In this fallen world, “trouble” feels like an inadequate word to capture the real pain, sadness, or for many, even catastrophe so common in our life experience. But in John 16:33, Jesus says the bittersweet words, “In this world you will have trouble … But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
As a young fellow, my first life altering challenge certainly felt like more than a bit of trouble.
I was just a kindergartner when pain in my legs evolved into a long and nearly fatal battle with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Feeling “broken” with paralyzed extremities and respiratory muscles, I was dependent on an iron lung to breathe, unable to use my hands and feet. Alone at night I constantly feared abandonment, but I was not alone. My parents were there reminding me, “God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, and so do we.” Little did I know how these whispered words were preparing me for the greater tragedy I would experience several years later.
I was the oldest of 5 boys. Three months before my 17th birthday I woke to the smell of smoke. A flash fire had erupted through our family home, later revealed to have started from an electrical fault of the television. Dad had left town that day on another of many regular business trips, saying by habit, “You’re the man of the house; use your head.”
A couple hours past midnight, my screams alerted three brothers to escape from their windows, one breaking an arm dropping from the second story. But, I was quickly trapped by the tendrils of burning flames and heat, unable to breath or get to the opposite side of the stairwell where Mom and youngest brother Toby had both likely lost consciousness. They both ultimately died from smoke inhalation. A persistent fireman rescued me despite my body’s severely burned body blocking his entry by the garage door. Critically burned over 65% of my body, it would be ten days before I was determined stable enough for the first of many surgeries.
On the operating table and during the excision of burned tissue, I suddenly began feeling each cut or slice of steel on open nerve endings. Paralyzed by anesthesia, I was unable to open my eyes, move a finger, or alert anyone that I was awake. I screamed to Jesus, begging for death, as more than two liters of blood pooled on the floor.
Thinking perhaps God had fully abandoned me, I was overcome with fear bordering rage. Believing survival beyond another second was impossible, and in the midst of seemingly unbearable pain, God suddenly provided relief and hope, that later became undying faith. A cardiac arrest initiated what many today describe as a near death experience. He took me from a place of extreme loneliness and desperation to one of absolute and peaceful certainty. I’ve never known a more sublime love or moment of intimacy and trust.
God’s help often comes in unexpected ways. This unusually extreme deviation in my life journey allowed me to realize his ever present grace, as painful as it seemed, in a context vital to understanding His love. I trusted Him and the ultimate comfort of the Holy Spirit, as God provided my greatest experience of peace. The certainty that anything good is of God would become a reliance on Him as I battled the lasting physical and emotional effects of that trauma.
Years later I met the lovely gal that would become my bride, having mutually survived the effects of alcoholism and its dysfunctional havoc with God’s help. After finding our way out of alcoholism, a dark generational legacy in both our families, we prayed for God to reside in the center of our marriage.
In spite of so much pain and trouble, in time the Holy Spirit allowed me to see life as more than a series of “troubles” or things happening to me. With God’s help, I came to realize these troubles are given as opportunities designed to forge me into someone that God can use more effectively. Nowhere have I seen this more applicable than in the parenting of my own three boys. He allows me to experience the consequences of my own and the world’s creation, often repeatedly, so that I become increasingly reliant on Him.
It was also the legacy of my mother that aided me in parenting my boys. Though her life ended prematurely, at least according to my plan, and certainly Dad’s, her legacy left all of us with the awareness of the way she tried to always model what a Christian home should feel like. Raising five boys must surely have been a challenge. Despite all that testosterone dominating our family’s evolution, contentment and peace flowed ceaselessly from her into everything around her. This peace was obvious to us, and so was her simple belief that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. She did not doubt all that Scripture promised. Mom’s contentment, gratitude, and trust in God’s word were visible ways, I believe, God used to grow in me a heart of faith; hopefully one I’m able to leave through actions, more than intentions.
As my wife and I worked to establish our own family, it was often the “troubles,” the very things we’d prefer to avoid, that helped guide us in the raising of our own three boys. As your own story unfolds I hope you can learn from our story not to fear the difficulties in yours so much, and to trust the kind Author who is writing what our family calls the “One True Story.”