After noticing a reference to God in some of my blog posts, my editor asked if I’d be interested in writing a post about my faith and how it influences my life with rheumatoid arthritis. Was God important to me? Did my faith help get me through? Did I ever ask God, “Why me?”

faithgodillnessI was very excited to tackle this opportunity.

I remember in the eighth grade when I truly came to understand for myself and believe in who God was. At that age I had began asking questions, and with much pondering had felt strongly in my heart that God was real and he had a strong hand in what I was dealing with each and every day.

It was just a few months later that I was struck with the beginnings of what has become a lifelong journey.

And so the tears began flowing, filled with every flavor of emotion.

In the ninth grade when my pain reached a sudden peak I quit playing sports. Basketball had been my life up to that point–it was what I breathed and all I talked about. I truly felt as though I didn’t understand or know who I was without it. This turned into a lot of self reflection, a lot of writing, and a lot of alone time on my knees in prayer. And a lot of tears.

I grew up in a home with an amazing father and mother and four older siblings. Every Sunday we went to church. There I was taught about God and his son Jesus Christ. I was taught about prayer and faith, and how both are vital means to handling life’s struggles. My parents were (and still are) excellent examples of living a life turned towards God supported by faith and prayer. When the hard times hit as a 15 year old, I knew the place I needed to go was to God.

It just so happened that right as this was all exploding in my face I had just scored my driver’s license. I am one who loves driving. I love spending time in the car just watching the scenes go by, and when accompanied by music it is even better. Its as though you’re suddenly in your own little world, going where you need to go, on your time, and in your way. I spent hours driving around in the foothills of my town after this all happened. I found what has come to be my favorite spots (its even where my husband proposed) and there I would sit for hours …

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Julie Mills

…and just think about everything. From up there I felt closest to God. I was able to see his creations from a broader perspective. I was able to see the vast mountains in the distance. I was able to see all that was happening in my little city. From up there my problems, my pain, my struggles in the world didn’t seem so big. From up there, many nights, I would watch the sunset. Each time the sunset I felt as though a promise was given to me from my Heavenly Father that tomorrow would come, and with that new day I was given a new opportunity to get stronger, and make things better, no matter what my circumstance was. Shortly after the sun would set, the stars would come out in the night sky twinkling and jitterbugging. My heart in these moments was only filled with more peace and perspective as these stars exemplified a world much bigger than I could fathom. A world full of people with struggles just as Orion himself no matter how hard he tries to release his bow, will always be stuck in that same position. That is a struggle.

It was up on this hill as a fifteen year old that I came to better understand who my Savior was and what he did for me. I came to understand that in my moments of bitterness, loneliness, or hopelessness I was not feeling those things alone. And as I uttered prayer after prayer I was filled with peace knowing that as more trials were to come, they would not be dealt with on a long and lonely road.

As time has progressed in my journey, each new blow of a new joint flaring up or another doctor’s visit has found me either on this hill, or on my knees talking and discussing the future with my Heavenly Father. I have always known him to be the keeper of my plan. He knows what tomorrow will hold, and he knows that with rheumatoid as my trial his comfort is a necessity in my every day life.

One of the greatest expressions of God’s reality in my life has been the people that he has sent to me. Number one is the kid who is currently asleep right next to me as I pen this. Never have I met someone more patient, kind, understanding, or comforting. I met him right after this all seemed to blow up in my face. I had to switch out of a basketball class at school and ended up swapping into a class with him in it. He heard me out on every complaint that I had, was there after every surgery, and has always encouraged me to keep going.

To the others in my life: my parents, four amazing siblings and their spouses, my in-laws, my friends–they are all expressions of God’s hand in my life. Everyday that becomes more evident and clear to me.

I would be lying if I never asked why this happened to me. I feel guilty in saying that I have, but part of the sense of feeling jipped or given an unfair burden to bear comes with being human. It took me a few years of being in pain and agonizing over life when I finally looked back and was able to see how far I had come.

Comparing me to the 14 year old I once was wouldn’t be a fair trial. But to see where I am today, in regards to the peace of mind that I have over where I am and what the future may hold in and of itself is a great blessing.

If we go back to May 20, 2014, the psychic blow I took that day with my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis was unimaginable. It took me back to that 15 year old girl who had her heart ripped out. All day I sat and stared at my hands wondering how I got to this place with a positive blood test, nasty pain, and a sick case of fatigue. After hurriedly texting my mother and my husband I closed my eyes and expressed my disbelief to my Heavenly Father. I told him everything that I was feeling. I told him how scared I was, and how this just couldn’t be happening. I expressed how physically crushed I felt. It didn’t come immediately but with time a calm seemed to come over me, and with that calm feeling came peace. Lasting peace. Peace that said to me all would be well, and that I would be strong and fight and be ok.

It was the same peace I felt after confronting my Heavenly Father about the depression that had tackled me to the depths and sunk me for six months just one year prior.

It was the same peace I felt when my back spasmed, my legs locked, and I laid on the floor motionless for a half hour writhing and never knowing what would come from this.

It was the same peace I felt when I said “this is it” to the game of basketball.

It was the same peace I felt when my grandmother passed away, when I flunked a test, or when my boyfriend (now husband) and I were in different countries for two years.

It was the same peace. Always. With each new trial, with each new sharp and sudden turn in my life the peace was the same. It was constant. It was a consistent and memorable feeling from my Heavenly Father that he was in control and that he was watching over me. With his help, I was going to be able to make it through anything. As I came to understand that beautiful truth the same lesson that the sunsets and starry nights brought to me as a fifteen year old were put back into practice.

Tomorrow will come, and with that a new day with new opportunities to get stronger, make things better, no matter what circumstances I am under. Struggle is a lasting part of all our lives, but we will endure, and endure well and forever.

My Heavenly Father, God, is who I turn to. He is who I rely on, and who I trust to get me through to tomorrow. When I am flat in bed, and nothing is taking the pain away, He is there. I believe in Him, and I have faith in Him just as with the sun rising in the morning, or the seed I plant to grow into a beautiful flower. He knows what my tomorrow holds, and fills me with the confidence to strike at it with a golden smile.

I know that He lives, and is a real part of my every day. I see him in everyone around. I feel him in the wind that touches my face. I notice his presence in the flowers that grow, and the birds that sing. I feel him in my soul, even in my pain because it reminds me that I was given this body to live and to grow–a body that can skip, jabber, waltz, and sprint even with creaky joints and a heavy dose of fatigue. I can see. I can hear. I can smell, taste, and touch.

I am alive. And it is through Him that strengthens me, loves me, knows me, and cares for me.

RA isn’t a curse or a rationale to feel shorted. For me it is a mechanism that aids in building my relationship and trust in and with my Heavenly Father.

And I have no words of gratitude strong enough for that.