“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
I had read these verses many, many years ago. I was young in the Lord—but had walked this path of physical pain a long time. God lead me to these words. I didn’t really understand them at the time---but I do remember they brought a calmness to my spirit as I read them. The Apostle Paul had a “thorn” …I wasn’t sure what his “thorn” was, I still don’t claim to know. What I do understand of this scripture is that his thorn was “a messenger of Satan to torment him”. I don’t’ believe God gave the thorn, but He did allow it. Paul PLEADED with the Lord to take it from him, but God knew this “thorn” had a purpose—maybe to “keep Paul in check”. He mentions struggling with conceit, or maybe the thorn was to expose the work being done for the ministry wasn’t Paul’s doing, it was God working through him.
“MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT…” Those words carry me many days. Grace. Understanding I don’t deserve this thorn, but I also don’t deserve any of this life I have been richly blessed with. By GRACE God has spared me from anything worse, and placed me here. And by GRACE I will sit with Him in Heaven one day. His Grace is sufficient…it’s enough.
We all have our “thorns: the neighbor that grinds you, not enough money to make it through the month, a class we really don’t want to take, but must…my thorn happens to be Rheumatoid Arthritis.
RA: A chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet….the definition goes on to say things like, “painful swelling in the wrists, hands and feet”, “no known cure”, “joint deterioration”, “may affect interior organs over time”, “joint deformity”….this definition (credited to the Mayo Clinic—and Google) continues page after page of hopeless despair.
As I sit here this morning, pecking the keyboard with the two or three fingers that are still functioning, God has laid it on my heart to share with you one of the deepest parts of my heart. This may be because my lack of sleep, rising every couple of hours to walk the floors, take some more Tylenol and re-freeze my peas, allowed me some much-needed time with God…it may be because I struggle with giving the world some explanation as to why things are the way they are for me, or, it may have something to do with the expression I saw on my child’s face last night as he struggled to explain repeatedly to friends why he wasn’t at an event this past weekend and couldn’t say if he’d be at an upcoming event a few days away…
Most days the people that know me best wouldn’t have an idea that I may be physically hurting. And the times I am in a major flare, I chose to shut myself in and avoid most everyone. My hands swell, and soon other joints join in the fun. I run a fever, have chills and the pain is so severe I can’t touch anything. I cry if someone bumps my feet. Some days I have been known to sit in the middle of the living room floor and cry. Others, I can “bull” through…only to hurt twice as bad the next day.
My kids and husband have also been affected by my “thorn”. The boys learned to tie shoes very early in age---their own—and mine! (when needed!) My husband doesn’t blink when I pass a plate to him, signaling I need help cutting my food like a three-year old. And when I drop things---which I do—a lot---the dogs don’t even jump anymore! (We go through a lot of Corning Ware!)
As I said, I really struggle with sharing this part of my life. Maybe it is because the first thing people see is a “fluffier” woman—and always have the best diet or exercise plan for me. One gallant savior was even going to “teach me how to cook correctly”. I know about all of the “oils”, and have spent hours in the gym. As I’ve said, I’ve wrestled with this over half of my time on earth. Water aerobics, vitamins, bio-drugs, harsh drugs. Done it. Tried it. I do encorporate some of these helps into my life. But the only true "relief" for where I am at is when I lean into Jesus and allow Him to comfort me through it. It's taken me many, many years to come to this place.
My husband has adapted well to the changes in our life over the years. Thankfully, we haven’t had any of the “big issues”, yet. (canes, wheelchairs, ugly shoes—one of my major concerns!) As I have said, he doesn’t miss a beat when I need food cut or a bottle opened, need help getting dressed, or rip his head off in what we refer to as a “Hulk moment”. He is graciously forgiving and loves me through these times. He endures some interesting thoughts in his head—I am sure. For instance, I am certain the other night he was thinking he needed to call in our Pastor and Elders for my much needed intervention (I can get pretty scary when I am working through pain—and I am a redhead.). He makes sure I am warm. He always looks ahead when we are out and about to make sure there is heat where we sit. And I know, even though he never says it out loud, He dreads leaving for long hours or days a time for work, not knowing if I am going to be ok.
My boys are wonderful. They have faced many trials in their young lives…caring for their mom a few days here and there is one of them. Thankfully, most of my recent flares have only lasted a week or so. The boys learned, at a very early age to cook, do laundry, and other basic household operations, in preparation for the day mom may not come out of a flare (and—I do want my daughter in laws to like me!). They have missed Youth Group. They have missed church and other activities because Dad is out of town for work and mom just can’t go. They have faced the “firing squad” of well meaning friends wanting explanations for their absences. I remember years ago when they were very small, I was having an awful spell. We lived up on the hollow and I hadn’t let my mom and dad in on my health. Wayne was out of town for work, and I don’t know how many days I had laid there on the couch. But when I awoke, the entire living room was covered with BOXES of dumped cereal, toys, diapers and clothing. There was a movie playing, “How the West Was Won”, and there my little boys sat in in their super hero undies cheerfully watching the cows dance across the television. Will may have been 4. He turned and saw I was finally able to sit up and said, “Look Mommy! I made breakfast!” pointing proudly at Naughty Dog inhaling the cereal that decorated our floor. All I could do was laugh, and thank God they were both ok.
The first time I read any information on my diagnosis, I cried. I became angry. I instantly began rearranging my life. Twenty-five (and a few more years) later---God has brought me to a different place with this thorn. Maybe it is to keep me “in check”. Maybe my thorn is needed to drive me deeper into the Word and closer to God. Maybe it is so I would sit and pen these very words exposing the daily struggles of a person with a chronic illness and how they run so much deeper than the person with the disease, how families are affected, how lives are changed. There are many struggling people around you. Thorns can come in all shapes and sizes. And people that have them hide them well. It comes with the territory. Whatever the purpose of my thorn, I have come to accept I don't need to know. God knows, and it is well with me.
There is something “freeing” in comprehending God knows. He knows exactly what I am dealing with. He knows I can go months at a time healthy and free from pain. He also knows when I will spend a week or so hiding in my house, with my bag of frozen peas and my Aleve. He knows because He is walking through this life with me. Even in my darkest times, He has never let go. And as we paced these floors, me sweating and aching, crying out for my thorn to be taken away---He told me it was time. Time to let everyone in. So please try to understand? I don’t want to be shut in here. I am about as social as can be. But after days of bone wrenching pain, the fatigue comes.
“…for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power shines brightly in our most frail moments. The fact that I am even able to key this blog is proof of His power, seeing I could hardly pull the blankets up on the bed this morning. As you can detect, I have spent much more time studying this scripture throughout the years since first receiving a diagnosis. I don’t claim any great knowledge of The Scriptures—I have only shared what God has laid on my heart over the years of my repeated struggle. I figure someday, Paul and I can talk about it as we walk the streets of Heaven “thorn free”.
In this world there are “good things” and “bad things”. I don’t believe my God “does” bad. I believe He ALLOWS the bad….He allows the bad because He knows how He can use it to grow us, shape us, strengthen us—all to make us more useable for Him…and His purpose….And that is my place here on this earth, my purpose…to be used by Him, to encourage others to know Him…even in my weakest, darkest times. It is there you and I will see Him bright and clear. I will continue to press through the bad, knowing I am just passing through this world on the way to a much better place where I strive to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”