Today I'm excited to share a guest post from my friend Tammi Rhoney. May you be encouraged by her powerful testimony.
Thorns hurt! We have several rose bushes in our backyard, and when I accidentally brush my hand or arm against one, OUCH! is the first word out of my mouth. Sometimes the wound is deep and the pain is so sharp that it brings tears to my eyes. Thorns are a lot like the severe trials that the LORD brings into our lives. They humble us, hurt us, and often cause lots of tears, disappointments, frustrations, and pain.
My most challenging thorn from God’s Hand to date is when I first became chronically ill in 1993 with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.). This thorn has been much more challenging than the amputation of my left leg in 1986 and was very unplanned and unwanted. I spent the first few years almost constantly pleading with the LORD to remove it. I wanted a “quick fix” from my suffering, but as Sinclair Ferguson says, “God is not in the business of quick fixes.” So, after much pleading, begging and bargaining with God for my thorn to be removed like Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:8, the complete healing that I longed for never came. Obviously the Lord had more in mind than my happiness. He wants me to learn the character qualities that Paul spoke about in Romans 5:1-5 and James mentions in James 1:2-3, specifically endurance, perseverance, godly character, and hope in my ongoing trial with M.E.
However, in 2001 and in His great mercy, God did provide for me to be in a drug study at my doctor’s office in Charlotte with an experimental drug called Ampligen. Ampligen is only administered through an IV and is not yet FDA approved, but getting closer. Since 2001, I’ve been on and off of Ampligen for 6 ½ years now, and thankfully the Lord has used this drug to help me feel better and improve some of my physical and cognitive symptoms over a very long period of time. Now, twenty-eight years later, my thorn is still with me, but I’ve come a long way from where I was physically. Like it or not, I’m still an M.E. sufferer and have endured much chronic suffering through the twenty-eight years I’ve been ill. It’s possible that this thorn will be with me for the rest of my earthly life, but over time God has given me a different perspective. Instead of hating my affliction, I’m learning to be thankful for my thorn and what God is teaching me through it. I try daily to remember and heed God’s command in Scripture to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV), but some days it’s still very hard because of my limitations and the isolation.
God teaches the true Christian much through physical suffering although in America we don’t welcome it. Some of the ways God has used M.E. in my life include showing me my sins, humbling me (I had to crawl around our home for ten months wearing my husband’s red soccer knee pads), and conforming me more into Christ’s image, which is an extremely slow, painful and ongoing sanctification process until I reach my Heavenly home. He has slowed me down significantly through my affliction and is teaching me the importance of being more of a Mary instead of a Martha (Luke 10:38-42) and how it pleases Him when I offer up my “Widow’s Mite” of energy in service to Him each day (Luke 21:1-4).
I’m learning that it’s not the doing in this life that’s most important, although it has its place. The biggest priority of the Believer is to know God better, to love Him more and to desire, above all else, to be more like Jesus.
Affliction has a way of showing me my sins in all of their glory so that I can repent of them daily and the insignificance of things that I once thought were very important, but are of no eternal value. It has forced me to be in the Word more and prioritize what really matters in this life, deepened my prayer life and dependence on the LORD, given me a deep empathy for others going through severe trials and difficulties, and given me a more intimate relationship with Christ. In our humanness and sinfulness, we tend to think of physical suffering as a curse and waste, especially when it rules out active Christian service. However, our Sovereign, good and very faithful God can and does bring good out of pain and suffering for the true Christian as He promises to do in Romans 8:28.
We can trust God with our pain and suffering, even offering it back to Him as a sacrifice. It might even provide a way of serving God. I love this quote by Margaret Clarkson in her excellent book Grace Grows Best in Winter, “…I wonder if the pain itself may not be a source of service to God. True service is spiritual, consisting not so much in doing as in being; and the quality of service one may bring is not determined by its quantity, nor by much activity. If a soul that has been taught to suffer can look up into the face of the Savior and not only accept severe pain as from His Hand, but thank Him for it, knowing that it is good, even perfect, just because it comes from Him, may not that soul be offering to God one of the purest forms of worship and service known to the spirit of man?”
Those of us who are chronically ill have the blessing of offering up our physical suffering, sorrow, pain, fatigue, disappointment, whatever it may be, to God as an offering and to rest in the palm of His Hand. I’m learning to be thankful for my thorn and the opportunity to know my Suffering Savior better through it.
Tammi Rhoney loves JESUS, the doctrines of Justification & Predestination, beautiful butterflies, bird watching, photography, sewing, and stenciling. Her favorite seasons are spring and fall. Because she is mostly homebound, she takes photos in her backyard, adds Scripture to them and makes them into 2 cards sizes and 5 canvas sizes. You can view her photos on her Facebook page titled “Tammi Rhoney Photography.” She also loves her very supportive and helpful husband of almost 25 years, Todd, and her black & tan miniature dachshund named Mini.