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I Am Grateful for Everything — Even MS

I Am Grateful for Everything — Even MS

Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper broadcast an interview with “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert. They had a lively discussion about comedy, politics, careers, and the like, but perhaps the most stunning eight minutes of the interview were focused on grief.

Colbert, a devout Catholic, said, “It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that. I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life — which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is, and I am not always, but it’s the most positive thing to do — then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.” (The “it” in question is the loss of his father and two older brothers in a plane crash when he was 10.)

I’ve been thinking about that last sentence a lot lately: “You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.” It’s a spiritually mature thing to say, and you can tell from Colbert’s face and the tone of his voice that he genuinely means it. Both the good and the bad are gifts; both have value to a person who wants to live a full, genuine life.

As multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, I think we understand what Colbert is getting at. We want our diagnoses not to have happened, but they did. One day, we woke up feeling different, and whether it took months or even years to suss out, we all heard the same two words come out of a doctor’s mouth. We all had to sit in that moment — whether it took place in a sterile hospital room or a bland medical office with forgettable paintings of an ocean or a family of ducks on the wall — and come to terms with the fact that life as we knew it was over. We walked through the automatic doors into a new normal.

I don’t know about you, but when my diagnosis came, I didn’t instantly say, “Well, thank goodness I got this result. This is going to be a great thing! I’m thankful.” I cried. A lot. I called my family, and they cried, too. I felt numb. Hopeless. I thought my life was over. However, I now have enough distance from that moment to see it for what it was: a blessing. I know that sounds strange, but stay with me.

My life was on a very different track when I was 25. Some of the things I was gunning for, which seemed like a good idea at the time, would have likely been the worst things for me. MS stopped me from pursuing those misguided dreams long enough to reevaluate, allowing me to make better choices.

MS strengthened my marriage because it compelled my husband and me to draw closer to each other. I became a kinder person because of my illness, a more empathetic human being. MS softened me in ways other challenges couldn’t. It forced me to ask for help, something I loathed before I was ill. I also had to admit that I wasn’t Superwoman. I’ve rid myself of those lies, and have MS to thank for the insight.

I’ve come to love quite a few passages of Scripture since my diagnosis: Paul’s thorn (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), the fact that God is my true dwelling place (Psalm 91:9-11), the knowledge that I can always run to the rock that is higher than me (Psalm 61:1-2), and the fact that I am kept safe in God’s righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). However, no book of the Bible has been more helpful to me than Job — the faithful servant who, when struck low, told his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).

That’s what Colbert was getting at, I think. We can and should expect to receive both good and evil. If we’re truly willing to accept that everything comes through the righteous hands of a loving God, we’ll come to see the value of both and be grateful for everything. That’s a hard-won lesson that only comes with time and contemplation, but it’s one worth learning. We only need to begin.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Jamie A. Hughes is a writer-editor living in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, two sons, and a pair of very needy cats. She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2004 when she was just 25 years old. A lover of words since birth, she wasn’t about to let two little letters get her down. They don’t get the last word. And that’s why she writes her column — to help those dealing with MS to live more thoughtful, hopeful, and inspired lives.
Jamie A. Hughes is a writer-editor living in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, two sons, and a pair of very needy cats. She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in 2004 when she was just 25 years old. A lover of words since birth, she wasn’t about to let two little letters get her down. They don’t get the last word. And that’s why she writes her column — to help those dealing with MS to live more thoughtful, hopeful, and inspired lives.
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  1. Julie says:

    I don’t know why people write these articles that say they are thankful for their MS. It is a horrible disease that’s like saying you’re thankful for cancer. Evidently your MS is not bad enough. There is nothing positive about this disease it is a disease not a gift not a blessing. If it’s something you wouldn’t give a friend it’s not something to be thankful for. Get real I can’t stand these blogs I can’t stand the commercials I can’t stand the comments were people say thank you for MS. Being thankful that you can grow as a person and adapt and change and strengthen your inner self in order to see the beauty in the life that is still there and to provide for children and family that is something to be thankful for. But be thankful for yourself in doing that. You not the MS did those changes in yourself. Your family did those changes in themselves not the MS. Stop giving props to Ms. There is nothing positive nms. There can be positivity in human nature. Drives me crazy. I have lost so much and I am getting worse everyday and I am only 47 years old end being bedridden in my future is very close. And that is from MS. Nothing to be thankful for. But I choose to be thankful for the blessings in my life and my inner strength and positivity.

    • Jamie Hughes says:

      Julie, I understand how you feel. Truly, I do. And while I did make choices and resolutions on my own, I see God’s hand at work in my life. MS has shaped how I live and move and have my being, and because it has reoriented me Godward, I am thankful for it.

      My faith is central to everything I do and say–much like positivity is to your life. I think we’re saying something similar; it’s just our source that is different?

    • FB says:

      Julie – very well said, I couldn’t agree more – and in my view the only thing to be thankful for in being told you have MS is to appreciate that it’s not a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease (ALS to some) – which is fatal.

      As I read through the article I sat waiting for the bit where it got to the God stuff – and sure enough it did. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely respect people’s right to hold views of faith and will defend their right to their beliefs providing those beliefs do not lead the people who hold them to harm others. But make no mistake – people without a faith are equally capable of growing and learning, and unfortunately are too often the tolerant ones, frequently having to deal with a sense of (often unjustifiable) moral superiority from those of faith. As I also struggle with increasing disability and loss of independence, but with no family for any sort of backup or support, I get tired of being told by well-meaning people that “God will not give me more than I have the strength to handle” or to “ask God for strength to see me through things” . Sorry, but to me that’s BS, and does not respect MY right to not hold a faith.

      As Julie says, “get real” and “this is a disease, not a gift or a blessing”. And Jamie, I really don’t think you understand how Julie feels, and to claim that you think you are both saying something similar but from a different sources can only be described as rather condescending.

      Rant over – you can all go back to sleep now…………

      • Jamie Hughes says:

        FB, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ve pondered them for several hours now, trying to decide what (if anything) I need to say in return.

        First off, to Julie, if my comments came off as condescending, I truly apologize. That was not my intent. I was trying to say (albeit rather clumsily) is that we’re both looking for the good. We continue on because we see some kind of light ahead. I wrote that as a question rather than a statement because I wasn’t sure, and I would love to dialogue with you about it.

        FB, to your comments, I can only apologize for my fellow believers. The easy-out statements like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is absolute nonsense. It’s bad theology, poor orthodoxy. I wish Christians would stop saying things like that. It makes our faith seem too pat, too simple. It robs it of richness and complexity. There’s so much more to it, and comments like that sell it well short.

        I also wish to apologize for those who have treated you poorly, those who come at you with “moral superiority.” If they were being honest about their faith (and themselves), they would know that we are all chief among sinners, that we have absolutely no moral high ground to preach from.

        I firmly agree with you when you said that you believe that people “without faith are equally capable of growing and learning.” I never said they weren’t. 🙂 I can only write from my experience, which is why my emphasis was on faith and belief. There are other columnists who write from a position like yours, and I honor them (and you) for it.

        Honestly, I don’t often talk about my faith overtly on this site, but the thing that moved me this time around (Colbert’s comments) necessitated it. I can’t write about breakthroughs in medicine because I don’t keep up with it as well as others (like Ed Tobias), and I try not to tread on anyone else’s topics (mobility and other challenges) because I don’t deal with them as frequently. So often, my column ends up being a bit more contemplative in nature, more about the overall impact of MS on life. I also try to keep it positive because, well, I feel like that’s needed. I started writing here over a year ago to help people in whatever small way I could, and keeping my chin up seemed like the best way to do it. I know sometimes that’s not what people necessarily want to hear, but I feel like it’s what I’m called to say (even if sometimes the words are hard to write). I’m sorry if that struck a nerve with you. I never meant to cause harm.

        The other thing I wanted to say (but didn’t originally because I felt like it would get in the way of the larger discussion) is the statement Julie made about my MS “obviously not being bad enough.” I have been asked to leave MS support groups for this very reason, kicked out because I didn’t look “sick enough” or because I was in a period of remission. Those times made me feel like an outsider all over again. I’m neither well or “normal,” nor am I “sick enough” to belong in community. I don’t think that it’s okay to say such things because this disease is on a spectrum. It varies from person to person and changes over a patient’s lifetime. We are all struggling with it in various ways and seasons of life, and discounting other people’s feelings or try to silence them because this crappy, sucky, stupid disease effects them in a different way isn’t moving the discussion forward in a helpful way.

  2. Lori G says:

    Jamie, thank you for the reminder that there are blessings in everything and for sharing some of your favorite scriptures! God bless you!

    • Jamie Hughes says:

      My pleasure, Lori. I can tell you that my faith certainly has grown because of my MS. It may be foolishness to the world, but to me, it’s priceless beyond measure.

  3. Mike Saulsbury says:

    After two separate TBI incidents, one at 17 (car accident) and one at 52 (meningitis) i can appreciate life more now that I’m 69. I do have ups and downs but life in general is Good! I thank God daily for my many blessings. Yes, I have several medical issues but my blessings far outweigh my issues! Thank God! Life is a blessing!

    Mike Saulsbury
    [email protected]

  4. Merv Attell says:

    Whoever this Jamie is….she is really insightful on her feelings, appreciation for God, Psalms 83:18….our 36 Yrs old Son has MS & feels the same way she does….thanks for sharing her story with us !!!

    • Jamie Hughes says:

      Thank you for telling me, Merv. It’s hard to reason with sometimes, but if we’re going to tell others something about God is true, we need to live it!

  5. Heidi says:

    Hmmm religious person tells me “ can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for”. Yes I can. I have choices and I am rational. I am grateful to live in a democratic country. I am not grateful to have MS. It’s a dreadful disease and I would be phoney to say I’m grateful for it. It has scuppered a lot of things I hoped to do in life. It has robbed me of a major source of pleasure and fitness (my running). I have less energy to play with my children. I am not some miserable person and I am grateful for much in my life. But MS no, I do not want to have it and given the choice I would not have it.

    • Jamie Hughes says:

      Heidi, I think you and I (and Colbert) are in agreement. He said, “I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened.” I would say the same thing about MS. However, I’m not phony when I say I am grateful. I truly am, and I’m okay with being thought strange for that. I didn’t think I needed to be broken at the time, but now, fifteen years in, I see the value in it. Until I was broken, I had the misguided assumption that I was in control. MS freed me from that. And I cannot fathom my life and where I would be now had I not had this revelation.

      I hate that MS cost us all something we love, and I mourn those losses with everything that’s in me. And I know that my understanding, my gratitude, could change one day. If my symptoms get worse, I’m sure I’ll go through a cycle of anger, fear, and hatred all over again. But I also know I will eventually come to same conclusion regardless of those changes. And no matter what, I look forward to and hope for something greater, something better, for all of us.

  6. Charles Breuninger says:

    Thank you.
    I thank the Lord for someone like you and for the blessings that he gives us every day. I have PPMS, and I am in a position to have watched my father go through this very disease from diagnosis in 1979 to death in 1987 without ever having anything *like* a DMT or any treatment! He only had prayer.

    I also have other health challenges including a skin disease that reminds me many times of JOB. While I don’t exactly have boils, like he did, I have H.S. as well as my M.S. and when I pray I often ask God to help me to live my life like a modern-day equivalent of Job, which really made me smile and blessed me to see you include that scripture in your article. We are called to “Praise the Lord *ANYWAY*” basically, and even though that can be very hard sometimes, it is so great to have encouragement from someone else that knows that we will all be healed in the next life, if not in this one.
    God Bless you.

    • Jamie Hughes says:

      Chuck, I am so so glad this post found you…both physically and in spirit. Yes, we are dwelling in the already but not yet, between redemption and revelation. That alone is cause for hope, yes? I am amazed by your strength and courage as well as your faith despite your challenges. It isn’t always easy, rarely is in fact. I’ve been thinking about the comments on this piece, and I’ve come to the conclusion that gratitude and hatred aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. You can hate something (an illness, the loss of a loved one, injustice) and still be grateful for it and the lessons and discoveries it generates in you. Looks like you’re well-versed in this truth. Prayers for you in the journey, my friend. May each day with him be sweeter than the day before.

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