One time in particular jumps out at me.
It was the summer after I graduated from college. All throughout college, I had been a part of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). I had been on our leadership team at college for two years, volunteered with a local high school huddle, served on weekend retreats, and been a huddle leader (aka counselor) at sports camps over the summers.
This summer was different than previous summers, not just because it was my last year as a huddle leader. By this point, my health was beginning to significantly impact my life. It would only be a few months until my first diagnosis that would continue to define the next years of my life. This week of being a huddle leader for the soccer players pushed my body to the limit. I was supposed to be the leader and a role model for the girls in my huddle. I was supposed to be someone they looked up to and there for them during a busy and stressful, but fun, week of FCA camp.
|Sharing with the campers before sports practice|
I remember going back to my air conditioned room (with supervision because I was so feverish they were worried) one day when I had been pulled off the soccer field for heat exhaustion and crying. I felt like this was the first time I actually felt like something I loved was slipping through my hands because of my health. I wondered what I was supposed to do when my body was letting me down. I was there to SERVE! This week wasn't supposed to be about me! So why was it that when I was trying so hard to be able to serve that I couldn't? To say I was frustrated would have been a serious understatement.
Then one of the adult leaders (I know, technically I was over 18, but these were REAL adults =P) pulled out her Bible and shared a verse with me that I truly took to heart that week and have prayed over my life since. In Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul says, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
The only thing I'm not sure I follow is that first sentence...he only asked THREE TIMES for God to take his pain??? Pretty sure I've asked a *few* more than 3 times...but I supposed that's why Paul has almost the whole New Testament to his name and I have this blog... =P
Jokes aside, though, this verse has carried through many, many tough seasons of life. That doesn't mean I never cry for God to take pain or suffering away, but it means that even in the midst of it, when I know I can't possibly go it alone, I turn to God knowing He is my strength in those moments of complete desperation and inability. A few years later, I served at another FCA event, and was able to share how this verse keeps me going...how I knew that despite my diagnoses and health challenges and my lack of physical strength, I was still able to serve at FCA retreats because God gave me His strength so I could be a testimony of what He can do in my weakness.
Fast forward a few years, and the lack of strength I had then I would be thrilled with now. As I am daily faced with my reality of currently being disabled by my mast cell disease and unable to work or function on a "normal" level, seeing God be my physical strength has faded into memories. One by one, I have watched things I love (school, work, sports, serving, FCA) slowly slip through my hands as I stand there asking God why He isn't being my strength anymore. The verses I once clung to as my lifeline seemed to have run their course. Paul still had strength to travel all over the world sharing the Gospel despite his weaknesses...why can't I even get out of bed some days? Why do I miss more Bible studies than I make? Why are my symptoms such that I cannot be the friend that is always there to help?
Despite feeling as though my physical strength was only a memory, I realized that my spiritual strength and depth of my faith had grown through these seasons of feeling like I was running on borrowed strength. I was encouraged by that, but still didn't understand. I am thrilled to be growing spiritually, but at the same time, it feels lacking. What good is a strong faith if it cannot be used? The strongest faith in the world doesn't matter if God can't use it for His glory. I wasn't purposefully hiding my faith, but when I go days barely leaving my bedroom, it certainly feels like a light placed under a bed that can only illuminate a small space that no one can see. I was thankful to be growing in my faith, but discouraged that I only felt my physical limitations even more.
But wait for it...here's the bit aha moment! It's a good thing this post doesn't have to end there...
We are studying Judges this semester in the women's Bible study at church. I love going through books of the Bible section by section, but sometimes the Old Testament can be a *bit* confusing and overwhelming. Judges is no different. But even in the few short weeks we've been doing this study, there is so much practical application. For me, one thing in particular has jumped out.
Judges 3:12-30 recounts the story of Ehud, one of the judges God raised up to lead Israel out of captivity. I won't write it all out here, but I want to share one specific verse: Judges 3:15. "Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man."
What? You didn't catch it? Don't worry, I didn't either at first. I'll give you a hint, it's the last 2-3 words (not sure if a hyphenated word counts as one or two...English majors, a little help??). ANYWAY, "left-handed man" is the phrase I'm referring to. Still confused? Don't worry, I was, too!
Left-handed in the Old Testament was not a reference to his writing preference. The translation actually indicates that Ehud was paralyzed or otherwise unable to use his right hand (hence, forced to be left-handed). THAT is what jumped out at me.
We are told and can read throughout the Bible how God uses unlikely people to be influential leaders. David was a murderer, Moses was also a murderer and gave excuses, Daniel was a foreigner/captive, Gideon doubted, Mary was a teenager, Paul (formerly Saul) was one of the biggest Christian killers of his time...seeing a pattern? To use a cliche church phrase, "God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called." In every situation, God chooses someone no one else would have chosen and uses them in the ways that we read about today. Using an unlikely leader is not an unusual theme in the Bible, but Ehud still jumped out at me.
He is the first time a disabled person is mentioned in the Bible where he is not only NOT healed, but used despite his limitations...and actually even BECAUSE of those limitations. We get no context as to when he lost the use of his arm. It could have been from birth, it could have happened from a battle injury, he could have gotten sick, we don't know. What we do know is that at the time he was called by God as a judge, he was still disabled. How many people in Israel do you think questioned God's choice on this one? I'm sure they are all looking around at the healthy, strong men and thinking that surely God could have chosen someone else.
But He didn't. God chose Ehud. And He chose Ehud BECAUSE of his disability.
Ehud was sent to the Moabite king. He told the king he had a secret message for him which meant the king dismissed all his attendants. Since Ehud was left-handed, his sword was concealed on his right leg, opposite of what would have been expected in that time. That meant he was able to surprise the king with his "message from God" and kill him quietly and suddenly. No one "normal" or "healthy" could have done this. Only Ehud. Ehud lived his entire life (or however long) with his paralyzed arm leading up to the moment God needed that disability to free Israel from Moab and lead His people into 80 years of peace.
This section of scripture came up at just the right time. I was just feeling (again) the disappointment of the unpredictability of my symptoms and as though I was just living life with no specific purpose. This was an incredibly well-timed reminder (#Godstimingisalwaysperfect) that despite my disabilities right now, God still can, will, and does use me. And sometimes it is BECAUSE of my limitations rather than despite it.
I may not always see the physical strength that I once did, but that doesn't mean that I can't have purpose where I am or that God can't use me with the life I have to offer.