Lisa Clough (as told to Melissa LeGates)
When most people think about Christmas, they might remember the smells of cookies, pies or turkey cooking in the oven – or time off from school.
For me, I equate Christmas to having a sore throat. I had one every year of my childhood because of my compromised immune system. So I know it sounds odd but sore throats remind me of being excited to wake up and open presents.
Soreness, pain, nausea and tiredness have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. They are not exactly my friends but I have learned to deal with my chronic illnesses through my faith in God and his calling in my life.
Yes, I said illnesses. I have three that I have to keep in check to function each day, although you would never know by looking at me.
That has always been the frustrating part – convincing others I actually don’t feel well, especially doctors.
For so many years, doctors treated me like I was making things up. It doesn’t help that I talk really fast, especially when I am frustrated, so doctors always thought I looked too energetic to be sick.
My main complaints have always been nausea and fatigue. I have woken up with the feeling of being rested only about five times in my life. On top of having Celiac disease, Fibromyalgia and Ankylosing spondylitis, I also don’t retain REM sleep therefore I never really feel rested.
Here is a quick rundown of what those diseases do to me. Celiac disease is a reaction to eating gluten that damages the lining of the small intestines and presents it from absorbing parts of food important for staying healthy. So if I eat those cookies and pies, I immediately feel nauseated and end up in the bathroom. Fibromyalgia causes long-term, body-wide pain in joints, muscles and tendons. So it essentially feels like somebody is stabbing me in my side or legs some days. Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of long-term arthritis that affects the bones and joints at the base of the spine and over time the spinal bones fuse together. This is the reason why I cannot sleep with a pillow, and I really miss them. I cannot stretch like a normal person can when they wake up, because sometimes the muscles around my rib cage will tighten to the point where every breath is agony. And REM sleep, oh how I would love to get some. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is a stage of sleep occupying only about 90 – 120 minutes total of a night’s rest but without it people often feel drowsy the next day, which is my case every day.
However, it hasn’t been all bad. My sicknesses have afforded me plenty of time to stay inside and get better at what God has designed me to do – create.
I am blessed to make a living as a professional fine artist. I paint. I draw. I play violin. And if I have any energy left, I love taking on new hobbies like quilting, crocheting or working with mosaics and glass.
So I don’t really have a lot of time to feel sorry for myself.
Even as a child, I never blamed God for feeling so sick. While all the other children were outside playing, I was safely tucked away in my bed drawing or coloring. I have the best mom in the world, and she would bring me hot tea to cheer me up and make me feel better.
Those years struggling to find out what was wrong with me set the foundation for my craft. Although God designed me to be an artist, I don’t think it is some sort of magic and Poof, He made me instantly great. I have had to work really hard at perfecting my craft the same way a doctor learns the skills they need to cure others.
It also helps that painting for me is a type of prayer. When I create, I feel closer to God than almost any other time. If I go long without painting, I start to feel disconnected and depressed. It’s not just that I like to paint, I have to paint and create. There is a force driving that need in me. I can only assume it is His will pushing me, and I’m grateful for that.
So I paint whales, flowers, stars and planets, and anything else that pops into my mind. I love animals; they inspire a sense of awe and wonder in me. I like taking God’s creations and placing them in settings that don’t normally exist together. For me, it is like creating a new world inside our world.
So no, I don’t feel sorry for myself despite my pain. The knowledge that God is in control and that everything happens for a reason keeps me positive. Even now, I hear from others who have physical afflictions, who tell me how encouraged they are after hearing my story. If that alone is God’s reasoning, then it’s all worth it.
Plus, I don’t have it that bad. I have a roof over my head, a husband and family who loves me, art supplies and internet access to share my work. God also blessed me with an inquisitive mind and through internet-research I learned eating raw foods or embracing a vegan diet diminished my symptoms greatly. So now my health is in my own hands. If I feel poorly from eating like crap, I am the only one to blame.
I figure, worst case scenario, if I never feel totally well while I’m here or Earth, then Heaven is going to feel that much more amazing to me. Not only will I be able to worship non-stop, it will be pain free!
That is a pretty exciting thought for me!
Native Californian Lisa Clough is a self-taught fine artist who lives in Frisco, Texas with her husband Matt and two Italian Greyhounds. You can check out her artwork at www.lachri.com and watch her speed lapse painting videos where she invites you into her studio every Wednesday to learn painting tips at www.youtube.com/user/lachri. She also loves teaching art classes around Texas and offers online student consolation. “I feel when we are blessed with a gift and called to perform for Him, we should be working harder than secular artists to represent Him in the best way possible and grow our gift,” Lisa said.