Thorn in the Flesh

I have known I was supposed to be on the field since I knew what the word ‘missionary’ meant. Sure I went through the archaeologist, astronaut, and the author phases, but whenever I thought for one second about what the Father wanted with my life, I was never in doubt. I became a believer at the tender young age of 5, and I went every summer to Nunny Cha-Ha GA camp. Those grounds will always have a special place in my heart. It was there that I first remember meeting a real, live M. I remember holding instruments from the place she worked, tasting traditional food, and seeing pictures of children not much older than myself, but very different in every other way. But what affected me the most were her stories. She told me about people who had never heard the stories I had been raised on. She told me they needed the Word that I had. And I was hooked. I was probably about 10 years old.

I don’t know when I first officially ‘surrendered to the call.’ To be honest, I barely even remember that experience. It was listening to the M at Nunny that has stuck with me for all these years. I’ve never had any serious questions about my career or future. I came to college with the same major I’ll graduate with in a few months, and I never once considered changing. I’ve never really had a crisis moment in my life about what I would do, how much it would pay, or whether or not I was following the career path Father would have picked for me. All things considered, it’s been pretty easy.

And on top of that, I have been incredibly blessed beyond anything I could ever ask or imagine. One of my favorite passages (aside from Eph 3:20-21) is Jer. 1:4-9. It talks about Father knowing Jeremiah’s destiny before he was even born. I claim those words in my own life. I have clearly been wired for work as an M. Father has given me talents and passions and dreams for which I cannot take any credit. He has perfectly fitted me for His work overseas. I LOVE children, and I only get tired of American ones (and even that takes a loooong time). I don’t mind getting dirty or grossed out; in fact, I often feel that the dirtier I am, the better. I’m very flexible and don’t handle time constraints well—I work best without schedules. I love to story too. I could sit with you all day long and tell you stories that would make sense in your culture and hold your attention. And the only time I’ve ever had trouble adjusting to a culture is when I return to my own. While it is difficult at times, on the whole, everything about being an M has come easily to me so far—until this year.

Paul gets pretty steamed up in 2 Cor. In chapters eleven and twelve he goes on a half-crazed rant about his credentials because people doubted his message on their validity. The first ten verses of chapter twelve are my favorite. Paul’s rant comes to a screeching halt and he takes a few deep breaths as he explains that all of his accomplishments, talents, and stories come to nothing when compared to the power of the Son. “Therefore,” he says, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that [his] power may rest on me.” And how did he come to this realization? By something he calls ‘a thorn in the flesh.’

I have already boasted about the work Father has done in me and the gifts he has given me, and now I will gladly boast about my own thorn in the flesh. Paul describes this anomaly as “a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” He never goes deeper than that, but whatever the case, he was plagued by some constant source of spiritual warfare. But what was meant for evil, the Father used for good, for after Paul asked for the thorn to be taken away, he is told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Through Paul’s weakness, Father’s power was most visible and active. Paul’s thorn was nothing but glory to the Father.

And so is mine. I told you before that pursuing the life of an M had been easy for me until this year, and I meant it. After falling absolutely in love with the Lord’s work among the Roma people, I was led to organize a return trip that fell through a month before its departure this summer. After applying to a two-year internship with my denomination’s sending agency, I was turned away until I got my weight under control. And in the midst of all this, my health has been a constant thorn in my side. I had bronchitis for over nine months straight. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which causes continually forming cysts, intense pain, weight gain, and anemia. These weaknesses have been my constant companions. Those of you who know me understand well just how weak they have made me. My health forced me to miss classes, I was prescribed a barrage of medicines, and I lived day by day. As the year progressed I began to realize that I was facing constant spiritual warfare because of my health and situations keeping me from the field.

I say none of this for pity or shock-value—I want you to see how superlatively good my Father has been. In the space of a year, he made what had been an easy road, difficult. After firmly convincing me that I was to follow him to the Field, He complicated things to keep me from becoming conceited. But more than that, He sought to bring himself glory. You see, in my weaknesses, the Father’s power is most clearly seen. Now it will be completely obvious to anyone who sees my journey to the field that I did not get there in my own power. I have no doubt in my mind that Father will fulfill his promises and take me overseas to join in his work, but now I can praise him all the more because I know that out of my thorn in the flesh, Father has grown something beautiful for his glory. And I can truly say with Paul, “That is why, for [His] sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”