Most people find it hard to believe that 10 years ago, I was in a wheelchair, barely able to lift my arm to feed myself or brush my teeth. Today, I’m living a healthy, normal life, working full-time, enjoying endless possibilities.
But back then, I was in constant, debilitating pain. My arms felt like my raw nerves were tearing away from their sockets. I had a continual sharp pain in my lower back. When I moved my neck, or even my eyes, I experienced pain that lasted for weeks. Every movement felt like I injured myself and couldn’t heal. Finally, I could barely move.
What made matters worse was that this all started just after I moved to Budapest, Hungary as a missionary. My decline was so rapid that I got to this disabled state only three months after I first arrived, and initial medical testing yielded no diagnosis. No one knew what was causing this. After several months I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, for which there is no definite treatment plan.
Thus began a horrible roller coaster journey that lasted over a decade. I continued to live in Hungary for six years with my health going up and down. I travelled back to the States occasionally, seeking treatments that might help, and at times I would find some improvement.
Finally, in 2003, my health plummeted to an all-time low and I moved back to California permanently. Through a process of trying many, many alternative medicine approaches, I gradually discovered the combination of treatments that have worked extremely well for me. People from all over the world began contacting me to find out what I did to improve, so finally I wrote a book about my story that mentors people with chronic illness in how to find their own unique plan for improvement. It’s called Break Free: Journey with God through Chronic Illness to Health.
One of the most difficult parts of this experience was in my relationship with God. I found it difficult to understand how God could be good, loving, and kind and at the same time allow such horrible pain to the daughter he loved. If I saw my daughter struggling with so much pain, and I had the power to stop it, I would do so immediately. Why wouldn’t he?
I remember one particularly difficult day, after many years of pain, when I got fed up with God and told him so. I was alone in my house and I let him know exactly how mad I was about this whole situation. I even told him I was not going to speak to him anymore! I held out for about three days, but finally crumbled because I needed him so desperately. I said, “I’m sorry Lord for this temper tantrum, but I’m extremely frustrated and distressed.” God immediately spoke to me in my spirit, saying, “Mary, you are like a person who is banging her head against the wall over and over in trying to understand this. You can keep on banging your head, letting it get bruised and injured, or you can simply accept that there are things you will not understand this side of heaven. My ways are not your ways.”
I realized that I could either accept the paradox that God is good, loving, kind, and he allows very bad things, or continue to wrestle with this in frustration and despair. Irish missionary Amy Carmichael struggled with her own long-term illness until she came to a place she called “contentment with the unexplained.” This is the place that I finally reached. It is a place of resting in the integrity of God’s character, even though he allows very bad things.
Through this health crisis, I grew deeper and richer in so many ways. I can identify with James when he said, “… you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)