What a wonderful article on a local HopeKeepers Group! Congratulations Sherri for spreading the word, not just about the group, but about the need for all people to understand chronic illness and it’s impact on individuals and families.
Chronic illness offers new view of faith
Column by Kevin Eigelbach
Every morning, Sherri Chapin wakes up and wonders what she won’t be able to do today that she could do yesterday.
A diagnosis of legal blindness due to diabetic retinopathy forced Chapin, 52, the former pastor of United Methodist Churches in Ludlow and Covington, to retire in June, 2005.
She can barely see to read, and her eyes don’t adjust well to light anymore.
"It’s like walking out of a dark movie theater into the light, all the time," she said.
Since her diagnosis, things have only gotten worse. Her kidneys only function at about 20 percent, she needs periodic transfusions for chronic anemia and suffers from complications for gastric bypass surgery.
Last July, she broke her femur and shattered her knee, which required several weeks of inpatient care and ongoing physical therapy. "All in all, I’m a medical mess," she said.
Last May and June, she felt very useless. She never lost her faith, but did question her image of God.
She told friends, if God is love, then God had a different definition of love. "I still believe that’s true, but not in the critical way I did at the time," she said.
She learned that chronic illness isolates its victims. Churches rally around short-term medical crisis, but don’t do well helping people with long-term problems.
Fellow believers told her kind things like: "Maybe you should trust God more," or "Maybe you should pray more," as if God would magically heal her if she only showed enough faith.
"That shuts down your desire to talk about the situation," she said.
One day, while searching the Internet for resources for people in her situation, she found www.restministries.com.
It’s the home page for a network of support groups/Bible studies called HopeKeepers, for people with chronic illness or pain.
Chapin wants to create two HopeKeepers groups in Kenton County, places where sufferers can vent their feelings about God without feeling judged.
"This is a journey I have personally taken, and I feel like I can offer a perspective a healthy person may not be able to," she said.
She’s convinced that although she can’t pastor a church anymore, she can find ways to serve God’s people. Those interested in joining such a group should email her at Hopekeepers@fuse.net.
I agree with Chapin that church people don’t do a good job handling chronic suffering, but it’s not just church people.
I think Americans in general, with our love of quick fixes and our short attention spans, don’t have much patience with it.
A little suffering’s OK, but after a while, it’s like, "Get over it already. We’re tired of hearing about it."
We do not embrace the idea that suffering redeems us, or that it’s part of God’s plan. St. Paul’s admonition to "endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" would have little traction among today’s Christians.
Chapin’s experience also reminds me of my in-laws, who heard those "if only she had more faith" comments when their daughter was dying of brain cancer. Yet their daughter had more faith than anyone they knew – she led her parents and all six of her siblings to faith in Christ.
So, a word for you preachers who say that only our lack of faith keeps us all from being healthy, wealthy and wise: As Jesus said of the hypocrites, "You already have your reward."
May you die poor and sick.
Staff reporter Kevin Eigelbach writes on religion for The Post. Reach him at email@example.com.