I forced myself to go church because I knew it’d be good for me, for my soul. But now I can’t stop fidgeting from the pain. Why aren’t these pews padded? My husband gently rubs my neck as I roll out my stiff ankles. My shuffling around is distracting the people sitting behind me.

I hadn’t left the house all weekend—too tired, too dizzy, too uncomfortable to do much at all. But I know my body needs God and his body. I want to be in his house to feel his presence in my pain.

This is just one scene from my invisible fight with the degenerative condition that rages in my body every day. When others see me, as my neurologist recently described, they see “a completely normal 27-year-old woman.” Every other person I run into at church tells me how cute I look; really, I often dress up to cope with how bad I feel inside. I guess it might be working.

While I look and act much like others my age, an autoimmune disease shapes nearly every aspect of my life. I “got sick” seven years ago as a junior at Covenant College. In a matter of days I went from regularly running and rock climbing to barely being able to walk, hold a pencil, or get out of bed. Ankylosing Spondylitis is arthritis that runs down the vertebrae of my spine, resulting in joint pain and inflammation throughout my body. Since being diagnosed, I have never experienced a day without physical pain.

Illnesses like mine, though severe and life-altering, can go overlooked by the people around us. At times, the pain is enough to render me disabled, homebound, or severely limited in movement, but my outward appearance looks mostly the same. Besides the extra weight from being on long-term steroids, I resemble the woman I was prior ...

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