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Getting Through Grueling Times

After college, I played professional soccer in Africa. I was a goalkeeper, but if at all possible, I suggest trying …

After college, I played professional soccer in Africa. I was a goalkeeper, but if at all possible, I suggest trying the other ten positions.

While in Zimbabwe, I took a prescribed drug called Larium once a week to prevent malaria. After taking it for months, suddenly I had sweats and chills, migraine headaches, bizarre dreams, massive mood swings, balance issues, utter exhaustion, memory challenges, and a serious heart condition. My career was over before I even knew what hit me. The doctors in Africa didn’t have answers, but they sent me home just in time. We paid out of pocket to see a doctor at Stanford who suggested it could be side effects of my anti-malaria medication. The center of disease control analyzed my blood and found toxic levels of Larium, confirming the cause.

The healing process was extremely slow. I went from being in the best shape of my life to barely being able to do anything for an entire year. There was a celebration when I was finally able to walk for ten minutes. The recovery continued for many years–this was a storm that kept taking things from me and would not go away. But God has a way of redeeming the worst situations. I never wanted or expected to be a pastor, but God redirected my life through this dark valley. But many of the other changes in me, despite my reluctance, were God’s hidden works of transformation. Why is it that we usually don’t grow until we have to grow? I simply would not have made it through the pain if I stayed the same. These were some of the practical steps that God wanted me to take:

A Family Tradition Needed To Be Broken.
Without even realizing it, I bought into the practice and mentality (passed down and chosen for many generations) that tears are unnecessary and effort can overcome anything. Determination is a fine quality, but mix in some denial and you have a lethal combination. My coping strategy ‘worked’ with smaller challenges, but this amount of pain was too big to stuff. My controlling approach was even evident in my prayers–intellectually and theologically accurate but that’s about it. Then I read Psalm 62:8, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” This verse which still stretches me began to take my life in a new direction. Are there any family traditions that are hindering your healing?

Start Removing Some Of The Fake Polish On My Faith.
Have you read Matthew chapter 23 recently? Please check it out. Why is it that religious leaders become such experts at looking so good on the outside? I think our flesh would much rather be smooth than authentic. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” During the illness, trying to be religious just didn’t cut it. Does it ever? The current was pulling me under and I couldn’t swim anymore. I found that God is drawn to a raw follower who is more hungry than self-conscious. When my son Joel grabs my leg like I am the only one in the world who can protect him, I am honored and I know he needs my strength. Do you think that God is pleased to see us clinging to Him, not in worry but in need? Your answer to that question is vital to your spiritual health. Sometimes our subtle goal is to be spiritually polished, but that very polish is what quenches the Holy Spirit in our lives.

My Rights Changed Into Grace.
I had so many unspoken expectations: living until I was 100, getting married, having several children, a fulfilling career, a solid income, a house, health, a large number of friends and the respect of many. I found myself stunned that my list of ‘entitlements’ was slipping out of my grasp. With all of the legs removed from my table, I felt like I had nothing to stand on. My identity was uprooted because everything I had attached it to was now gone. I made a list of ten things to thank God for everyday because without it, I was tempted to think there was no reason to be grateful. An increased awareness of God’s blessings began to propel my gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” And I fully owned up to the fact that if I was ever going to have any physical strength, or be in my right mind, or help anyone, or have anything good come out of my life, it would be solely due to the grace of God. It was a truth that I finally embraced on a deep level.

See Also

C.S. Lewis described pain as a megaphone that God uses to rouse a deaf world. So much of my spiritual growth has been awakened by pain. I wouldn’t say that pain is the only way to learn, but it has helped me to listen.

What has been the most grueling experience of your life? How far did it push you? Are you still in it? What are you learning?

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