To her friends and family, Anelle exudes calmness, kindness and a deep contentment in all of life’s situations. This is not something that comes naturally for this 36-year-old primary school teacher who has lived for many years with an – as yet – undiagnosed progressive disease. We sat down with Anelle to see if we could get some insight into the experiences of a young girl and woman who has grown in her faith in the face of adversity.
An unknown disease
At the age of 13, Anelle developed a limp in her right leg and started to notice that she had lost movement in her toes and control of her foot. Visits to medical specialists brought little clarity. The doctors diagnosed her with a progressive neurodegenerative auto immune disease, but they were unable to give it a specific name. It was the start of a journey that has helped to form Anelle into the person that she is today.
“Initially, I was still able to walk fine, but then things progressed and the symptoms got strange and things were happening,” Anelle explains. This was no easy experience, especially for a teenager. Anelle’s simple faith in God was put to the test.
Things that an energetic young girl had been used to doing, became increasingly difficult, as the slow progression of the disease led to limited movement and loss of sensation in her hands and feet. At the same time, her vocal chords started to weaken, affecting her speech.
“In the beginning there were questions,” she continues, “And, even now, some days are harder than others.”
“Our tendency is to always want something”
Through this affliction, Anelle has learnt to put her trust in God; but it hasn’t been easy. Like everyone else, Anelle had her plans and her thoughts about how her life would pan out.
“I would say one of the biggest things was to let go of my own plans – to give up my picture of how things would and should be and to just give it over to God so that He could guide things the way He wanted.”
With time, Anelle has become increasingly reconciled and thankful for what God has allowed to happen to her.
“I think the secret lies in choosing to be thankful, because your tendency is to always want something – this or that must be better; this shouldn’t be like that … But why can’t it be like that? Or why must something be “better?” Or why must something be different? It’s perfect just the way it is. You need to be thankful. For example – if someone can sing beautifully, I can decide to enjoy listening to them instead of becoming bitter because I can’t sing.
“It’s just like that verse in Hebrews; Jesus said: ‘Here I am God, to do your will.’ (Hebrews 10:7) That’s also what I can do, with the body I have and the abilities I have,” she explains.
God knows what’s best
Anelle does not dwell upon all the details of her struggles, but, it is clear that she has faced many challenges. As a teacher at a primary school, her job naturally requires a good deal of speaking. With her weak voice muscles, things can be unpredictable.
“You can get discouraged and want to say ‘What’s the point?,’ but God is really faithful in His promises. He helps you to get through a day or through a week. It doesn’t matter how tough it gets. It does get tough at times, especially when you’re at school and all of a sudden your voice doesn’t work or something. But when I surrender to God and ask for help in those situations, He makes things work out. My pupils are able to pass their classes, even with a teacher that sometimes sounds like this,” Anelle smiles as she refers to her hoarse, raspy voice.
The disease that Anelle has is progressive and there is no known cure. Apart from injections to her vocal cords, there is no medication available to combat the illness. She also wears a splint on her leg to make walking easier. With her restricted mobility and speech, Anelle has obviously been tempted to self-pity.
“It gets tough; you can’t see a way out. But it’s important to always know God is there by your side. He made each one of us and He knows our innermost being – what is tough for us and what’s not. He knows what to do to help us.
“There is a verse that says: ‘Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God …’ 1 Peter 5:6. That is one of the things that has helped me the most – just to humble myself under God and His treatment, and to humble myself no matter what comes my way. God knows what He is doing.
“My body can be broken down to nothing, but my spirit can go up towards heaven. I am so thankful for that, because it keeps me humble, close to God and dependent on Him.”
Anelle concludes, “I read a book about a God-fearing woman called Esther Smith – she talks about how your own problems become insignificant when you focus on blessing others and being good to them. Sometimes it can be like this, you know: ‘Poor me, I can’t speak, my voice won’t work.’ Go and bless someone, be good to someone, and then your problems are nothing!”
As Anelle speaks, it becomes clear that she is a young woman that fights for her faith, through thick and thin. She has a faith and a life that is tested and true – a life that inspires those around her, whether she knows it or not.
You may be interested in reading more on our topic page about Challenges and difficulties, or in the articles below.