By the end of the year 2015, my hope was waning. I had spent the entire year in what felt like the literal decaying of my mind and body. Symptoms not worthy of my mentioning had taken my ability to function normally. Driving was no longer. Walking across the room was difficult. Pain and abnormality had replaced what the medical field would term homeostasis in my body. Confusion had replaced what I desperately needed in my mind, clarity.
It really is mysterious how God answers our prayers. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a year prior to this, in 2014, that I had begun to pray, “Lord, do whatever it takes. I am yours. I know the plans you have for my life are to prosper me as you make me more like Jesus. But I’m stuck. So stuck. And I’ve been here too long. You have my life. Do whatever it takes, Lord.”
Had I known my answered prayer was two years plus of physical and mental turmoil, I might not have prayed it. Truly, it is a precious gift of grace to us when God refuses to tell us exactly how He will answer our prayers. As the song says, “Thy will be done.” And so it was and so it still is.
What follows is a personal writing that describes my reflections upon what the Lord took me through. Written around the beginning of 2016, this was about the time that He had graciously given me a turn-around. I was humbled. Surrendered. Amenable. And hopeful.
Oh, to be myself again. I think I’m almost there. What a joy it has been to hear Andy make several comments over the past few days. “I’m so happy that you are feeling good.” “My wife is back!” “You are on the road to recovery.” Me being “back” and “normal” is a prayer that we have prayed over and over again for going on almost twelve months now.
I do want my life back. Physically, emotionally, relationally, and yes, spiritually. There has been physical pain and exhaustion, emotional times of confusion, relational changes and upset, and spiritual darkness in this valley. In an odd kind of way, I simultaneously hate and love the fact that I (we) have been through this. Like a mixture of vinegar with oil, the love and hate go together but not without a lot of stirring. And stirring in my soul, there surely has been.
What has that looked like in my life? My reflections come in themes . . .
“Oh, Lord you are a strength for me. My glory; the One who lifts up my head.” The Psalms I prayed during each MRI test that was performed. With my eyes closed, of course. My determination was to get through the imaging sessions without actually realizing that I was stuck in a tube smaller than the tanning beds I used to lie in when I was a teenager. There were a total of six scans performed over a span of ten months. I got used to the routine and, I memorized that prayer from the Psalms. He was my strength. My glory.
Glory? I cannot think of the word glory without letting my mind settle on yet another way my soul has been stirred throughout this experience. My desire is for God to be glorified. Oh yes, this has been true to my heart for many years now but only now has it become a single, profound reality in my life. There was a point in this sickness where I began to have to think about the mere vapor of a breath that my physical life truly is. Like I mentioned in a conversation with my husband regarding my mortality, the world can and would still go on without me. My motherhood is only one example of this. Andy and the children would be okay without me, God’s grace for us ensures that it would be. My physical life is not necessary, if God, indeed, determined for me to pass on to glory. His glory is magnified in comparison to anything I am without Him or anything that I can contribute to this mortal life. At one of many points of surrender, I was truly able to say, “May He alone be glorified in my life. Whatever that means, I am okay because His glory is what I live, and die, for.”
Belief. Power. Peace. Three words that I took from the story of the woman who came to Jesus, who touched His cloak that He might heal her from her ailment. I was reminded of her story about six months into my crisis. She came to the Christ, my Savior and hers, as perhaps, her last resort. A sermon podcast I had heard noted that she had likely been to all the doctors and no one could give her help or a diagnosis. Ahhh. Sounded familiar to me. She had no real answers. But this woman, tired and worn, believed. And His power healed her. He told her to go in peace. I clung to each of the phases of her story as mine continued to unfold, or not unfold, rather. Answers were few and far between for me, too. But I believed. I knew He was all-powerful. And no matter what happened, His peace was with me.
Impatient. Oh there were and still are times of impatience. The tests taken. One after another, my doctors would try this and then that. Nothing happened. The waiting was painful. The worrying was exhausting. It only made things worse. There was only one answer to my impatience and that was His longsuffering. The knowledge that I had in my head of God’s merciful patience with His people had to sink deep within my heart and soul. He can and would take all the time He needed to heal me, and it would all be because of His love and goodness. In all these years of loving Him, I was beginning to know Him and His persistence towards me like never before.
And thus came my life verse for this season of my existence; that is, Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live.” There are so many parts of who I am that need to be crucified. Like, literally taken to the Cross and made dead in me . To be gone. Finished. Never to come back again. Like my prideful self-dependence, for one. This alone is enough reason to go through anything the Lord sees fit to arrange in my body, in my life. And like doubt. Lord, help my unbelief! I’ve been tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves for way too long. It is time. And let’s not forget defeat. I am so weary of being defeated. I desire to know victory in certain areas of my life that I know can only be received in Christ.
This has been and is a season that I will never, ever forget. It was made very clear to me at one point, and I took note of it in my Bible, that, “I am not going to get through this the same woman that I used to be.” In other words, the tools I had gained thus far in my tool bag were not enough to get me through this time. He was going to teach me more, grow and sanctify me more. The thorn in my flesh was indeed the method by which He would accomplish that.
This thorn was surfaced and made raw right in front of me and in front of my family. It affected absolutely e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. And because it has affected everything, the gifts of mercy, grace, faithfulness, and healing that the Lord has brought to this thorn, have also infiltrated e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Nothing in our lives is the same. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally and mentally we have been made different. And that has been worth it.
“And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God . . .” (The next portion of my life verse from Galatians 2:20.) It would be wonderful to say that all was perfect at this point. But it isn’t. My life in the flesh still has a remnant of this physical thorn. It is not entirely gone. Just as it was for Paul, and for any of us who have found themselves with something similar, it is meant to keep me (and us) weak in the flesh. Dependent solely on the Spirit. Full of faith despite what cannot be seen. And why?
Because He “loved me and gave Himself for me.” The verse that He has used to minister to my heart during this time of trial ends with the very reason I have a thorn in the first place . . . because He loves me and He gave Himself for me.
Here I am in 2017 looking now at the present and looking back at the past with a heart of gratitude and expectancy. There has never been a more clear certainty of what I’m called to do in response to the ups and downs of this life. I am to continue to love Him and give myself–thorn in the flesh and all–as a meager offering every day, back to Him. It is no longer me, but Christ.