September 7, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Chronic illness can be a blessed challenge

Shirley Vogler MeisterNot long ago, a survey was done by a National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness committee proving that more than 50 percent of respondents claimed that people with chronic illness are annoyed when someone says, “But you look so good!”

This surprised me, yet I also understood because for more than three decades I have dealt with a chronic problem, Myasthenia Gravis, which causes extreme fatigue and muscle weakness—and can be deadly.

Although currently I’m in a very good place with this, I’ve been in very bad places before. However, only once was I hospitalized during an emergency in Belleville, Ill., my hometown.

Although I understand that when people say “But you look so good!” it can seem to negate a person’s medical problem, I personally find the comment encouraging. Through the years, I have been pleased to function as normally as possible.

Lisa Copen—founder of Rest Ministries, the largest Christian organization that serves the chronically ill and sponsors NICIA Week—claims that what seems like a compliment can also invalidate the physical pain, seriousness of an illness and the suffering coped with daily.

In fact, I have been told my illness is “only stress” or that, “If you focused on something else, you’ll be better.”

Believe me, focusing on something else—which I always have done—doesn’t make the problem go away.

In times of extra difficulty, I always welcome prayers. When I say “I’m in a very good place” now, I mean my symptoms are minimal. So, naturally, I want to claim I’m in remission, which did happen once in the early ’90s.

Unfortunately, MG returned with a vengeance in the late ’90s.

I am not sharing this for sympathy, but to call attention to others who suffer far more than I with so-called “invisible” medical problems that affect their relationships and self-esteem.

Lisa Copen claims that “75 percent of marriages impacted by illness end in divorce” and “70 percent of suicides have uncontrollable physical pain as a factor. …”

Copen explains that, “Regardless of one’s illness or level of pain, feeling isolated and misunderstood can be emotionally devastating.”

It is up to all of us who care to offer whatever help, compassion and understanding that we can to chronically ill people.

My church bulletin includes a listing of parishioners who need prayer, and I regularly pray for each and every one. I know gracious fellow Catholics who even send cards or notes of encouragement to those listed. My husband and I have been grateful for such encouragement during medical crises, which have brought us closer to God.

For more information, log on to or call 888-751-7378. Copen’s Rest Ministries, located online at, is an affiliate of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. I learned about such help through Christian Newswire online at

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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