Forgiveness: Layla’s Story Re-written

This story starts with a virus and ends with forgiveness.

{And it is told with her permission.}

It is unbelievable, but the largest culprit for my daughter’s mental health decline was a little virus called Cytomegalovirus (CMV). My best guess is that she contracted it while her worn out little 8 year old body was busy fighting repeated strep and tonsillitis infections. Evidently, it sat in her system and waged war on her body and brain for the last 5-6 years. We spent all this time searching for therapy, medications, genetics…anything to explain why a seemingly healthy child could slide into a mental health decline so severe, so unpredictable, so out of control that it destroyed much of her life. The answer was deceptively simple yet so difficult to find. Because no one was looking for it.

One of the complications of CMV is that if it sits in your body long enough, it can cause encephalitis or brain inflammation. We took her to a special clinic after too many doctors were unable to help her. Her brain scan was lit up like fireworks, nothing but red. After 3 rounds of tests including about 40 vials of blood, we discovered CMV. Brain inflammation can look like severe depression, delusional thoughts, and psychotic episodes, and it feels like out of control schizophrenia. She had every psychiatric symptom known to man. She had no control over her thoughts or moods, how she perceived the world, and how she destroyed the friends and the relationships she had. This is how she suffered for years.

We immediately put her on an anti-viral medication and immune support supplements. For a week, she vacillated between psychotic episodes and totally happy go lucky, sweet Layla. Then, on a Wednesday, after all these years, all of the worst symptoms she has ever experienced just completely vanished. We haven’t seen them since that Wednesday. We have our beautiful, sweet, loving child back. But it’s like she has been living on Mars for 6 years and has suddenly transported back to earth — the world she knew is in shambles.

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As I said before, her relationships have suffered. Her family has suffered. Many of her childhood friends are gone. And the one person she held closest to her has distanced himself completely – her little brother, Eddie. When they were small, they were the best of friends and had the sweetest relationship I have ever seen. Epilepsy and CMV destroyed all the good.

This did not go unnoticed by their mother, of course. It was Easter morning, Eddie and I were driving to church when I brought it up to him. “You seem like you are bitter and angry toward your sister. Are you having a hard time getting along with her?” He sat there very quiet. So I continued, “It seems to me that you are having a difficult time forgiving her for all the times she has hurt you. That is a very hard thing to do. But you need to realize, even if you thought she was doing it on purpose…she really wasn’t. Remember when you had seizures and it made you do all kinds of weird stuff you didn’t have any control over?” He nods his head yes. “Well, it is the same with Layla. Her brain had so much inflammation, like it was running a fever. It put words in her mouth, ideas in her head, and made her do things that she would NEVER do if her brain was healthy. She didn’t know what she was doing.”

So we talked about how hanging on to his anger will hurt her but more importantly, it will turn into bitterness inside him. And bitterness will make him nasty. We talked about how to forgive her, how to let it go. When we are unforgiving, it is like we have chained stinking, rotting garbage to ourselves.

“But I don’t know how…” he says.

It’s Easter, for crying out loud, so I ask him: what did Jesus do on the cross and what happened on the 3rd day? What was it for? Ultimately, forgiveness of our imperfections so we can have a loving relationship with a perfect God. If God can forgive Eddie, Layla and Mom of everything, then we need to forgive Layla for the things she didn’t know she was doing. Once, a pastor of ours said that when we can’t do it on our own, we need to ask God and borrow some of his forgiveness. So we can look at Layla and let go of the parts that hurt, so we don’t hang on to it like rotten garbage and we don’t hold it against her.

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After church that day, we sat down together as a family. Eddie wrote down what he couldn’t say out loud to his sister, “I am having hard time letting go being angry at you. Forgive me.” It never occurred to me that he would think to ask her for forgiveness, but I think he was right in doing so. Their relationship is still restoring itself, and it will take time but the hardest part is over. And my guess is that he will have to go through the process of forgiving more than a few times in the coming months and years. He will have to choose forgiveness and fight against bitterness.

 

Now Layla has to learn to forgive herself for the things she had no control over. And for the things she did have control over. She has to learn to receive forgiveness from the people around her who love her, who cannot and will not hold these things against her. Once she is able to grab ahold of it with both hands will she truly heal inside her heart. Forgiveness is a gift. And with this gift, she can rebuild her life. She can be the friend, the daughter, the sister, the young woman God created her to be. This road began with a virus, but it ends with forgiveness. The riches she has to glean from this experience are yet to be uncovered. There is power in her story if she can hold on tightly to forgiveness and faith – it can work for the good (Romans 8:28). Our stories can always be re-written like it says in Isaiah 61:3 ~

…for Layla, who has grieved in Zion—
to bestow on her a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,pexels-photo-235615.jpeg
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
Layla will be called an oak of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.                                                                                                            

 

 

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