Wednesday, June 7, 2017

God Uses Our Weaknesses, Not Our Strengths

One of the themes that always seems to appear in the Bible is that God doesn't use people's strengths. He uses their weaknesses so that He is glorified when things turn out incredible moments. At first glance, this seems backwards...If God created us, why doesn't He use the very strengths He has given us?

Because if He only used our strengths, then it would be so easy to think we are doing everything in our own power. But when instead, He uses the very areas He knows are a challenge, then we have no choice but to rely on Him for the strength we are lacking. And in that, God is glorified. 

In my mind, sunsets, sunrises, and the beauty of nature are 
some of the best displays of God's glory.
I had a very rough day yesterday. It started with my regular Xolair injection at 8 am. At 8:30 am, I passed out as I was getting ready to leave my doctor's office. That prompted ER trip #1 for the day. After spending a few hours in the ER, I was able to come home about noon. Only a couple hours later, I was starting to have symptoms of an on coming mast cell reaction. Not long after, Leni alerted which meant this was potentially a severe one. A double dose of IV rescue meds wasn't able to control my reaction, so when my throat began swelling and I couldn't swallow, my anaphylaxis and epipen free streak was broken. Ambulance called, ER trip #2, and the comment that prompted this blog post.

One of the nurses in ER #2 was training another nurse, who made the comment that got me thinking. It was when she heard that I can go into anaphylaxis from unknown triggers and have used over 25 epipens just this calendar year. She made a comment that it must be terrifying to live with mast cell disease and never knowing when I could possibly have an anaphylactic reaction to nothing. I just kinda laughed it off like I usually do and said that you just learn to live with it, but it got me reflecting a bit.

If I stop to think about it, yes, it is terrifying. Throat swelling, not being able to swallow, passing out, etc. can all be signs that the body is in shock from whatever triggered the allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is life threatening. Every day I live with this reality and knowing that absolutely nothing could send my body into a severe reaction. Even with as many times I've gone into anaphylaxis, it never gets easier. You just don't get used to choking on your own saliva because you can't swallow or realizing every breath is getting more difficult because your throat is swelling or the feeling of the world fading out when you're about to pass out and wondering if the epi will kick in in time to keep you conscious. It is terrifying every. single. time. 

Yet I don't live in fear. Which doesn't make sense unless you read the first few paragraphs of how God doesn't use our strengths but our weaknesses. But I'll be honest, I almost couldn't believe it myself when I realized that I really am not stuck in fear constantly. With anaphylaxis involved, I certainly feel like I should have every reason to be!

Something that not a lot of people know is that I struggled with anxiety when I was younger. And not just the getting nervous for an exam anxious or worrying that everything has been turned off before leaving on vacation anxious. Paralyzing fear that would stop me in my tracks, left me in tears almost every morning, and consumed my thoughts almost every moment of every day. Most of that fear was not actually based on anything that was a legit reason to be anxious, but during that time, it certainly felt real. And now I'm faced with a reality that is a very real and legit reason to be scared, and I'm not...how does that work??

I wish I had some WOW moment where all of a sudden I was no longer anxious. It certainly would have been so much easier! But there was no aha moment where all of a sudden God took my fear and replaced it with peace. It was a years long process of challenging me, shaping me, teaching me to trust, and God not letting go when I tried to push away. And through those years, I found myself in positions where I truly had a reason to be afraid, but every time, God met me in my struggle and replaced that fear with peace. And in those moments where I was literally facing my worst case scenarios, I learned that God is always true to His Word to never leave us to walk alone.

In 2009, I was studying abroad in Costa Rica when my school group got stranded on a mountain after a 6.1 earthquake hit with the epicenter only a mile from where we were. Not only did I have a severe asthma attack from the smoke from fires that were lit for warmth, but we were on the top of a mountain with no access to medical assistance for close to 24 hrs. I was eventually airlifted out by helicopter and taken to a mobile Red Cross relief center somewhere outside the immediate earthquake damage zone. And that's when the reality hit...I was alone, in a foreign country, I had to work to understand people and communicate when I had full mental capacity let alone after a long night of struggling to breath and running a fever, I had no identification or money, had no idea where I had been taken, and had no way of contacting my professor, other students, or my host family...oh, and it was only my 3rd day in the country...Yet in the midst of the chaos and confusion, I had an incredible peace knowing that God was in control. Worrying or panicking was not going to change anything about my circumstances, but trusting God would keep my eyes, ears, and heart open for Him to move. Plus it was an incredible reminder of God's sovereignty when we later found out that had we not been delayed earlier in the day, we very likely would have been further down the trail with another group of tourists when the earthquake hit. That group along with their guide were killed by falling rocks during the earthquake. 

And now with my on going medical issues and challenges, I feel like if I ever had the right to be fearful I certainly do now! Yet again, while I absolutely have moments of fear and get nervous or worry about upcoming appointments or procedures, I am able to live free from the gripping control fear used to have on my life. It's not because I try to convince myself that things aren't as rough as they are, and it's not because I've accepted the fear as inevitable and just accepted that this is how things will be for the rest of my life. It's because I have learned that I really don't have control of anything in my life...including my mast cells...Giving up control of something we never really had control over seems like a no brainer, but I'm willing to be that we are all holding onto things we feel we might have control over...even though we actually don't. 

That was something that God began teaching me in Costa Rica and has continued to mold and shape my life through that new mindset. As I continue living with a condition that in the world's perspective gives me every right to be fearful and anxious, God has granted me glimpses of how He is being glorified as I am learning to trust Him more fully.

Who would have picked Moses, a man with a speech impediment, to be the spokesperson for an entire nation? Who would have chosen Ehud, a disabled man with only one working arm, to conquer an enemy ruler? Who would have chosen Esther, a Jewish girl with no influence, to save the Jewish people from being killed? Who would have chosen Peter, a man who despite having walked this earth with Jesus denied him 3 times, to be such an outspoken advocate for Jesus being the Messiah that he would stand up to powerful rulers and eventually become a martyr? Who would have chosen Mary, a teenager from a poor family who was already engaged, to be the mother of Jesus in a culture where she very easily could have been killed? Who would have chosen Gideon, a fearful man who tried to stay away from the action, to lead an army of only 300 men against an army of 10,000?

God did. And now I have a front row seat to see how God is taking the fearful, anxious teenager that I was and becoming my strength in the midst of this life with a chronic, rare disease causing repeated episodes of anaphylaxis and on going medical challenges for the very same reason. Because when He picks those who can't, it only highlights all the more that He can.

No one that God chose to use in the Bible came through their challenges unchanged. I am being changed every day and continuing to learn new and deeper ways to trust God who faithfully proves Himself trustworthy over and over. I am not that anxious and fearful high school student spending every morning in tears due to paralyzing fear and completely consumed by my thoughts and what ifs. I am a daughter of God who is learning to let go of the control I like to pretend that I have and to trust in the only One I know never changes and truly does have control over everything.

I share my story on this blog for a couple of reasons. One is to keep family and friends up date on what's going on and ways you can be praying for us. Another is to help spread awareness for mast cell disease and all the fun that can bring along with it. But it's also to share God's role in all this. I may be writing these blog posts, but God is the One writing my story. As He uses me, very much weak in the struggles I had with fear and anxiety, to walk the unknown road of life with a rare disease, He is being glorified. Every procedure I leave in His hands, every tough treatment decision we pray for wisdom in making, every Epipen and ambulance ride and hospital admission, God is glorified in our smiles, our hope, and our trust in Him. THAT is why I share my story. 

We smile every day because God is good, even when our circumstances aren't. We have hope because we know that one day I WILL be healed if not in this life, then in heaven. And we trust God because despite our attempts to convince ourselves otherwise, we really don't have control over anything. But God does. And every moment we can lean into Him when life gets tough, He is glorified. 

I never thought I would be free from anxiety and fear. I spent many nights crying out to God in desperation feeling as though I was crumbling under the weight of my fear. And now, 10 years later, I live with the reality of an unpredictable rare disease, repeated bouts of life threatening anaphylaxis, tough decisions with no right answer but many wrong ones, and an unknown long term prognosis. I can stand here (technically sitting since standing too often results with passing out...) and say in complete honesty that I do not live in fear, even with having every reason to do so, and it is because I am learning to give up control of things I never had control of and learning to lean into God who is in control of everything. And in that God is glorified. 

God doesn't choose the strong because they have no need for strength. They already have it. God chooses the weak, because we have no choice but to rely on Him. As we are made strong in our weaknesses, we are able to do and be things we never thought were possible. And as the world looks on and watches, they don't see our strength on display. They see our weaknesses being held up by God.

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