(You can read Part 1 here.)
As we headed into the new year, Jason and I began to sense that the Holy Spirit was preparing us for a year of change. We knew that without divine intervention, it was a matter of time before our church would no longer be sustainable. We had been fasting and praying and seeking God’s direction for our family. My struggles with asthma seemed to be pretty well-managed, although Jason and I were still hopeful for my healing, and asked for prayer among our friends at church on a regular basis.
One morning in February, I woke up while it was still pretty dark and padded down the hallway to make my coffee, like I do every morning. I noticed a nagging pain in one of my toes, and wondered if I’d stubbed it in the middle of the night. I can be pretty clumsy sometimes, and have, on more than one occasion, missed the doorway trying to find the bathroom in the dark. I didn’t give it much thought until a few days later, another toe started to hurt. The next week, the pain had spread to the balls of my feet.
By March, I was waking up with stiff and sore fingers every morning. After that, the pain started showing up in bigger joints. One day my wrist hurt so badly I wondered if I’d somehow broken it. Then my knees ached. Then I had to go to bed with an ice pack on my shoulder just to be able to fall asleep.
While it was becoming clearer, and then certain, that our church plant would close when our lease ended on June 30, my health was a bigger question mark than ever. Within the space of a couple of months, I went from being perfectly fine to being very literally handicapped by my pain. All of a sudden, there were dozens of daily tasks that I simply could not do, and I was forced to ask for more help than ever before.
I particularly remember standing beside our bed one morning when I had to leave the house very early. “Sorry to have to wake you Jason,” I said. That’s when my voice broke. “Can you… can you help me get dressed?” I leaned on him while he helped me step into my pants, buttoned them for me, and then kneeled to put shoes on my feet.
At this point it was June, and we were in the throes of saying goodbye to our church, and my heart was aching over it. However, it was this early morning moment when I could not dress myself that I finally cracked.
I had never felt so helpless in my life.
It did however, drive me to my knees.
There is nothing that can push us closer to God quite the way desperate need can. And I was desperate. So desperate. I didn’t even know where to start when I prayed.
I prayed for God to carry us through the last few Sundays as pastors of Life360 Ozark. I prayed that He would go ahead of us and lead us into whatever was next. When I remembered to, I prayed He would do the same for everyone else in the church, and confessed my pride and self-centeredness for all the times I forgot about them. I repented of my ungratefulness, my faith in myself, and my love of comfort. I rejoiced in small mercies, and before I went to bed every night, I begged, simply, “Lord, would you please heal me?”
During this time, I was reading a wonderful little book called Hinds Feet on High Places. It is an allegorical story of how the Shepherd leads a young woman named Much-Afraid on a journey to the High Places. Much Afraid’s journey looked nothing like she thought it would. The path often seemed to lead away from her destination rather than towards it. And when the path finally did seem to go straight towards the mountain-top, it was so treacherous, and so steep, that at first Much Afraid shrank back from it. Could this really be the way the Shepherd wanted her to go? But on she followed, through the twists and turns, through the darkness, and into the deep valleys. At last, in the deepest valley of all, the Shepherd asked her to lay on the altar her most cherished desires. And it was there, at her lowest point, at her moment of greatest sacrifice, that Much Afraid is transformed into Grace and Glory.
The book spoke deeply to me. People had been telling us, as we began to publicize the closing of the church, that they believed God had great things in store for us. I wanted to believe that, too, but as my pain continued to get worse, all I could see ahead was more suffering. As I prayed about everything going on in our lives, I sensed God saying to me, “If I lead you, not from mountaintop to mountaintop, but from valley to deeper, darker valley, will you follow me even there?”
Even to the next valley. And the next.
Will we follow Him, wherever He leads?
I don’t understand everything about God’s ways or why and how healing takes place when it does. I believe there is a dimension of God’s manifest presence, and accompanying signs and wonders, that the American Church almost never sees. I believe there is more that God offers us of Himself than we have yet taken hold of, and I do not want to be guilty of having not because I ask not.
However, I also don’t want my faith or trust in God to waver because I think He promised me something He never did. I long for God to completely heal me. But so far, for whatever reason, He has not.
I am not in nearly as much pain as I was a few months ago, thanks to a visit to a doctor, and some medicine. But this disease, which they determined to be Rheumatoid Arthritis, is not gone.
I wanted so much to wait to share this story until there was a happy ending. It’s scarier, by far, to say: “Here is where I am, and I don’t know where God will lead me from here, and if or how He will change my circumstances, but I trust Him.”
But it is the truth.
At least most days it is. I won’t pretend for a second that I never struggle with doubt or fear, because I do. When my symptoms flare up, I worry about losing my independence. Or about permanent joint damage. When I make appointments or refill prescriptions, I do so with one eye on our dwindling bank balance. “You know how much money we have, right, Lord?” I whisper. “And that Jason still doesn’t have a job? You’re going to take care of us, aren’t You?”
But most of the time, I am confident in God’s power and promises.
That confidence was one of the biggest gifts that the closing of our church gave me. It was one of the worst things I could imagine happening, and yet, we walked through it and we survived. That may seem silly, but it continually surprises me that having to get up and face that disappointment publicly did not literally kill me.
We had been teaching for four years that the best promise of the Bible is God With Us, and now we got to live that out firsthand. Even when our world crashed down around us, God was still there.
I do believe that God has great things in store for my family. But I know that no matter what the future holds, He will be with us in the midst of it.