Since it’s been a few years now I’m rarely asked to tell my MS story, but this week I was asked by a group of women, mostly pastors wives, to talk through it, so I dove in and remembered how refreshing and helpful it is to both myself, and others. At the risk of being redundant, I tell it again, because maybe in my story, you will find parts of your story.
It’s been 4 years of celebrating and embracing life MS strong. Strength found in weakness. Strength found in two being more and more one. A strength that doesn’t appear strong. Strength in believing. In some ways this is more of a marriage post because the longer we’ve walked this road, the more I’ve been carried by the strength of another and I cannot rightly use the pronoun “I”, but mostly, “we”.
What I remember the most is how faithful God was – to prepare me, to lead me, to masterfully weave this all together for my good and His glory. Multiple Sclerosis, or any disease for that matter, is not outside of His control. It’s not a surprise and it’s not Plan B (or Z for that matter). It is Plan A.
This story was woven into me from the time I was knit together in my mother’s womb – fearfully and wonderfully made. My soul is just learning it more and more with each passing year, as the disease steadily drips on and my body gets older. It’s not a thief in the night. It is a gift of grace. At the risk of losing you at this point, I’ll dive into the waters of my MS story.
I was diagnosed in September of 2016 when my youngest had just turned one and I had been temporarily blind for about 2 weeks. My best friend laughs and jokes with me now about how I could go blind in one eye and think it was normal. A year before, when I was pregnant with Maggie I had these episodes that looked like seizures where the left side of my body would uncontrollably seize up and curl inward several times a day…honestly, I assumed this was an attack from Satan because it started the same week that we launched public worship services for New City Church. It was super scary and I couldn’t be left alone with my 3 little kids – one who wasn’t quite walking and every time I put him into or got him out of his crib I knew to expect to immediately fall and lie on the ground in writhing pain for 2-3 minutes. I share these details because it’s good to remember God’s faithfulness. He provided friends and family who supported us greatly. He provided a new rhythm of life in which my husband turned from go-getter, driven, and do-all-the-things-in-a-day-you-can, to one who had to be physically present with me most of the time – in the beginning, days of planting a church, which is the time when you typically go-go-go! God is too good to ever let us think we’ve created something that we must work to sustain. All glory to Him.
Jumping back to 2016, before I even noticed the growing blindness in my right eye, I knew God was at work again. He had led me to memorize Ephesians 1 – “…the Father…may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe….and He put all things under his (Jesus) feet…” (1:17-22).
God wanted me to know Him more and He enlightened the eyes of my heart through my physical eyes going dim…the analogy was clear to me and the hope that gave me was, and is, immeasurable. The fact that MS, or whatever happened, was literally under His feet and in His complete control gave and still gives me a confidence, that allows me to be sad, frustrated, and even angry with my broken body, but yet with great hope. It’s a deep lament that is not bitter or controlled by my circumstance.
No matter what, the enemy can not steal anything from me. ALL things are under God’s feet. The wind and the waves know HIS name. The enemy may steal and seek to kill and destroy, but MY King authors, and lavishes, and frees. And He is completely trustworthy, faithful, kind, loving, and beyond satisfying!
Hebrews 2:8-9 “Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. BUT we SEE HIM … Jesus!”
That’s the story to this point, with my reflections, but here’s how this summer went –
This summer nearly knocked me over. In fact, it physically knocked me over again and again.
I didn’t get worse, per se, my body just revealed weaknesses more. No new flare ups, but just a steady trickle of progression in what was already there. I couldn’t walk or hike as long, my husband noticed the stairs becoming a challenge, and the waves in the ocean kept me totally off balance. All new things. Things that completely exhausted me. Things we lamented over together, Ryan and I. Yet the lament was sweet and made the celebration louder and stronger.
We went to Montana because an event we were supposed to go to got “Covid- canceled” and Ryan asked me to pick a place I wanted to go. Glacier – of course. It’s glorious and magnificent, filled to the brim with God’s glory, hard hikes, and peace. I loved it. I loved the challenge of the harder hikes. But, everyone passed us on the trials. Even going as fast as I could go, we couldn’t keep up with people we began conversations with and they eventually soared ahead. I moved methodically, slowly, and sometimes painfully. The amount of brainpower going into something that seems so normal is wearying, just so that I wouldn’t fall (but fall a few times I did).
The beauty was probably greater because we were made to take our journey slowly.
My approval idols came crashing down as person after person passed us on trails and I had to move out of their way without getting tripped up.
The views were all the better because of the time we had to focus on our surroundings.
The marriage was all the sweeter and stronger because we had to be one…sometimes the stronger giving the weaker a piggyback ride and reminding her that she was going to make it no matter how long it took, and even saying he would probably go no faster on his own anyway.
Here we are. We lament. We celebrate. We know that God will make all things new, the broken will not remain broken forever, and His power is made perfect in our weakness…as we wait, with hope. This journey was the beginning of Hope for me, and with hope, it will continue until the day I’m made new.
And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)
“You don’t have to bow to your feelings.” Sounds pretty simple, right? My emotions have a place, and rightly so, God made us to be feeling creatures, but emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately. As the waves keep crashing, I keep grabbing the opportunities, though sometimes not very well, to sink into the truth.
I have been thinking about this analogy of being a racquetball court instead of a sponge. I think somewhere along the way I got this idea from the book, Loving the Little Years, by Rachel Jankovich. For me, being a racquetball court and not a sponge means I don’t have to absorb other’s emotions around me and take them all in. When I absorb the emotions of my kids, for instance, I become enslaved to them. Or if I absorb the frustrations of others, I think I must “fix it”. Rather, the wall of the racquetball court feels the hit, the sting even, of the ball, yet it lets it go.
If I am a sponge with my kids, it means that when they are happy, I am happy. When they are mad, I am mad. When they are scared, I am scared. We can logically see how this is not helpful when we take a step back. Thankfully, God is not like this with us – taking on our emotions, being changed by them, and responding in kind. Yes, He weeps with those who weep and clearly and vividly displays emotion! Yet, He is not controlled by other’s emotions or His own.
You may not identify with this at all – I am a “2” on the enneagram whose core words are love, approval, helper, and feeler. In some way though, we all absorb the emotions of others or follow our own hearts and feelings. Most people can identify with being trapped in the endless cycle of feel – act – feel – act. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us. I imagine throwing emotion onto Jesus, knowing He can handle it, and asking Him to lead me in the truth, then bowing in submission to that truth, not bowing to my ever-changing emotion.
In his phenomenal book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller says this about Naomi as we see her at the beginning of the book of Ruth,
“Naomi neither suppresses her feelings nor is trapped by them. She didn’t have to act on her feelings. She felt anguish, yet she was free from the tyranny of her feelings…if we follow (our feelings) we become trapped by them.”
Naomi is dealing with great pain and anguish – and most of her anguish comes because she trusts that God is Sovereign and good, but she can’t see it in her circumstance.
There is something liberating about not being trapped in our feelings; being able to feel and lament and love deeply – yes! – but not having to act on every emotion that rears its head up. Satan may prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour – whether through internal suppressed emotion, or explosive words, or anything else, but the truth is: Jesus IS the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is the Lion. While Satan prowls like a lion, his power is limited by the power of the true Lion – the eternal King.
As I was driving to pick up my kids from school this week, I was in the midst of “knife fighting with the devil” as my husband lovingly says, internally fighting between my flesh-driven instincts and thoughts (the barbarians roaming the streets of my mind), OR looking up to Jesus, attempting to sing and proclaim THE truth louder than the thoughts in my mind, and this worship song by Phil Wickham came on leading me to worship and to the truth of freedom in Christ:
“Out of the silence, the roaring Lion declared
The grave has NO claim on me!
Hallelujah! Praise the one who set me free.
Hallelujah! Death has lost it’s grip on me.
You have broken every chain!
There’s salvation in your name – Jesus Christ – my Living Hope.”
This King has delivered us from the tyranny of ourselves if we belong to Him. We are not held hostage by emotions, or our past, or our sin. We are filled with and empowered by the Spirit to kick out the lies, for me, it’s the fake conversations I’m having with others in my mind, particularly if I’ve been hurt or am angry. We can replace these with the truth:
My Father is in charge.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
All power belongs to God.
The Lord has delivered me from myself; the Lord IS delivering me from myself. All I have to do fall into dependence on and look up instead of down, planning my response in my own strength by staring intently at the circumstance.
Submitting to the Lord and leaning into him instead of our natural flesh driven responses, having to wait and trust, can lead us into sweet moments of worship. Even the sins of others, or choices of others, are allowed by God to impact me because it drives me to Him in dependence which becomes a sweet opportunity for growth and sanctification.
This is soul work. This is good work. And it’s also a knife fight with the devil.
But Jesus has won and will win finally and fully.
“For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Psalm 25:11
I’ve done more personal posts lately, but today I want to dive deep into a spring of theological truth that is thirst-quenching, life-giving, and crucial to our life with Jesus. It changes our everyday outlook on life.
It is this:
Christian, He has pardoned you for His name’s sake. Not for your name’s sake. Not only is He faithful to pardon us, because He cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13), but He is Just. Have you thought about how it is God’s justice that secures your forgiveness?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us for all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus bore the weight of all our sin on the cross; therefore, it would not be just to Jesus if our current sins were left under the crushing weight of the law and of guilt.
Even David, looking forward to Christ, was able to walk in the foretold, coming faithfulness of Christ:
“Prove me O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is ever before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26: 2-3)
It’s a reminder we don’t walk in our own faithfulness. We are not saved by our own goodness. If we were, then we would be living by the flesh – as if my own penance and guilt could make a way for my forgiveness! But, no! We have a great high priest who is seated at the right hand of God, always interceding for us. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who dies, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God – and He is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:33-35)
Am I saying that “no one can speak to you about your sin or ask you hard questions?” Absolutely not! (Romans 6:1-4) Far from it! Because we KNOW that we are covered and hidden in Christ, that justice has been satisfied, we are free to walk in the light with others. We are free to struggle with our besetting sin. We are free to be courageous, bold, and even get things wrong.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, whose through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve a living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)
I am proposing that often times we don’t live in a state of awareness of our sin and desperation enough. When we don’t live in that awareness, we think we can be our own savior. Even David said – “prove me and try me.” Because his hope was in the forthcoming justice of Christ, he could be honest about his sin, rather than hide it. A place of brokenness is the most beautiful place for us because we are relying on grace, justice, and our faithful high priest instead of ourselves.
How often do you carry around guilt for your sin, waiting until you “do better next time” to accept God’s forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness on your behalf? That’s a false gospel, friend!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. O foolish Galatians! Who bewitched you? …Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 2:20-3:4)
You were once in a courtroom, and the Judge stepped down and called you his son or daughter because Christ’s righteousness speaks for you. Get out of the courtroom of your own making of fear, condemnation, and cursing. Because it is for freedom He has set you free – to proclaim the good news to the captives of His recusing, redeeming, steadfast, and just love. Christ did NOT die for nothing! His forgiveness over you, if you belong to Him, isn’t only merciful, but it is just – to Christ.
It’s not up to me to stay forgiven! It’s up to Him and since He has been proven faithful and just I get to live in and live out of the power of His just forgiveness!
Silent Saturday. I didn’t coin this term; I read it a couple different places and Ryan and I felt the weight of it. Silent Saturday. Jesus’ body is in the grave. He is buried. Friday night’s despair, agony, fear, and grief rolls steadily into a silent Saturday – a place of darkness, waiting, and apparent hopelessness for Jesus’ friends and followers. For them, it was the Sabbath and they couldn’t do anything.
Since we know the end, sometimes it’s easy for us to skip quickly past this place of grief, darkness, and silence. Yes, we will sit for a moment in the horror of Friday…yet we often jump quickly to the victory and celebration of Sunday. While we should and will celebrate greatly, what would it look like to sit in the depths of darkness and silence with Jesus’ friends?
Life is like this right? The shadow doesn’t immediately pass and turn into victory. The darkness hovers before the triumph. And we don’t always feel the purpose of sitting in the silence.
For Jesus’ friends, every light seemed to be extinguished. In Luke 23 and John 19 we find Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus. Think about that for a moment. Physically and literally these members of the Sanhedrin, wealthy men, are getting blood on them, transporting and gently wrapping their Lord’s body up, giving him a proper and beautiful burial. They are giving greatly and forsaking their titles because it would have been disgraceful, as a member of the Sanhedrin, to associate with Jesus. They gave substantially out of their means to properly bury Jesus. They loved him and their love resulted in courage and action…their belief in him led them to lovingly care for him.
They grieved hard, I imagine, and Saturday was likely lonely and silent for them after they completed Friday nights painstaking and horrific task of burying the Son of God’s lifeless body – cold and stiff. Like Jesus’ friends, we will sometimes sit in the darkness. We will listen to the silence. We will weep over the unknown and the brokenness. We can do this because we trust in Jesus.
Through the prophet, Isaiah God says to us in Isaiah 45 and 42
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, that you may know that it is I the Lord, the God of Isreal, who call you by name…I call you by name. I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light…These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”
(Isaiah 45:3, 42:16)
Your darkness may be dark. Your silence may be deafening. Those are true and real and need to be admitted and grieved. Because, when we know the depths of darkness, we love the glory and beauty of the light all the more clearly. Jesus knew the darkness and it’s because of this we get to know the light. Don’t roll past your Savior’s death without being silent, without feeling the pain. Don’t ignore the shadows that are won’t move in your own heart and life. The light and victory are all the more beautiful when we grieve and acknowledge them. I’ll leave you with some words Paul wrote about what Jesus accomplished in the darkness and silence of Saturday:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. HE disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. (Colossians 2:13-14)
Embrace the treasures of darkness and let your Savior lead you to the light of His triumph over death this weekend, friends.
Ryan and I did part of this as a short, 10-minute video devotional for our church – check it out here!
You can also check out our livestream service here!
“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. Maybe you can relate? We don’t say it exactly like that, but anytime we project thoughts, emotions, and turmoil into the future— where God hasn’t given us grace to live yet— we are imagining a fake future where He is not God.
For me, because I have Multiple Sclerosis, living in this fake future can happen when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … The pervasive thoughts of this fake future can come in and steal my joy, robbing me of the beauty of the present moment anytime that I stop preaching the gospel to my oh-so-prone-to-wander heart.
Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it is simply not true. It’s a bold lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. Anytime those three are in cahoots together, say during a pandemic, my fake future is all the grimmer. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self-preserve, and ultimately self-serve, forgetting about God and others in the present. This pretend future becomes ridden with the stench of self – what Jesus came to rescue me from! This future is an awful place where I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and all-wise one… except, since I’m not those things, it is a place of great fear – a place where God is not present.
During our livestream worship gathering last week, we sang Sovereign Over Us and I was convicted that I’m not living as the song declares:
“There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever – perfect in love
You are sovereign over us.”
In my broken, immunosuppressed body (that fights against my nervous system), I can choose to worship God no matter what. In brokenness, I can worship more deeply, fully, and beautifully. Yet, as I stood singing, my heart was unsettled and restless. “You have to be careful!” my mind shouted.
This is very true. The ramifications of getting sick while I have less B-cells to fight it off (taking forever to get over sickness and incurring permanent damage resulting from white blood cells attacking the covering of my nervous system) are very real. Yet, I can choose whether or not to abide safely in Jesus with this knowledge. My outward actions probably need to remain the same – safe and cautious – but my heart needs a heavy dose of the truth, stability, and safety found only in the One who is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
The reality is that even if I get sick, and even if my broken white blood cells go rogue and attack my nervous system, and even if my foot and leg (or eye, or hands, or bladder or whatever) stop working permanently, He is still sovereign over even that. Even if I am more permanently damaged, to God be the glory forever because that is what He has planned for me to love Him more deeply and proclaim Him more fully.
Nothing can touch us, as children of God, without God’s permission. Remember Job? Satan had to ASK God for permission to take Job’s stuff, make him sick, allow his kids to die, and more. The book of Job is 42 chapters long, but the story could have been told in merely 6. There are 36 chapters devoted to allowing us to walk with Job through his questions, anguish, and pain. While knowing God is sovereign doesn’t take away the difficulty, or the grief, or the sitting in pain and suffering for a time, it does put those feelings in perspective with the eternal glory that outweighs it all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I’m thankful for the words of another song, He will Hold Me Fast, that reminds me of the truth: “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.” His grip is stronger than my lack of faith. This is encouraging to me as I am bluntly, yet kindly, reminded of my own lack of faith in who God says He is and who He has proven to be, time and time (and time) again.
This body is what God has given me to worship Him in. Broken, and hurting, and not always working right – it is where my soul lives. And, I can worship Him in my present reality: In my strong faith or my lack of faith; in my fears and insecurities or my deep and abiding trust. This is the body, the season, and the place in which He has called me to live, move, breath, and worship. So, I will trust that I am held fast by a sovereign God who is always good, loving, faithful, and in charge.
And when I forget, I will repent and believe again (and again) … with this body that will one day – on the day of God’s choosing – finally and forever be made perfect.
 Sovereign Over Us | Aaron Keyes. Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring
 He Will Hold Me Fast | Ada Habershon & Matt Merker
*I am grateful to have this article appear in enCourage!