The following post was written by my mom about her mom, my grandmother. Her story gives us a glimpse into the eternal purposes of the Almighty God as we consider suffering in this world. Why must we suffer? And why does God stay His healing, when we know He could change our suffering in an instant? His reasons are often deep and far beyond our comprehension, but there are some tangible reasons we can grasp.
My mama was a tennis player in high school and college. I have heard stories that her high school science students loved her as a teacher. She could play the violin beautifully. She loved to work with her hands, so if she saw a broken bicycle, for instance, she fixed it. Her parents had three girls, but she was her daddy's 'boy' because she loved to learn everything he would teach her. She loved the Lord above all.
I will never forget the Sunday I found my mother sitting on the side of her bed with tears in her eyes. My daddy was the pastor of a thriving Baptist church in Arkansas, and my mama was loved by everyone. She suffered from crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis that made it very difficult for her to get around, and she needed help to stand. Everyone admired her beautiful smile and the grace with which she handled the painful disease that could not be hidden from the congregation.
Earlier on this particular Sunday, she’d sat in the worship service among women that were her friends, the mothers of my close friends. They were all deacons’ wives and active in the church, school and community. They loved mama but they couldn't begin to understand her thoughts. She wanted to be able to get up, walk over, and welcome a guest. She wanted to be able to hold the hymnal on her own, but it had become too heavy for her arthritic hands. She wanted to be able to stand and sing praises. She loved to sing. She wanted to see where her children were sitting and check to make sure we were behaving.
When I found mama with tears falling from her eyes after church that Sunday, I went quickly to see what was wrong. I'll always remember her response: "Oh, I was just feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't stand like...(naming her friends)...could during church."
This memory is engraved in my mind because that was the only time I ever heard my mother feel sorry for herself, ever. I was in high school at the time this took place. At this point, she still had both legs. She had not yet battled breast cancer. Her fingers were still somewhat useful, and her shoulder and elbow joints were fluid. Her skin was healthy, absent of the horrendous bed sores that would someday come.
A few years later, her right leg would be taken off above the knee in order to save her life. A few years later, her hands would become disfigured from the ravages of Rheumatoid Arthritis. A few years later, she would choose to have a radical mastectomy in order to save her life from the cancer raging in her breasts. A few years later, her shoulder and elbow joints would become frozen in place, rendering her unable to do simples tasks like brushing her hair or teeth or feeding herself efficiently.
My mother had a very hard life. Were there any answers to prayers for healing? Yes and no. Yes, the doctors got all the cancer when she had breast cancer. Yes, her life was spared several times when she could have died. No, her leg was not saved. No, surgeries to straighten her fingers with metal pins did not work. No, countless drugs to help the arthritis did not work. We never saw her arthritic joints healed. We never saw her rise up and walk.
Yet we did see miracles in my mama’s life, although many of them were not outward, physical miracles that we so often prayed. The greatest miracle was that she rejoiced in her Lord and Savior. While I have one memory of my mama in a place of self-pity (which, given her circumstances, is actually understandable to most), I have more memories of her praising the Lord, even in her suffering. She continuously gave thanks to Him, even as her body was ravaged by disease.
Mama was never able to change a diaper of any of her nine grandchildren, nor rock them and put them down for a nap. She was never able to bake special cookies for them or go outside and help them learn to ride a bicycle. Yet her grandchildren never noticed that her physical limitations were cheating them of an authentic grandmother-grandchild relationship. She was never too busy for them. She conducted herself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, even as she was bound to a wheelchair and had difficulties holding her grandchildren. She listened intently to the words of each grandchild. She sang to them. She laughed when they laughed. She hurt with them when they hurt. She loved each one unconditionally. Her legacy lives as a testimony of the grace of Jesus, even when physical healing never came.
I don't remember a time in my life when my mother was not affected by crippling arthritis. There were countless times I would look over at her disfigured hands in church or at home, and my heart would literally ache because I had gotten so used to how her hands looked that I had forgotten the discomfort she felt.
Why didn't God heal her? I don't know. All through her life prayers were lifted up for her healing. Could He have healed her? Yes, He could have, without a doubt. But I have come to understand some things. God loves us whether He heals in this life or in life after we step into eternity. My mama's joy in life and her grace-suffering had a greater impact on who I am today because of how she acted even when He did not heal her. Her grace-suffering affected her husband, family, grandchildren, church members, neighbors, and many others.
I am watching some close friends right now go through some very difficult times of suffering in their hearts as a family member suffers with a debilitating disease. Another family suffers as a student I taught in elementary school recently had a stroke at the age of 16. He is undergoing intense therapy to regain speech and physical rehabilitation. Suffering is all around us, and it often does not make sense. Christians are not going to be immune suffering, either. Why should we be?
How can non-Christians learn about the joy of Christ in difficult circumstances unless they see it lived out in His children?
When there is no earthly healing physically and pain is constant, as children of the Most High God, we can hold on to the promise of Job 23: 10, with joy and say,
“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”