I was trying to think about how to share the things that have been on my heart today, and I finally decided that clever ways would not explain as well as just telling it like it is. So here is the story from today.
This morning at 8:15 I had a doctor’s appointment. This could be a long story all on its own, so I will try to make it concise. Basically, my body is still reeling from the medicine the doctor put me on three weeks ago and consequently took me off two weeks ago. The medicine essentially weakened my immune system (which was the point, I learned today), and I got at least two infections over the weekend. After explaining all this to my doctor, I asked him what the road ahead looked like from his perspective. He explained to me that he believes I have some form of a fibromyalgia where the immune system attacks itself, but because my system is so sensitive, we would basically dose me up on vitamins and hope for the best. After eight years of fighting and trying, that was one of the most discouraging things I could have imagined a doctor saying to me. He too was discouraged, confused, and tongue-tied. Finally, after some discussion, he decided to refer me to Mayo clinic. Now it’s a waiting game to see if I will be able to get in. It could be this week; it may not even be this year.
It seemed like basically everyone (the few people I talked to about it) seemed pretty happy about this idea. It kind of came as a shock to my dad, though my mom and I have been expecting it for several months now. I drove straight to work after the appointment, and within fifteen minutes of being at work, I had laughed, entered shock phase, and cried my eyes out both with my coworkers around and in a room by myself. Several people asked me how I felt about the decision. I simply didn’t have an answer for them. Finally, after a few hours, I admitted to someone that how I felt was scared. Who wants to go to a big name hospital and be poked and prodded for a week or two straight while explaining over and over to people they don’t even know a pain that is impossible to describe? It’s enough to drive anyone mad. I’m not so sure I haven’t gone mad.
Through the “grieving process” today, I had a couple pretty significant conversations and a God moment alone in my bedroom in my apartment. Although I was frustrated with the fact that today’s “lesson from God” was a rather selfish one, I couldn’t walk away from what He was confirming in my life. If there’s one thing that annoys me more than it annoys anyone else, it’s sharing about being sick. If I had my way, I wouldn’t talk about it at all. However, it seems like God has other plans, and really my life is His story anyway, so I’m trying to be obedient by being open about the things that He is teaching me.
Lately, I’ve been spending my lunch hours at home listening to music. Today, I happened upon the song “My Jesus, I Love Thee”. This song has been so familiar to me over the years, but I had not thought about it in a few months. For some reason, the words hit me today in a special way and I wanted to share this with you. Here are the lyrics for the first two verses, for those who do not know them:
- My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
- I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
This song is so simple, but so INCREDIBLE. I could sit and read the words all day. I feel like it really matches what I have been going through, because as I have looked back on the different stages of my life and my view of God during those times, I see how my love for Him has grown stronger. The first verse talks about the beginning, when we first start the journey of following Him. We decide to leave our lives behind for the love of our Savior. For me, the longer I know God, the more aware I am of the price He paid for me on Calvary. If I thought I loved Him before, I love Him more now. However, the first two verses do not compare to the last two verses, but we will come back to that later.
As I was talking to our executive pastor today and making him aware of what is going on and that I may need to leave work suddenly for a couple weeks, he told me about a lecture from one of his professors in college that has stuck in my mind all day. This professor was going through a time of deep sadness, and it seemed to linger on and on. He struggled to hear God or to sense His presence at all during this period, and it led him to cry out to God. When he received no answer, he finally made this statement to God: “If You never speak to me again, still I will follow You.” This sounds eerily similar to Job’s “though He slay me” statement.
For me, this question has been settled in my heart for quite some time now, though my resolve has been attacked in serious ways lately. I sensed God moving in my heart today to sit down before Him and renew my commitment. Sometimes in the midst of battle, we need to hear that cry from our leader to keep fighting because victory is near. Like in The Patriot when Mel Gibson grabs the flag and runs through the field of warriors waving it with all his might, I need to grab the flag of my faith and be reminded of what it is that I am fighting for, because war makes even the strongest soldiers weary.
As I was driving to my doctor’s appointment today, I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen. I turned off the radio and prayed something to the effect of, “God, You alone know what is wrong with me and why I have had to suffer so long. I assume You have a good reason for not letting anyone else in on the great secret, because I have to believe that You have a reason for everything You do. Please give me the strength to hold onto You and to trust You in what I don’t understand. Give me an open heart to see the wonderful things You are doing and will do through all of this.” I have continued to pray this prayer all day.
I can honestly say that I have never in my life loved Jesus more than I do today. Nothing that could ever happen to me could ever change that. You know how I know this? Because when I have not had the strength to hold onto God, I have found His loving arms to be holding me. No matter the depth of the valley (and maybe I have seen nothing yet), I have found His grace to be sufficient and His love to be faithful. Like gold forged in the fire, the joy He gives grows stronger through the storms. There is not a reality more true. Although the pain is real, His love is even more real.
When I heard the last two verses of the song “My Jesus, I Love Thee”, I thought to myself, “Exactly.” Here are the words:
3. I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
- In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
I noticed how many times the author uses the word “brow”, and even though he probably used it because it was one of the few words in the English language at the time that rhymed with “now”, I think he wanted us to pay special attention to the crown. How interesting it is that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords was crowned with a crown of thorns in love for us, so that someday we might wear a glittering crown in heaven. There is a song by Michael English called “There’s Not A Crown” that has meant a lot to me since the first time I heard it:
To every life there comes the question of the heart
For extraordinary pain
Struggle greets you on the mountains that you climb
A war within the soul – for every step you gain
Remember when the winds of sorrow strike you down
And leave you hopeless and afraid
The proof of battle is the wounds that you will bear
The scars that build you strong for the journey that you make
There’s not a victory without a fight
There’s not a sunrise without a night
There’s not a purchase without a cost
There’s not a crown without a cross
No greater anguish ever came upon a man
Than when the Son of Glory died
The sins of all of us were nails that pierced His hands
An act of sacrifice – the pain within the price
His crown was fashioned from his suffering and travail
Shone like the Son when He arose
He showed us triumph even when all hope was lost
He carried out a plan so that every man would know
God will guide you when you cling to His hand
Strength will find you when you learn how to stand
To persevere to the end
This song brings to mind some really important things. There is no victory without a fight and there is no purchase without a cost. When we think about all the things in life that we have to “suffer”, God did not even make Himself exempt from that. He definitely could have left us all to our own doom and gloom here on earth. However, He fought the hardest fight out there. He carried the weight of the sin of the whole world. No man had ever borne a burden like that. If we think our God does not understand our meager suffering, we are sorely wrong. He showed us with His very life and death that there is no crown without a cross.
Is it any wonder that He would say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and take up our own cross? Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.” How many times in my life have I said to God, “I want to KNOW YOU” and yet I cringe at the idea of suffering. What better way is there to identify with the person of Jesus than in knowing in just a small way the pain that He bore for me? I wonder if He still feels that pain as He watches the one He loves pray for something and struggle to accept His answer. There is no greater gift that God could give me than the gift of suffering with Him. If I really meant what I prayed, then I will accept His answer with humility and gratitude.
At the end of my life, when the death dew lies cold on my brow, I want to be able to say that never in my life had I loved Him more. I want to love Him more on that day than I do even right now. If the things that are important to me in this life are taken away: my family, friends, home, and health, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…but the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9) If I say that He is MY EVERYTHING, then I must be able to say that when my everything else is taken away.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul gives his famous speech about his thorn in the flesh. Through a conversation with someone else today, I was reminded of God’s timeless answer to Paul through His decision to not take away the thing that pained Paul most. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” How many times in church do we praise God for His power and ask Him for His strength to show itself? How many times do we pray for God to make us weak? Maybe we have so much yet to learn. However, the truth remains: it is God’s grace that is sufficient.
Grace is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is God giving us blessings that we do not deserve, and certainly salvation falls into this category. However, grace is also borne through the wheel of the Potter as He is molding and shaping us more into the image of Him. His grace shows us a love that does not leave us where it found us; but rather it is transforming us in the perfect power of God. This truth is sometimes hard to accept, because the process is often excruciating. However, what an honor it is to be held in the Potter’s hand, that He would see in us what we could be in Him and give the sacrifice of His very Self to see the final product! If we could only see through the eyes of eternity, we might recognize what a gift we have been given!
My friend used the word “opportunity” to describe the doctor’s decision today to refer me to Mayo. That’s a funny word, but it is so perfect for the situation. In every trial that God allows in my life, He is also allowing an opportunity for me to know Him more, to love Him more, and to show His power perfect in my life. I pray that every day He would bring Himself glory in the way I live, and that my attitude would always be thankful for the good things He gives me that often disguise themselves as trials. I want this to be my statement at the end of every day until the moment I look in the face of my Savior and Best Friend: If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.