How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can’t Change
Sue Bohlin presents her personal testimony of how Christ led her to a biblical worldview understanding of her physical state. She explains how understanding her situation ministered to her and others spiritually and emotionally.
The most unique and distinctive thing about me is something I absolutely HATED when I was growing up. I’m one of the last polio babies. I got polio when I was eight months old, in October of 1953, just a few months before the vaccine was developed. My left leg was paralyzed from the hip down, but a couple days after I got sick with polio, some limited use started to return to my virtually dead leg.
Polio left me with one leg shorter than the other, one foot smaller than the other, weakened muscles, and a serious limp. I had several orthopedic surgeries and went to physical therapy once a week. Every day until I was 14, I did exercises with a weighted boot strapped onto my shoe. I would cry, “But I don’t want to do my exercises!!!” and my mother would insist, “But you have to do your exercises!!!” Before I learned to walk, I was fitted with a full-length steel and leather brace. I was so glad when the movie Forrest Gump came out, because my kids were able to see what braces looked like, since they never knew that part of my life!
Polio profoundly affected my body, but it only crippled my body a little compared to what it did to my self image. I hated the way I looked. I hated what the polio had done to me, and I despaired every time I looked in the mirror, thinking, “Ugly! You are so UGLY!!”
So I got good at two things. One was repressing the polio altogether. I got in the habit, which I actually have to this day, of avoiding looking in mirrors, or seeing my reflection in store windows, or even acknowledging my shadow. I don’t want to see the way I walk, because it hurts to see the way I walk. I consider myself an expert on denial; in fact, one of these days I have to get that T-shirt that says, “Call me Cleopatra–Queen of Denial!”
The other thing I got good at was a very special fantasy. It was so private, so personal, that I never even wrote it down. I loved to fantasize that when I grew up, I would become a princess, and my polio troubles would be behind me because those sorts of things don’t bother princesses! Now, the chances of a vacuum cleaner salesman’s daughter from Highland Park, Illinois, becoming a princess are mighty slim, but I loved my fantasy.
In high school, the polio got in the way of dating. No one seemed able to just accept me as someone worth going out with. I had friends who were boys, but hardly anyone was interested in anything more than friendship. My sixteenth birthday was bittersweet because I was “sweet sixteen and never been kissed.” High school boys then, like now, weren’t exactly paragons of sensitivity and acceptance! My self-esteem dropped even lower.
I went to college at the University of Illinois to work on a degree in Elementary Education. One day in my sophomore year, something happened that changed the entire course of my life.
A friend was handing out flyers inviting students to see that evening’s performance of an illusionist-magician. I thought, “Great! I love magic!” I love to see women get sawn in two, and the fake levitating, and all that David Copperfield sort of stuff, and I started to get excited about it. But then I noticed the small letters at the bottom of the flyer: this performance was sponsored by a campus religious organization. “Forget it,” I thought. “I am NOT interested in Jesus freaks.” But as the day wore on, I felt like a huge magnet was pulling me to the performance, and I found myself buying a ticket and planning on going. I’m so glad I did.
The illusionist, Andre Kole with Campus Crusade for Christ, was excellent. But I don’t remember his magic nearly as much as I remember his message. For one thing, he stopped halfway through the evening and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to take a short intermission. After the break I’m going to use my illusion to illustrate some spiritual principles. If this will offend you, I want to give you an opportunity to leave during the intermission.” I thought, “What in the world is this guy going to say?” Besides, I had spent one whole dollar on my ticket and I was going to get my money’s worth!
When he started again, he said some things I’d never heard before, but which were quite intriguing. He quoted a famous philosopher who said that we each have a God-shaped vacuum within us, and nothing will fit that shape or fill that emptiness except for God Himself. He quoted someone else who had said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. He pointed out that there’s a huge difference between Christianity and “Churchianity.” Churchianity, he said, is man trying to earn favor with God, trying to work his way to heaven. But Christianity as the Bible explains it is a relationship. It’s God reaching down to man and calling us into an intimate friendship with Himself, not because of anything we deserve or anything we can do to please Him, but because He desires to have a relationship with us.
Andre Kole really got my attention when he asked, “Do you know what a Christian really is?” I thought, “Of course I do! A Christian is someone who isn’t Jewish!” But he said that according to the Bible, Christian means “Christ-in-one,” and that a true Christian is actually indwelled by Jesus Christ Himself. That blew me away.
Then he said, “I’m going to use my illusion to illustrate some points. Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern the spiritual universe.
The Four Spiritual Laws
“The first law is that God loves you and He offers a wonderful plan for your life. When Jesus was on earth, He said, ‘I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.’ Now what do you suppose He meant by ‘abundant life’? I think He meant a life filled with purpose and joy and direction and fulfillment. But as you look around the world today, you see that, obviously, most people are not living that kind of life. Something is terribly wrong.
“That brings us to the second spiritual law: Man is sinful and separated from God. We don’t like to use the word ‘sin’ today, but it’s a word the Bible uses a lot. It’s actually an archery term, and it means missing the mark or the target. It doesn’t matter if you miss the target by one inch or one mile, you’re still missing it. God commands us to be holy and perfect, just as He is holy and perfect. But we don’t even meet our own standards, much less God’s!
“The Bible also tells us that ‘the wages of sin is death.’ That means that the penalty for missing the mark of being absolutely perfect and holy is death–not only the physical death of our bodies, but that when we die, we can’t ever be with God in heaven. It means the death of our spirits as well. And once we commit one sin, there’s nothing we can do to restore ourselves. We’re stuck. There’s a huge chasm between us and God, and there’s nothing we can do to cross it.
“That’s where the really good news comes in. The third spiritual law is that God has provided a solution to this dilemma. Since the Bible says that the punishment for sin is death, someone has to die because of our sin. God didn’t want us to have to pay that penalty, so He sent His own Son, Jesus, from heaven to earth. He took on human flesh–that’s what Christmas is about–and lived a perfect life. Then He died a heinous death on a cross, even though He was innocent, and He died in our place. Three days later, God raised Him from the dead because He was pleased with Jesus’ sacrifice.”
Now, I had heard a lot of this stuff before when I was growing up in church, but it had never had any impact on me. I knew a lot of religious facts, but they didn’t affect my life in any way. I believed that George Washington was the Father of our Country, I believed that Abraham Lincoln was the best president (I was from Illinois, remember. . .”the Land of Lincoln”!), and I believed that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. They were all in the same category in my head, and they all had the same affect on me– which is to say, none at all.
But I had never, ever heard what he said next, the fourth spiritual law. “Each of us must accept Christ’s gift of eternal life personally.” He explained that Jesus was offering each of us the gift of eternal life, which means not only going to heaven when we die but, starting that moment, He would live His powerful, holy, beautiful life from INSIDE US. Whoa!! This was a totally new concept!! I thought that God stayed in His corner of the universe, and I limped along in my little corner, and never the twain shall meet. But suddenly I was hearing something completely new and different–that God Himself loved me so much He wanted to come live IN MY HEART!!!! As I sat there, reveling in this new information and this incredible offer, I saw that all along, I had thought I was doing all right with God because I was basically a “good girl.” But now I realized that I was missing the boat entirely, because I had never entered into a personal relationship with God at all; I had been caught up in rules and rituals and traditions, and had rejected them all because they had no meaning to me. And here was God offering me HIMSELF instead of those dead rules and rituals and traditions!
My whole spirit cried out in one big “YES!!!!!” It felt rather like a flower turning to the sun and bursting forth in full blossom. Andre Kole prayed a short prayer, which I followed along in my heart, but my real prayer consisted of one incredibly joyful “YES!!!”
I went home to my dorm, where I told my roommates, “Guess what? When I left tonight, we were in a triple, but now we’re in a quadruple, because Jesus is now living in my heart!” They just groaned, “OH NO!! You got RELIGION!!” They dismissed what I was saying: “We know what this means, Sue. There’s a guy involved in this somewhere. We know how you work. Every two weeks or so you fall in love with somebody new, and whatever the guy believes, that’s your new philosophy. Last month you were in love with Tony Hunter, and you thought you were Jonathan Livingston Seagull! So this is nothing more than a fad, and it will pass when THIS guy doesn’t work out either.”
So my roommates waited for the fad to pass. That was 1973.
Just a fad? No way!
It wasn’t a fad, and it didn’t pass, because my new relationship with Jesus Christ was the most real thing that had ever happened to me. My life became a perpetual surprise box. No one warned me that when God came to live inside me, He’d be making all sorts of wonderful changes! They just started happening.
For one thing, my language cleared up. When I was still at home, I was a “good girl.” But when I went to college, my crippled self- esteem made me crave the acceptance of my friends. And since they all had mouths like sailors, I started talking like that too. I was never really comfortable with it (because princesses don’t swear!). But within about two weeks of the night I trusted Christ, I realized that it was as if God reached down into my vocabulary box with a great big soapy sponge and cleaned out all the garbage that was in there–without asking Him to!
I discovered that, for the first time in my life, I wanted to go to church. The friend who had invited me to the Andre Kole show also invited me to his church, which was a block from my dorm but somehow I had never noticed it. I didn’t even own a dress, but I got one, and went to church of my own free will for the first time in my life. I made a startling discovery. The church was filled with college students who were there because they WANTED to be, not because their parents had made them go! From the very first time I went, I was captivated by the lights on in everyone’s eyes. These people were honestly joyful and so glad to be there! Not only that, but they sang all the verses of the hymns, with enthusiasm! This was a whole new experience for me. Then, the pastor got up and taught us from the Bible, relating it to our 20th-century lives. I loved it!
And the third thing that happened was a new hunger to read the Bible. I didn’t own one of those, either. I had tried it a couple of times; when I was in elementary school, a priest had told us one day that if we wanted to read a love letter from God, to go home and look in our family Bible and read the epistles. So I tried it. Didn’t look like any love letter *I* wanted to read! It was too hard to understand, and seemed so dull and boring, I shut the dusty book and put it back on the shelf. Another time, another priest told us that if we wanted to see how the end of the world would happen, to read the last book of the Bible. What a disaster that was! But now I really wanted to read and understand the Bible, so I went to the college bookstore and found the Living Bible, a modern-day paraphrase that I could easily understand. In the first few pages, I found just what I needed: “If you’re new to this book…” It gave a suggested order for reading certain books, and I knew I had the help I needed. I couldn’t wait for 4 o’clock every day, when I could go back to my dorm room and read about Jesus, this new, wonderful Friend who was now living in my heart.
But it wasn’t the immediate changes that I want to talk about. Far more important are the long-term changes that God has been working in my life, healing my self-image and helping me deal with the polio.
Healing a Crippled Self-Image
The more I read and studied the Bible, the more I learned to see myself as God said I was, and realized that what He said was so much more accurate and trustworthy than how I felt. I’m a woman, and the way I felt about myself completely depended on external things like whether my hair was clean, whether I was wearing make- up, and the time of the month. So I could wake up, force myself to look in the mirror, and whimper in defeat–then, 30 minutes later, not be so depressed once I’d had a chance to do something about myself. But as I learned to embrace the truth about what God said I was, that it was more valid than my fleeting feelings, it profoundly changed the way I felt about myself.
When I studied Genesis, the first book of the Bible that explains the beginnings of everything, I learned that when God made Adam and Eve in His image, that made them infinitely valuable–not because of themselves, but because of their Creator. And, because I’m descended from Adam and Eve, I learned that I was also made in the image of God, and that makes me infinitely valuable as well. But this was a truth I only learned in my head; I didn’t learn it in my heart until my first son was born.
The whole time I was pregnant with Curt, I prided myself on being a thoroughly modern, non-emotional mother. I knew that newborn human babies weren’t particularly beautiful, as compared to, say, newborn lambs. When I saw my baby, I was going to say, “Yes, that’s a baby all right. Take him and clean him up, and when you bring him back we’ll bond.”
And then Curt was actually born.
When I first laid eyes on this child who was made in my husband’s and my image, this child that God had made by taking Ray’s intangible love for me and my intangible love for him and creating a tangible baby that we could hold and love, I thought, “WHOA! This is THE most BEAUTIFUL baby the world has ever seen!” I instantly fell in love with this little bundle of baby, and he was infinitely valuable to me, NOT because of anything intrinsic with him–I mean, all babies do is eat and sleep and poop and cry–but because he was made in our image.
A few days later, in the hospital, I had him on my lap doing a finger and toe check, and just sort of smelling his awesome newborn-baby smell, when I suddenly realized with a rush of mother- tiger protective love, that IF ANYONE SO MUCH AS LAID A HAND ON THIS CHILD, I WOULD PERSONALLY TEAR THEM LIMB FROM LIMB!!!! I didn’t know I could love anyone that much, but I loved my baby with a ferocious, passionate love that surprised and overwhelmed me. (Okay, okay, I realized this was probably hormones, but it sure felt real enough at the time!) Then, as I lay there in the hospital bed overtaken with these strong emotions, I suddenly realized something else: that if I, being such a finite and limited human being, could love my child so ferociously and passionately, how much more must my heavenly Father, who is infinitely huge and powerful, love me? God loved me even more ferociously and passionately than I could imagine, and that meant that even if the rest of the world thumbed their noses at me and rejected me, if I knew that God loved me like that, it wouldn’t matter.
Another truth that God used to heal my broken self-image came when I read in the gospel of John that “as many as received Christ [and I had], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” I learned that simply being a human being doesn’t make us a child of God–that just means we are creatures made in His image. I became a child of God when I trusted Christ to save me from my sins, and according to what Jesus said, I was born again at that point into God’s family. Shortly after I learned about being a child of God, I came across one of my favorite names for God in the Bible: “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Then suddenly I put the two things together: if God is the King of Kings, and I am a child of God, then the female child of a King is a PRINCESS!!
I made it!! When you look at me, I might not look like much on the outside, but I know that I am a princess on the inside because my heavenly Father the King made me one when I became His child!!
The Hole in My Soul
The other area where God keeps working with me is the whole issue of polio. After I’d been a new Christian for a few months, I heard about a counselor who was sometimes able to pray for people and they received physical healing. So I made an appointment and went to see her.
I said, “Look, I’ve had polio almost all my life and I don’t want it anymore. Would you please pray for me and heal me?”
She replied, “Well, I must tell you that sometimes God chooses to heal people in heaven, but first, tell me about how you feel about your polio.”
“I don’t like it, and I want you to heal me.”
“Not so fast. How do you feel about God for letting this terrible thing happen to you?”
“Everything’s fine with God and me. Could we just get on with this?”
“No, wait. Having polio is an awful thing. Aren’t you just a little bit angry with God for letting this bad thing happen to you?”
I instantly thought, “Good girls don’t get mad at God,” and said, “NO, I’M NOT ANGRY WITH GOD!! Please, just pray for me and I’ll get out of here.”
The counselor smiled gently at me and said, “Sue, I’m afraid that no amount of healing is going to happen in your life until you’re honest with God. I can see that you have a great deal of anger and bitterness and resentment toward God for letting you have polio, and you need to deal with that first.”
“You’re not going to heal me?” I asked plaintively.
She shook her head and said, “I’m not the One who does the healing. I think you need to go pray about what’s going on inside of you first.”
I was terribly disappointed. I had had such hope that finally– FINALLY–I would be rid of the awful, horrible effects of this disease! Polio had ripped a huge wound in my soul as well as damaging my body, but this woman wasn’t going to do things my way. Sadly, I got in my car and drove home.
Along the highway, I prayed, “God, this woman seems to think I have all this anger and bitterness and resentment stored up against You because of the polio. Is there anything to this?”
It was as if God said, “Finally, My precious daughter, you ask the right question!” I realized that I had been stuffing a lifetime of disappointment and pain into an emotional basement, and God was opening the door that I had kept shut for years. Feelings and memories started coming back to me out of the basement, like the time I was about ten years old.
I knelt next to my bed one night and poured out my heart to God. “God, please PLEASE heal me! I hate this polio, You know how much I hate this polio! Please, please give me two normal legs! I hate my body, I hate limping, I hate doing the exercises with the boot, I hate going to physical therapy. I hate the lift on my shoe, and I hate having my left leg shorter than the other, and I hate having to wear such ugly shoes. Oh God, I want to go into a shoe store and buy one pair of beautiful shoes so bad! I hate having to wear different size shoes! And You know I can’t wear high heels with my leg and foot being so weak. And God, if I can’t wear high heels, how can I get married? Everybody knows that brides wear high heels on their wedding day! Besides, who would want to marry me with polio anyway? I hate this toothpick leg, and I hate hate HATE the way people stare at me in public, especially little kids. God, please PLEASE heal me tonight while I’m sleeping!”
Then I proceeded to help God out by giving Him helpful suggestions on how to go about healing me. “You can take the extra muscle from my right leg and transfer it over to my left leg. Then stretch the left leg so it’s as long as the right, and pull on my toes so they’re not crumpled up anymore. And in the morning I’ll run downstairs yelling, “Mom! Mom! God healed me!” and she’ll call the Chicago Sun Times, and it’ll be on the front page: “God Heals Suburban Girl.” And I won’t be able to go to school because I’ll need to go to a shoe store and pick out some beautiful shoes like everybody else’s, since my different-sized shoes won’t fit. Oh! And God, I’ll be able to SKIP down the street! I’ve never been able to skip!! It’ll be great! Now, I’ll just go to sleep and while I’m sleeping, You work a miracle. Then, in the morning, I won’t even have to throw back the covers to see what You’ve done. I’ll know.” I fell into bed exhausted, having poured out my hurting heart to God, and so hopefully confident that He had heard me and would do what I asked.
In the morning, I was right: I didn’t have to throw back the covers to see what had happened during the night. I knew without checking: absolutely nothing. NOTHING!! God had ignored me! I was furious. “God, how could You? I poured out my heart to You and You ignored me! You KNOW how much I hate the polio, You KNOW how much I want to be healed! It’s no big deal for You to do this for me! If You could part the Red Sea, I know you could heal me! HOW COULD YOU????” Then suddenly, I realized that, in my little ten-year-old heart, I was yelling at God, and I was horrified. Good girls don’t get mad at God! So I took all the feelings of anger and disappointment and grief and stuffed them all down in my basement, along with all the other feelings I’d stuffed down there over the years.
And now, here I was, 20 years old, and all these feelings and memories were flooding back, and I realized that the counselor was right. I did have a huge amount of anger and bitterness and frustration stored up against God. . .and I didn’t have a clue as to what to do about it. I’d never heard anyone speak on “What To Do When You’re So Mad At God You Want to Spit in His Face.” That sounds blasphemous! But that’s how I felt, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
So I prayed, “God, I don’t know how to handle all these feelings, so I’m asking You to show me what to do. And God, it looks like You’re not going to heal me of the polio either, are You? So please help me deal with it. I’ve always hoped that when I was grown up, it would magically go away, but that isn’t going to happen. You’re going to have to show me how to deal with the polio, too.”
God is faithful, and He answered my prayer. In two ways.
God is Always in Control
First, I learned what has been the single most comforting truth I’ve ever learned as a Christian: that God has always been in control, and nothing has happened to me that He did not allow to pass through the grid of His love and purpose for my life. It was as if there were a suit of armor around me from the moment I was conceived, and nothing has touched my life that God did not purposely allow to get past the armor. I did not get polio by accident; there was a reason for it. When God saw that polio virus heading for me, He allowed it to do the exact amount of damage to my body that was in His plan for me. But once again, this was a truth I only learned in my head, and the heart-understanding didn’t come until the day I took my second son Kevin to an immunization clinic for a shot.
I held him in my arms so that he was facing outward, his little thigh exposed. When the nurse stuck him, he wheeled around, and just before letting out a huge yell, he fixed me with a look of intense betrayal. I knew that if he had been able to put into words what he was feeling, he would have screamed, “You’re my MOTHER!! I can’t believe you let this woman attack me with that huge STICK!!” I thought, “Oh Kevin, I know you can’t understand why I would allow this woman to attack you with that stick. Honey, I drove you here so she could attack you with that stick.”
What I wanted to say, but it would have been pointless, was “Baby, I know how hard it is for you to understand what’s happening. But my Mommy mind is so much bigger than your Baby mind, there’s no way I can explain that I know what I’m doing, and I’m letting you hurt because I love you and I’m acting in your best interests, even though all you can feel right now is the pain. I’m so sorry, but you’re just going to have to trust me.”
I thought, “I’m going to take you home and give you some Tylenol, and you’ll start to feel better, and in a few days all the pain and discomfort will be gone, but the good medicine inside you will make you strong and healthy for many years. Some day you won’t even remember that today happened, but the benefits of this shot will last for a long, long time.”
Right about then we walked out into the sunlight, and God spoke to me very quietly, on the inside: “My precious Sue, I know how much you hurt because of the polio. I hate it too–in fact, I hate it even more, because it was never part of My perfect Creation in the beginning. When sin entered the world and spoiled everything, polio was unleashed into My beautiful world. I hate for you to suffer like this. But just as My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts, I can’t explain to you what I’m doing with the polio any more than you can explain what you’re doing to Kevin, and that his suffering is good. Sweetheart, you’re just going to have to trust Me.”
Then I realized that just as Kevin’s pain was going to go away in a matter of days, leaving him years and years free from the pain from the diseases he wasn’t going to contract, I needed to see the pain of my polio’d body in the scope of eternity. If my body lives to be 100, which is a very generous estimate, and I have to deal with polio for over 99 years, all that time is still only going to be the length of a pinprick compared to the billions and billions of “years” I’m going to live in heaven–in a perfect body. My life on earth does have it difficulties and pain, but it’s still temporary when I remember that the majority of my life will be lived in heaven where all pain will be behind me. And just as Kevin’s vaccination produced health in his body, I realized that God was using polio to produce character and depth and His kind of beauty in me, which will last for all eternity.
Giving Thanks for Everything
The other way God answered my prayer was in discovering a little book (Merlin Carrothers’ Power in Praise) that said God wants us to give thanks for everything that happens to us. Not just in everything, not just the things we think will work out all right, but everything that comes into our lives. The reason we can give thanks is because of the first lesson I learned, which is that God is in control and has unseen, unknown purposes for what touches our lives. The Bible never tells us to FEEL thankful; it just says to give thanks, which is an act of the will and not of emotion. I looked it up, and sure enough, in black and white, there it was Ephesians 5:20. Even in the Greek!
The book is full of story after story of how God changed people’s hearts when they thanked Him for things they hated but couldn’t change, and I knew I had stumbled across some wonderful wisdom. I remember where I was the first time I told God “thank You” for the one thing I never, ever thought I could give thanks for: my polio.
“God,” I started, “I certainly don’t FEEL thankful for polio, but Your word doesn’t say to go by feelings but by faith, and Your word says to give thanks for all things. So I thank You for letting me have polio. Thank You for my limp. Thank You for the problem that shoes constantly give me, and how hard it is to find them for my mismatched feet. Thank You that I will never be able to wear high heels. Thank You for the way people stare at me. Thank you for all the physical therapy I had to go through, thank You for the boot, thank You for the surgeries, thank You for the brace I had to wear. Thank you that I don’t know how well my body will hold up as I get older. I thank You for all these things.”
As I disciplined myself to say “thank You” for these things I hated but couldn’t change, something interesting started to happen. I realized that saying “thank You” enabled me to relinquish all the pain and anger I had stored up in my emotional basement, and God took it away and replaced it with His peace. Pain had carved huge caverns in my heart, but now instead of being filled with all the negative emotions I had hidden in there, all that space was now filled with peace and a marvelous joy that came from trusting in the One who loves me perfectly. (In fact, since I’m only 5 feet tall, sometimes I think I’m bigger on the inside than I am on the outside!)
Something else that was interesting happened as I made myself give thanks for this horrible thing I hated but couldn’t change. In addition to giving thanks by faith but not by feeling, I found that there were a bunch of things that I could easily, and with feelings of gratitude, give thanks for. I thank God for my parents, who loved me enough to make me exercise and endure surgeries so that I could walk as well as I did. I thank God for my husband, who, even though he’s a runner, has never made me feel in the least bit inferior for not being able to keep up with him, and who is exceptionally gracious and sensitive in making allowances for my limitations. I thank God that if I had to have polio, it was in my leg and not in my arms. I’m a calligrapher, and it would be awfully hard to do hand lettering with my toes! I thank God that, even though I have to use a wheelchair in places like airports and amusement parks and malls, when I get to where I’m going, I can get up and walk. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my handicap permit! I get the best parking spaces!
I love happy endings, but this story doesn’t have one. At least not as far as my earthly life is concerned. I still have to discipline myself in my reactions and attitudes concerning my body, because I’m now forced to deal with post-polio syndrome. 30 to 35 years after the onset of polio, a whole new set of symptoms crop up: bone-crushing fatigue, increasing muscle weakness, and pain. So far I don’t have much trouble with the pain part (thank You LORD!!!!), but I’ve had to completely restructure my lifestyle to accommodate a body that is losing strength and ability.
One day, as I was reading 2 Corinthians 12, I puzzled over Paul’s re-statement of what God told him concerning his thorn in the flesh: that His power was perfected in weakness. I knew there was a nugget of comforting wisdom in that, and asked God to reveal to me what He meant. He answered my prayer one day when I was looking out a large plate glass window. Next to it was an expanse of brick wall. I was able to look out through the window and see not only a beautiful landscape outside, but I noticed that the sunlight was streaming in through the window. The sun was shining on the other side of the brick wall, too, but I couldn’t see it. Then I realized that a glass window is fragile, transparent, and easily broken, but it lets the light shine through. A brick wall is strong, opaque, and is difficult to break it down, but nothing gets through it. When we are weak, whether physically or emotionally, we’re like the fragile glass window, and God’s power can stream through us, bringing power where we are powerless. When we’re strong, like the brick wall, it’s difficult to trust God because we’re content in our own human strength–but no light, no supernatural power comes through. I am at the place where I’d rather be a window than a wall, because I want God’s power and light to shine through me more than I want strength within myself.
At the time of this writing, I’ve had a chance to share my story with over 10,000 women, and I’ve never yet found a person who didn’t have some sort of private heartache. Everyone has something about herself that she hates but can’t change. Mine is on the outside, but for the majority of women, their heartbreak is on the inside. Allow me to encourage you to think about two things as you consider your private heartache.
What To Do With the Things You Hate but Can’t Change
First, think about how much God loves you. He proved it once and for all by sending His only Son to die a horrible death in your place, so that you could be reconciled to Him. One truth has been of untold comfort to me: His love is stronger than my pain.
Second, the way to truly relinquish the anger about your private heartache is to give thanks for it. It occurred to me one day that every difficulty in our lives is a beautiful gift wrapped in really ugly wrapping paper. That’s because God loves paradoxes, and He wraps His best gifts in tremendously daunting “paper.” Imagine if someone held out a gift to you wrapped in the newspaper that had spent several days at the bottom of the garbage can, soaked in chicken juice (ew YUCK!) and covered with coffee grounds, with maggots crawling all over it. You’d say, “What in the world kind of gift could possibly be inside such a grotesque wrapping?”and shrink back from it. But God does exactly that. Many of us never get past the paper to open the gift. But that’s what giving thanks will do for you–get you past the ugly wrapping paper to the choice gift inside. For me, it was a heart full of peace and joy. For others, who were sexually abused for example, it’s the delight of discovering He will restore the chunks of your soul that other people stole from you. For still others, it’s learning that even though you never had the earthly Daddy you should have had, you have a heavenly Daddy who loves you more perfectly and intimately than you can ever know till heaven.
But giving thanks is not a magic formula; it doesn’t do any good unless you first have a personal relationship with God by knowing and trusting His Son, Jesus Christ. It is essential that you turn from depending on yourself and your own efforts, and trust Jesus to save you from your sin, placing yourself in God’s hands. If you’re feeling like there’s a rope wrapped around your heart and it’s being tugged from the other end, please let me encourage you to identify that as God Himself, pulling you toward Himself and saying, “I love you! I created you to be in fellowship with Me! Please come to Me and give Me yourself so I can give you Myself.” If that’s what you’re feeling, I suggest you tell God something similar to what I’m going to share with you, and what Andre Kole shared with me the night I trusted Jesus:
“Dear God, I realize I’m a sinner and You are a holy, perfect God. Thank You for sending Your Son Jesus to die on the cross in my place. I trust Him now to save me from my sin and to come live inside me. Please make me into the person You want me to be. Amen.”