The other night I was lying in bed, thinking about heaven. It’s hard to wrap your mind around what it will be like to live in perfection. I thought about the perfect body waiting for me there, the long-anticipated freedom from this earthly tent. What will it be like to live without arthritis? To run as far and fast as I want with no pain? To climb all the mountains? To dance?
Ah, I can’t wait. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be great if it happened before heaven? What if I woke up tomorrow miraculously healed, totally un-twisted and pain free? The sight of myself frolicking over these fourteeners flitted through my mind.
Just as suddenly, another thought came, unbidden. No way. I don’t want that. If I were healed in this life, I would think I didn’t need Jesus anymore. I would forget.
I know what this sounds like, and I swear on my twisted toes that thought came without my even trying to summon it, as natural as breathing. I myself was so surprised that I had to stop and backtrack, grab hold of those words and examine them for veracity. Was this true? When had I come to this place where I would rather have arthritis?
Yes. The words had bubbled up from a deep place in me, a place that once boiled with fear, anger, and bitterness.
I walked back along this path in my mind. I remembered the strong me, the proud me, the able me who said she followed God but worshipped her abilities. I remembered the seething me who clearly heard God asking her to let go of her dreams, who shook her head and clutched them tighter. I remembered the terrified me, distorted with pain and shaking with fear of the future. I remembered the despairing me who grieved a life lost, the image of who I was forever changed. I raged. I denied. I wept. I pretended to accept. I tried to accept, then fell back into despair.
And all along that path, on every stone of struggle, there He was, my God, with me. Weeping with me. Waiting. Holding my hand. Telling me over and over that He had something better for me.
I realize now that I didn’t think I would ever truly believe Him. Maybe I would come to the place where I could begrudgingly accept what happened, where I could be happy, but always there would be the loss and resentment of who I had wanted to be. Better? How could life in a misshapen body be better?
Don’t get me wrong. I still have days of grieving what was lost. I have learned that no death is ever fully grieved. It is a thing you carry. I still long to climb mountains with my husband and run a marathon and dance without feeling like an idiot (not sure that would ever be possible anyway). I still can’t wait for a body restored.
But given the choice to go back to who I was with my strong, capable body and who I am now with what I now know, I would not. I would never give up this new place with Jesus. He really has given me beauty for ashes and joy for sorrow. He has given me Himself.
My disease exposed things in myself I never would have seen otherwise. It took me to the core of who I was stripped bare my pride and self-reliance. It showed me the idols I was clinging to—or some of them, anyway. I was forced to ask the question, “Who are you, Julie? Who are you really?” I didn’t like the answer, the ugliness that was exposed. I started to ask, “What does it mean to be found in Christ?”
He has been showing me. Step by step. I definitely have not arrived. I have a long way to go and many more idols to lay down, I’m sure. But I wouldn’t trade what I know of Jesus and my place in Him for anything. In taking my own version of myself, He has given me myself in Him, and it is so much better.
For those who don’t know Him, haven’t experienced Him, I know it sounds crazy. It seems so backward, I know. I can only say it is true. The way to life is down into death. The way to freedom is surrender. Sometimes I hesitate to say it because I know it will sound trite, or ridiculous, or insincere. I know there are others suffering far worse things than I have.
But I wouldn’t be true to Jesus if I didn’t share what He has done for me. These past few blog posts have been His words to me, the story He is telling. Yes, he wants everything, and the cost seems high. But He is the Ebenezer, the stone of help. I can look back on the path and see all the stepping stones of His goodness to me. He is the river of peace in my heart, carrying me along as I settle myself in Him.
It sounds crazy. It IS crazy! This crazy love that works backwards, this hope that grows in the cracks of pain. But I rejoice in where I am, in who He has made me, the girl with twisted toes who knows her Jesus.
I will keep saying this, because it is the truth He has shown me: when we ask Him for healing, He always answers, just maybe not in the way we expect. I would not want the healing of my body if it meant giving up the healing He has started in my heart. For so long I was afraid to ask Him to heal me, because if I did ask, and I wasn’t healed, then what would it mean? My faith was so little, but when I held it out to Him, that tiny mustard seed, He showed me. His healing did come, and it is coming, and it’s way better than the healing I asked for.
Till now He has helped me, again and again. It is my new mantra. These stepping stones of His love are my song of thanksgiving to Him.