Mar 27, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BY RINA JIMENEZ-DAVID
A FRIEND sent me a book recently, promising it would make "good Holy Week reading." No, it wasn't a stultifying or guilt-inducing volume on sin and redemption, but a collection of down-to-earth but spiritual essays titled "Amusing Grace." It is actually a collection of articles written for the magazine Kerygma under the column title "Kitchen Scribbles."
The writer is Rosanne Romero, who with her husband Omy are members of Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community and much sought-after speakers before Catholic prayer groups nationwide. Rosanne also has multiple sclerosis or MS, and she tells the story of how God tested her faith and will by throwing MS her way in the essay that follows. The second part of her story comes out tomorrow.
"AND they thirsted not WHEN He led them through the desert."-Isaiah (48:21)
The first time I encountered this line, I remember thanking God for being a faithful God to His people Israel-delivering them from Egypt, passage through the Red Sea, water from the rock and manna from heaven. For over a week now, I had been receiving this same verse as an impression from the Lord.
Why? Vaguely, I felt God meant to drive home a point. But what? Later still, I asked, "Are You taking me to a desert?"
Question after question. "Where is this desert, what will it be like? How long do You intend for me to stay there? Can it be-as You say-that I will not thirst? I began to get more unsettled by the verse, so I thought it best to take it up with my husband, Omy. I read him the verse, told him I had been getting it for over a week. Could he sense anything? Omy heaved a sigh and showed me the verse he was getting. Mine was from Isaiah. Omy had been getting just one line from Hosea. The verse ran, "So I am going to bring her into the wilderness and there in her heart I will speak." (Hosea, 2:14) Desert and wilderness-we grew certain that God was preparing us for a time of difficulty.
Not long after this, I began to experience pins and needles on my arms and legs. I was having double vision, my gait staggered like I had had one drink too many. I had occasional falls and began to drop things very often.
I went to see an orthopedist, sure that all I had was a pinched nerve. I was told that I needed to see a neurologist. After tests were done, the neurologist announced that I might have multiple sclerosis (MS is its nickname). She explained what it was-a degenerative disabling disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). MS progresses and disables its victims bit by bit.
I LISTENED to all this in a cool and collected way, nodding at every point the doctor elaborated. Inside me, I was getting all clogged up. "This is bad. How can I be sick with such a dread disease? And disable me-livewire me? No!"
I was on the eighth floor and I could feel my eyes smarting. So I decided not to wait for the elevator. I raced down all those flights of stairs to the adjacent parking lot and drove home. Alone in the car I begged, "Not this desert, please?"
I busied myself. I frantically tightened one button after another on very old blouses and skirts. I jogged and jogged. I was angry. My hands had always been dexterous and my legs agile and I sewed and jogged in a kind of frenzy-as if keeping them dexterous and agile depended entirely on my own efforts. Something ugly was showing up here. I called myself a Christian but I saw that my immediate response to something was not one of prayer. I did not turn to Him immediately. I first turned to myself. I didn't ask, "Lord, help me." I was going to help me.
EARLIER I had said, "Not this desert, please." By evening I was sullenly asking, "Why this desert, Lord?"
It is a time of difficulty that makes our real character weaknesses come to surface. This is God's mercy-to show us where we still need to be changed so we can come closer to Him. The first thing God pointed His finger at was my self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is a wonderful trait to have, but too much of it makes one proud. And proud people don't call upon the Lord. Any time I got myself into trouble, I was so good I could worm myself out of it. If there was any problem, well, I happened to have the talent, the skill needed to figure it out. Then God threw MS my way. Would my self-sufficiency solve this problem? And what of my skills and talents? Taken by themselves, they are useless. This was very frustrating for someone who had relied on them heavily. Again I say, it's God's mercy to break me in this way.
Very often, I say: "Lord I love You so much. Only, my love is so imperfect." I want to love God more deeply and it is having MS that gives me that chance to grow deeper in my love for Him. I heard Him speak of this as I waited for my turn to have a brain scan done. I waited and fidgeted. I worried about what they would find. What would the scan reveal? What would it show? (Would they find a brain?)
From this long waiting for my turn, I realized that the Lord puts all
of us through a similar scan. A spiritual scan, so to speak. Or better
yet, a soul scan. This is the kind of scan that should concern me more.
If the Lord put me through this scan today, what would He find? Would He
find any love in my heart? And if so, what kind of love would He find?
Would He find a steadfast love, remaining faithful and staunch through
difficulty, or the kind of love that fades at the onset of an affliction?
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Mar 28, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer
BY RINA JIMENEZ-DAVID
HERE'S the conclusion of "When God Says No," one of a collection of essays contained in the book "Amusing Grace" by Rosanne C. Romero. In this essay, she shares her struggle to keep her mind "stayed on the Lord" despite the pain and affliction of multiple sclerosis or MS.
GOD has also shown me that I am not to use MS as an excuse for bad behavior. We are not supposed to use any of our trials, any of our difficulties as excuses for our ill-temperedness. I reasoned that MS was getting me too frustrated, I couldn't help but be short-tempered. Like being sick was some kind of license for bratty behavior. Nonsense; strictly for the birds.
Once someone came up to me to say that suffering couldn't be God's specific will for me. Suffering is for people like St. Paul, St. Stephen. It's sort of reserved for those of the stature of the saints. Let me get this clear. I nurture no illusions about being a saint. Ask anyone who's lived with me. They can tell you that. But God's world doesn't spin around saints only. It also spins around ordinary slow learners like me. I do not get earth-shaking revelations about suffering, but God gives me little lessons that I can chew on. Lately He has been teaching me to speak and behave more kindly to others.
When I go shopping, people actually stop and stare. They see my cane and watch me amble around. Someone said I should feel flattered that people stare at me. Please don't give me that. I feel like a performing dog when people gawk. In the beginning, I was given to making faces, tossing my head, crossing my eyes and mumbling! And if I could have stomped my feet without falling, I'd have done that, too. What a shame for a woman my age to behave this way! I'm sure the Saints would have borne this with a lot more fortitude. But I am learning to answer politely to "Eh, ilang taon na ba kayo ma'am at paano kayo nabalian (May I know how old you are, ma'am, and how you broke your leg)?"
GOD is also teaching me how to handle my pain. There's a lot of pain in MS people don't know about. Sometimes when I do talk about pain, there are those who quickly equate it with migraine, menopausal pain, hypertension headaches, etc. After that, I don't feel like saying any more. It used to disappoint me a whole lot that I could not make people understand the pain I was having. For sometime now, God has been teaching me to pray for other people especially at the precise moment the pain begins. Because of this, my countenance has changed. I feel little need to wail about my pain to others and feel no compulsion to explain it. God sees my pain; God knows my pain. That's enough for me.
I'm on my 15th year now with MS. Many have prayed for me, prayed over me, held vigils for me and still do. Still, I continue to suffer MS. Does this mean God is less powerful than we all thought Him to be? I do not believe so. Because my MS continues, does it mean God is less merciful? Does it make Him less just? Certainly not. He is a God of faithfulness. A God without injustice. My having MS does not diminish that. The Lord appoints each of us our own lots for a purpose. I know this and it's important for me to be gracious in spite of it and to be reconciled to the place God in His providence has put me in. I'm learning so much about living for God and loving Him. I'm learning serious lessons about life. I'm learning them best through this affliction.
SOME people think I don't want to get well. But is it really that? At the moment, MS has deteriorated my left eye. My bladder hasn't been working well for years now. I keep falling. I drop things. My sense of balance has gone bad as well. My legs are weaker and wobblier than they were in 1986. I have pins and needles day and night on my arms and legs. How can I possibly not want healing? The next thing I'm going to say will not be the profoundest thing but I must say it: If all that we set our hearts upon in times of sickness is health, we become oblivious to anything else that the Lord wants for us. Healing is important for me. But, it's no longer the most important thing. Most vital for me is to seek after the Healer. Not the healing.
There's an old story in the Bible about King Nebuchadnezzar who threw three young men into the fire because they refused him worship. The three young men told him, "Our God is so mighty and so powerful that He can deliver us out of these flames. But even if He does not, we will still praise Him alone." This is the kind of heart I long to have. To be able to stand true to my God even as I go on with MS. I know that with just one word, God can wipe all this away and restore my health. Yet, even if He chooses not to, I want to keep true to Him and love Him.
I may suffer MS longer than I can imagine. I only need to remember that God took the trouble to prepare me for this. I know the Lord loves me, but if I don't keep my eyes on Him, I begin to question it. The saddest is, "Maybe God has stopped loving me...?" And then the desert feels too hot to bear.
If I am to keep from experiencing deathly thirst, I must look to Him. My strength and my courage can only be the Lord. I cannot, I must not look away.
In Scripture it says, "Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace, he whose mind is stayed on Thee."
If you are going to pray for me after reading this, please pray this.
Pray that my mind be stayed on Him.
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