It was July 4, 2015.
The faint squeals of the neighborhood kids scampering in the grass brought a crooked, hesitant smile to my mangled face.
I was lying flat on my back in bed. That’s what the Neurologist ordered to ward off the migraines that the spinal tap had triggered. Dizzy, nauseated, in excruciating pain and confined to my bed, I felt hopeless and afraid.
Just 4 days before, the symptoms began. It started with a headache, but this headache felt different than the usual sinus pressure fare. It pulsated behind my left ear, which soon became tender to the touch.
I was afraid.
The following morning I woke up to the familiar lack of movement on the left side of my face. Geoff and I rushed to the Neurology clinic, where I was given blood tests, an MRI and the dreaded spinal tap. The neurologist saw possible signs of infection, maybe encephalitis or meningitis.
My first bout of Bell’s Palsy hit me just 4 years earlier. At first the Neurologist was concerned that I had MS, which scared the pants off of me. After living in fear for several weeks of the possible diagnosis, I was given an MRI and MS was ruled out. Instead I was given a diagnosis of Lyme Disease based on blood tests, put on steroids and antibiotics and sent on my way.
This time around, the blood work, MRI and Spinal Tap were clear. No sign of a tumor or infection, including Lyme.
Which means NO ANSWERS as to why this has now happened to me twice.
Paralyzed by Fear
And as I lay in bed that day, I felt a surreal swirl of joy as I listened to my kids enjoy the sunny, hot holiday outside, and a piercing loneliness, with only my anxious thoughts to keep me company. I curled onto my side, succumbing to every “what if” scenario.
What if I end up with a rare hematoma on my spinal tap site and die within days?
What if I really DO have MS?
What if my face never looks the same again?
What if I can never eat the same or see the same again?
What if the migraines never go away?
What if…what if…WHAT IF?????
Repentance brings Strength
And as I lay there, I realized my error in thinking. I repented of my lack of faith, and prayed for strength to focus on God and His will in the situation. To do that, I scoured the many podcasts I enjoy listening to for encouragement.
And it was through a FamilyLife Today broadcast that featured the late Elisabeth Elliot that God spoke to me.
I’ve looked up to Elisabeth Elliot as a pillar of faith and an example of the kind of surrender I want my life to be marked by. She was married to missionary, Jim Elliot, who was speared to death in 1956 with 4 others by a tribal community in Ecuador. Elisabeth had just given birth to their daughter 10 months before. She decided to stay with the Auca tribe for 2 years following Jim’s death, continuing to minister to them. After she moved back to the United States she went on to remarry, but her second husband died a few short years later. She married a third time and remained married to him until her death in 2015. She has said that it seems she was single more years than she was married, and experienced intense grief and loneliness as a result.¹
In the broadcast she quoted the prayer of Betty Scott Stam, a missionary to China who was eventually beheaded by Chinese Communists along with her husband:
“Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself—my life / my all—utterly to Thee to be Thine forever. Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit. Use me as Thou wilt. Send me where Thou wilt. Work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.”
And I wept.
Because, yes, I had surrendered to Christ over and over in my life. I had prayed to Him, hands raised to the heavens, symbolic of my heart’s desire to offer to Him my life, my all. I’d surrendered my finances, my children, my husband, my plans, my hopes and my dreams…..
But had I REALLY??????
I mean, do I REALLY want WHATEVER God may have for me?
Do I really want God glorified in me at any cost???
Because at that moment, facing the unknown and feeling depleted and miserable, I didn’t want suffering to mark my future. I mean, when it came down to it, I wanted to have a happy, healthy life, doing what I felt God calling me to, with a skip in my step and a smile on my face.
I didn’t want to suffer.
A Reluctant Surrender
But in that moment the Spirit of God softened me and calmed me, as Elisabeth Elliot shared the final stanza of the poem, Saint Paul by F.W.H. Myers, that kept her strong upon hearing the news of Jim’s death:
[Yea] thro’ life, death, thro’ sorrow and thro’ sinning,
Christ shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.
And there began in me a paradigm shift.
If “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), and if my deepest desire is Christ, and if what I want more than anything is Christ, then NOTHING, no circumstance, not even death, can take Him away from me.
Take my life, take my health, take my success, my husband, my friends, my children, but NOTHING can take away Christ’s presence in my life.
But if I’m living for anything other than Christ, I will be utterly devastated when I lose that thing.
If I’m living for my health, and I lose it,
If I’m living for my family, and they fail me,
If I’m living for success and success eludes me,
If I’m living for the approval of others and it never comes,
….then I will be absolutely crushed.
But if my life is hidden with Christ in God, and if my life is Christ (Col. 3:3-4), then, while the circumstances of life may be tremendously difficult, and while suffering will come, and while I will grieve and struggle, I’ll still have the ONE in Whom my soul finds rest.
And I’ll cling to Him.
Because He is the end.
He is my hope.
He is my future.
He is my all in all.
God’s Perfect Peace
And in that moment, curled up in bed; I prayed and wept, hesitant, but so deeply desiring to trust His sovereign, beautiful, perfect will for my life.
And I felt peace…
…even if just for a moment.
I’ve learned that this will need to be a daily, moment by moment surrender, because my flesh is weak and my heart fails me.
But as I learn to shift my focus from my circumstances to Him, and as I come to know Him more intimately, I learn to trust Him more, my fears begin to fade, and His perfect peace covers me.
I’d love to hear from you!
-What areas of your life do you find it most difficult to surrender to God?
-What areas of your life do you struggle to trust God?
-What verses or truths from Scripture could you meditate on to encourage you as you seek to surrender to Him in all things?
¹http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html, viewed on April 20, 2016.