Finding God's strength through our weakness
Religion | A wheelchair-bound mother experiences the power of God through her pain and suffering
by John S. Dickerson
Posted 4/23/16, 08:55 am
John S. Dickerson, a former journalist (and a contributor to WORLD) who is teaching pastor in residence at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, Calif., and the author of The Great Evangelical Recession, shows in his new book, I Am Strong (Zondervan, 2015), how we can aspire to find God’s peace in life’s darkest moments. Here, in Chapter 1, he describes one very dark moment that led to a testimony of God’s strength. —Marvin Olasky
Living Proof of Heaven’s Strength
“The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14)
When difficulties rock our world, it’s normal to think, If life is bad, then God must be mad. But that, we are going to see, simply is not true.
The truth is that God still loves you, even when your life is bad—especially when your life is bad. Like a loving parent, God hurts with you. When He sees you suffering or struggling, He generously offers His compassion to you. Scripture promises, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
In the last seventeen years, Joy Veron has learned to find God’s strength in unthinkable tragedy. I first learned about Joy when I Google searched “Mother’s Day video.” I hoped to find a video about a mom who loved her kids as they endured hardship. Instead, I found the story of a mom who continued loving her kids and loving life as she herself endures unthinkable pain.
It was a homemade video, filmed in the cozy kitchen of a lived-in home. In it, two teenage girls hold up handwritten signs, explaining an unbelievable story about their mom’s love.
By the end of the video, my eyes were stinging with tears. Chloe’s and Annie’s handwritten signs read as follows in their Mother’s Day video:
“We want to tell you a story about our mom”
“Our mom and dad got married in 1991”
“In 1992, I was born”
“A few years later, in 1994, I was born”
“And finally, in 1996, our little brother was born”
“We lived in a happy home with lots of love and laughter”
“And a mom who loved us more than the world”
“But there was an accident in 1999 that changed everything”
“We were on vacation with my grandparents”
“And we were going to rent a log cabin”
“It was beautiful and overlooked a huge cliff”
“We were so excited!”
“At the time, I was 7”
“I was 5”
“And our brother was 3”
“When we pulled into the driveway of the house”
“My parents and grandparents got out of the car to sign paperwork in the doorway”
“My sister, brother, and I stayed in the car and watched from the window”
“Even though my mom had her keys with her, the car somehow knocked out of gear”
“And started rolling …”
“Toward the cliff”
“As soon as my mom saw what was happening”
“She did the unthinkable”
“She ran in front of the SUV, determined to stop it”
“We remember the look on her face right before she went under”
“And we remember feeling the bump as we ran over her body”
“That bump saved our lives”
“It slowed the car down just enough for my grandpa to run up beside it”
“And pull the emergency brake”
“Right before we went [would have gone] over the cliff”
“The weight of the SUV on my mother’s body should’ve killed her”
“But by some miracle of miracles”
“But it did break her back”
“She is paralyzed from the waist down”
“And she will never walk again”
“But she says she wouldn’t change it for the world because her 3 kids are alive and with her”
“She hasn’t let her wheelchair stop her from anything”
“She has been at every piano recital”
“Every tennis tournament”
“And is the voice at the end of the phone when I’m away at college”
“She is our rock”
“And our best friend”
“She is the most amazing mother in the world”
“She taught us from a young age that when people stare at us because of her wheelchair”
“We should hold our head up high”
“And just stare back”
“That is what she has done with life”
“Life gave her a tough hand of cards”
“But she arranged them into something beautiful”
“Yes, she saved our lives in the accident in 1999”
“But she saves them over and over again, each and every day”
“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom”
Joy Veron laid down her life to save the lives of her children. She has lived the last seventeen years in a wheelchair. From getting out of bed to bathing and simple daily duties, the monotony and helplessness of life in a wheelchair leads many into despair, bitterness, and depression. But that hasn’t been the case for Joy Veron.
Everyone who knows Joy knows that hers is not a life of bitterness or cynicism. Instead, from her wheelchair, Joy Veron exudes a contagious love for life and for others. She exudes, as her name suggests, joy.
How is this possible? How can she have a better outlook—from a wheelchair—than many of us have from our armchairs? How can she have such strength in such weakness?
The answer is that Joy Veron has learned the secret we seek to learn in this book. The secret that God’s strength best invades our lives through our weakness and pain. Joy Veron is living, breathing proof that God can bring good from the struggles and tragedies in our lives, if we will invite Him into our weakness and pain.
And that, Joy says, is the secret—inviting God into the pain. In early 2013, I wrote Joy to ask if I could use her Mother’s Day video in a presentation.
Her reply captures the life skill we are pursuing for our own sufferings:
I would be honored for you to use the video.
About a year after my accident, I was still in rehab searching and waiting on something to make me “whole” again. I was in my bedroom early one morning listening to my young children get ready for school. I realized what a sad house we had. There was just a feeling of grief always in the air. It hit me so strongly.
I realized God was there and could bring good from this terrible event in our life, but I had to allow it and welcome the good.
While the kids were at school, I went out and bought them journals. I told them we would keep a list of the good and bad things from the accident. It wasn’t long before we saw the “good” list far outweighed the “bad.” In fact, it became more of a mental thing, and we eventually just made notes of it in our life. I saw my attitude change, and joy and laughter began to fill our house again.
It isn’t to say that there aren’t still days when we get aggravated, but I can truly say the blessings have far outweighed the negative. It wasn’t until I welcomed God to bless us through something that was so difficult for our family that we began to heal.
Few of us have tasted God’s strength in our sufferings the way Joy Veron has. That’s not because we are short on sufferings or weaknesses. We’re missing God’s strength because we haven’t yet “welcomed God to bless us through” our difficulty as Joy has.
God invites us to parade our wounds and weaknesses before Him, welcoming Him to touch our inadequacies and work miracles through them. When we do, we will begin seeing His power as never before.
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29)
Joy Veron joins a prominent list of souls who acknowledged God in their suffering and, as a result, unlocked a passageway through which supernatural power entered their lives. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Flannery O’Connor all describe finding God’s supernatural strength in their lives through the passageway of personal weakness.
Paul the apostle wrote much of the New Testament. He so discovered God’s supernatural strength through his suffering that he wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” To learn more about those famous sufferers and their words about God’s strength through their difficulty, see appendix 1 (“The Strongest Sufferers”).
Joy Veron joined the ranks of these powerful sufferers by bringing her unthinkable pain to the loving God who “gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
We can join their ranks too.
We all have weaknesses, hurts, fears, and sufferings. The old relationship wounds we try not to think about, the regrets or disappointments that knocked us down in life. The sickness or exhaustion we cannot understand.
We all walk or wheel through life with our own unique limps—a painful upbringing, trauma, or abuse; a challenging spouse; an unexpected death; a too-big nose. Miscarriage, destructive habits, broken relationships, financial strain. We shoulder these wounds every day as we move from shower to work to grocery store and back home. We are a world of limping people, each of us doing our best to hide our weaknesses, to cover them as we shuffle along.
Joy Veron offers living proof that this promise—God’s strength in our weakness and suffering—is not a false hope. It is living, active, available power for your life today.
In the next chapter, I will explain how I have begun to experience God’s strength in my own physical weakness. I am learning that:
God’s Strength + My Weakness Is Better Than My Strength + No Weakness
Or for the math nuts:
God’s Strength + My Weakness > My Strength + No Weakness
My natural tendency is to think I will be stronger if I can just be rid of my pain, struggle, or weakness. But I’m learning that my suffering, when combined with God’s strength, is actually far more powerful than my own way of living in times free from suffering.
There is a quality and quantity of heaven’s strength that fits into our lives only through the delivery door of our pain and weakness. Here, in Joy’s words, are the moments that transformed her tragedy into victory.
- “I realized God was there and could bring good from this terrible event in our life, but I had to allow it and welcome the good.”
- “I can truly say the blessings have far outweighed the negative. It wasn’t until I welcomed God to bless us through something that was so difficult for our family that we began to heal.”
Such a thought may seem impossible—pure fiction—to you today. But God has good plans to heal your deepest wounds and to show His goodness in your most paralyzing weakness. Hang in there with me in these pages. Together, let’s watch in wonder as God works good where we never thought He could.
For every inadequacy and weakness in our lives today, God has a correlating strength and sufficiency. For every pain and evil, past or present, you can claim this promise: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Join me, and let’s learn how.
Taken from I Am Strong by John S. Dickerson. Copyright © 2015 by John S. Dickerson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.
John S. Dickerson
John is the author of Hope of Nations: Standing Strong in a Post-Truth, Post-Christian World. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSDickerson, on Facebook, and at johnsdickerson.com.