Yesterday I came back from a 2 week family holiday. For me it was a time of contrast, and looking back over the last few years. We stayed in that place once before (four years ago I think) but this was near the lowest point of my illness, and I cannot remember much. When we went I was confined to the house and in a lot of pain, but I remember being amazed at gifts God had put in place even before we knew I needed them. We had booked the holiday many months in advance when my health was in decline, but we had no idea then how far it would go. By the time we went I couldn’t climb stairs, but God had provided downstairs bedrooms. I couldn’t leave the house, but there was a stunning sea view. I couldn’t maintain my body temperature without a fire or hot water bottle (often both!), and there was an open fire. In each detail, we saw that God had gone before us and seen to the needs I didn’t even realise I would have.

This year is so different! I’m not in pain, I have gone on walks, swam in the sea every day, gone paddle boarding, done handstands, joined in with my family, and (excitingly 😜) slept in an upstairs bedroom!

But some things are the same: as I look back, I am reminded of things God taught me through illness – truths that have not changed though my circumstances have. There is one in particular which I’d like to share that God taught me through my wheelchair.

During recovery, I started to be able to leave the house in a wheelchair. This was both enabling and exciting, but at the same time very humbling. I wrote this at the time:

If you have never needed a wheelchair, you probably will not know what an enabling thing it is, making the impossible possible. But it is also challenging as your mobility depends on others, and varies a lot on who is pushing.

One of the things God has been challenging me on is ‘wheelchair faith’. He has been teaching me through my wheelchair that I can not always choose where to go, and I do not do things in my own strength. There are times I’m parked up and left alone, and other times when my brothers race with me and I effortlessly speed up hills.

It made me think of how God is sometimes compared in a derogatory way to a crutch, for people who are weak. But a crutch is something you only use when you choose to, a tool to get from one place to another. A wheelchair, however, is giving the decisions to someone else. It is an acknowledgement of extreme weakness, and dependency on the one pushing. I realised I need God to be my wheelchair. I’m too weak for a crutch!

I started thinking what it would mean to be in ‘God’s wheelchair’. Would I be willing to let him ‘park me up’ and be left alone while others go to places and do things I can’t ? How about when he calls me to heights that I cannot climb, will I be willing to trust him to take me there? The promise of this also comes with a warning: when I am enjoying those high places, not to forget that it is because of the strength of the one pushing me and make the mistake of getting out of the wheelchair. I am still a weak cripple, just being ‘pushed’ by a great God.”

This is the great thing, though! There is no limit to what God can do, where He can take me, or what He can do through me. The race of my life will not be confined to a “wheelchair friendly” route. Once I realise that it all depends on Him (not me!), then the possibilities of God’s plan for my life expand. He is limitless!

This transforms the way I view my circumstances. I have felt so limited… So trapped. I know I can not accomplish anything for God, and sometimes I give in to the lie that this means He can not glorify himself in me. But once I realised that – no matter how weak I am – I am only as limited as the one pushing my wheelchair, my limitations melt away into awe at this unlimited God.

In a wheelchair (age 16)

Now (returning to my typical craziness!)

To take it further, God is showing me how, when I am in the wheelchair, people end up putting all their bags, coats, and even tired siblings on my lap… so much that I could never carry, even in perfect health, if not in the wheelchair. This is one of the weakest times in my life, but somehow I am carrying more… because it does not depend on me. I can’t take credit for it, or be proud of anything, because it is only by the strength of the one pushing me. So…

Could it be the ones in ‘God’s wheelchairs’ to whom he gives more to carry…?

Those who seem strongest are often those who lean hardest.

I’ve used the wheelchair as a picture of what faith can look like as we live by God strength. To be in ‘God’s wheelchair’ does not necessarily mean having a physical disability, but to know your weakness, and to live in obedience by faith trusting God for the strength you do not have, and letting Him decide the path you take. It is to lean hard into Him.

Recently I watched a clip (click here to view) of a father and son doing an Iron Man together . The son is severely disabled, and the father swims, cycles, and runs him the whole way. I love the way this demonstrates the truths God has taught me through my own disability and his redemption of my life. He has shown me that, as the Father sees his son as so much more than his disabilities, so God sees a value in us that goes so much further than what we can (or cannot) do. Throughout the video, you can see that their delight in each other and absolute devotion to each other is what motivates each of them. And it is this same delight and devotion that marks, motivates, and makes beautiful our journey with God. He glorifies Himself in us because he delights in us, not because of our striving.

The way the son asks to do an Iron Man with his Dad reminds me of the power and intimacy of prayer. We can ask our heavenly Father to do great things in our lives beyond our limitations, because it is His committed love for us and limitless power that will accomplish this.

And finally, I think my favourite moment is when they are running up to the finish line, the son waving his arms in exultation as the crowds cheer…. This is how we will cross the finish lines of our lives if we live by faith. Yet the beauty of it is that, though there will be a “crowd of witnesses” rejoicing in a race well run, it will be clear that it was only by our Father’s strength that it was completed.

Now I have different challenges, and different choices. As, my strength returns, my abilities increase, and my circumstances change I remember the God who has brought me through, and continues to carry me now. He has not changed, nor have his promises, nor has his ability to glorify himself in me unhindered by any weakness of mine.

I am reminded to stay in my “wheelchair of faith”, to keep depending on God, and leaning hard into Him, to delight in Him, and have confidence in the God who holds my future, to know that He can make the race of my life like that Iron Man – unlimited by my weakness, and to know that everything that He accomplishes in me will be by His strength for His glory. “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 11)

Outing with family (in wheelchair age 16)

(Now) On a walk with siblings again

I pray that each one of us would come to know the joy of running the race He has set for us in His strength and for His glory. Let us lean hard into Him!

Hephzibah

For more on living an abundant life by faith see Called to Thrive

blog, Christian, Digging Deeper, Faith

Wheelchair faith

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blog, Digging Deeper

Called to Thrive

“Blessed is the man who trusts on the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year if drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

I remember the process of accepting being housebound. Each month I would give up more things hoping desperately that would be enough, but it never was. I clung onto church as long as I could, but eventually had to give that up too. In the business of others’ lives, very few noticed I was so unwell and dropping out of things, and I started becoming quite isolated. One Sunday I had been determined to make it to church, but had to go home after about 20 minutes, and was so unwell I couldn’t eat or get out of bed for most of the rest of the day. When I eventually came out of my room in the evening I found out that we’d had visitors. My closest friends at the time had come round, and I hadn’t been well enough to see them. This seemed particularly hard, as it was one thing to accept not being able to go out and see them, but after weeks of not seeing anyone it stung particularly hard to have them come round only for me still to not be able to see them.

I went to God crying “How can I live this way? You are taking so much from me!” The pain of loss and utter confusion of what goodness there could be in this felt overwhelming. I could not coherently pray, so I put on some Christian music and started worshipping Him. Then a song called Thrive by Casting Crowns came on, and there was one line in it that stood out to me. “It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to Thrive.” And I started praying…”God I believe this is true. I even believe that somehow, in your sovereign plan, you are going to use this illness to make me thrive. But right now I am just surviving… barely surviving. Every day is a fight to continue. Help me!”

His reply was clear, and uncompromising: “I want you to Thrive now.”

…”What? Now? Do you see what I’m going through? Do you know the constant pain I’m in, the battle for hope every night while I can’t sleep, the way everything is being taken from me, even my own personality, character and identity, my friends, my abilities? This is impossible!”

Hmm… “Do you know?” …”Do you see?” Silly questions to ask an all-knowing sovereign God. Of course he knows. …Then how does he expect me to thrive if he knows how hard life is? What does he even mean?

If I was the “tree” described in Jeremiah 17, then I was surely going through a season of drought and heat. Yet what struck me about these verses is it says it “does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit”. Even then the tree thrives… the man who trusts in the Lord. Our calling to thrive in God is not a calling to a prosperous life full of blessings, it is a calling to find God to be enough to make us grow and thrive even in drought!

This was hard though. I DID trust God ultimately, but it was just sometimes hard to do that as I lost yet another thing. Then God took me to Psalm 50. This is actually quite a condemning psalm of Israel’s hypocrisy in sacrifices, but then comes this verse

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the most High. Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:14-15)

Over all Israel’s sacrifices, God wanted a sacrifice of thanks. Above all I could no longer give Him, this was the one sacrifice he wanted of me.

But how are thanksgiving and trust connected? To give thanks is an act of faith. It is easy to give thanks when things are good, but when things get hard, when you are living with pain and loss, thanksgiving suddenly becomes very hard. There are times when there is very little in our circumstances that looks good or something to give thanks for, and then our thanksgiving must be rooted in who He is. This is what it means to be a tree planted by water, and to send your roots out deep into the stream that is God – that stream of living water that will never dry up, no matter how bad the drought is. It is to give thanks for Him, because we know Who he is, and that he will remain faithful to that.

…And then we get a change of perspective. Rather than judging God by our circumstances, we judge our circumstances by God. He is faithful, He is good, He is sovereign, He knows everything, His plan is perfect, He is always with us, and He is working through every circumstance… Every circumstance. That means that in this illness is God’s goodness, in fact, in this illness is God.

I want to clarify something here – illness, sickness, sin, brokenness, pain, or suffering of any kind, is not of God. These are a result of the curse, a consequence of sin, and a wage we have all earned from which God will redeem us and restore all that we, through sin, have ruined. BUT because He is sovereign, He is in everything and working redemption even now through our suffering.

If I believe in his sovereignty and goodness, then I must believe that this was allowed for my good. What had started as giving thanks for who he is, then became also giving thanks for what he gave. Many say we are only to give thanks in all things, but the Bible says we are to give thanks for all things.

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

The example I am reminded of here is Betsy (Corrie Ten Boom’s sister) in the prison camp challenging her sister to give thanks for the fleas. At that time, there was nothing good to be seen from having bad flea infested rooms to sleep in. Betsy believed by faith that God was in that, and gave thanks for the fleas. Later it was the fleas that enabled them to start a Bible Reading and worship time with the prisoners because the guards would not enter there. Her faith was rewarded, the fleas were a gift, but she had to give thanks for them when they seemed nothing but a pain, and another toll on her already sick body.

This is faith – to give thanks even for the trials he allows, knowing that He is in them, that his goodness and faithfulness have allowed this, even – and especially – when we can see no goodness or faithfulness in our circumstances.

To do this we have to hold out our hands to God, opening them and releasing to Him all that we so desperately want to cling to, at the same time giving thanks for whatever He gives, knowing by faith that it is good. Closed fists hold nothing but darkness, open hands can receive His grace. When we close our fists our fingers point inwards, this mirrors the state of our hearts when we close our fists to God – looking to ourselves. When we open our hands our fingers point outwards, looking to God – the one we trust enough to let go of those things we want and release them to Him, trusting Him to fill our hands, and knowing that what He gives is good… because He is good.

This is why thanksgiving is an act of faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, so to give thanks for God’s goodness in everything when we cannot see it – this is faith! This is part of what it looks like to be a “man who trusts in the LORD”, and to live out our calling to Thrive in Him even through times of drought.

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