Something has been stirring inside me for the last couple of months. Despite the fact that I am fighting giving in because I know it’s going to be uncomfortable recent experiences have left me feeling compelled to share my story. As I was reminded at the STORY conference week before last, we each have a story to tell – stories that are part of the greatest story every told. God can and will use our stories to reach people for his Kingdom if we are willing to tell them. In telling them, however, we must be more than transparent – we must be vulnerable.
And so with that, I begin my story. My story is one of a girl who his admittedly broken and scarred. A girl who feels like she has hit rock bottom more than once in her life. But in the end a girl who has hope. And not just any hope, but the greatest hope. The hope that one day all of the hurt, the pain, the sadness, everything that breaks her, will disappear and she will spend eternity in Heaven with her Savior.
I actually sat down and wrote my story, or the highlights of my life story, a week ago. I was still working up the courage to actually post it on my blog when I realized I was fooling myself. I had told my story, I had been transparent, but I hadn’t been vulnerable. And so, after a few more battles with myself I sat down and began again. This time around I left out the life story and focused on the part I really felt compelled to tell which is also of course the part I least wanted to tell.
That part of the story begins at the end of summer, just as I was getting ready to start my junior year of college. My hands had started to hurt, and not just that, they were stiff and swollen. I couldn’t turn on and off faucets, couldn’t open jars or soda bottles, couldn’t pour milk from a gallon jug. Basically, I knew something wasn’t right. And I knew from having two grandmothers who had arthritis that what I was experiencing was an awful lot like what they experienced. So, to the doctor I went. After testing and a visit to a Rheumatologist they came to the diagnosis of Rheumatory Arthritis. I started some medication and all was going well…until.
I went home for Christmas that year and returned to campus two weeks before classes were due to start. By the time classes started that semester I could hardly walk up the stairs. I had to push and pull myself in order to stand up from a chair. When sitting I couldn’t lift my foot off of the ground no matter how hard I thought about it. Freaked out I called my doctor. His first question, “Are you paralyzed? Did you hurt your back?” “Maybe it’s a pinched nerve,” he said. But there was no pain. There was only the inability to move.
After tests and specialists and a trip to the Mayo Clinic I was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis. In church we have pastor words. Well, that’s a doctor word for arthritis of the muscles. In my daily life this means pain in my muscles, swollen and painful joints, extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing, and just overall exhaustion. I ain’t gonna lie, there are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. When I wake up and the pain is there immediately I don’t want to move. There are points in my life when I am not only physically exhausted but also emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
Let me back up a second. My condition is something I strive very hard to hide. I feel that once people know, they immediately look at me differently. Typically it is one of two reactions. Either they look at me and say “you are so strong” “wow, I’m so impressed” and the focus turns to me and I’m not about that. The second reaction is that people think I am weak or fragile and therefore don’t ask things of me because they don’t want to be a burden or be overbearing. You may be asking what reaction I would like people to have. That’s a pretty easy answer. I would like people to look at me and knowing my story say “Wow, God is good. He works in crazy ways, but he is good even through pain and suffering, he is good.”
Now trust me, I don’t always have that reaction. It’s not always easy to step back and look at my life and say “God is good.” I’ll be honest, there are times when my sinful nature gets the best of me and I simply get angry, feel sorry for myself, and ask why. For the first couple of years after I was diagnosed as much as I tried to hide it, I was depressed. I put on a strong happy face but inside I was deeply hurting. I was miserable in every way. My disease consumed me.
But thankfully, that isn’t where I stayed. I finally got over myself and realized that none of it, not even my disease is about me. It’s about what God is doing through me. That brings with it an incredible sense of freedom. A pressure to be a certain way is lifted. My self confidence and identity became fully rooted in Him and not in any piece of myself. And who am I to hide what God is doing and pretend like it’s not there? That doesn’t mean it’s always pretty or that it always looks like others think a Christian is supposed to look, but it’s me. Every broken, angry, frustrated piece of it is me. And like Paul in 2 Corinthians, I believe that when I am at my weakest, God gets the most glory. Because who gives me the strength to make it through, to persevere? Him and him alone.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
What story are you trying to hide? Don’t be afraid of your brokeness – embrace it and let God’s glory shine through!