GRAINS OF SAND | Sarah Gociu

I remember first reading Romans 8:28 as a young girl and being able to admire its depth and beauty, yet only being able to admire it from afar. It simply became a nice “coffee-cup verse” that I could add to my library of “coffee-cup verses” and impress fellow Christians with.

We often find ourselves quoting bible verses because they sound nice and quaint in given situations—be it in trying to affirm to others our knowledge of scripture or giving counsel to someone who is in need. However, they have yet to become real to us until they have really pierced our hearts with the sword-like quality that the scriptures tend to have—and often times, it takes pain to do the piercing.

I had the glorious and yet painful privilege of experiencing the weight of Romans 8:28 when I was diagnosed with an incurable, chronic neuromuscular disease known as Myasthenia Gravis, in the summer of 2013. The disease is Latin for “grave muscular weakness” and within the 6 months of searching for a diagnosis from multiple doctors, my muscle strength began to deteriorate as I slowly began to lose my ability to speak, smile, chew, swallow, walk, and eventually breathe. The everyday functions that once seemed menial and normal, became impossible feats that brought with them many tears and frustrations. The muscles that enabled me to speak gave up on me, as my speech became slurred and unintelligible. The muscles that enabled me to chew and swallow food gave up on me, as I began to choke on every meal I tried to enjoy. The muscles that enabled me to inhale and exhale gave up on me, as I ended up in respiratory distress and relied on a breathing machine to keep me alive for a time. With every simple task I attempted and every attempt resulting in failure, I found myself questioning, “How is it that You, God, can bring any good out of this?”

It was in those dark moments of despair and doubt, where I felt utterly betrayed by my body, my mind, and my flesh, that my heart began to experience the words of Romans 8:28. The words that once seemed overused and cliché, came to life by the power of the Holy Spirit as they read, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those are called according to his purpose.” My spirit and flesh wrestled with it, as every muscle in my body was literally saying “no”. Yet the spirit won as I was continuously assured of what I was saved from (sin), whose I was (God’s), and what I was called to (His purpose, glory, and my joy). The spirit reminded me that I am a child of God whose identity does not lie in how well or how poorly my body is working, but in Christ and in His promise of sanctification and the hope of being with Him forever.

The “good” that Paul talks about in Romans 8:28 began and continues to manifest itself in many ways. Through God’s healing power and the gift of modern medicine, I am currently symptom-free! I can once again eat, smile, laugh, talk, walk, and breathe without ever being reminded of my condition—and how glorious it is. The good is evident in how my husband has mirrored the love of Jesus through his self-sacrifice, grace, and patience—and how much our marriage has been strengthened as a result. There is good in how family and friends have reached out to me with their encouragement, help, presence, and comfort—so that I too can comfort others. There is good in how I am reminded of the hope of heaven and of a body that will not grow weary. There is good in how I have been able to preach Jesus through my story and witness many people’s faith be strengthened or kindled. There is good in how I have been and am continuing to be conformed into the likeness of Jesus—who has already overcome this world. There is good in how I have been able to experience joy that extends beyond circumstances. And there is good in how when dark and painful circumstances may have deemed it justifiable to doubt, question, or even curse Him, I could find rest in the truth that the God who sent His son on my behalf, is the same God who works all things for my joy and His glory. There is no more ultimate good than that, friends. May you find rest in it.

CTL_ANCHORSARAH IS OUR FAMILY AND ONE OF OUR DEAREST FRIENDS.
SHE IS ENCOURAGING OTHERS FIGHTING THE SAME
DISEASE AND CHANGING THE WORLD WITH
HER STRONG FAITH + VOICE.

GRAINS OF SAND | Ashley Rodriguez

(photo by abby carlson)

“The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood, and the Lord sits as King forever. The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” – Psalm 29:10-11

Within the last six months, I’ve gone through one of the most difficult trials I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had bouts of sicknesses like most people, but I have never been in a constant state of pain until March of this year. Week after week, with no sign of improvement, I began to think that something was wrong. Four months of continual, unexplained stomach pain and other symptoms… I was scared.

At first, I viewed it as a ‘spiritual attack’… we know that phrase well, don’t we? That phrase is so often used when something ‘bad’ or something uncomfortable happens… oh, it must be an attack from the enemy, we think. While that could be true in some cases, I feel that sometimes I’m too quick to blame trials and stormy waters on the ‘enemy’…. as if the devil is in charge. With that kind of mentality, where does that put God in our trials? Just a bystander waiting to turn things around, waiting to ‘right’ the ‘wrong’? To our finite minds, something that looks bad must of course be bad and initiated by the enemy. It wasn’t until midway through my season of sickness that I started to think that maybe it wasn’t an attack after all, maybe it was for huge, unseen reasons that God wanted me to go through the fire… because without fire, I can’t be refined.

Remember the life of Joseph? He had dreams of being a leader, but when he was seventeen his brothers sold him into slavery in a fit of jealousy. Years later, he was accused of rape by his master’s wife because he abstained from her seduction. He was betrayed by people he loved and trusted. He was wrongly accused. A slave, a convicted criminal, a prisoner…. all in a span of thirteen years. Joseph had every reason to believe that he was ‘under attack’ but he didn’t view it as that. He continued to be diligent in whatever state he found himself in, loving and trusting God.

When God later fulfilled the dreams He had given him as a teenager, and placed him as leader over Egypt, Joseph was able to say to his brothers –

“And God sent me before you to preserve posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharoah, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:7-8

My trials look different than Joseph’s, but my trials [your trials] serve a purpose. I didn’t know when or if I’d come out of my health issues, I didn’t know what would happen, but knowing that God was King, that He was the one orchestrating it, brought me so much peace and acceptance. After four months, I’m so thankful to say that God did heal me… and I’m so thankful that He had me go through that trial because I learned so many valuable lessons that I could not have learned otherwise.

Joseph knew God sent him, through every trial. God is sending me, and God is sending you too. God is the One working it out. He’s in control of everything even if it seems ‘bad’ to our human eyes. His plans are perfect and in order for us to get from point A to point B, He has to lead us through things that hurt, for our good and for the good of others. Our refinement isn’t just about us, it’s always tied to multiple threads that God is weaving for good. God is not a bystander during our trials. He is actively working everything out. God is the Author of our faith, which means He personally writes every single word for much greater reasons than we could ever dream up.

No matter what’s going on in your life, I pray you can find a glimmer of hope today, knowing that God is relentlessly loving you and composing every moment, every step, every trial for good.

“My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.”

James 1:2-4

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Ashley is an illustrator, explorer, and dreamer from Montana.
thornandsparrow.com