I have, with great awe and trembling, been able to accept that being stricken with Lyme disease is a gift. The lessons I have learned are invaluable, the desperate clinging to my God a most beautiful fellowship, the depth to which I have come to know, and more importantly change, myself no small thing. The fact that I can be one of the lucky few to get to this point, rather than drown in the whys and what-ifs, is not taken for granted.
For a while, I wrestled with the loss of "my gifts". Just this past Sunday, I was yet again mourning the loss of my singing voice. For a while, when Babesia was raging, I had a constant pain and gripping tightness in my chest, like my ribcage went Grinch on me and was made 3 sizes too small, squeezing my lungs and restricting my air. It hurt to breathe, let alone sing.
I love music. I can't say that I think I have a lovely voice, but it's been decent enough to get me into singing groups and lead worship for a little while. Regardless, I love to sing. So it's been difficult to be relegated to the pew, to the couch, to the kitchen sink, humming and squawking as my lungs allow. The first fine morning when I was able to sing without pain, I instead choked on tears of joy! I could let it out. Loud, and probably off-key, but it was free!
Sadly, I've never gotten my breath-control back, or full use of my vocal chords. Sometimes it is such a work-out, I have to physically hold up the muscles of my throat to get through the fatigue of singing. I picked up my guitar for the first time in a good long while, and my range isn't much more than a very low single octave. (Shania Twain was out for 10 years from Lyme disease, and still struggles.) Forget about projection.
So I wonder, why? If music was considered one of "my gifts," why has it been taken from me? What can I give if I have nothing left?
Then I realized my definition of "gift" was misunderstood. I have a tendency to think of "my gifts" as something that I can give - things that were given to me to be shared with others. We always say to use your gifts to bless someone. Use your gifts for good. Give of yourself. My talents are a gift to you. True, Paul says in Ephesians that we are equipped with gifts for ministry, but he emphasizes the giver: God. In 1 Corinthians, "All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills." God is the giver, I am the receiver.
James says, "Every good and perfect give is from above." The rest of James 1 points to all "my gifts" actually being "God's gifts" -- from God, to me. "...Let him ask God, who gives generously..." "...God has promised..." "...of His own will..." James says nothing about me being the giver.
The emphasis on "our gifts" always seems to be on how we can use them. That's important, but for these seasons of life, when we lose our abilities, that emphasis robs us of any usefulness. I fall into a depression, wondering what good am I? I can't help anyone if I have nothing to give! I can't worship if He takes away my means of worship! Cue the eye-roll. Silly child, God doesn't need me. God doesn't need my singing. God doesn't need my witness. God doesn't need my gift to Him. "God will provide the lamb." God will bring His people to Himself and He doesn't need me to be a hero for His cause. He gives as He wills. He delights in my obedience. He delights in my steadfastness working towards His perfect completion (James 1). (Here I set myself up for another dilemma: realizing when is the time to use my gifts as commanded, and when to be still and enjoy God's gifts in worship. Another fine line that requires balance.)
I deceive myself again and again when I mourn losses as something I can no longer "do for God." No, I'm mourning my loss. I'm mourning that my gift, my present, my shiny toy, has been taken away from me. Of course I'm sad. Of course I mourn. But those gifts have been exchanged. He has not taken one without giving me another. "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12) God's gifts are being traded up (bigger and better)!
Instead of sulking over what I've lost, I can strive to be thankful for the gifts I still have. When your world crumbles, you stop taking anything for granted, and realize what a good and perfect gift everything is that you have left to enjoy. My memories are gifts, even if the material things and opportunities have been taken away.
This post was originally two parts; the second has been moved here to make shorter articles that are easier to read. Continue reading for more thoughts on using the gifts we've been given.