Disability and Faith – part 3

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 17.32.26Living Life to the Fullest Co-Researcher Sally Whitney has had an article published in Roofbreaker, an online magazine from Christian disability charity, Through the Roof. The article, in which Sally makes sense of her disability and illness experiences through her faith, has been published over three editions. So far we have shared parts one and two; below we share the final part.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says For we live by faith, not by sight. And that’s what I had to believe. Surely the invisible Father that I believe loves me, is with me and is guiding my life? Sometimes, I physically craved Jesus – I wanted Him to sit on my bed and physically hold me. To hug me and tell me that from an eternal perspective, I was going to be fine. I practised mindfulness techniques where I would envisage the Holy spirit as a pink cloud-like entity and It would envelope me as I breathed it in (I’m not sure of how theologically correct that is?!).

But hope lives. Despite finding myself in a previously unimaginable situation, with incurable conditions, 24 hour care and life threatening symptoms, good things have come to pass. I applied for an assistance dog from Canine Partners and was matched with Ethan. A match so perfect that surely could only have been orchestrated by the creator of the Universe. Ethan has transformed my life and shown me that I no longer needed to reject the notion of my own disability. By accepting my illnesses and embracing my weaknesses, new realms of life have opened up to me. Ethan has brought me so much joy, so much colour to my life that I have an incredibly hard time imagining my world without him. And I would never have met him, been given him, if my life had not taken the course it has. Ethan’s unconditional love for me doesn’t see my illnesses, my weakness, my flaws, but only me, Sally. In it I was faced with an unbalanced mirror. In my eyes, the reflection of myself was still of someone who was worthless. I had cripplingly low self-esteem, carved from the punitive treatment and disbelief I had received in hospital.

Yet I was aware that those views were not of God. I know biblically that God values me. I am of worth to Jesus. Dare I believe that I could be of worth to someone else? After pruning, when spring and summer come, there is an abundance of fruit. The sharp pruning knife will, in the end, bring fruitfulness and blessing.

Then I met my husband Ed. And the amazing thing is that it was both of us being totally vulnerable and being courageous enough to open up about our individual weaknesses, that brought us together. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Made perfect! As I admitted my frailty and my brokenness, I told my journey of surrender. In turn, he exposed his own vulnerability by telling his tale of losing his old self and giving it all up to Christ. The power in that admission was what ultimately won me over. And remarkably he was not put off by my failing body or irregular lifestyle. His birthday fell between our 2nd and 3rd date and I had texted in the morning with a celebratory message – (I may have actually sent a few celebratory messages and sung down the phone!) However, then he stopped hearing from me and couldn’t make contact. I had been rushed into intensive care again after another respiratory arrest and was in a coma, intubated. I thought that was enough to put anyone off. But he drove over to see me after I had been discharged and chatted to me as I lay in a hospital gown in bed recovering. How could this be? This was another example of what it is to be truly loved despite my flaws. If Ethan and then Ed could see past all my problems and still see someone who was deserving of love then surely I was seeing a minute reflection of the love God Himself felt for me?

Ed and I got married 14 months later. It was a time of great celebration. An event that I never considered possible. A milestone in my life that I believed I would never reach. A far-reaching prayer that had been answered. It was a celebration of love but more than that an illustration of the things that can happen in life when you allow God to guide you, take His lead and follow Him.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.– Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)  And now I arrive at a place where, for one, I am still breathing, but secondly I want to live every moment I have left for Him. I do not know what my Future holds. I do not know how long my body will hold out. But I return to the verse that has been quoted at me so many times.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. I have been steered so far away from my original plans and I have to admit it is very hard to see myself as anything but a burden. But dare I believe, if I walk the road with Jesus, perhaps “I” may have something to contribute? Could I minister to others? Having been passed like silver through the refining fires… Pushed to my very limit, road-tested inside and out, and taken to hell and back;

Could I use my desperate act of surrender to do God’s work?  ‘Finally he brought us to this well-watered place’ (Psalm 66.10–12, MSG).

If I have learned anything over the past 13 years it has been to find the joy in everything. To always hold onto hope and His promises. To love Jesus and all those I meet with sincere and deep love. I’ve learned better to walk beside the Lord and live with and for Him. John 15, 4-5 says the second secret of fruitfulness is closeness to Jesus (v.4). I cannot tackle my problems on my own. Jesus says, ‘When you’re joined with me and I with you … the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing’ (v.5, MSG).

I can only overcome my battles when I am near to Him. I see my life bearing fruit as is written in the gospel and I continue to seek Him so my prayers will be answered (v.7), God will be glorified (v.8) and my joy will be complete (v.11). I do not believe my life will be easy from here onwards, I have not been healed and I am not sure where I am going or exactly what my purpose is, but I know this; He loves me and I love Him.

And I have HOPE. In my most testing moments, I return to Romans 5:3-5 over and over. We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

As someone who has experienced a huge depth of suffering the first part of the passage is the hardest to stomach and has taken the longest to make sense of; “We also GLORY in our sufferings”. But maybe it is better to approach it from the end. HOPE does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. That is the greatest gift I could have been given. God’s love in my heart. And this never-ending hope that I have held tight to has come from somewhere. I truly believe it has been cultivated from pushing through, holding on as I suffer pain after pain, loss after loss. I have persevered. And if perseverance produces character and character produces hope and that leads to God’s love literally being poured into my heart, then perhaps, just perhaps, the suffering that has started this chain is something to glory in.

This isn’t just a story of suffering and pain. MY hope is that this is a story of encouragement to persevere, surrender and put your hope in Him.

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