by Mary Ellen Clegg
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and
God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to
comfort those who are in any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are
comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
My name is Mary Ellen Clegg. Mary means “blessed.” I was blessed at the age of 12 years old to be diagnosed with epilepsy. Yes, I did say “blessed”, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Let me explain.
Having epilepsy as a child and teenager meant that I was sometimes lonely. I didn’t have many friends. I felt di erent from others my age. I remember that I could sense a seizure coming, and it was not a good feeling—I felt like I was distant from myself. When I had grand mal seizures, I lost control of my body. But here is a good thing: from this lack of control, I learned to fully trust in Jesus. I developed a strong faith in Jesus and a will to praise Him even when I didn’t feel He was there during a seizure. You see, I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of 12 a few months before my diagnosis.
I knew even at a young age that God had allowed epilepsy for a reason, and I begged Him to use my illness and experiences for His glory. Just as Christians have been granted salvation, we have been granted suffering, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29 NKJV).
God has blessed me with excellent medical treatment, and I have been able to live a normal life. My epilepsy is completely under control now. For 24 1⁄2 years, I worked as a receptionist for a major company until my position was one of 100 eliminated. When I was without work, I continued to ask God to use my epilepsy for His glory. Then in June 2014, God answered my prayer.
I got a position as a caregiver for ill and elderly people. I help them with meals, cleaning, personal care and above all, encouragement. I try to enrich their lives through meaningful conversation and memory recall. This work comes so naturally to me that it doesn’t seem like work! I can see God using my past experiences with my childhood illness to give me empathy and love for these dear people.
Many of my clients experience dementia. I am able to identify with the thinking difficulties and scary feelings that go with their condition, because I remember my epilepsy. I can understand their feelings of loneliness and their need for encouragement. In many instances the Holy Spirit has given me the perfect words to say because I’ve experienced these things.
I can empathize when my clients experience physical problems and limitations. Sometimes I need to clean up after people. One of them said to me, “This isn’t fair to you!” But I told her, “It’s not your fault. And you have served others; now it’s time for you to be served. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here helping you.”
What a blessing my suffering has been! My middle name is “Ellen”, which means “light”. I like to think that I have become a “blessed light”, the meaning of “Mary Ellen.” I couldn’t have asked for or imagined anything more than this. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).