Testimony

Jenna’s Story (Current)

I am not a motivational speaker. My goal is to highlight God as the only way, not as one of the ways to get what I want, i.e. health, happiness etc.

The Psalms clearly display God's power to rescue. In the ninth chapter, the psalmist points out both God's love for us along with our great need for Him. My paraphrase of Psalm 9:8-10 says, “He can be trusted, always counted on for our restoration. It is up to us if we take Him up on His offer." I want to live in His shelter. I want Him to be my hiding place, my sure footing, and the stronghold of my life. My desire is for every person to want that too and know what it means in the face of sickness.

There is no doubt in my mind that God's will is for healing and that healing is for me. It is not always easy going, though. There are battle lines to cross at every turn. The mind is a constant battlefield strewn with mines that explode with distorted truths, altered perceptions, and fear. The enemy is at work, but we know the end of the story. We may fight a battle, but the war has already been won. This battle doesn't happen within our physical boundaries; it is knowing the truth and living in that power.

There are certain sureties in this life. We can be sure of a God who created us, loves us,  knows us, wants to be known by us, and is willing and able to restore us.

My story is not unique among many Christians. I am not special, but God in me is. As you read the factual account of my story, realize there is a difference between what is factual and what is the truth.

On a morning in October 2013, I listened to an informative and kind man tell me my challenges had a name. It was one of the last times he diagnosed anything before retirement, and I was the one to hear his chosen words. He explained that Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. The disease attacks the myelin sheath, which is the protective layer surrounding the nerves. The myelin acts as an insulating cover over a live wire. MS causes inflammation to the affected area and can cause lasting damage. Myelin is necessary because it protects the nerve as messages are sent coursing down from the brain. If damage to the myelin is minor, the messages travel through only small interruptions. They are possibly slower, less effective or sporadic. If the damage is more pronounced and scar tissue has replaced the myelin, messages and nerve impulses can be completely interrupted and may even cause the nerves themselves to be damaged.

The normal progress of the disease is that there is no normal. MS is unpredictable, and no two patients suffer exactly the same way. It can lead to issues related to lack of coordination, weakness, tiredness or extreme fatigue, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, and bladder complications. They can also include cognitive impairment and mood changes. There are far-reaching effects that extend beyond just the physical.

My symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis likely began to appear in my twenties. However, because I have also had Diabetes since 2005, any potential MS-related issues were credited to it. The symptoms I discussed with my doctor that eventually led to a diagnosis had been occurring for 2-3 years prior. During the summer of 2010, I had multiple leg cramps. Usually happening at night, I would wake with violent right leg calf cramps and have to jump around on one foot for a few minutes until they subsided. In the summer and fall of the following year, I had muscle cramps that began in my right leg and travelled up my body to curl my right arm. It became such a debilitating cramp that I was concerned about dropping my small baby. I would quickly hand him to someone else or put him down. The cramp began in my lower limbs and gave me a few seconds to protect the baby from falling.

The following summer, I remember my husband and I were walking more and exploring our city with our then two kids. We bought a double stroller to go for hikes with our whole family. On one of our neighbourhood walks, my foot felt like it was floating, It was as if I was just kicking the muscle out and hoping that I was doing the right thing and my foot would land properly. As walking became progressively more difficult, I was surprised by the next, not to be ignored, symptom.

I had not able to see well with my right eye for the previous few weeks. But in October, 2013, I awoke to an altered world. It began as not being able to read the time on a clock across the room, then became an empty, white hole at its worst. My vision had been fuzzy when I went to bed the night before, but my sight was completely gone in the morning. That evening I cried in my husband's arms as I worried about going blind.

My eye doctor saw me the next morning, which was possibly the most traumatic appointment to date. It was not painful, but it was emotionally excruciating. It was difficult because all of the tests performed felt useless to both the doctor and me. I cried in his office as I tried to complete impossible tasks. I failed every single test because I couldn’t see anything from one side, but those failures showed a lot to the doctor.

I saw an ophthalmologist the following day who confirmed that I had a swollen optic nerve impairing my vision. The eye doctor asked if there was a family history of MS, which I thought was strange at the time. I went home and immediately looked on the internet to see what the connection was. I found out I was in the highest risk bracket for the disease. The offending physical impairments cleared up within weeks in each instance, and my eyesight was better within days. A diagnosis of Relapsing and Remitting Multiple Sclerosis was given one month after the eye issue.

The MS specialist I saw connected the dots for me. What had felt like unrelated instances of loss of sensation or muscle weakness began to piece together a picture of the disease. Although another doctor has since suggested that I'd had MS for twenty-plus years before that, it was not a surprise to either my husband or me that something profound was happening to me. However, I was not overwhelmed by the diagnosis.

Yes, my MRI showed brain lesions. Yes, my symptoms over the last few years led to this diagnosis. Yes, my life will never be the same. Yes, I had Multiple Sclerosis. No, there is no cure.  I don't remember feeling anything at the time. Maybe what I felt was the incredulity of what the doctor was actually saying. I was not numb or blindsided; I was simply not that concerned.

I sat alone in a small exam room in the MS Clinic and listened to this older Japanese man tell me I would do well with this diagnosis because he could tell I had a good attitude about it. My good attitude likely sprang from the fact that I did not accept or take on the ownership of the diagnosis.

I went to the appointment alone because I honestly did not think it was that big of a deal. My husband and I knew things were going on with me physically, but we never dreaded the outcome of this doctor visit. We sought clarity in order to take the power away from this sickness.

Should we have been more prepared, should we have searched the internet for relevant studies or discussed the upcoming appointment with our loved ones? We both did not want fear about what could happen to influence our present feelings. Fear about the unknown is the most awful thing. For example, dread we experience about an upcoming test at school is often much worse than actually writing it. That is why we didn't talk about it; we didn't want to feed those fears.

Arguments could be made that I was naive. I am outrageously positive sometimes, but what is faith if not staring sickness in the face and knowing it is not the truth. It is more than positivity. It is more than positive affirmations and a “good outlook on life.” Faith starts with what we say, so my words or positive attitude lead to a bigger picture.

The Passion Translation says, “They will not live in fear or dread of what may come, for their hearts are firm, ever secure in their faith” Psalm 112:7. I did not want fear or dread of the future to taint what I knew to be true. The words from the Doctor's medical report were and are the facts. I have been diagnosed with MS, among other Autoimmune diseases, and the effects of those diseases are clear. The facts are there, but that does not mean that they are the truth. Facts are subject to change. In the early 20th century, the fact was that women did not have the right to vote in federal elections. But, we all know that that fact has changed.

What it means to me is that the disease, tests, physical therapists or my well-meaning doctors do not have the final say. Does that give me licence to throw their advice away like trash, ignore whatever recommendations they make and blatantly disregard what they say? Of course not. I know that the words and knowledge spoken to me have benefits for me, but I also know my trust lies elsewhere. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and all of His promises are yes and amen. He promises health and life to my body. His Word might appear be in contrast to the world's facts, but I choose to believe Him – I believe the Truth.

The circumstances of my story may be unique to me, but I know God has overcome them, and He is not done with me yet. My story does not end now. It does not end in degeneration or defeat. My life is a great testimony to share of all the things my God has done and will continue to do.

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Jenna Clark
Saskatoon, SK
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