Romans 11:29 says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This whole passage shares beautiful truths, but those words have special meaning to me. Years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I took a short walk in the woods before going inside the lodge at the Women’s Retreat I was attending. My dream had been dashed to pieces by poor health, and leaving the graduate program in Physical Therapy midway through felt devastating. I had direction and I’d worked so hard towards that professional goal. So I humbly asked God, my soft words greeting the cool morning air, “Would you still allow me to serve You?”
I shyly asked the woman leading our retreat if she’d pray with me and I asked her whether she thought God would allow me to serve Him. A lovely black woman, she smiled in away that lit up her whole being, and she gathered a few other women to pray for me, too. She prayed with power and passion. “Sue is single and can use all of her time to serve You. She is called to heal with words. And the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Humbled, my heart filled with renewed hope at her words. God would welcome this broken body and poured out life as an offering unto Him. From that day on, I have known my calling, and I have loved and served the One who writes my story on the pages of time. Oh how I love Him!
Romans 11 (ESV) continues:
33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
This weekend my friend and I spent a morning having a retreat at my parent’s place in the country, enjoying the beautiful view and landscaping. Taking time away from normal life stressors to pray, read God’s Word and reflect renewed us both. Afterwards, my friend drove us to her house so that I could meet her new puppy. A Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog, Maisy is still young but has paws and a stature that reflect her future size. This adorable puppy will become a beautiful big dog someday.
I have been working on writing again, and I hope that I will grow into my “big paws.” I want to encourage the hearts of others, and direct their eyes towards Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. To write with the hope of publication involves a steep learning curve, and though I am very motivated, I feel a bit like this awkward puppy.
I have written professionally earlier in my life. I developed trainings for professionals in my field and wrote some educational materials. I also wrote a workbook on grief related to health issues. But, in resuming these efforts at writing things that I hope will be useful and enjoyed, I have felt a bit clumsy at times. Like this puppy, I feel “rough and tumble,” too.
Maisy captured my heart, though, and my friend wants me to spend time with her dog and help in the training process. You see, my friend is a physician and she knows I have more free time than she does during the day. She also knows I have missed my service dog a lot since he died a few years ago. I am looking forward to writing while hanging out with Maisy in the days to come.
Lord God, please help me grow into my potential, too, and carry with my writing some of the joy this puppy brought to my heart.
Isaiah 40:10-11 “Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (NLT)
I am so thankful that we have a Sovereign LORD who loves us and comes in power. In a world where many seek power and control, we must remember who ultimately loves us and possesses all of the power we need to live this life. One day He will set all things right. We can draw strength and power from Him. Isaiah 40 goes on to describe the LORD who has no equal. However, the image of Him as the Shepherd, feeding His flock, carrying the lambs in his arms, holding them close to His heart…that’s the image that always brings tremendous comfort and peace to my heart. Whenever I have had the joy of holding a lamb in my arms, I felt tremendous tenderness and love for this soft, delightful creature. To be held close to the Lord’s heart today reminds me that I want to live in tune with the rhythm of His heart and mind. Just like puppies or kittens would calm down when we’d put an alarm clock (the old kind that ticks off the minutes audibly) in the cardboard box with them, there is beautiful comfort available for us as we listen to the beat of His heart, His life force. I am thankful that today, and every day, I can snuggle in close to my Shepherd and hear His heartbeat.
Last winter as I was studying the life of David in BSF’s study called People of the Promised Land Part I. I really enjoyed seeing how David would “inquire of the Lord” and then God would give him direction. Whenever David would obey without hesitation, God would move with power on his behalf. During that time, I felt led to ask the Lord for some direction, too. I felt inspired to work on revising/expanding the workbook that I had self-published about grieving health-related losses. I first wrote that during my Master’s program in Rehabilitation Counseling. Ironically, during that two year program I finally received a diagnosis for the health issues that had challenged me for more than a decade prior. So I created exercises and wrote about ways to effectively work through the tasks of grieving as I tried to adjust to a new diagnosis myself. I had written the workbook so that it could be utilized in any setting, and VR and Commission for the Blind have used this tool with clients. Mental health therapists and individuals with health issues have ordered copies over the years. During that era, I did trainings and workshops often in as part of my business Hope Beyond Words. Since I had a natural market for the workbook, I chose to self-publish. I know that in my own journey with multiple sclerosis, the power and help I have needed most has come from God’s Word and from His loving presence in my life. So I have been expanding on this topic and creating a faith-based project which I hope will strengthen and encourage more people who face losses when health shifts.
I’ve been creating one sheets recently, a tool to be used when I have opportunities to visit with editors, agents or others about my project. I am learning a lot, and am thankful for this opportunity to attend the OCW Summer Conference this year. I am praying that God would give me the stamina and health I need to attend the workshops and events during these full days at this conference in August. I remember when my doctor, a rehab specialist named Dr. Roxanne Donavan, told me that I needed to leave my job with VR because health wasn’t adequate to continue. She told me that no matter whether I work to earn money or not, I always needed to challenge my mind. Dr. Donavan had MS also, and although she died from some a serious unrelated cause a few years later, I think of her often. She understood what I was going through because she personally lived with the same disease. Her empathy and insight meant a lot to me, and I wish she were still alive to visit with now. Maybe in a way, this project is in her honor as well. My book is dedicated to everyone who has felt alone as they’ve tried to adapt to health challenges. My neighbor came over to pick a few cherry tomatoes from my garden today, and she prayed with me for God to bring about the connections He desires through this upcoming conference. When we commit our steps to Him and cover our concerns in prayer, we can entrust the outcome to Him, too.
I’m really grateful that Jerry has been willing to let me make this investment (attending the conference and also taking a really good class for authors from Alice Crider) and that he’s supportive of my creative pursuits. Today he received some items he needs in order to build a guitar. He has the hardwoods all laid out and hopes to begin working on this project this coming weekend. When Jerry and I take time to do things that are life-giving to us, we really find these things fulfilling. We serve a God who created an entire universe, so I think He takes delight when we seek to cultivate our gifts in these ways. May He be glorified.
Heat and MS aren’t very compatible. So I need to stay in on hot days like this one. Miles came and pressure washed the driveway, and this strong high school student accomplished a lot despite the heat. I marvel that God has given him and others health and this kind of capacity physically. It’s been a long time since I could accomplish much on a hot day. Long ago, I felt restless at the necessity of staying inside in hot weather. Instead, today I felt a sense of anticipation, hoping that this block of time might allow me to continue making some progress on some writing I have been doing. A friend called and asked a question about grief, and what it meant when a woman prayed that they would ‘grieve fully.’ We had a good discussion about the nature of grief and things close to my friend’s heart today. We prayed for one another and I felt very thankful that God has prepared me to be able to minister to women and others who are hurting, both through my education and experiences. He is a Redeemer and loves each of us so tenderly. Sometimes God uses a phone call to confirm some direction or a need which He might like to address partly through things I can write about. I shared my recent intro with her about how Jesus ministers to us in those places of loss and grief, and what the Word says about grief. I pray God will use my writing to encourage and comfort her.
Sometimes living with limitations can be frustrating, and I look to God to help me. Lately God has confirmed that I can persevere by His power and grace, and that He desires me to run this race with endurance. How quickly I accomplish something isn’t the issue…only that I offer my efforts up as a sacrificial praise offering to Him. You see, I can’t do this without Him. I wouldn’t even try. But I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and I believe He desires to redeem the things I’ve experienced for His glory. So, I will press on and trust Him with the timing and outcome.
This morning I awoke knowing I had some medical tests to endure on a hot summer day. Of course, I hoped the results would be that the multiple sclerosis is stable and there weren’t any new active lesions in the brain or spine, but I didn’t know what the outcome would be. This morning I had an MRI of my brain and c-spine, which took about two hours, and I hadn’t expected to receive the results before the end of the day. So when I saw the portal message from my neurologist about test results, I felt eager to see what the powerful new MRI machine would reveal. Surprisingly, the report was completed and my doctor already sent me the good news–no new lesions apparently and no active lesions, and another matter noticed previously had not changed, so that also was encouraging news. We can continue with the current treatment because it is doing just what we hoped it would. Sometimes the things we hope for in this life come to fruition. Sometimes they don’t. But genuine hope shines even in the midst of adversity or challenging health. Yes, hope shines. Thank You, Heavenly Father, for a hope that transcends all this stuff we encounter in a fallen world. And, thank You for encouraging news in this journey with health this side of eternity. One day disease will no longer impact anything, and MRI’s won’t be necessary, one day in Your Presence where beauty and wonder will captivate our hearts.
Ever since 1994 when I left China, so sad that health made long-term work there too difficult, I have wanted to return. That summer, I came home with two suitcases, wishing life could always remain so uncluttered (and simple) and that my sense of purpose could remain so clear. I still remember the joy I discovered when I first arrived in China. I found out that teaching full-time was a tremendous joy for me. I loved the students, and they loved me in a very pure way. I don’t think I’d ever known such joy before life in Nanchang. Perhaps in some ways joy was inspired by a new adventure, but my love for the people of China and teaching has never dimmed. I loved living in a place far from home, a place where I was known simply for who I was and the gifts God had given me.
Sure, I missed home in some ways. Just the crush of the crowds when I’d leave the north campus would give me a headache at first. Crossing the street required excellent reflexes and courage in this wild traffic. But I’d never felt such a sense of belonging and peace as I felt there on the campus of Jiangxi Medical College. My students were bright and eager–and many of them came to the city from the countryside. Many of them had little in the way of material resources. Once I talked about how Americans love desserts and foods that are not so healthy–in fact those foods might just make a person fat. Many of them were so thin their belts literally reached around a few times. One very thin fellow raised his hand and wistfully said, “Miss Susan, I would love to be fat just once.” Some of the girls told me that on their birthday, they would buy an egg or two to add to their noodles as a special celebration. One of them wrote me a letter saying she hoped I’d have “something special for my dishes.” For entrance exams, one farm family saved diligently to provide their daughter with milk, fresh fruit and some more protein so she could study better. She always remembered their sacrifice. This same girl touched my heart when she told of planting rice with leaches stuck to her legs, and then she smiled and said, “it wasn’t so bad.” On Thanksgiving, I asked my students what they were thankful for, and a young man held up his ballpoint pen. “My pen,” he proudly said, “I’m thankful for this pen–it’s been a good one.” Many times I fought back tears of admiration and love as I heard them express their hearts. Those same hearts held such beautiful appreciation and promise…and I quickly grew to love my students and colleagues. So naturally, I was heartbroken when I left for home, not yet knowing that multiple sclerosis was causing the problems, though it had been suspected earlier.
Today something magical happened by God’s grace. I have saved air miles for several years. I have hoped for adequate health to travel so far again, and seldom has it looked feasible. But today, I felt excitement and great hope when I called to book a ticket to China. At last, I’ll set foot on Chinese soil again. I’ll see dear friends in Hong Kong, south China, and central China. For $300 and some patience, I was able to purchase the remaining air miles needed, pay the taxes, and the wonderful rewards desk woman helped me for a good long while as we searched for a ticket I could reserve. I prayed it would happen, and somehow I knew it would. Guess what, I am going back to the land I love! I thought it would be fun to share the journey through this blog…and recount some of the memories formed long ago in a time I treasured.