In 1986, at the age of 20, Lisa Boyle was diagnosed with a progressive disease called Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (LGMD). She believed the disease would show up later in life – she was in good health and showed no symptoms. But at 34, LGMD took the use of her legs, confined her to a wheelchair, and severely restricted the use of her arms and hands. Overtime, she lost the ability to reach her arms upward; turning her head from side to side has been severely restricted. Then last year at age 49, she was diagnosed with a disease unrelated to LGMD: Birdshot Chorioretinopathy, a rare eye condition that now threatens to take her eyesight.
As a long time member of the Rock Church, she brings her unique perspective to answer this question: What things are most important in life?
I am grateful for the chance to tell others what I believe to be really important in life—now that parts of my life, as I used to know it, have been taken away. A progressive disease like I have not only changes you physically, but spiritually as well. That’s actually a good thing. I really don’t like to talk about my own mortality. I can’t talk about it and still have the hope and strength that I need to fight my eye disease and win. When I found out that I could lose my eyesight, it was worse than finding out I had LGMD. The idea that I might lose the ability to see is almost unbearable. I want to live the rest of my time seeing my husband, the children that I tutor on Saturday mornings, and the beauty in nature all around me. I’m eating right and taking my medication, and even though the side affects of the meds include awful pains in my stomach and chest, sleepless nights, and horrible panic attacks, it’s worth it. I want to see.
People ask me if I am mad at God. I do feel like Job at times. This is a lot for one person to take. But I’m not mad at God. I still love Him. And I know, no matter what, He still loves me. I do so wish, however, I could still do some of the things that I used to. Top among them would be to ice skate or ice dance. It was my dream when I was a young girl, to fly away on the ice, into the wind and the cold, into my own world. And even though I may not skate again in this life, I will have my time to be on the ice one day. I can’t wait.
Three things come to mind when I think about what things are most important in life. First of all, if you’re anything like I was, I had spent my life too busy to put God first. I always thought that I had, within me, all the strength and wisdom I needed. I had always thought of God as important. But there’s a difference between knowing He is important, and actually putting everything aside to finally say, God, You’re not just important, You’re my purpose, my reason for being on this earth. It happened for me when I was 40. Because of my illness, I fell and broke my arm. It was a bad break and it left me incapacited for two months. It was during those two months that suddenly, God had my undivided attention. He said, Not only do you not have enough strength and wisdom on your own, you never have—even when you were able-bodied. I gave my life completely to Him. God wants your attention. What will it take for you to see that you can’t do it on your own, and you can’t stuff God into the few moments you have left in your day and still call it a relationship?
The second thing is that so many of us spend a large part of our lives carrying anger or resentment toward someone—even someone we really love. Because they hurt us or said something we didn’t like—or behaved in a way we didn’t like—we have cut them out of our lives. Or, we just won’t let them in like they would like to—or even the way we really would like them to—were it not for our pride. So many of us Christians are so grateful for the forgiveness that Jesus won for us, but we will not extend that to others. I hope that everyone will begin a journey of forgiving people in their lives and not wait for disease or disaster to bring the perspective that resentment is waste of time. It really hurts you most of all. Have the conversation. Tell them you forgive them. It may be very hard to do, but you will be so happy you did it. Remember, life can be taken away from you so quickly. You will want the people you love to know that you loved them.
Lastly, as Christians, we should be praying all the time. I think this is what God truly wants from each of us. It took me getting sick to turn me into someone who consistently prays. I used to pray here and there when I thought of it. Now as I sit in my wheel chair, with my body getting worse each year, I am forced into prayer to have hope, to get through the pain, and to stay sane. But what has happened is I now have a vibrant relationship with God. I talk to him all day long. I sense that this is what he has always wanted from me. And so I talk and talk and talk. And sometimes I get a sense of His voice or a glimpse of His reply. It tells me that, even though sometimes I feel alone in this fight, He is with me. He is doing something good in me. And whether I see Him soon, or many years from now, I trust that He will tell me He was glad to spend so much time with me. This life is all about relationship. Just like forgiving people and letting them back in your life, it’s all about relationship. The more loving you do, and the more communication you have—with God and with others—the greater, more present God gets, and the more you feel His joy.