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Shining a little light in the darkness, Carol
Excerpt: Chapter 1 — Different, Not Ruined
I slid off the exam table with the doctor’s diagnosis ringing in my ears. “We will schedule an MRI, but it will only confirm my diagnosis. I am ninety-nine point nine percent sure that you have MS.” I can’t remember what I said at that moment, but by the end of the day my resolve was, “I am in no hurry to receive my healing. I want to learn everything the Lord can teach me through this disease. I do not want to have to do another lap around The Sinai, thank you very much.” I did not want to end up like the children of Israel and spend forty years in my wilderness.
It was December of 1995, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Back then, I tended to define myself to others by what I did. I believed, as many do, that my worth depended on my job, on how much money I made, or on how much I could produce each day. Like any propaganda, if you say it enough, you come to believe it. My culture lied to me.
My job did not define me; my value did not depend on what I produced or contributed. This chronic disease brought me an identity crisis that was devastating. When my body no longer looked or functioned as it did, and I was unable to be what I was before—who then was I? What purpose did I have? What was my value to myself and others?
MS tends to shrink life, lopping off huge chunks. It chips away and chips away. Insidious! Now life looked nothing like what I had worked so hard to attain. The attack affected my vision. My ability to read was limited —for a teacher that was the end of a career. The end of being productive. Even if the eye problems were to heal, my energies were so fickle I could not count on them being there on demand. My ability to walk was impaired. Forget about graceful, I was thankful to the Lord that I could walk at all! Should I insist that my body function after it told me to stop, it rewarded me with excruciating exhaustion. It tore at my insides and demanded that I become horizontal—now! Little things required huge outpourings of energy and quickly become too much.
After my diagnosis, I quickly lost interest in trying to do much of anything. Sitting and watching others function normally wreaked havoc on how I saw myself. My name had been synonymous with responsibility and conscientiousness, and suddenly I was unable to be either of those.
I felt I had no value.
At my diagnosis, I did feel a sense of relief—of vindication. “See! I was right. Something was wrong!” But that relief I felt didn’t make up for the huge chunks of life that were now being stolen; opportunity after opportunity just out of reach. Would I ever be able to grasp that golden ring? Doubtful. Even if I could catch it, I could not hold onto it for long. Physically speaking, the best I had been was the best I would ever be. That was a very cold, harsh reality.
But once I looked at that and acknowledged the truth of it, I began to see that the Lord saw me differently than I saw myself. I had value in His loving eyes. When I looked at myself with earthly perspective and wept, He looked with the eyes of heaven, and—although He grieved with me—He also rejoiced over my declaration when I committed that diagnosis to Him. I even went so far as to ask that He would work sanctification and holiness in my life because of it.
In spite of this perspective that God could use even this devastating disease to work His nature into me, I continuously questioned God. Was there life after MS? Who was I now? Was there any purpose to my life? Did I have value? I could not contribute anything! I was a drain on my husband, my children . . . and so on.
Choices! How could I choose to believe God, now, when He says, in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you; to prosper you and not to harm you?” From where I stood, it no longer seemed there could be anything good left in my future.
Yet, over time, I began to understand that I have an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with what I do, or don’t do. God—who loved me regardless of my performance—is who gave me that value. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). That was my true identity. When I accepted Him, I became a child of God whether I did anything else, or not. Just being His child gives me value. Jesus coming to earth to win our salvation is proof of the value God places on each of us.
But it was a long time before I could realize that truth. I had already learned my value came from what I could produce. And since I had always been able to produce, I didn’t realize there was any problem with defining myself that way. Yet, those were merely social values, which came from my own interpretation of family values. From working hard and having something to show for all the hard work. They also came from the society in which I grew up, that reinforced those same values.
My family had always worked hard. We had to. But we still managed to maintain a joy of life, so I never realized there was any disagreement or disconnect between the Lord’s value system and that segment of my own. However, these two value systems crashed head-on with my diagnosis. Clearly, they were not the same. I realized that determining my value by tying it to my job—and how much I produce—did not come from the Lord.
Now, I was suddenly at a crossroad, and had to choose which way I would go. Believing there was value in me without doing anything was not easy. But I still had to choose. Of course, I wanted to choose to believe the Lord, except it seemed too impossible. I didn’t have the strength to choose, much less believe Him. But then, The Lord helped me make the choice to believe Him.
He did it by sending me to a potter’s shop, to work with a lump of clay.
That first day, I was a novice, and the lesson was how to cut the clay from the wheel. I adjusted the wire as instructed and pushed the accelerator. I had no idea of the speed required, nor how the machine and the pot would interact. The wheel went far too fast! My pot came free, spun out of control, careened off the wheel, and landed on its head. I let out a wail—my creation lay dashed on the floor! I reached to throw it into the scrap bin thinking it beyond repair.
My instructor bounded off her stool, and scooped it up protectively. “No! No! It is not ruined. It will be beautiful! There is no such thing as a ruined pot! It is not ruined, just different. You’ll see.” Then she pushed, pulled, pinched, and tweaked it. It became a lovely pot—not the shape I had in mind originally—but nonetheless acceptable. I learned that I must not be firmly invested in anything I make until it comes out of the fire. Until a pot has gone through the fire, I cannot say what it is; not until it becomes what it is. I must wait and see.
From there it was no big jump to realize that when I work myself free of The Lord, I go careening off His wheel in much the same way. When I am free and think I am in control that is precisely when life spins out of control and I land on my head. Thinking life is ruined, I wail and lament. Then the loving Father scoops me up, dusts me off, pushing here and there. Pinching and tweaking, He transforms and redeems my shattered life. At times, in my distress, I cannot hear His Words of comfort when He tells me, “You are not ruined; just different than you thought you were going to be.”
I was not there to give God counsel when He formed me (Psalm 139:13-18), so I do not know how far from His original design I am (Job 40:1-5). I cannot know for sure what I will be, or how I will look until I come out of the fire! So, as I learned to control the potter’s wheel much better, I was also learning to stay where the Lord put me until He moved me. Also, to do whatever task He gave me to the best of my ability—even if it was just sitting on a shelf and being a pretty pot, nurturing all who see!
My own little pots I have made grace my shelf and haven’t a clue the nurture they give me. I don’t have a clue the joy my company gives the Lord as I spend time sitting on His shelf, either. At times I feel banished, excluded from life, and of little value. But I am learning to recognize these as mere feelings. They are transient and have no absolute or eternal reality. Sometimes they are even the whisperings of the enemy! Then I remind myself that although I may feel banished, in reality, the Lord has scooped me up, pushed and pulled, tweaked and pinched. He has lovingly put me up out of harm’s way—where I’ll not be damaged—and He can enjoy His art.
My early pots do not have the precision of my later ones, but they sit next to the latest creation, and I value them no less. I have not thrown even the lumpiest of pots away. Nor has the Lord thrown me aside when, to my eyes, I am lumpy and misshapen. The cup without the handle is a pencil holder of distinction. Misshapen is unique. “Oops” became a signature mark. Ruined has become beautiful. No, I am not ruined. I am loved by my Maker.
Chronic disease can ruin me only if I take my eyes off my Maker. Chronic disease can also ruin me if I hold on too tightly to the world’s value system. Or, if I listen to and believe the lies of the enemy, linking value and purpose to production and dollar signs. Most importantly, I know none of those things can ruin me unless I steadfastly insist upon crawling off The Lord’s wheel, or His shelf, and climbing—all by myself—into the scrap bin.
True, I am different than I was; my life is different from what I thought He planned for me. But the Lord is a good potter, who takes what life throws into the clay mix and works it into a design of beauty that I couldn’t have even imagined before.
And while it is a struggle to hold on to a sense of value and meaning, that struggle is part of the tension of creation. Because I learned that, in formation, every pot is under tension—both pushed from the outside and supported from the inside. So, removed from society’s hustle and bustle, I finally came to remember my original goal—the purpose behind all I have done—which was to bless the heart of my Father. Yes, what I do has changed, and even how I do it. But value and purpose? Never! Because that part came from the Lord, and not me.
That lesson at the potter’s house contained several learnings for me. The first was that I must never become overly invested in what I do until it has been through the fire. Secondly, my value to God comes from being His child rather than from what I produce. Trials may change my life; they may constrain me in various ways. But they cannot define me unless I agree with the negative picture of my future, which is inherent in the trial. I must look past the trial to the hope and the future God promises in Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11. And as I came to understand what God was teaching me, and embraced those learnings, God counted that as valuable!
Ask the Holy Spirit
To make this lesson your own, identify a time, person, project, work, or ministry in which you invested hugely but the outcome turned out to be something other than what you anticipated.
! Did it define you? Did it become “who you were?” Did it determine your value and worth?
! Did you wail and moan over your loss? Did it feel like God didn’t care?
! Did you feel as though life was ruined?
! Did you try to wiggle free from the Lord’s wheel by asking Him to “fix” your situation according to your guidelines?
! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you reframe that event so you can see the Master Potter’s hand in it. Ask to see with the eyes of heaven what God was trying to build into you. An attitude, character trait, a skill set?
! Ask the Holy Spirit how to change your responses to your circumstances so that they will align with God’s heart for you and His values.
! Ask the Holy Spirit why He wants you to make these changes.
! Ask the Holy Spirit how to implement the changes He has shown you to make.
Thank you God for making me Your child, for giving me belonging, value and worth—help me to be able to feel it. Forgive me for believing lies about myself and my worth. Forgive me for thinking ill of You, Lord, for allowing this trial to be part of my life. I cannot see what You see, or fully know what You have in mind for me. Grant me strength and grace, Lord, to stay on Your wheel. Today I choose to focus on what is, and can be. Help me keep that focus! I declare that You are my loving Father, and Your plans are to prosper me, to give me hope and a future!
“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” (Jeremiah 29:11).