Anelle’s friends and family can sense a calmness in her, a 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 a disease that gets worse over time. We sat down with Anelle and talked to her about her experiences as a young girl and woman who has grown in her faith despite having a disease for which there is no cure.
An unknown disease
At the age of 13, Anelle noticed that she had lost movement in her toes and the control of her foot. The doctors diagnosed her with a disease that would get worse over time, but they were unable to give it a specific name.
“In the beginning, I was still able to walk fine, but then things got worse and the symptoms got strange and things were happening,” Anelle explains. This was not easy, especially for a teenager. Anelle’s simple faith in God was put to the test.
Things that she as a young girl had been used to do, became more and more difficult as the disease led to limited movement and loss of feeling in her hands and feet. At the same time, her voice was also affected.
“In the beginning I had lots of questions,” she continues, “And, even now, some days are harder than others.”
“Letting go of my own plans”
In all of this, 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 she wanted her life to be.
“I would say one of the biggest things was letting 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 more and more content and thankful for what God has allowed to happen to her.
“I think the secret lies in choosing to be thankful, because as a person there is always something you want – 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 unhappy 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 doesn’t talk about all the details of her struggles, but it is clear that there have been many challenges. As a teacher at a primary school, she has to do a lot of speaking. With her weak voice, things can be difficult.
“You can get discouraged and want to say, ‘What’s the point?’ But God is faithful to His promises. He helps you to get through a day or through a week. It doesn’t matter how hard it gets. It does get hard at times, especially when you’re at school and all of a sudden your voice doesn’t work. But when I give everything over to God and ask for help in those situations, He makes things work out. My pupils do well, 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 getting worse and there is no known cure. Apart from injections to her vocal cords, there is no medication available to fight against the illness. She also wears a splint on her leg to make walking easier. Of course, Anelle has been tempted to feel sorry for herself due to the fact that she is not able to move around as she would like to and has difficulty speaking.
“It gets difficult; 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 us – what is difficult for us and what’s not. He knows what to do to help us.
“There’s 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 ends by saying, “I read a book about a God-fearing woman – she talks about how your own problems become unimportant when you focus on blessing others and being good to them. Sometimes it can feel like this: ‘Poor me, I can’t speak, my voice won’t work.’ Go and bless someone, be good to someone, and then your problems are like nothing!”
As Anelle speaks, it becomes clear that she is a young woman who fights for her faith. 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.