I was diagnosed with Lupus at the age of 19 years old. Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which my immune system can’t tell the difference between a good cell and a bad cell and thus attacks the good as well as the bad. Over the years my own immune system has attacked my brain causing repeated seizures, my kidneys- almost causing them to fail, my central nervous system- causing me to lose feeling from my knees down, as well as it has attacked my heart, lungs, joints and many other muscles. However, out of all the things Lupus has affected, the area that has been hit the hardest over the years, is my pride.
I’ve always been a private person. So when God allowed a disease in my life that would heavily force me to rely on others, I struggled. I struggled a lot. I hated what this disease did to me. I hated having to allow others to serve and “baby” me. I hated being seen as weak and incapable. I hated feeling fine one day and completely debilitated the next. I hated it. So, what I did was, I hid. As best I could, I hid my pain. I hid my heartache. I hid my inabilities. And I hid well. In fact, for the first 12 years of this disease I never allowed a single person to visit me in a hospital room. During every flare I made my husband swear not tell anyone what was going on, let alone allow them to help us. The sole responsibility of my caretaking fell to him and occasionally my parents. I didn’t want anyone praying for me or cooking our family meals. No one could come clean my house or babysit the kids. I essentially made him a prisoner. A prisoner to my pride. But, here’s the thing, in my many attempts to keep my story hidden, what I failed to realize is that I was also keeping the testimony of the living God hidden as well.
In 2012 I was in the hospital facing kidney failure. It was the sickest I had been in my life up to that point. One day my husband asked if I wanted to take a walk around the hall so that I could do something to get my body moving a bit, and so we did. As I leaned all my weight onto that metal walker I gently and weakly slid one foot in front of the other while slowly making my way down a narrow hallway littered with nurses silently cheering me on. As we moved further down the hallway I inadvertently glanced across the hall and into a room where I surprisingly saw a familiar face. It was the husband of one of my former church youth leaders. He looked like he was visiting someone. So, we made our way over to Craig to embarrassingly say hi (because no one proudly says hello in a hospital gown). When we got there he of course asked how I was doing, but, I, of course, was way more rushed to inquire how he was and what exactly he was doing there. It was then that he told me that his wife, one of my mentors, had cancer. He told us it was bone cancer and as the words came out of his mouth I felt a punch to my gut. Whatever strength I had initially had in my body seemed to suddenly vanish with those words. All I could think of were Sandy’s five little boys at home waiting for her, and subsequently my two little girls at home waiting for me. I was crushed and even more angry at God then I was before my little “joy ride” down the hallway. I went back to my room and just cried.
Sandy and I kept in touch over the next few months as we were both released from the hospital to continue our fights at home. We would often Facebook message each other to see how the other was doing and spend time encouraging one another. Aside from our email correspondence, I mainly watched Sandy’s story unfold over Facebook. She amazed me. Though I know her most intimate moments were kept for her and those closest to her, she somehow still managed to share so much of her story with us through her Facebook posts. She bravely shared pictures of herself in the hospital, gave us updates on her blood and platelet levels, and regularly told us what the Lord was teaching her through it all. I eagerly waited for every update from her and then eagerly watched as her posts were consistently flooded with comments of people praying for her, loving on her and speaking words of life to her. It was beautiful. Beautiful, and yet so incredibly hard for me. I couldn’t imagine being that forthright with my pain and suffering.
One day I messaged Sandy and told her about my struggles in this area. I asked her how she was doing it. I told her my regrets about having children and then possibly dying only to leave them motherless. I told her about my pride and shame regarding my illness. I told her why I couldn’t possibly let people into this part of my life. And as I poured out all my fears and reservations to this young, sweet, godly woman dying of cancer, she said something to me that I will never forget for the rest of my life. She said “Tiana we have to allow God to let our disease create a testimony in the lives of those all around us.” She told me that, “God had allowed this to come in our lives not just for us but for all those around us as well. “This sickness..” she went on to say, “may allow someone else the opportunity to be obedient to God in service to us. Or it may allow someone else to see His faithfulness up close in ways they may not have been able to see it before. By letting people take part in our stories we have no clue how God may use it in their lives.”
That conversation was the beginning of my long journey towards living a vulnerable life. As I watched Sandy’s story bless, challenge and encourage so many just via Facebook. I knew I had to allow the Lord to use my story the same way. And that meant letting go of trying to control what that story may look like. Sandy’s story changed my life because she was willing to share it and I knew mine could do the same if I simply surrendered it. Over the course of the next few years God began to really heal the parts of my heart that lived in secrecy. I had very hard conversations with my husband and close friends. I had to repent of my desire to keep my story to myself and I had to surrender to the bigger thing that God was trying to do.
In 2016 I preached my very first sermon and told my story of pride in this area. I told my entire congregation of thousands about my struggle with hiding this part of my life. It was the most vulnerable I had ever been. And then a few months later, I was suddenly hospitalized. Lupus was attacking my brain. It was the scariest experience of my life and I didn’t know if I would survive it. But one thing I did know is that I had just stood in front of my church and taught how God calls us into vulnerable spaces so he can use our story for more than just us. So, while I didn’t know exactly what to do, I knew I had to do things differently. I had learned too much and had come too far to keep my story to myself this time around.
So, from my hospital bed I told my husband to tell all our closest friends about my situation. We had people come to the hospital to lay hands and pray for me around the clock. During one of my conscious moments I posted a picture of myself in the hospital on Facebook, giving them the scary details and begging them to bombard heaven on my behalf. That post traveled farther than I would ever realize. It literally felt like the world was praying for me. As the Lord gave strength I posted to Facebook and Instagram throughout the entire flare and recovery and God used it. I got message after message of how God showed Himself to people through my story. Their hearts were encouraged and some began to believe again. I stood on stage a year later and preached a sermon that told of this hospitalization in detail. It is a sermon that will forever be one of the hardest ones I have ever preached because it was by far the most vulnerable, and yet at the same time the most fulfilling. There was not a dry eye in the place as I stood to talk about a God who met me in my darkest moments. A God who not only exists in the mountaintops, but also in the valley. That Sunday morning I got to encourage the broken hearted that God sees them and loves them. I got to be the vessel that speaks of His goodness not just in good times but in hard times as well. And because of it lives were changed. What redemption!!!!!
Friends, the enemy wants nothing more than to use our stories against us. He would love to use them to keep us angry at God and paralyzed with fear. He would love to use them to keep us riddled with anxiety and depressed by our reality.
But, please hear me when I say, that God did not allow your story to come into your life to torture you. There is something bigger going on.
Romans 8:28 says “God works all things together for the Good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
I know this is hard to believe, but somehow good is going to come of your story. And I say that confidently even though 18 years later I’m still battling this horrid disease. Friends, there is something bigger going on. Our stories were never supposed to be hidden in secrecy but surrendered to ministry. The stories God allows in our lives are never just for us but are meant to go through us. Lives are waiting to be changed by your testimony. Hearts are waiting to be encouraged by your testimony. Chains are waiting to be broken by your testimony. The question is will you allow it? Will you allow God to use you and your story however He sees fit? Will you trust Him with the things you don’t understand and maybe even don’t like?
Friends, God works everything together for our good. The enemy does not get the final say on our stories. God does. Which means that our story, no matter how hard they may be, will not end in our mourning, but in His glory. Hold on friends. God isn’t finished yet. And neither are you.
Speaker, Writer, Worshipper