Choosing God’s Peace through Unexpected Trials Featured

Written by  Maria McHargue -- Boston, MA, USA Monday, 09 January 2017 09:30

"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself is the Rock eternal." ­– Isaiah 26:3-4

Everyone experiences trials, unexpected challenges, unmet expectations, or disappointments. Through each of these struggles we have choices: peace or worry; victory or defeat. A year ago I was diagnosed with a tumor in my spinal column. It needed to be removed promptly in order to prevent further nerve or neurological damage that could result from the tumor’s presence. I was quickly scheduled for surgery—without knowing if I had cancer or what treatments might follow.

maria and kidsBefore all of this my husband and I, along with our two young children, had moved to Spain to serve and lead the Madrid Church. We had prayed for years to be able to do something like this, and were amazed to see this dream come true. Much time, money, and preparation preceded our move to Madrid.

We sold most of our belongings and said good bye to our family and friends—with the idea that we’d live overseas for many years. We had prayerfully surrendered our hearts to be on the mission field for as long as needed. God’s timing was not the same as ours, which is usually the case!

After one year of living in Madrid I began to have severe back pain which eventually spread to my legs, making it difficult to walk. Barely speaking conversational Spanish, I tried to communicate my pain to the Spanish doctors and other healthcare professionals. Once the weakness in my legs increased we went to the doctor’s office pleading for help. The doctor scheduled an urgent MRI that night and found the tumor. When they realized how big it was— and the damage it was quickly causing—they wanted to admit me into the hospital for surgery. There was fear of paralysis or some other irreversible health condition from the massive tumor. Everything happened rather quickly at that point. After a short time to pray we decided to come back to Boston for the surgery.

We quickly purchased our plane tickets and the next day packed our bags (with a lot of assistance from the disciples in Madrid.) I could no longer walk and needed a wheelchair to navigate the airport. The next day I checked into the hospital in Boston to prepare for surgery. I had a nine- hour surgery with complications that followed. These complications required a second three-hour surgery. I had no time to stop and think or question what was happening.

There was good news from the surgery: the doctors were able to fully remove the tumor and it was not cancerous. However, it was located in a more invasive place around my spinal column than they had anticipated, leaving me with severe nerve damage.

maria mchargueSeveral days after the surgery I was finally able to get out of bed. That’s when I discovered I couldn’t walk. I did not have feeling in my right leg, yet assumed that when I was finally able to get out of bed I would stand up and walk. Instead, I fell into the physical therapist’s arms. Instead of going home in a few days (which I had originally anticipated) I was transferred to a rehab hospital to relearn to walk.

Once I moved to the rehab hospital I had time to think. I was there for three weeks. Some nights I woke up crying—missing my family and trying to take in my new reality. I was forced to wrestle with the idea of being sad and grateful at the same time. I’d feel guilty that I was sad because I felt I should be grateful I did not have cancer and that I made it through surgery— and so on. I battled the physical pain along with the emotional pain and sadness. The only way to fight back the guilt and sadness was, and always is, with God.

Over and over again I read Psalm 62:5-8. I shared it with everyone I was able to speak with.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. – Psalm 62:5-8

Focusing on God as my rock, my refuge, and my rest brought me (and still brings me) peace. There were so many questions to which I didn’t know the answer: Would I walk again? Will I have a full recovery? When will we go back to Spain? What will happen to our dream? ...

Yet I knew God would see me through it all.

Along with my unanswered questions I experienced intense physical pain, unexpected financial burdens, and drastic changes for our two young children. When I focused on these things I became extremely anxious and overwhelmed. That is why every day, and several times throughout the day, I focused on Psalm 62 and the specific words I stated above. My life changed and continued to change very quickly. However, God never changes. He is full of love and mercy. He doesn’t move. He is always my protector. Our problems are never too much for God. He brings peace and comfort.

We didn’t go back to Madrid because my recovery would take longer than expected—changing from from six weeks to an estimated two years. After one year I am still not who I was before all this happened. I experience a great deal of pain and fatigue. Doctors say I should expect about a two year recovery, but I suspect I will always have some nerve damage resulting in pain, loss of feeling, and weakness from the surgery. This was all unexpected. Our lives had changed overnight.

But—remembering that God doesn’t move or change brings me comfort and peace. He is our rock, our protection, and our safe place. I am able to have “steadfast faith” like Isaiah 26:3-4 says, because God does not move or change. I can strive for faith that doesn’t waiver because God is unmovable.

This past year I’ve spent time looking back at numerous situations and experiences that happened years prior to my injury. These have all have helped prepare me to navigate the new changes in my life. My faith in God’s promises has grown. I must continue with steadfast faith in my steadfast God.

mchargue familyJames 1:2-5, 12 reads: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything...Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."

These are God’s promises for all of us. We can all relate to trials, disappointments, unmet expectations, and anxieties that tug on our “steadfast faith’ as they attempt to weigh us down and throw us off course. God is faithful, and His love can always bring us comfort.

God wants each of us to have peace through steadfast faith as we travel our individual journeys. Every day we must choose God’s promises to avoid defeat, I must fight the temptation to dwell on the ways life is not what I thought it would be. I fight to fix my eyes on God, my rock. When I do this, I can see how far I’ve come in one year—physically and spiritually. I am so grateful for my life and family. No matter what journey we are on, God desires to always be our rock and refuge.

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