My ideas have rarely coincided with the Lord’s plans.
I had dreams of how my life would turn out and did everything I could to make them happen. Some things went as I had hoped, but then life started to unravel. Mistakes, medical issues, and unforeseen problems came up, leaving me bewildered and frustrated. This was not the life I signed up for.
When my infant son, Paul, died because of a doctor’s mistake, I was sure that the Lord had abandoned me. If God cared, how could he have allowed that to happen? Was God punishing me? The questions and doubts so crowded my mind that I became confused and distant from God, unsure of where to turn.
In my desperation, I finally called out to the Lord for help. Though I wondered why God let my precious son be taken from us, I knew there was nowhere else to find peace. And God comforted me, pouring his extravagant love and a supernatural sense of his presence over me. While my situation had not changed, I knew God was with me in my grief.
I needed that same reassurance six years later when I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome (PPS), a debilitating condition involving escalating pain and weakness that may leave me a quadriplegic. My day-to-day life had been fairly normal to that point, but with this diagnosis, my life would eventually move to utter dependence on others. Once again, I told God this was not the life I signed up for.
I had been an artist and loved creating beauty with my hands. But with PPS, painting, gourmet cooking, and jewelry making were out of the question. I boxed up my supplies and cookbooks and put them in the attic; it was too painful to look at them anymore.
Frustrated at watching my dreams deflate in front of me, I once again asked God what to do. Art had been a way for me to process emotions that I could not express any other way. Now, that outlet was gone.
A friend suggested that I start writing, but I balked at the suggestion. I did not think of myself as a writer; I was not even much of a reader. But after the third friend mentioned it, I began to take it seriously. The next day I pulled a flyer out of my mailbox that said, “Do you want to write your life?” That seemed like my answer, so I went inside and signed up for the writing class they were advertising.
At first, writing felt awkward and unfamiliar. I longed to express myself through graphic art, but since that option was closed, I kept writing. I wrote about my feelings rather than painting about them. And as I started writing, something in me started changing.
I discovered that my writing resonated with others in a way that my painting never did. Painting had been a way for me to personally process and create beauty, something that could be enjoyed by me and the people who came to our home. But writing impacted far more people and felt more like a calling than a hobby. I started writing online and eventually published two books about the way God met me in suffering. Just as I learned to trust God after Paul died, I learned to trust God with my declining strength too. He was doing something in it.
I saw God working through what looked like pure loss. He was making a way in this wilderness for me. I clung to Isaiah 43:18-19, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This shift in perspective did not happen overnight. For a long time, I had been so focused on wanting things back the way they used to be that I was not looking for what God could do on this new path. This path was already bumpy, with curves and bends that were unfamiliar compared to the smooth straight road I had planned to take. But as I leaned into God, trusting him with what I could not see, I realized that his road and destination were much better for me than the path I tried to carve on my own.
God was calling me to pay attention on this road. Since it was unfamiliar and often hazy, I needed to take his hand; I couldn’t go it alone. In the Lord’s steady grip, I discovered how much more confident I was on this rough, dark path as he transformed it in front of me. I saw the truth of Isaiah 42:16 in which the Lord says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” God lit the dark path and never left me as I walked it.
As I began writing, I was thrilled to hear people were growing closer to God because of what I had experienced. My pain and loss felt like they had a purpose. And my own relationship with God grew deeper through my suffering as well. My joy became more tied to my relationship with God and not to my circumstances.
Though I would never have chosen this path, I am truly grateful for it. I can see that though God’s plans are often different from mine, they are always for my good.
Vaneetha Risner is the author of Walking Through Fire: A Memoir of Loss and Redemption in which she chronicles both her bewildering suffering and the breathtaking way Christ met her in it. Some of her greatest joys are being a wife to Joel and a mother to Katie and Kristi and you can find her embarrassing them in North Carolina or online at vaneetha.com.