He Lives to Help ME Live
HE LIVES TO HELP ME LIVE
By Haley Hilton
I’m lying vertically on an examination table in a dimly lit room with yellow walls in Tijuana, Mexico. Three women, dressed in white nursing uniforms, are standing above me, speaking to one another in what sounds like frantic spanish. They’re gesturing to a three week old incision set in the doughy skin between my right collarbone and right breast. Between long, seemingly distressed, sentences and expressive hands, they turn to a package set on a table against the wall behind them. Inside the package lays a thick needle that jets horizontally out of a small piece of circular plastic.
After minutes of deliberating, one of the women finally fishes a cotton ball out of a jar on the table with one hand, and grabs the needle with the other. She brings both to my chest and the smell of alcohol burns my nose as she swipes the cotton in a circular motion around my scar before setting it down next to me. All three women stare at my now wet and shimmering chest, frozen, as if they’re unsure about what to do next. I bring my iPhone to my lips and speak into my Google translate App, asking if everything is ok. The robotic woman’s voice spouts out at them, and they nod before speaking quickly back to it. “Yes,” my phone translates. “But do we puncture below the scar, or above it?” I point below the scar to the small lump resting beneath my skin where three tiny grooves are raised in a triangle. “Here,” I say. The woman nods, then immediately raises the needle and push it into the port in my chest. I feel my skin, and the device set beneath it give way with a sound like a push pin puncturing paper, and a flash of red blood comes through the tubing that dangles from the other side of the plastic circle.
Relief washes over the women’s faces. They smile and wrap their arms around me, then kiss my cheeks with their vibrant pink lipsticks before connecting the tubing to an IV bag filled with medication. I exhale out all of the stale air that’s been held tightly in my lungs since walking in the procedure room.
I have Lyme disease—a tick-born illness that wreaks havoc on the human body. The longer you have the disease without treating it, the harder it is to cure. (Which made it particularly unfortunate that it took me a year and a half to get diagnosed.) Today is day one of the latest treatment I’m testing out. After six years of debilitating illness and ineffective therapies, I’m more than a little anxious for it to work. I sit up off of the table, and say a prayer in my heart. It’s the same one I have been saying for years:
I ask my God to heal me.
I spent most of my days before Lyme disease in a dance studio. Hours and hours of training were dedicated to pursuing what I hoped would one day become a successful professional dance career. It’s difficult for me to convey what dance meant to me—what it will always mean to me. It isn’t just a hobby. I believe that it’s an eternal part of who I am. It’s an essential element of what makes me Haley.
I’ve been a planner from the beginning. I’m a person that believes that with a good plan, righteous desires, a lot of hard work, and of course, prayer, you can achieve anything. And yet, one day, only days after finishing my first big professional dance job, I collapsed on my bed and couldn’t get up. I didn’t know it then, but all my dreams, all my plans, all my hard work were going to be put on hold, potentially indefinitely, while my body battled a fight with insurmountable odds.
From ages 18-24 I’ve endured piercing migraines, daily spouts of nausea, painful inflammation, fatigue to the point of total exhaustion, brain fog, and emotional distress (this is a gross understatement). My once sharp mind and spry body has become so impaired that even the most mundane tasks are arduous. As I sit here, writing this narrative at 3:00 pm in the afternoon, I’m wrestling with an overwhelming desire to numb out, ignore all obligations, and climb back into bed. On top of how sick I’ve been from the illness itself, the treatments designed to cure it have only made me feel that much sicker. So far, none of them have brought me the healing I’ve needed, rendering it impossible to follow my life plan. Dancing has been out of the question.
I’ve spent a lot of time grieving, feeling lost and alone—totally confused as to why my dedication, grit, and unyielding will hasn’t been enough to make it better. This isn’t the kind of trial that modern medicine can just wash away with six weeks of oral antibiotics. It’s a trial that tests my strength in every aspect of my life.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? (Jeremiah 8:22 NIV)
Where is my balm in Gilead? Where is my healing from Jesus Christ? Why aren’t my prayers, my blessings, my righteous desires being fulfilled?
I ask myself these questions more often than I’d like to admit. They’re always followed by the urgent desire to give up. To stop fighting. To rest. Oh how much easier my life would be if I could just go home to my childhood bed in my parents house and let my sickness envelope me.
But that’s not what I was put on this earth for. The type A dancer inside of me is still clambering, begging me to make something out of my life anyway. So instead, each morning, I wake up and pray that my Father in Heaven will give me the strength I need to live that day. “You and I both know I can’t do this,” I say. “Please give me the strength to do it anyway.”
I wear a necklace around my neck with the words, “I Lived,” engraven in it. It signifies what’s become my life’s mantra after a stubborn moment in 2014 when I heedlessly ignored my health and auditioned for “So You Think You Can Dance.” It had been three years since I had been able to perform, but I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to live my dreams. So I showed up, auditioned, made it to Vegas week, and then continued my journey all of the way to the final cut before Green Mile (the last cut before live shows begin.) The song I auditioned to was “I Lived” by OneRepublic, and the words proclaim, “I did it all! I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. Yeah, with every broken bone, I swear I lived!”
It’s turned out to be the perfect depiction of what I was trying to do then, and in every moment since. When I choose to reach to the Savior, and ask for His help, that’s when I find my healing balm. Jesus atoned for my sins, died for me, and lived again so that each day, I can turn to him, swallow the losses, rejoice in the wins, and play the hell out of the cards I’ve been dealt. I’m not just talking about surviving, I’m talking about really living through Him!
While my days certainly aren’t what I planned on, I look back at what I’ve done, grateful and astonished by the things He has helped me accomplish. He blesses me in my darkest moments by giving me added endurance to sit through hours of painful IVs as they burn my skin and make it hard to breathe. He gives me insight into how to set boundaries around my work, social and spiritual life that will benefit my health. And what’s perhaps most meaningful for me, He gives me moments of peace regarding the deferred dreams and missed opportunities caused by my illness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always heartbroken about that part of my circumstances, but He has provided irreplaceable relationships and unexpected career opportunities that have helped ease the sting.
My longtime aspirations of becoming a professional dancer have been interrupted with exhaustion. Yet, today, the Savior has helped me live anyway by giving me the capacity to be a journalist and write about dance for national magazines instead. He has given me the strength to graduate from college, teach dance, hold down a full time job, engage in an active social life, move to New York City, write about what I’m passionate about, fall in love, create a life with someone else, and strive to help others who are struggling too. Because let’s be honest, if it’s not this illness, it’s a deferred dream, or an unfaithful spouse, or a challenging child, or a lost job, or a death in the family, or debilitating depression, or anything else that’s impossible to endure. We’ve all got something in life that’s causing us to lose hope.
The scars on my skin—the scars on all of our hearts born from years of difficulty—connect to His scars. Our pain, our anguish, our resolve to turn to Him even in those awful moments when we’re not sure we will ever be whole again connect us to His moment in the Garden when He asked God to take His cup from Him. He lived a life of scars and so do we. He lives in our will to live. I pray that we will choose to never take one moment of what He did for us for granted.
So today, while I’m undergoing this crazy, and at times confusing stem cell treatment in Mexico that makes me convulse and devolve into fevered chills, I will turn to the Savior and remember His sacrifice. I will pray to God and ask Him to help me endure, as my Savior endured. I will try to live as He lived.