If someone were to ask me to describe myself in one sentence, I would be at a loss to say a single word. I am just not built that way. My life has been too complex and unbelievable even to myself. I am the "miracle child" my grandfather toasted on my wedding day. I am the example that God has decided to use to show His love and power. I am the creation spoken about in Psalm 139:13 – 16 "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (NIV)
Fear and Panic take over the soul
Obliterates thunder of victory.
Human understanding fails to grasp whole,
A God strong enough to win synergy.
Crouched in dread upon the desert’s dry floor,
Prayers to end fatigue and deadly dread.
A call to end experience of more,
“Let me die for I am no more than lead!”
But God is a harbinger of the heart.
He tends the broken-hearted and weary.
Bread and water, rest for those that are hurt.
He whispers to Elijah, the leery.
“What are you doing here, Elijah son?”
“Go to Damascus, finish and be done.”
By: Winifred Meerse
The actual transplant was a success but what happened afterwards is still a mystery to me today. I have little memory of the sequence of events. All I know is that I started with some problems with clotting but the doctors were prepared for it this time and the kidney was quickly declotted. But in the process I was subjected to a bacterial infection and developed pneumonia. Things happened so fast that a respirator was quickly inserted to help me breathe and I was put on several antibiotics until they could pinpoint what kind of infection I had and target that particular one. In ICU in Vancouver General I came so close to death that I could see heaven for myself and my family was called in to say good-bye but I didn’t die. The doctors had told John that they wanted to try one last thing. They knew that the transplanted kidney, which had been in, what they called ‘sleep’ mode, due to the stress of transplantation, had not yet had the opportunity to work, was now so beaten up by the antibiotics and drugs used to keep me alive that it wouldn’t be able to work. In fact, they said that, if I had my own healthy kidneys, they too would have been destroyed from all the damage that had been done. Their idea was to remove it and get me off some of the antirejection medication that was suppressing my immune system and keeping me from being able to fight the infection. They were not sure if it would work but it was their last attempt to save me. I miraculously lived and John and I believed that my living had everything to do with the grace that God showed when He heard the prayers of His saints. Not only was a special prayer meeting held in our own congregation, prayers were said in congregations all over the world. Churches in Edmonton prayed. People in Florida who knew people in my sister’s church in Abbotsford prayed. Surrey church prayed. People in California prayed. My cousin from Japan said that people in their congregation prayed and people in Holland prayed. I know that there were others who also prayed but I can’t remember them all. At first I couldn’t understand why people who didn’t know me would be praying but then I realized that I was just being used as an avenue to draw people back to God and that was a humbling and satisfying thought. If I could be used for that alone, that was enough for me, but it was not enough for God. He had plans for me as well. He wasn’t finished with me yet and He let me know that while I lay unconscious in ICU for two and a half weeks. I saw visions and dreamed dreams like the Bible always talks about. Some visions were horrendous and frightening while others left me bathed in the Light of God. Satan chased me, harassed me and accused me to my face but he could not touch me. God told him that I belonged to God and commanded Satan in a firm, yet quiet voice to leave me alone. All the screaming and yelling and noise making of the Devil’s minions could do nothing but when God spoke, things moved. The storm that I had been running through and fighting against disappeared and I was left in a peaceful calm where everything was bathed in God’s light and soaked in His love. My fears of being not good enough were gone and I was welcomed and told to rest. I had no reason to be anxious anymore and the things that I thought were so important didn’t matter.
I woke with the respirator in and my hands tied to the sides of the bed. Apparently I had pulled the respirator out at one time and they had to quickly shove it back in me. As soon as the nurses realized that I was truly and fully awake and wouldn’t harm myself, they untied my arms. I was unable to talk as long as it was in so I communicated by writing my questions about what had happened on a clip board with a pencil. My vision was doubled and blurry for several weeks afterward, so I would write with one eye shut in order to focus. I was anxious to get well again and return home but I stayed for at least another week in ICU until I was able to have the respirator removed and breathe on my own. It was over a month before I was recovered enough to go home. However, even after I left the hospital for home, I still had to deal with MRSA for another six months since I had become infected with it in my leg graft and needed further surgery using vancomycin beads and an incredibly talented doctor to save the graft for dialysis. Although I recovered physically in a little over a year, the psychological and spiritual recovery took much longer. Contracting the MRSA infection seemed like the straw that toppled the whole pile and I believed I suffered a nervous breakdown. I started to harm myself by scratching my skin until I bled and opened old wounds whenever I felt anxious. I also contemplated suicide several times by refusing to go on dialysis anymore but every time I thought about John and Will and Corinne I could not bring myself to do it. I knew I couldn’t keep on this way and finally sought counselling. For eight months Louise Riezebos counselled me but, although the counselling made me more self-aware and stopped my desire to commit suicide, it was not a long enough time.
After that last transplant in 2000, John and I decided that I would no longer undergo another transplant. The risk was too great and after some of the anomalies associated with my transplants, the transplant team themselves was hesitant to let me go through more transplants without first doing some rigorous testing and thinking about the things that went wrong for me. When doctors and nurses would ask me why I wouldn’t consider another transplant, they would often seem confused but our decision was not just a physical one, it was based on some spiritual insights that we had become aware of. Our hope was no longer in medical procedures; our hope was in God. You see, I learned to read past verse 11 of Jeremiah 29. I thought, all this time that the verse was telling me that God had a kidney to give me. I just had to wait long enough for the right one but I had not continued reading. Most people don’t seem to read past verse 11 but the promise continues through verses 12-14. These verses say some more, “ ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you’, declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you’, declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’”
I believe that is what He is doing with me now. He not only wants my hope and future to be in Him, He wants my individual, undivided attention. He is calling me to seek Him with all my heart so that He might heal the most important part of me, my soul. I like how Max Lucado puts it, “God withholds what we desire in order to give us what we need.” In that ICU bed He gave me a piece of Himself that I needed desperately to see in order to be at peace with who I am and serve Him with what He has already given me. That does not mean that I am resigning myself to what I am. It means that I am learning to work with it. I still have bowel troubles and I now dialyze six nights a week from my own bedroom. That will never change and neither will my struggle with these limits. I’m still stubborn and I still want something more than what I have but I am also learning to work with what I’ve got. I don’t love this body but God does and I love God who made it. It’s an ongoing struggle but I hope that one day there will be, on my part, true acceptance. I think of a poem Wendy quoted to me in a letter that she wrote after the whole tragic affair happened. It says it best,
“Resignation is surrender to fate
Acceptance is surrender to God
Resignation lies down quietly in an empty universe
Acceptance rises up to meet the God who fills the universe with purpose
Resignation says, ‘I can’t’
Acceptance says, ‘God can’
Resignation paralyzes the life process
Acceptance releases the process for its greatest creativity
Resignation says, ‘It’s all over for me’
Acceptance says, ‘Now that I’m here, what next Lord?’
Resignation says, ‘What a waste.’
Acceptance asks, ‘In what way will you use this mess Lord?’
Resignation says, ‘I am alone.’
Acceptance says, ‘I belong to you, Oh God.’
I don’t know if I’ve ever spent any time writing about my routine on Home Hemodialysis or on my journey that brought me to this point. I have talked in vague terms about it from time to time but I thought I would get a little more in-depth. Of course, this means a very lengthy read on your part but it will give you a full insight into who I am as a dialysis patient and why I am as determined to live well on dialysis, as I am.
My first hint that dialysis might be a possibility for me in my future came when my husband John and I were wondering if having children was something we could ever hope for as a couple. In the fall of the first year of our marriage, John and I were sent to a kidney specialist by our family doctor. We had always talked about wanting a family but didn’t know whether that was something we should consider because of my complicated medical history. My parents had been told that all my female organs were in place and functioning well but I didn’t know whether having children would be too stressful on the rest of my body. We went to see Doctor Victor Chan, who was to become my first nephrologist. He sent me to VGH to have a cystoscopy and a few other tests. I was there for a week in the month of November 1985. In the room with me was a woman who was waiting for a nephrectomy (a kidney removal). She had started kidney failure during her first pregnancy and, although she had a healthy baby boy, she was immediately put on dialysis. She was a very bitter woman and when I told her why I was having tests done, she emphatically told me I was crazy and that I should not have any children of my own because I’d end up in kidney failure just like her. To her it wasn’t worth it and, for my part, I felt sorry for her and frustrated with her at the same time because, even though she had to be on dialysis, she still had a beautiful boy that she had no appreciation for.
I returned home after having the tests and when we met in the doctor’s office again, his conclusion was that I could bear children but it might or might not damage my kidneys. The tests were inconclusive and the doctor’s response was to tell us that we had to decide for ourselves which was more important, that I have children of my own or that I preserve my health at the cost of having children. John and I were not sure what to do. We didn’t know what God would want so we applied for adoption with the government and with Hope Services, a Christian adoption agency. In the meantime we practiced birth control with ambivalence. While we struggled with the whole issue, God took the problem out of our hands and gave us two children. Although my function did go down slightly with my first pregnancy and I had to quit work and rest most of the time because of edema, I was able to have a second child and stayed healthy for a long time.
As for my kidney disease, when my first child, William, was a few months old, I was sent to a renal dietician by Dr. Chan. He felt that I would be on dialysis within the next three years and wanted me to be placed on a low protein diet to preserve my kidney function. The dietician gave me instructions for the diet to follow and then gave me a shock. She sent me on a tour of the renal unit at Royal Columbian hospital and had me watch two videos on both peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis. I left the appointment for home and cried all the way. But, I needn’t have been so worried because God was good to me. I had married and had, not one but two healthy children. My second pregnancy was healthier than my first and my kidney function did not go down any further during term. Bedwetting problems, that I had struggled with all my life were taken care of through the caesarean procedure during my first delivery and I did not start dialysis within the three years that Dr. Chan had predicted. I did not start dialysis until my second child, Corinne, was halfway through her kindergarten year at school. I had prayed to be there for my children and God had listened to my prayer. He was faithful and allowed me to be the mother and wife the way I had always dreamt of but never thought I would get the chance to be.
I started dialysis when I was thirty and I’ve been on dialysis for twenty years as of February 13th, 1994, the anniversary of my first dialysis treatment at Royal Columbian Hospital. It was a three hour run. I was dropped off by my husband John and picked up at the end of the run by my friend Trudy DeVries. She took me out for lunch afterwards and then drove me home. I just remember feeling bad because she wanted to give me a nice lunch out and I just wanted to go home. I felt dizzy, nauseous and extremely tired. I had been barraged with questions and information about medication during my run and the treatment had left me weak and low in blood pressure. Though it was a scary experience, God provided me with the help I needed each step of the way. The more difficult my physical health became, the more help I was given. It was no coincidence that John and I decided to be part of a group that began a new congregation in 1986. He knew we would need a close community to lean on. It was also no coincidence that he sent Ed Jager to be the pastor of Immanuel in September of 1993. His first job was to visit me at Vancouver General for my parathyroid surgery. It was Ed’s love and willingness to remain available at all times that helped John and I to cope and it was the willingness of friends at Immanuel to provide meals, rides and spiritual support that helped us grow through it all.
The first couple of months I dialyzed only twice a week for three hours. Eventually my body became used to the up and down swings of treatment, the yo-yo feeling of toxins and full of fluid beforehand and the feeling of emptiness, lightweight from fluid drain and feeling of cleanliness afterwards. My gradual decline into a state of constant nausea, itchy skin from toxins oozing out my pores and a mouth that felt like I had just eaten feces, was changing to a rapid improvement in health. The dialysis gave me my energy back. My bad breath and horrible taste sensations disappeared, my skin improved and the itchiness disappeared. I gained a desire for life and love once again and my smile returned.
After those first months, I began training how to set up my own machine and how to needle myself in anticipation of getting out of a hospital setting into a clinic in Surrey where I would begin dialyzing three times a week instead of two. Though the regimen increased, I no longer had to cross the Fraser River to get to the hospital dialysis unit and I was surrounded by other patients that were much healthier and independent like myself. From Langley I could drive to the clinic in Newton on a specific schedule that suited my lifestyle, set up my machine and do dialysis in the comfort of a unit located at a shopping mall. I dialyzed with the same people each time and the same nursing staff and a camaraderie began to develop with others who were in the same situation. Though I was now on dialysis, I had hope that my name on the transplant list would slowly rise to the top and my wait for a more permanent solution to my health problems would soon come.
Everything in my life had God in it. As a very young child he talked me through my surgeries, as a teen He called me off a roof during an attempted suicide and called me to a commitment to him. As a young adult He let me know that it was safe to have a relationship with John. Now, as a mom and wife on dialysis He let me know that this was all part of who He wanted me to become. He did this by speaking to me through His word and letting me struggle with what He had to say. Over times certain Bible texts had been shown to me. Psalm 139 became a favourite of mine because I had learned that, no matter where I’d been, where I was going or what I experienced in my life, He had never left me and would never leave me. He knew exactly what I was going though and what I had already survived. I had even done more than survive, I had begun to thrive. I still struggled with verses 13-16 that said, “For you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” After all, I still had bowel troubles and, though bedwetting was gone, I was now on dialysis. To believe in a God who would deliberately make me like this was hard but to think that He wasn’t in control of this seemed to conflict with what these verses said. My physical problems had begun in the womb. That I knew for sure but, I also knew that God was in control of those problems so I trusted Him to have a solution.
Then came years of trouble. I dialyzed well at the clinic for two and a half years but problems with my fistula began to appear. In order for dialysis on a hemo machine to occur, a patient must have an access created that allows the machine to use a vein and artery of the body to remove the blood from the body, clean it and send it back where it came from. The normal way that this is done is through a fistula in which a doctor surgically connects a vein and artery together to develop an access that is strong enough to needle for dialysis. Most of the time this is done in the forearm of the patient but, since I was born with very tiny veins and arteries and had received cut downs as a baby, my forearm veins were too tiny. My first fistula was designed in my upper right arm five months before I started dialysis so that it would have time to heal, increase in size and be strong enough to use right away when I would need it. In September of 1993 I had parathyroid surgery and one month later I had my fistula made at St. Paul’s hospital. As I said, it worked well at first but began to have trouble with pressures that were too high or cause alarms on the machine. A few alarms or a slight bit of higher pressure is not a problem, as long as the patient gets enough dialysis to keep him or her in good health but, when a fistula acts up too much and it keeps the patient from dialyzing smoothly, the fistula needs attention. Mine became clotted after two and a half years of service.
The way to deal with clots can vary. The first line of defense is usually for the patient to go directly to the hospital and doctors and nurses will attempt to remove clots, either with medication that thins the blood and breaks down clots or with surgery, where the area with the clot is surgically removed and a new avenue for the fistula is created. After unsuccessfully trying to remove the clot chemically, I was sent for surgery on my fistula. Unfortunately, the surgery did not work well and I kept dialyzing in the hospital with an emergency neckline. Again, I was sent for surgery and a new fistula was created in my upper left arm. While this was healing and strengthening, I kept dialyzing with a neckline and was surprisingly called in for my first transplant in March of 1996.
In my mind, this was the solution God was going to provide. It would get me off dialysis and help me continue my life as a wife and mother as I had been doing before. Here again I had hard lessons about God to learn and again God spoke to me through His word. The surgery went well and the cadaver kidney was initially successful but only lasted twelve hours before it failed because of massive clotting. I was rushed back into surgery so that the transplant could be declotted but that was unsuccessful and in less than eight hours I was again rushed back into surgery to have the transplant removed. I thought I was going to die and, while waiting for the third surgery to start, I gave myself over to God. Whatever was going to happen would happen. I was ready for the possibility of death and I felt peace. I didn’t worry about my family. I knew God would take care of them. However, I miraculously survived and spent the next three weeks recuperating in the hospital. I had a neckline, a Greenfield filter in my Vena Cava and was still on dialysis but I was alive. God spent those three weeks talking to me.
It was Easter weekend and Ed had preached on the raising of Lazarus from the dead. John brought me the tape of that sermon to listen to on my sister Jackie’s Walkman that she lent me (yes, I know I’m dating myself with the Walkman reference, but bear with me). Over and over again I read the verse where Jesus is talking to Martha in John 11:25, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” That last question kept echoing in my head. Did I really believe that? Did I believe it enough so that even if I never had another transplant I’d trust Him with my life? I had been challenged and the ball was in my court, but at the same time I was told that, while the decision to trust was mine, the tools to push on with that trust would be given to me. I didn’t have to fear the future. On the card the congregation signed for me was the verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I would bump into that verse over and over again in the next few years. Preachers would preach on it, it would be imprinted on the inside of my journal that Trudy DeVries gave me in the hospital, it would be on greeting cards, in songs I would hear on the radio and it would be on a framed print that my stepmother Liz would find in the Christian bookstore for me. I couldn’t get away from that verse. It would follow me and greet me whenever I would look at that framed print on my kitchen wall.
But, that’s exactly what God wanted for me. He wanted me to be reminded that He was near because He was not through with me yet and He knew that I would need the reminder for harder times ahead. During the first years of dialysis I had asked my family whether they would be willing to donate a kidney to me. The issue was never seriously discussed until the first transplant from a cadaver failed. In fact, the issue seemed to be skirted by all the members of my family. Quick excuses were given why that wouldn’t be possible and the subject was quickly changed. Love, I didn’t feel at that time. After my recovery from the three surgeries I went to a transplant symposium with my dad, who thought he would be the most likely candidate to give me a transplant. The success rate with living donor transplants is much higher than with cadaver transplants because of fewer traumas to the kidneys and the closer genetic match. Dad seemed quite positive about the whole idea of giving me one of his own kidneys but nothing really materialized. It felt again like I had been disappointed by my family. My sister wasn’t able to give because of her gall bladder problems and the fact that she had such young children. My brother Randy was never even approached because he had financial and psychological problems at the time. He could barely keep himself going without complicating matters and my dad’s original idea of giving was squelched by my stepmother who had issues of her own and didn’t want dad undergoing surgery on my account. Obviously, it was not the avenue that God wanted either. So I continued dialysis with a new access for dialyzing. I now had a leg graft.
Unlike a fistula, a graft does not mean surgical connection between a vein and artery. Grafts are usually done instead when veins and arteries are not deemed strong enough to surgically sew together without a little extra help. Synthetic tubing is placed between the vein and artery to join the two together. It’s implanted just under the skin and becomes the vehicle for needles to be inserted for dialysis. My graft worked well for many years and gave me the opportunity to continue dialysis at a community clinic and away from a hospital setting. However, a graft is not a good candidate for use in home dialysis so, when people were first picked for the initial yearlong pilot project in BC, I was not a choice.
After a few years of successful dialysis, I again went through the process of a kidney transplant. This time I was given the remarkable gift of a kidney from a good friend of mine. During the years after my first transplant Wendy Folkerts repeatedly approached me about the possibility of giving me one of her kidneys. I was reluctant because she had a young family of her own and her husband ran a family operated business. I didn’t want to be held responsible if something was to happen to her or the kidney didn’t work once it was inside of me. Amazingly, she persisted. I continued to decline until I was again called in around Christmas time in December of 1999 for another cadaver transplant. Everything seemed to be a go until the doctor on call decided not to go forward with the surgery. He didn’t know enough about my medical history and didn’t like the idea of the Greenfield filter in me. He thought it would be in the way and there would not be enough blood flow for the transplant to work. Although other doctors and the medical transplant team members were all for it, he still refused and I went home in tears, emotionally drained and physically beaten. That was when I decided that Wendy was right. I reasoned that it was God who had been urging her to give me the gift of one of her kidneys. I said yes and the testing began. The surgery was scheduled for Friday, September 15th, 2000. The doctor scheduled to do the surgery was Doctor Nigro, the same doctor who had done my first transplant and knew my entire history.
This is just to let you know that I think it’s high time I start writing again. I apologize for not writing for such a long time. Somehow I just could not get my thoughts down on paper, as I have in the past. I don’t think it was writers block so much as a need to find what I should and shouldn’t do with myself. Personal circumstances were such that I just didn’t feel I could share what I was dealing with until I had finished perusing it for myself and making some sense of life’s complexities. I found writing thoughts, when they make sense can sometimes be such a monumental effort in itself, writing about what doesn’t make sense was impossible. Anyhow, I vow to be back and make an effort to write at least once a month, for starters, perhaps even more, if the muse allows me. God bless each of you as you go into a new year. May you lean on His incredible strength. no matter what your circumstances.
When watching the movie, “Shadowlands”, I was struck by the fact that the movie showed the honest struggle C.S. Lewis went through when he lost his wife to cancer. There were no solutions to pain and grief, nothing that would take it away. Instead the emphasis was on dealing with it head-on, no matter how messy it could and would get. The only “solution” was to hang on to God in the process. So, I’ll let this post speak for itself.
It does not matter how wise and religious we are, suffering is … suffering, and it can be accompanied by pain, fear, despair, and even hopelessness.
When I read the following blog post title, by Nate Pyle, called Confronting The Lie: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle, I was intrigued. So, I read, and my curiosity turned to nodding in agreement, and even an ah-ha moment or two.
Nate says he has “taken on writing because it forces me to be authentic and vulnerable.” This post is that, and raw, and transparent.
As you prepare to read, realize this is not fluff, not feel-good … it is real, authentic, in the moment reflections on suffering.
Check out Nate’s post (below) and check out who he is at www.natepyle.com.
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I can’t say this any better. There is nothing so beautiful as finding ourselves in Christ and being filled with Him in times of utter despair.
“I have nothing left … not for work, not for my kids, not for my husband, not for any part of my life that demands something of me. I have no more strength, no more energy, no more solutions. I am at the end of myself.”
As I listened to those words, I heard her heart … she had reached the end of her solutions, her strength, her abilities. She did not know what to do, nor did she have the energy to fake it any longer. She was desperate, in a position of having to rely rather than having anything to offer to others.
As I shared in her sorrow, I soon realized that, although my heart and desire was to help her ‘fix’ her woes, I was not her solution, I was not her Savior. I was simply ears to hear, and arms to hold. With that realization…
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The request was made, during a staff meeting, if anyone would be interested in writing a common devotion that could be shared on Monday morning devotion time or with the students in their first block classes and, as usual, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I was game! I love to write. I can do this! Immediately following I thought, “What am I doing!! Typical me, biting off more than I can chew.” But, also typical for me, I refused, in my own mind, to back down. If i say yes to something, I’m too proud a person to think that I can’t do it. So I picked one of the dates that were presented for writing and decided a date in November seemed a good thing, partly because I liked the Bible text slotted for that date and partly because I automatically thought of two ladies that fit the description of the title for that text. Shining As Stars is a fitting title for these two ladies and something I would like to eventually be, as well. So, to come to the point, I’ve decided to post the devotion here. I’ve already sent it ahead to the staff member in charge and gave her the go ahead to edit it for use at work but I’m posting what I sent in its entirety because I can. I wrote it and I want to share the two stars in my life whom I’ve never met but have meant so much to me both in my growing years and in my years as a young woman. I’ve also included a Youtube link interview with one of the ladies and links to their own personal websites so you can find out more about them.
Common Devotions for Tuesday November 12, 2012
Shining As Stars
12 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Once upon a time there were two women. Their lives were lived out in different parts of the world at different times of history but they had one thing in common. They both grew up in families that held fast to the assurance of Christ’s gift of salvation. The lives they led, the experiences they encountered and their response to these events led them to be considered by many as shining stars in the sky. Their faith did not develop in the vacuum of mindlessly following their parents’ beliefs. Their belief became part and parcel of hard choices they themselves made.
The first lady lived in the Netherlands, in the town of Haarlem. Her name was Corrie Ten Boom. She was a single middle aged woman who lived with her father and sister. As Christians, the Ten Boom family felt it their duty to help hide Jews and Dutch Underground workers from the Nazis during WWII. In February 1944, the Ten Boom family was betrayed by neighbours for their activities and arrested by the Nazis. They were all sent to prison camps. There, Corrie’s father, sister Betsie, brother Willem and nephew Christiaan died but Corrie miraculously survived and returned home. Thankfully, the Jews and underground workers that they were hiding at the time were never found by the Nazis and managed to escape a few days after the search for their hiding place.
The second lady was born in America. She was healthy and active, loved riding horses and spending time with family and friends. In 1967, as a teenager, she went swimming with her sister in the Chesapeake Bay and dove into the shallow end. She broke her neck and became instantly paralyzed. As a quadriplegic she spent the next two years in rehab, learning to live life without the use of her limbs. Her name is Joni Eareckson Tada.
Both ladies struggled with their circumstances. In Ravensbruck, Corrie struggled with a great deal of anger. She was angry at the Nazis, angry at God and angry at the pain and suffering and death that she encountered every day, all day long. She went through the pain of watching her sister die before her and learning about the death of her father, brother and nephew after her release. In the U.S.Joni struggled in the hospital while strapped to a Striker bed. She contemplated suicide, begging friends to help her end her life. She struggled with depression and anger at God and friends who tried to console her with pious platitudes.
Their circumstances never changed but their anger did and they would be the first people to admit that it was not their efforts but God who was able to release them from the despair they were in and give them a new purpose in the midst of crookedness surrounding them. Pain has not stopped for Joni. She struggled with bed and wheelchair sores, breathing difficulties and, lately, with Breast cancer. For Corrie the result of losing her family never changed. Until her death at 91 in 1983, she worked much of the time alone. But both women made a choice to use what suffering had taught them. At the age of 53, Corrie became an evangelist and wrote several books, including her story The Hiding Place. In her twenties, Joni also wrote her story, several other books, learned how to draw and paint with her mouth and began a ministry called Joni and Friends that helps people with disabilities all over the world and for both women the words of our text today resonates on a personal note.
In Joni’s devotional Pearls of Great Price she talks about our responsibility to actively pursue the person God designed us to be. Because God has bought us through Christ’s death, He is asking us to daily step out in His strength toward our sanctification and let Him do the work of transforming our character into the perfect person we will one day be in heaven.1 In another part of the same devotional Joni speaks about how Paul’s emphasis in his letter to the Philippians is that of evangelism. As such he sees us as the ones who can point a depraved world to Christ. If we don’t become blameless and pure before other people, how else will the world sit up and take notice of God?2
Corrie talks about us as being gloves and the Holy Spirit as the hand, the one who does the job. As the glove we are to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled and the work of the hand can be done. Our task is a simple yes to what God asks so that our real life can begin. In her words, “It does not matter which human teacher is used in our conversion. It is Your [the Holy Spirit’s] working through him that is important.”3
1. Tada, Joni Eareckson, Pearls of Great Price (Zondervan, 2006), February 8.
2. Ibid, May 9.
3. Ten Boom, Corrie, Each New Day (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), p. 87.
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