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If He Wills, I Will -- Sometimes Hitting Bottom is the Only Way We Begin to Look Up

Greetings All,

      This week's 'thought' comes from a monthly devotional booklet ("In Touch" Oct. 2012) which I received (unsolicited) in the mail.  The theme is prayer, and it is filled with many stories and teachings on the topic. This particular one caught my attention. It is by Jamie A. Hughes, and is an autobiographical account of her struggle and growth after being diagnosed with an incurable illness.  It's entitled, "If He Wills, I Will  --  Sometimes Hitting Bottom is the Only Way We Begin to Look Up."  I found it both encouraging and challenging. I trust you will as well.  Enjoy.
"My illness was an answer to a prayer I had yet to voice..."  

     "It was the first night I couldn't feel my legs. I lay on the floor of my parents half bathroom -- the ceramic tiles leeching warmth from my body as I lay flat in the dark, tears pooling in my ears.  I was numb from the waist down because of a lesion on my spine no bigger than three stacked dimes.  Only a few days before, I'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- an incurable nuerological disease that had and would continue to damage my nervous system... This kind of news is difficult for anyone to hear, but for me, it felt like a death sentence...
      Because of two letters -- M and S -- my life would become one of injections, MRI's and uncertainty. Without reason, my body had betrayed me. 'This isn't happening,' I would tell myself during the long hours of the night. 'I'll wake up tomorrow and feel normal.'  When I didn't, I became angry, hurt, and desperate by turns. None of it made me better.  For all my efforts, I was left as emotionally black and blue as the patchwork of bruises I'd collected in the hospital.
      Up until my diagnosis, I had spent my life carving out ever-larger versions of myself, like a
Russian nesting doll, until I could no longer recognize how small the real Jamie was.  My health, education, family, and financial stability had all served as insulating layers between God and me, blinding me to the truth that I had, and always would be, reliant upon Him for everything.
       I came to the end of myself on that bathroom floor, talking to God as I never had before. 'I can't, Lord,' I told Him. 'This is too big, and I won't survive it alone.'  For once in my life I truly and earnestly prayed. 
       In the weeks between learning of my disease and that moment of desperate prayer, I came to understand how powerless I am -- how empty those outer shells I had constructed really were.  My intelligence and education, despite the pride I had in them, were utterly useless. My family couldn't prevent MS with their love, and no amount of money could buy it off or make it disappear.
When God was done whittling away at these supposed safeguards, what remained of me was like the miniature doll at the center of all those shells: a lesser, humbler version of myself, free from delusion and terrified by the truth.
      I'd been raised in church and had received Christ when I was a child, but until that moment I had known God only in theory, not in Person. Or to put it in the words of Job, my ears had heard of Him, but my eyes had yet to see (Job 42:5). I collapsed under the burden of my illness, and in the moment of my brokenness, God repeated the words He said to the apostle Paul -- 'My grace is
sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (II Cor. 12:9).
      I'd like to say that moment was one of immediate revelation and I emerged from my parents tiny bathroom a different person, but the truth is, it took time. I needed space -- breathing room and more prayers in equally unorthodox places -- to understand the reason why He had allowed disease to touch my life. Cracked open by pain and confusion, I was completely emptied of myself. And that's where my Father needed me to be before He could start my reclamation. I had to belong to Him soul and body before He would return the latter.
       Today, I thank God for the thorn in my flesh, the constant reminder of my inadequacy, because by its presence, 'I was brought low, and He saved me' (Ps. 116:6). Before being chastened, I had extravagant plans for my life --  but none of them involved seeking or serving Him.  But I now see those ambitions for what they were -- vainglorious and unsatisfying attempts to build an empire on a
foundation of shifting sand.
  Had He not graciously subjected me to this moment, I know I would have eventually come to the same dark place in time. Like David, I fell into the hands of the Lord and was subjected to 'three days of pestilence' rather than seven years of famine (I Sam. 24:10-14).  In a way, my illness was an answer to a prayer I had yet to voice, a supplication I didn't know needed to be made.
         Three months after that night on the bathroom floor, feeling returned to the soles of my feet -- the first part of my body that had gone numb. Aside from minor flare-ups controlled by medication, I now live as I did before my diagnosis. All the potential handicaps I feared have yet to occur, and doctors say my prognsis is good. Buy my wellness has nothing to do with their expertise or my merits.  The Lord loved me enough to allow a plague to come near my tent (see Psalm 91) in order to draw me to Him. But when His purpose
had been served, He drew it back as effortlessly as He once did the Red Sea.
         James tells believers, 'You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow... you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills we will live and also do this or that (James 4:14-15). This conditional statement summarizes everything I've learned through eight prayer-filled years of living with MS -- if He wills, I will. Whatever happens, I know He has permitted it for His glory and my sanctification. Recognizing and submitting to this truth has granted me a liberty I never could have gained on my own. Because I belong to Jesus Christ, I focus on all I've been spared from rather than what I could be subjected to. I do not live in fear of the unknown. Instead, I rediscover a miracle each morning: I am able to walk, see, and think, and my first thought is to praise Him, to glorify His name with everything I am and all I do. The healing He worked in my body is evidence of the restoration He first performed in my soul.  I take neither for granted, and that is one thing I pray will never change."
      May God give us the same faith-filled perspective as Jamie, trusting that, "Whatever happens, I know He has permitted it for His glory and my sanctification." 
That is, our God is uses all things (painful things included) in the lives of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. He works for our good in them despite all the pain and difficulty and struggle we may experience in the process (Rom. 8:28-29).
        In fact, in light of what Jamie says, maybe we could pray that we ourselves (and the people we love) might come to learn such lessons before God needs to graciously
"chasten" us (as she puts it) to bring us to our senses and show us how ever-dependent we are upon Him.  We need to pray that we could see (and see clearly) our powerlessness, inadequacy, and all the weak, unsatisfying and vainglorious things we often rely on for our security.  Things like our, "health, education, family, and financial stability."   We need to pray they would no longer stand, "as insulating layers between God and me, blinding me to the truth that I had, and always would be, reliant upon Him for everything." 

      It's such a struggle for us to truly do it. In fact, even the apostle Paul was unable to see how much he still depended upon himself until he went through a harrowing experience where he was brought so low he felt in his heart, "the sentence of death," and "despaired of life itself" (II Cor. 1:8-10). 
      Sinful as we are, we tend to rely upon the self, or the things we wrongly perceive to be generated or controlled by the self, until God removes them all, and the degree of our need becomes so painfully apparent that we finally acknowledge the words of Jesus to be true: "Apart from Me you can do nothing."


         Hopefully it will not need to be so! Pastor Jeff