many, causing a multitude of problems from flushing to severe gastro distress to the allergic reaction of shock. The problem with mastocytosis is that it’s not black and white like a gluten allergy. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I need to avoid (a multitude of foods, strong smells, chemicals, stress), but sometimes I can have totally unexpected and therefore, unexplained, reactions. At least once a week I have gastro problems equal to the stomach flu. It’s debilitating, demoralizing and means I constantly live in fear—fear of a sudden, unexpected reaction. Even so, I do my best to not allow my fears to control me; I want to live my life—whatever I do—in the power of freedom to trust my God. But for those of you who deal with an illness or disease like mine, you understand we have to be cautious and wise in that trust. It can’t be blind!
Three times a week I go to swim at a fitness center where Craig and I are members. Other days I walk and lift weights, but I’ve learned that swimming is simply the best exercise for my disease and its challenges. The regular breathing, floating in the water, a full-body work-out…every part of swimming makes it so helpful. Even if I have a bad reaction that morning, I’ll do my best to get to the pool as the breathing and stroking can calm an angry system!
The one problem with swimming? If I swallow water, I will have a reaction, guaranteed. Swimming in a lane by myself rarely presents that dilemma, but sharing a lane greatly increases the odds that I’ll take in a mouthful. So if all the lanes are busy, I’ll just wait until someone leaves. A couple times in the past I had to share a lane because I was in the pool and all lanes were full; if there is no other option, I need to do that or get out. And I absolutely understand that. Usually, however, that’s not a problem and my 40 laps are a huge help to my physical and emotional health. Last week, however, that was not the case…
When I arrived at the pool, all the lanes were filled with swimmers. So I waited, and on this occasion it was 15 mins before someone left. I was still sitting on the side of the pool, putting on my swim gear, when another swimmer entered the pool area. She went around to the deep end (I was at the shallow end) and proceeded to prepare to enter my lane. Fortunately, another swimmer in another lane left at that point, so I just picked up my gear and moved to that other lane, giving the other swimmer the lane all to herself. When I entered the pool and swam down to the other end, I wanted to explain why I had vacated that lane.
I started by saying something to the effect of, “Hey, I wanted you to know why I changed lanes and so as not to appear unfriendly….I have a disease…” I explained a bit about mastocytosis and then, to my utter shock, she proceeded to verbally attack me. I can’t (and won’t) recall all the ill and hurtful things she said, but she ridiculed my explanation and implied that I shouldn’t swim—pretty much a veiled threat. Honestly, never in my life have I encountered such a lack of empathy or understanding for those of us who deal with diseases of severe allergies. She proceeded to complain about me to others in the lanes around and between us also, continuing to slander me in a loud voice. There was no making her understand or accept my explanation, no reason to even try to convince her. She was the classic bully, and I was her intended victim.
Victim. I hate that word—hate the real-life implications. I am NOT powerless and I refuse to allow another unhappy person to control me. But at the same time, I was nearly shaking with hurt and rejection and yes, my own anger in response to hers. And then the next time I went swimming…I had to consciously fight the feelings of fear for meeting up with her again. When this first happened, fleeting thoughts of finding another place to swim flitted by. After dismissing that, I considered going to swim at different times. But the days and times that I go work best for my schedule; why should I alter those for a bully who would simply delight in getting rid of one more person who was a nuisance to her agenda?
I managed to finish my laps that day and make it to the shower before I allowed myself to cry. And then yesterday, I stuck to my normal routine and fortunately, didn’t encounter my “friend.” Was I still fearful? Oh yes. But just like with my life-long, daily battle with fears for my disease and its effects, I tried not to allow my fears to control me.
What take-away do I want you to have from this blob? That you look at your life and your fears. Feeling that fear is not something you can control or stop; it just is. What you do with that feeling is another issue entirely. Does it master you? Or do you have the courage to make the decisions that are right for you—and for your walk with God? And if you’re hearing me imply that I always make those tough decisions….unfortunately, no. I just don’t. It’s a constant battle for me. And I’m quite sure those difficult decisions are a challenge for you all in a myriad of ways too.
Secondly—and I make this commitment with you now—let’s determine to never simply watch as another person is bullied. No one in that pool came to my defense. And in many ways, I do understand. They don’t know me that well, and let’s face it: a bully is incredibly intimidating. He or she wants power—the power to control another person because that makes the bully feel good about him/herself. But I don’t ever want to simply watch an angry person attempt to strip another of his or her dignity. I want to stand up and say, “That’s wrong!”
Lord, help me to have the courage to do so. For all the times you clearly modeled compassion coupled with courage. For your ultimate and sacrificial demonstration of defeating the greatest bully of all time–Satan.
For that victory, you went all the way to the cross.