at first it came as a blow. i run and exercise on a daily basis, and play soccer 5 times a week! but it only took an hour or two for God to take me to philippians 3:8. what a joy it is when God allows to take something we love, and consider it a loss for Christ's sake.
then... a few months ago, i was in honduras visiting the davis family when paul blew out his knee in a basketball game. complete patella tendon tear. major surgery, 9-12 months rehab, etc, etc. pretty routine i guess. but throw in that all of this is happening in a 3rd world country where major surgery may pose certain "risks" that aren't much of a concern in suburban america, and the stakes go up at least a little :)
still... all things considered, no big deal. normal stuff.
then... for months my wife had been complaining about some back-neck-shoulder pain. she insisted it must just be a nagging injury, to give it time. (for those of you that know kerrie, you know that "give it time" is her answer to almost any ailment!) suddenly, her shoulder pain worked its way down her arm - then her fingers went numb. we went in for an MRI. when the doc put it up on the screen, he visibly winced (not a good sign!). she has 4 ruptured discs in her spine - one of which was severely herniated. she would need regular cortisone shots, some directly into the shoulder, and 3 months in a neck brace.
ok... things are getting progressively worse here. but still manageable.
soon, we would get a call from the davis' in honduras. their daughter shae (14) has a really, really strange deal going on. she has a literal outbreak of bot-fly bites. bot flies drop eggs on your body, who then bury into your skin where they camp out, grow, and live for a while. (they can also be injected through mosquito bites.) either way, they form a huge and uncomfortable knot, with an opening about the size of a pencil eraser (a literal hole on your body). eventually, they must be removed by covering the hole so they can't breathe, and bringing them to the surface. when they come to the surface, the giant maggot-like worms are painfully pulled from the opening. sometimes, 3 or 4 can be removed from each hole.
you think that sounds bad? consider that poor shae was having these bites pop up all over her body. arms, legs, neck, stomach, and even on her scalp. around 15 of them! google "bot fly removal" and take a look... and trust me when i say if we posted a video from shae's recent situation it would be as grossly entertaining as anything out there.
to make things crazier... dr. carlos (our doc in guatemala) insisted that shae come to guatemala so that he can administer the treatment and observe her himself. so the next day, jessica flew shae to guatemala to stay with us for the next month. every morning and night, dr carlos comes over to painfully extract the worms from shae's body. as the tears run down her face, mixed feelings fill my heart. i am sad for her pain and i wish i could switch places with her! but i am thankful that we can be here for her, and take care of her for the davis'. i am thankful that she is perfectly comfortable and trusts uncle brock and aunt kerrie to care for her. i know its not easy for paul and jess to not be here as she goes through this, but i am so thankful that we are family in this way.
as we prayed a couple nights ago for shae, we celebrated and thanked God for this unique and special way that he has called her to suffer. does that sound crazy? maybe it is, but isn't that how God tells us to respond to suffering when it comes our way? comfortable christianity avoids suffering. we run from it, assume its bad, and argue that surely God wouldn't want his children to suffer. but look at what the bible says:
~ we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing what it produces in us... romans 5:3-5
~ after we've suffered for a little while, God will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us... 1 peter 5:10
~ we must count it all joy when we meet trials of many kinds... james 1:2-4
~ the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us... romans 8:18
~ in the world you will have tribulation. but take heart, i have overcome the world! john 16:33
~ indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in christ jesus will be persecuted... 2 timothy 3:12
~ you shall not only believe in christ, but suffer with him for his sake... philippians 1:29
~ this momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison... 2 corinthians 4:17
~ blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial... james 1:12
~ i may know the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death... philippians 3:10
~ though he slay me, i will hope in him... job 13:15
~ i rejoice in my sufferings for your sake... colossians 1:24
amazingly, that is just a quick sampling. its in every book of the new testament. suffering for the glory of Christ is a critical, foundational truth repeated over and over again in the word of God. i would argue that it is more essential than many of the "what we believe" items on most church's websites. while the other items listed may be true, most are not given near the time and energy in scripture that "suffering for God's glory" is. its an imperative prerequisite to having faith in Jesus that is conveniently left out of the comfortable christian conversation.
so we give thanks. God is preparing in us an eternal weight of glory. i'm not saying i understand it perfectly (i don't). but i believe it fully. i don't know how this brutal case of bot flies will produce something wonderful in shae's life. right now, its simply hellish for her to go through. but i trust God that there is far more going on than i can see.
i believe God is doing amazing things at BVSA. in guatemala, young men are rising up and fighting against generations of abuse and injustice. in honduras, the groundwork is being laid for the same.
i also know there exists an enemy who works hard to stymie good progress. he works to frustrate and anger us. he works to distract us from our mission.
therefore we turn to God's word for strength - not to human wisdom. humans tell us what we can do better, in order to avoid suffering of any kind. meanwhile God not only tells us how to handle suffering, but to fully expect it. that it's an absolute given if we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus. to take joy in it! we must embrace the truth that it is an honor to join Christ in his sufferings. i have failed at that in the past, and i don't want to anymore.
well... in addition to all of this, jessica continues fighting with her lupus and all of the challenges that it brings into her daily life. its a daily grind for her and i'm always encouraged by how well she handles it. also, walda has suddenly been struggling with a mysterious loss of strength/use of her hands. she literally goes to pick up something as simple as a cup and doesn't have the strength to do it. she's been to the doctor, had xrays and and MRI done, and everything comes back normal.
all of these things i have mentioned, if dealt with independently at different times, probably wouldn't be so overwhelming. the fact that all of these things are striking our BVSA family at once is, to me, nothing less than a confirmation that God is at work. it is exciting! please pray for us... not that the suffering be taken away, but for endurance to see through the work that God has called us to.
1 Peter 4:12
tonight i am giving thanks to God for the suffering. i am praying for kerrie, paul, jessica, shae, and walda - that they would not lose heart. that they would rejoice - knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
we also continue to pray for those around the world who suffer far more, where christianity is illegal and/or persecuted. lets not take for granted in freedom what they don't take for granted in persecution. that is, being bold in sharing the truth and the saving grace of jesus christ with all people.