God was testing me. I knew that much.
So my next step was to figure out what the test was so I could determine the best and fastest way to pass it. If only God's tests worked the same as tests in school...then things might have turned out differently.
On February 7 of this year, I had a rough day. I had a stomach bug, and it was difficult to care for my children and carry out normal daily tasks. I felt different than other times I've had a stomach bug. I even sent Jared out that evening to get different medicines.
The next morning I woke up to discover that my 24-hour stomach flu was still going strong. And the next day was the same. And the next.
Days turned to weeks, and my concern grew. Every single time I ate, I felt stabbing pains in my abdomen and waves of nausea washed over my whole body. The draining discomfort lasted for hours and barely let up by the time the next meal came.
I tried to hide the way I felt. I remember going on a double date with my sister and her husband and secretly taking Tums and Tylenol I had stashed in my purse. I had a smile on my face while my hands were holding my stomach under the table.
Keeping my pain a secret was new behavior for me. I have often said, "I'm an open book." I share everything. So early on I determined that my test was to see if I could press on without complaining to anyone with ears.
So for weeks I carried on, never able to finish a meal. I didn't take my kids anywhere interesting or do any fun activities with them. I was too exhausted just trying to get through each day. I was doing my best to pass the test of enduring pain silently.
Then one day God clearly spoke to me through some Bible verses I read for my devotions that day. He had already been whispering to me that I needed to ask for prayer, and I firmly resisted because I was certain that I was supposed to carry this burden alone. Then I opened my Bible to study James chapter 5. Verse 14 says, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."
I had heard the whispers (and ignored them), but then I heard God speak loudly and clearly. So I reached out to my Bible study leader and asked the group for prayer. I had figured out that the test was actually to ask for prayer when I didn't want to share this with anyone.
So I did what I was told to do. I asked for prayer. Test passed, right? Right? Nope. The pain and nausea continued and even got worse.
Thus began a very long string of doctor's appointments. Being an overly sensitive and especially anxious person, I don't do well with doctors. I'm always afraid they're secretly judging me. Or not taking me seriously. Or talking down to me. Plus I had to give up my free Wednesday mornings (while Nolan was in school and my younger two were at a church preschool program for the morning) to go to doctor's appointments. And I had to call in favors and waste babysitters on annoying appointments.
Tests just led to more tests. There were never clear answers. Everything was normal or just slightly abnormal. There were other "slightly abnormal" problems uncovered. Cysts. Elevated levels. Possible this and probable that.
I had three ultrasounds, an endoscopy, a HIDA scan, about 100 pregnancy tests, and countless blood tests. I even had to have an MRI of my brain to check for a possible tumor. I had to go hours without food and drink and stop exercising. I saw specialists. I tracked symptoms. I was friendly to nurses and techs and searched for the person to whom surely God wanted me to minister in all of this mess.
At one point I thought the test was going to be cancer. Seriously. Me and my dramatic little tumor-free brain thought God was going to walk me through a battle with cancer, during which I would be faithful and joyful and teach lots of people about God's unfailing love.
No diagnosis. No wrap-up. No aha moment. There was not a medical professional who came to Jesus because of me. There was not an apparent purpose for my life being overtaken by medical appointments. I did not get to teach anyone about praising God while battling an illness.
I bravely kept quiet. Then I boldly asked for help and prayer. Then I just got tired.
In my frustration I declared, "It's time to stop praying for answers and start praying for healing." And so I did. And my Bible study ladies did as well. There was not a holy moment of healing. I did not feel the Holy Spirit wash over me as my body was restored to health.
One day was slightly better than the day before. And the next day was just a little bit better. Eventually I had one whole good day. And then there were two good days in a row. And pretty soon I could eat and drink like a normal person. Slowly my health was restored, even as I continued with appointments and tests.
I still don't understand this test. I've joked that God just needed to drain our money on medical bills before we squandered it ourselves. I know he has a greater purpose; I just don't know what it is.
The test was not keeping silent. It was not asking for support through prayer. It was not cancer or great illness. It was not ministering to someone specific.
This uncertainty reminds me of something that happened about seven or eight years ago. I was a newlywed working at a bank. God clearly spoke to both me and my sister and told us to collaborate to open a children's book store in our town. We did lots of research, created a business plan, met with a bank to secure a business loan, and even found a location for our store. I told my boss about my plans to leave my job to open a children's book store.
And then it all fell apart. The sneaky, slithery man who was the selling real estate agent for our property backed out of our contract in order to accept a higher offer. All of our plans dissolved before our eyes. We were confused and baffled. We were absolutely certain that God had given us directions. So why had it fallen through?
It wasn't too long before God moved forward with other plans for our lives, like giving me three children in four years. I quit working at the bank (for real this time) in order to be a stay-at-home mom. When the economy tanked a few years ago, I felt such relief that I was not a small business owner who certainly would not have survived. I have no doubt that God had my best interest in mind when our book store failed to materialize. I just don't know why he told us to do it in the first place.
Both of these scenarios lead me to the same conclusion: God does not owe me an explanation.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8I can really only make guesses about what God was up to. I have often felt that the book store test was a test of obedience. God was asking me, "Will you follow me when you don't know what's around the corner? Will you give up your job? Will you do the work for each step of this process?" I'm still making my guesses about the more recent test. For one thing, I have so much more sympathy for people who struggle with pain and illness. But I still don't know what the bigger picture is.
I also learned that I can't study and extra-credit my way through God's tests. He knows my heart. He sees when I'm just looking to get a passing grade and move on. Fortunately for me, he is not satisfied with that. He actually wants to change me and refine me. As difficult as it can be, I really do want his way over mine.
Even as God slowly healed my body, this test gave way to new tests. Parenting tests. Scheduling tests. My-husband-traveling tests. In the midst of questions and uncertainty, I have often been reminded to lean on what I do know. It's not always easy in the midst of overwhelming everyday life, but I try to remember that God's Word speaks more clearly and loudly than my circumstances.
God is for me. God is with me. The rest is circumstantial.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,or weighed the mountains on the scalesand the hills in a balance?Who has understood the mind of the Lord,or instructed him as his counselor?Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,and who taught him the right way?Who was it that taught him knowledgeor showed him the path of understanding?
“To whom will you compare me?Jessica
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:Who created all these?He who brings out the starry host one by one,and calls them each by name.Because of his great power and mighty strength,not one of them is missing.Why do you say, O Jacob,and complain, O Israel,“My way is hidden from the Lord;my cause is disregarded by my God”?Do you not know?Have you not heard?The Lord is the everlasting God,the Creator of the ends of the earth.He will not grow tired or weary,and his understanding no one can fathom.He gives strength to the wearyand increases the power of the weak.Even youths grow tired and weary,and young men stumble and fall;but those who hope in the Lordwill renew their strength.They will soar on wings like eagles;they will run and not grow weary,they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:12-14, 25-31