What if our struggles could actually be our greatest strength? As I sat alone and pondered this question, I thought back over my life. Because of the tremendous suffering I had endured, I believed maybe I was born to suffer or maybe I was living out payment for my sins. I had difficulty trusting God because if He loved me and He saw me, why would He bring such unhappiness and suffering? In short, I felt alone and victimized.
My mother was abusive, and my father did not act as my protector. When I was 15, my 6-year-old sister was run over by a car, and I watched as she died in the ambulance. I married at 17, and when my husband came back from Vietnam, he was angry. My oldest child was 10 when she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, 14 when she received her first liver transplant, and 24 when she died in need of another transplant. Throughout that 14-year period, life had become harder than I could have imagined, and I had a breakdown, spending six weeks in an inpatient facility working hard to heal. I spent 16 years working in behavioral medicine before one of the patients attacked me and I developed pulmonary embolisms that sent me to the ICU on two different occasions. I have been married for 52 years to a non-Christian, so I had to wait until he fell asleep to slip out of bed and read the Bible. I’ve experienced a lot of pain and heartache in my life.
When I first attended the Changed Women’s Retreat, I was considering separating from my husband. But God made it clear to me that He wanted me to honor the covenant I had entered into when I married my husband. I cried out to God and promised that I would never violate the vow I had made. But God wasn’t done with me. At the next retreat, God took me deeper and revealed Himself to me. As I began to seek him with the questions "Am I lovely? Do you see me? Do I have an irreplaceable role to play?" these are the words I wrote:
"When I grew up in a home without nurture and protection, God knew me and He was there. When the people in my life got hurt and died, God was there. He knew me and He saw me. When there was no money and I felt ashamed, He was there and He saw me. When I married a Godless boy, God was there, He allowed it, He saw me. When I fell into sin, God was there, He saw me, and He loved me so much that He pursued me and called me back. He saw me and He knew me. When my husband wasn’t home and I felt alone with the kids, God saw me. When I felt like a victim and destined to be lonely and loveless, God saw me and He knew me. At this retreat, God is helping me see that He allowed everything to happen for a reason and I have to seek understanding from my Father. Now I can see Him and His greater purpose. I have walked through it all and kept my faith in Christ, and now He calls me "Steadfast." My life behind me, the cross before me, I run to win the prize. I will not fear, I will not falter because His strength is made perfect in my weakness."
After I returned home, God continued to help me. Listening to the session about a man’s heart, I finally understood that behind every hurt man is a hurt little boy. God reminded me that my husband was also a child at one time, and not only did God see and love me, but He sees and loves my husband. My heart began to break for the little boy who did not know Christ's unconditional love. I began to ache with the ache only a mother can know as I thought about his mother and how much she loved him. I began to pray, "Jesus use my hands to show him love, use my lips to speak your words of comfort, and let me see him through your eyes.”
It has changed the way I see everything. I have chosen to enter into the suffering of Christ. I asked God for my name, and He calls me "steadfast." I am keeping my covenant. I have chosen to embrace my circumstances, believing in His grace and goodness. I no longer see myself as a victim. I am a steadfast warrior for the faith and my desire is to bring those He has given me into the kingdom. I realize God loved my husband so much that He gave Him me. This has changed everything.