By Teresa Wells
There was a time in my life when the Bible was optional. I believed it was the Word of God, and I found it interesting—but it wasn’t important to me. The confusing names, difficult concepts, and age-old stories were church stuff.
Now, though, I can’t live without my Bible. It gives me hope, strength, and assurance.
What changed? Everything. When I heard, “Your baby has tuberous sclerosis,” suddenly the conventional, secure life I’d lived was upended—replaced by fear and anxiety.
Shelving My Bible
My husband and I were devastated. Our baby Kristen’s future was full of question marks. We’d never heard of her genetic disease that caused benign tumors throughout her body, and there was no predictable path that tuberous sclerosis would take. How had this happened to us? We were good people who followed the rules and loved God.
My shock quickly turned to anger. I hurled questions at God like accusations. Why did you do this? Why Kristen? I thought you loved us!
I felt God had abandoned us. Even though we continued to attend church, I withdrew from my relationship with God. I didn’t pray. I shelved my Bible until Sundays, when I dutifully carried it to church. I nursed my wounded heart by devoting my attention to Kristen and the rest of my family.
As Kristen’s health improved, I prayed a little more. But I didn’t trust God. If he allowed Kristen to have this horrible disease, what else would he allow?
As she grew, other symptoms of her disease showed up: seizures, developmental delay, skin lesions, behavior difficulties, speech delay. They were difficult to accept, but since they were within the parameters of her disease, we sadly accepted them. But when Kristen was 3 years old, one symptom showed up that we weren’t prepared for.
Kristen was receiving therapy at Easter Seals. One day, an ophthalmologist did a free vision screening. After he examined Kristen, he told me she had a noncancerous tumor that blocked most of her vision in her left eye. He shrugged. “She’s pretty much blind in that eye.”
I barely made it to the restroom before I started weeping. Blind, God? Isn’t it enough that she’s not talking, she’s way behind where she should be, she has seizures—but now she’s blind too? When is it enough?
At home, I hit my knees and cried out to God. I needed hope. Something within urged me to reach for my Bible. But what if I didn’t find hope or answers? It had been so long since I’d read it, I didn’t know where to turn. My hands were trembling. I shuffled the crispy thin pages until Isaiah 53 caught my attention.
There I was surprised to see words like suffering, pain, rejection, wounds, and affliction. They resonated deep within my soul. I had felt my grief so sharply these last three years, I had no idea Jesus had felt my kind of pain. But here it was in print: his anguish. It was clear that Jesus felt not just physical pain, but emotional and mental torment.
Somehow in all my years of Christianity, I’d never connected Jesus’ emotions to his death and resurrection. As I read and reread Isaiah 53, I was taken by its vivid picture of betrayal, scourging, and rejection. I felt ashamed as I remembered how I’d accused God of abandoning me. Tears ran down my cheeks as I comprehended this prophecy of the crucifixion. My pain over Kristen was insignificant compared to this. Isaiah 53 forced me to look beyond myself and to humbly ask God’s forgiveness.
For days, what I read in Isaiah 53 echoed in my soul as I went about my routine. I was mesmerized by the thought that Jesus felt the same things I’d felt: he’d been a man of sorrows, and he knew grief. How I’d been so weighed down with grief! I thought God didn’t care . . . but I’d been wrong. If Jesus had been a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, he knew exactly how I felt.
We learned more about the noncancerous tumor in Kristen’s eye, caused by her disease. Even though it was uncommon, sometimes tumors like this could cause trouble. My fears skyrocketed. Would the tumor take over her eye? Would her eye have to be removed?
All the what-if’s of tuberous sclerosis overwhelmed me. After seeking good counsel, I ended up reading the accounts of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). I was fascinated to read how agonized Jesus was before he gave his life. He begged his Father three times to take the cup from him, but he submitted to his Father’s will.
Again I asked myself, How could I have been a Christian for so many years and missed how agonized Jesus was? I assumed that because Jesus was God, he went into the crucifixion without questioning. I felt closer to Christ, knowing he questioned, hesitated, dreaded, and agonized
. . . yet he submitted to God’s will.
Our pastor told us the key to true contentment was getting to the point of having no expectations from life, but instead, putting everything in Jesus. If everything is taken away, would we find happiness simply because we have Jesus? I knew my answer was no. But I wanted God to increase my faith.
I read in Genesis 22 about Abraham’s faith. God had promised Abraham descendants that would outnumber the stars. When Abraham and Sarah were elderly, God granted them Isaac. Then when Isaac was likely in his teenage years, God told Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham followed God’s explicit directions. It was only after Abraham had bound Isaac and was about to slay him for the sacrifice that God stopped him, telling Abraham now he knew he feared God, because he did not withhold his son from the Lord.
I marveled at Abraham’s faith when I read this passage. How could Abraham forge ahead in faith?
A couple years later, I would think of Abraham and Isaac as my husband and I sat in front of a neurosurgeon who told us, “If your daughter doesn’t have brain surgery, she could die.”
And then we signed a form that acknowledged she could die on the operating table. She could die with or without surgery, it seemed.
Bible Stories vs. My Tough Road
My thoughts swirled as we walked through the days prior to Kristen’s brain surgery. What if she doesn’t make it? Oh, God, help us! Lord, take this cup from us! In my mind, I saw Abraham with Isaac.
I’d learned to trust God, but never like this. Never with my child.
Our pastor’s words came back to me. “If everything was taken away but you had Jesus, could you be happy?” That day, he’d named specific things: if I didn’t have my car, but I had Jesus . . . if I didn’t have my house, but I had Jesus . . . if I didn’t have my husband, my children, but I had Jesus, would I be able to be happy? Now I needed to answer these questions.
I sought out the Garden of Gethsemane passages. I labored in prayer as Jesus prayed. I whispered the same words Jesus did, only I was thinking of Kristen’s surgery.
“Lord, help me mean this, for your will to be done,” I whispered.
I thought about Abraham’s obedience as he led his only son up the mountain to be a sacrifice. I looked at my Bible and wondered what would have happened if Jesus had said he couldn’t follow God’s will, the cup was too much to bear? What if Abraham hadn’t been obedient and led Isaac up the mountain? We wouldn’t have a Savior, and a whole nation of people might not exist. It was mind boggling.
I’d learned from Abraham, Noah, Paul, Peter, David, and countless others in the Bible that God uses ordinary people in the regular moments of life to do extraordinary things. In return, he wants our love.
“Lord,” I whispered shakily. “If you take Kristen, I can still be happy.”
We made it through that crisis with our family intact and we’ve survived many other ups and downs in the 25 years since Kristen’s brain surgery.
If I’d left my Bible on the shelf, I wouldn’t have had the faith I needed then, or the hope I need every day. It’s essential. My Bible is the one book I can’t ever live without.
Teresa Wells is a writer living in Dallas, Texas (teresawells.com).