When storms come: Keep the faith and keep moving
By Wayne Thompson
A few weekends ago, I was among thousands of parents watching their children graduate from college on one of those comfortable breezy, sunny Saturdays that make you glad to be alive.
Smartphones or old-school cameras at the ready, we all strained to spot our child and not miss the “hi, mom, hi dad” moment.
When my daughter Hannah Thompson walked into the stadium to “Pomp and Circumstance,” my mind flashed back eight years earlier to the frail 13-year-old girl stricken with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair — and one very dark afternoon.
Outside her room in the hallway of a hospital in Winston-Salem, with clouds casting shadows on the floor, the doctor’s words hit like a sucker punch. All I heard was “She’ll never walk again” and “The best you can do is keep her drugged up and realize she’ll never be the same.”
Almost instantly, a different message tumbled out of me that I knew was not from me. “We serve a God for whom the impossible is always possible,” I told him. “If He wants her to walk again, she will walk again.”
“You can believe that superstition if you want to,” he said, walking away.
It would be many months before Dr. Stacey Condrey, Hannah’s family doctor, found and connected us with Dr. David Sherry at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and his RSD treatment program.
There, several weeks of grueling treatment somehow restored regular nerve function and blood flow — like someone hitting the ‘reset’ switch on a computer.
It would take months of additional therapy for Hannah’s shriveled right leg to regain its lost muscle mass and strength, however, and for her to relearn to walk after she and my wife, Tammy, returned home.
Eventually, Hannah rejoined her twin sister, Heather, at Gospel Light Christian School, played volleyball and basketball with her and graduated as valedictorian.
Jeremiah 29:11 became our family’s rallying cry during Hannah’s fight with RSD. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,” the verse says, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
That verse literally walked across Williams Stadium in front of me and, on a day celebrating educational milestones, I thought of four takeaways God gave us through that experience:
- Keep moving: With the great cloud of witnesses looking on in the stands, as Paul reminds us in Hebrews, we race for the ultimate prize of eternal life with Jesus Christ. Like the training of an Olympian, it’s hard and often hurts. But we press on. And the race isn’t won often by the fastest or flashiest runner. We saw that again in this year’s Indy 500 champ. As RSD patients know, the body attempts to shut down the affected limb or area to ‘protect it’ when the result is the opposite. At CHOP, the treatment is to fight pain with pain and keep moving and not wave the white flag of surrender. Early in Hannah’s treatment, she deliberately turned off a machine since it hurt too much to move her foot and try to walk. Her team shared this with us at a meeting and I remember delivering the message: If you want to walk again, you can’t stop moving no matter how much it hurts. Faith with no action — that doesn’t move you to share Christ’s love with others and deepen your relationship with him — is just as dead and deadly.
- Give up your position: By nature, I’m a “Trust but verify” person and try to connect the dots and figure things out. Like others, I prayed daily for Hannah’s healing while watching her leg and foot for any signs of change. But as the weeks turned to months and the years drug on and more and more of those praying with us fell away when a cure didn’t come, I drew the closest to God I have ever been in my life. Why and how? Well, only through His power, He brought me to a place where I gave up my position and instead of name-it-and-claim-it prayers to give Me what I wanted, I asked Him to do what He wanted and use All of us and our RSD journey to show others who He was and bring honor and glory to Him. Of course, I still asked for healing but putting my prayers and focus on Him and His power made a world of difference. From Hannah’s CarePages.com blog to messages in churches and many other encounters, I’ve seen how He used our “Princess of Pain” — and us — to touch others, even an Arab prince!
- Notice the roses and become one: I often share with my Life Group what one pastor reportedly prays each morning to give his day the right focus, “Lord, show me what you are doing in my world today and how I can be a part of it.” The closer you draw to God, the better your powers of spiritual discernment will grow as the Holy Spirit helps you not miss the small, but important stuff. At work one day in Charlotte, I had one of those revelations. A group of kids came by including one about Hannah’s age. She flashed a huge smile and walked along happily with her schoolmates. “Oh, how I long for Hannah to walk like that, Lord,” I cried out inside in silent prayer as the tears poured down my face and I got a lump in my throat. I apologized for how often I had missed the blessing of just being able to walk and run. While visiting Hannah one day at CHOP, I panicked a bit when I couldn’t find her in her room. The beautiful rose I noticed that day was Hannah in a burn patient’s room reading the little boy a story — even more beautiful since I knew how much each one of the steps to get there had hurt. God is always working in our midst, and what we experienced has made me more aware of His acts large and small. We can not only notice the roses but be a rose gift to another!
- Share your struggles: My Sunday School teacher Jason Johnson likes to say, “That’s the churchy answer” when someone parrots back we’ve all been taught to say for years instead of how we really feel. Like when you ask someone you know is seriously listing to port instead say, “I’m fine and (verse here).” But we know we’re sinners saved by grace and just like when our Lord asked three times for the bitter cup to be taken from Him, there are times when we’re rocked to our core and wondering where the calvary are and how we’re going to pay the next bill and what good in the world can come of this situation we’ve found ourselves in? The Psalms are a great reminder to us that God can take our honest questions and struggles. They are full of them! And so can those around us who are blessed by them with a realistic view of the Christian life instead of the “nice car, nice house and no problems” variety. So when the first storm comes, they’re not surprised, don’t fall apart and know exactly WHO to turn to. As my son preached at Triad, drawing on his cancer experience, thank God we serve a Lord who is intimately familiar with our pain and our storms and is still with us in them. Tell others what He’s done for you and, like 2 Corinthians 1:4, remember that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted.”
No, those days we all went through weren’t easy. They affected our health, our finances, and some of the effects linger today. But, and not to be missed, the test produced a testimony that we now gladly share.
On a gorgeous spring day, when Hannah made another big step in life, the reality of God’s miracle-working power blazed forth again.
His Spirit, His power, and His plan remain with us still, ever on the move.