Fuel Your Faith: My Struggle With Arthritis

Throughout my life, God has been leading me on quite a journey. And while it’s been fun and exciting to see new places and try new things, it’s also been difficult, fraught with difficulty and pain. I have had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years. I feel like I should be in my 80s saying that :). When I was three, I would constantly complain about pain when my mom would put my socks on. She thought I was just being a little bit whiney until I developed consistent high fevers and my knees swelled up like grapefruits. She took me to the doctor and I was immediately sent to a juvenile rheumatologist. My childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, surgeries, and occupational therapy sessions. But while I was always very swollen, I had minimal pain. So medical students would often be invited to sit in on my appointments and feel “Jessica’s Juicy Joints” – they could squeeze and feel an arthritic joint without hurting me. And believe me, I basked in their attention. I had the unique opportunity to meet with families who had children with the same disease, to talk with nurses and doctors who became our friends, and to share the hope that we have because we believe that God has a purpose in all of this. The Lord showed me that His ways are not mine and His plans are higher than mine. I pray for healing, but more than that, I pray for strength, for perseverance, and for opportunities to share my faith through my struggle with arthritis. God could take this away in an instant – and the fact that he hasn’t healed me shows that He has great work to do through my disease. And I would be remiss to pray for anything but God’s will.

In Bible class, my fifth graders studied the Old Testament story of Joseph, a man who was despised by his brothers and sold into slavery. And despite his difficult life circumstance, he was able to claim Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” 

I have two boards in my classroom: one for prayer requests and one for praise reports. A couple of weeks ago I wrote “My car was hit” on the praise report board. The students were confused, demanding that I put it on the wrong board. But I explained the story to them: One day I came out to my car in the apartment parking lot and the back end was smashed. Of course, there was no note. So, I took it in to get checked out by a mechanic. At the shop, the mechanic asked me if I had been worked on before (which I had when I was rear-ended - in almost the same spot - about a year earlier). Apparently the damage had not been properly fixed - and my car was in serious danger of breaking down any day. So, if I had not been hit in the parking lot, I wouldn't have taken in the car and could have had serious problems in the coming weeks. God is faithful. This experience resonated the idea that God is in control and has a plan to work good out of every situation – this was certainly a blessing in disguise.

Lastly, I want to continue on this theme of God’s faithfulness through seemingly impossible situations with a story from this book Voices of the Faithful.  It’s a compilation of stories from missionaries and martyrs around the world, people who are giving all that they have for the sake of furthering God’s kingdom. The devotion called “Jailed for a Purpose” tells the story of Lay, a Christian in East Asia who was smuggling Bibles and audio tapes across the border into China. He is caught and thrown into jail. The police officers were instructed to listen to and inspect every single audio tape, so while Lay was lying in his prison cell, he could hear the gospel being played throughout the jail. Seventeen of the police officers accepted the Lord as they listened to the tapes! What seemed to the world a punishment, a costly consequence of following God, turned into a divine appointment for the glory of God. Isaiah 55:8-9 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thank goodness we serve such a mighty, powerful, and all-knowing God!

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