This week as my unit of CPE is drawing to a close, I was asked to spend time in reflection regarding my journey and formation as a minister. My development as a theologian has been very important in my development as a minister and as an individual so I thought that I would share that here. I entitled the post Wrestling Match as I times that is where I feel like I have been. I have had some tough questions that I have wrestled with over the years and the amazing thing is that God welcomes the wrestling! He invites us to wrestle and dig and question because on the other side we come out as stronger individuals and stronger believers. Also as National Infertility Awareness Week winds down, I thought it would be appropriate to share how my faith kept me moving forward even when my circumstances with infertility told me to give up. There is a song by Caedmon’s Call called “Hold the Light” where one lines says “Jacob wrestled the angels but I’m too tired to fight” which has allowed me to reflect deeply on my experiences in life (I wrote this post back in the day if you would like to see the lyrics).
I came from an Independent Baptist upbringing where questioning God wasn’t even considered. Regardless of life’s joy or pain, it was all a part of God’s will and it was your job to deal with it. So as I embarked on my journey with chronic illness I found myself in unfamiliar territory as found myself in the midst of fear and doubt. However it is the journey through fear and doubt to find myself in a place of peace that has been formational for me as a minister and as a theologian in coming to an understanding of who God is and how He works in the world.
Just before starting seminary I was diagnosed with a disease called endometriosis. I understood the physical damage of the disease but soon enough I would come to know that chronic illness not only affects a person physically, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Over the course of seminary, I would have three additional surgeries and receive two more chronic illness diagnoses. As if that were not enough, I would discover that my husband and I were infertile and would never be able to have biological children. We would then go through two failed adoption attempts before becoming parents to a wonderful daughter.
This challenged every fiber of who I thought God was.
I began to wrestle with the character of God and how that impacted my understanding of how He works in the world. I was forced to ask the question what was the source of my illness. Where is God when I’m sick? Did God cause me to be sick? Did He will for my husband and I to endure the pain of infertility? Was any of this a punishment for some wrongdoing in my life? These were not easy questions to ask. For starters, I had to come to a place in my faith where I knew that it was safe to ask these questions. It was safe to question God in order to know Him more and to better understand His works in my life. This was a big step in my spiritual walk and by allowing myself to take this step, I believe that I am a better minister for it.
[bctt tweet=”In my digging and my searching, I discovered above all else I could depend on the character of God.”]
In my digging and my searching, I discovered above all else I could depend on the character of God. I serve a loving, faithful, and just God. I may not understand everything that is going on in my life and in the world but I can find understanding in WHO He is. I came to a place where to understand my illness and my infertility I had to look at the One who created me. I came to a place where I could say that I knew that God did not cause me to be sick. I was not chosen out of a crowd to suffer pain and loss. I was not being punished by a cruel or spiteful God. Instead I was being held by a God who knew me before I was born and declared that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Yes, I was sick and infertile but I came to a place where I understood that sometimes things just happen. God does not cause all of the pain and suffering in the world but sometimes He just lets it be. And it was with this knowledge I came to an understanding that God may not be the cause of all things but He can be glorified in spite of it. I could choose to blame God and to be angry and bitter (which I experienced both emotions at times) or I could choose to glorify Him through my circumstances.
[bctt tweet=”I could choose to blame God and to be angry and bitter (which I experienced both emotions at times) or I could choose to glorify Him through my circumstances.”]
This ties in directly with my understanding of the will of God and how He works in our lives. I had heard the concepts of both God’s will and humanity’s free will all my life. I just did not understand how the two coincide. Where did God’s will end and free will begin? Do we really have a choice at all? This question came to a head after we lost our daughter Mia in the spring of 2009. We were matched with a birthmother and two days later our daughter Mia was born at 35 weeks. We were instantly amazed and attached as we viewed our child through the isolette in the NICU of Grace Hospital. We saw the wonder of God’s love and grace in a 5lb 5oz bundle of joy. The papers were signed and we parented from the NICU for four days. One of us was always there. We got to do the first diaper change and first bottle feeding. We were called “Mom” and “Dad” by all of the staff. We were just so thrilled to finally be parents. However, this would change. In the state of NC, a birthmother has seven days to change her mind and revoke the adoption papers. On day four, the papers were revoked. Our whole world crumbled before us. It was as if our child (along with our dreams) died.
In the following weeks, I began to wrestle with this whole idea of God’s will.Had God willed Mia to be taken from us? Or had He chosen her to be our daughter yet the free will of the birthmother allowed those plans to be changed? Could we in fact change the will of God by our freedom to make choices? I wish I could say that I was able to come up with a single answer for any of these questions. These questions can be applied to many situations throughout the world. Where did that line lay between God’s will and free will? I think we may never know. I think it is impossible for the limited human mind to be able to understand such things as vast as this.
In this situation, I think that once again we have to rely on the character of God and His promise to never leave or forsake us. Does this promise mean that our lives will always be peachy? Not at all yet it provides the peace to know that we are never alone and we serve a God who takes every step through every joy and trial with us.
I believe that through this journey God has shaped me to become a better minister. I have learned that it is ok to ask questions and even more ok to not have the answers. Instead, as a minister and caregiver, I can walk alongside of patients and their families as they embark on similar journeys of faith and life.
I can help them when they ask themselves, “Where is God when I’m Sick?” and I can say “He is right here.”