I went to a conference two weeks ago with the Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor of my church. It was a work thing, a bonding experience between us, and we enjoyed a couple days fellowship as we listened to some preaching at First Baptist Atlanta.
Now, if you’ve never been to a Bible conference (and honestly, how many of you who aren’t vocational ministers would?), don’t fret; if you’ve been to any kind of professional conference, you know what it was like. There were vendors, booths, giveaways, breakout sessions, main sessions, heavy hitters and up and comers. It was, I must say, a fun time for me.
But the Friday of this conference was particularly interesting, because two different men stood and spoke on the exact same Scripture passage and the exact same theme. Identical. The second preacher joked that he was facing the “worst nightmare of any preacher” but plunged ahead with his message. I’m glad he did, because I needed to hear both sermons.
The passage they spoke from was 2 Corinthians 12:6-10, on the proverbial thorn in the flesh of the Apostle Paul. I won’t take you through a rehash of the exegesis, but suffice it to say, both men who spoke that day were supremely convinced that Paul had a real affliction in his life that challenged his very sanity; that pushed him to the limits of his considerable intelligence and faith. And both preachers were completely convinced that it was the design of God for Paul to be afflicted.
Now, I know I’ve lost some people by now – talking about my faith on this blog tends to drive people away. But if you’ve stuck with me this far, I hope that you’ll hang with me to the end.
I have to confess that I have a thorn in my flesh, one that drives me insane, and produces a mixture of helplessness and rage unlike nothing else I know. I’ve begged God to take it away (as Paul begged God to do for him; see 2 Cor. 12:8) and nothing happens. It remains, to the consternation of both myself and Rachel.
The difference for Paul and I, is that my thorn isn’t in my flesh. It’s in my daughter’s lungs.
We’ve spent the majority of the weekend trying to stave off Ella’s asthma. It’s hasn’t worked. Even right now, Rachel is with E at the doctor’s office, getting yet another examination to tell us what we already know: she has a sinus infection that’s led to an ear infection that’s led to congestion in her lungs that’s triggered her asthma and made the poor child miserable. It’s the same freaking thing every fall, winter and spring, and it’s why we spent a large sum of money this summer to have Ella’s adenoids removed. We want this phase of our daughter’s life to be over with. We want the asthma gone.
But it persists. Much like dumb political strategy in Washington D.C., Ella’s chronic sinus and ear infections continue unabated, meaning we have to spend many days and nights giving her steriods, albuterol, ibuprofen, and whatever else we can think of to keep her semi-well. And whenever this happens, my anxiety – and really my anger and fear – go through the roof.
I’ve lost one daughter. I don’t want to lose another. And while I don’t honestly believe that Ella will die young, I didn’t honestly believe that Ruthanne would never draw breath either.
So I get scared.
I like to think I’ve made my peace with God over Ruthanne’s death. I’m okay with His Sovereignty. I understand that He decides the time and span of each person’s life. I get it, I believe it, and in many ways, I’ve no issue with it.
But when it comes to my daughter…man, it’s my weakness. It’s where I’m vulnerable. It’s the chink in my armor, the lapse in my faith, and it’s something that comes to the fore like clockwork every year for the past four years. Even now, as I’m typing this, I’ve just gotten a message from Rachel:
Ella is getting X-rayed for pneumonia. She has freaking pneumonia.
Part of me wants to cry. Part of me wants to toss my Bible across the room and scream, “There is no God!” Part of me wants to curl up in a ball and just cry, because we’re so tired of our little girl not getting to live a normal life.
And I know there are others who have it far worse than we do: childhood leukemia, cancer, HIV/AIDS, SIDS…I know there are people for whom “normal” will never be an option, and I feel for them.
But part of what makes Ella’s case so maddening is that she gets to be normal some of the time; she gets to be a regular kid for a few weeks or months, before the weather and seasons change and she suddenly morphs into this sickly child for three months. You can see it in her eyes: the defeat, the tiredness, the sadness. And as a parent, it makes you want to eat barbed wire or take a hostage. You feel like grabbing the doctor and threatening bodily harm unless someone can cure your kid.
You feel like falling to your knees and begging God for a miracle, but you don’t because you don’t feel like you deserve it and you’re not sure you’d get it even if you did.
This is my thorn. This is the battleground for my soul. I can feel the helpless anger rising in me as I type. I’m trying to ask God for help, begging Him to just make it all better, and I keep coming back to those messages and that passage of Scripture. It’s on a loop in my head and it won’t stop:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
This is my weakness. Having lost one child, I’m terrified of losing another, and despite my faith, despite what I know in my head and my heart, it is a fear that has staggering power over me. And that fear is compounded by the financial strain of having to pay for what insurance doesn’t cover – and friends, much like lingerie, insurance doesn’t cover a whole heck of a lot. All of this combines to push me towards bitterness and anger and rage and hate. And it’s so much easier to give in to it, to just let all of that wash over me instead of taking it to God in prayer. And even when I choose to pray, there’s this voice screaming in my ear: “It won’t matter! He doesn’t care! He doesn’t even exist!”
What started out as a typical Monday has transformed into yet another low-tide in my soul. I’m choosing, by sheer will and nothing else, to trust that God will provide. That God will hear and answer prayer. That God will, in some way, deliver.
There is no other alternative. At least, none that will accomplish anything more.
Pray for me, for my daughter, and for the wisdom of God to be made clear. And that His power will indeed be made perfect in this.