I have always valued strength and the ability to cope with stress and pain in myself and others. In our family lore, my maiden name, Ross, is synonymous with tough, adventurous, fearless. Life brings joy, love, and peace but also challenge, suffering and pain. I often think that I can handle all these things on my own. Then events happen that force me to face my own frailty. I am obliged to remember and acknowledge to all who see any goodness in my life that I am not the source.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”a made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 1 Corinthians 4:6-7
As we expected, we have encountered many challenges on this journey, including learning new languages, navigating unfamiliar culture, preparing different kinds of foods, caring for one health issue after another, talking through interpersonal conflict, and processing ministry set-backs. However, after the first few weeks, I felt that with my new mantra: “it’s not good or bad; it just is,” I was coping well with the stress. Then we moved into our sweet little house, and I began to feel that not only were we surviving the challenges, we seemed to be thriving under them.
Then the honeymoon period ended. About a month after arrival, I had a full-blown stress attack with stomach cramping, hives and other digestive malfunctions. I should mention that I have a history with digestion issues related to stress and anxiety, which was at one point diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In addition to having typical daily symptoms of IBS, during intense seasons of stress, I would have occasional “incidents” in which the stomach cramps became excruciating and my body broke out in hives. Some of you walked through that season with me and may remember that I followed a special diet for a time. However, several years ago I received prayer at a healing prayer conference, and I believe I was healed from all these issues. I stopped following the diet and have not had any problems since then. Until we moved to Thailand.
During this particular incident, Mike was out, but thankfully, our neighbor was home and was able to come take care of the kids. As I felt the hives begin to spread across my body and the stomach cramping mount in intensity, my body remembered all the incidents before. I stood under the shower head and contemplated that each time before, I did not die and it eventually passed. I felt a sense of peace that this too would pass if I could just ride out each wave of pain. The training of having delivered three babies since my last episode really helped me to take this incident as it came. Fortunately, we also brought some children’s allergy medicine that eventually helped to reverse the hives.
Then a week later I had another incident. This time the stomach cramping was excruciating. It began outside of a restaurant, so by the time I got home to the shower, it felt way beyond my capability to ride it out. Instead, I writhed on the shower floor, screaming and feeling like I wanted to die. I begged God to help me get through this. Eventually, I began singing and soon the pain became bearable. Another dose of children’s allergy medicine reversed the hives and after an hour from the onset, I was able to come out of the shower and go to bed.
Up to then, I had not felt particularly stressed. If you had asked me, I would have said I was adjusting well. Apparently, my body felt differently. When I think of these incidents, I am humiliated at the weakness that they reveal in me physically and emotionally. I don’t want people to think that we are unable to handle living in Thailand away from the comforts of American life or that I am not strong enough or adventurous enough for this work. However, these incidents reminded me that in my own strength, I cannot do anything.
Some people have said that we are brave or good for coming to Thailand to help people. We are just obedient. We believe that God asked us to come, so we said yes. Now that we are here, we see that we don’t have quite as much to offer as we anticipated. There are people here smarter, tougher, kinder, and more knowledgeable than we are. But for whatever reason, God wants us here. Perhaps it is that in the chaos of the transplanting, he is able to strip us of our false sense of self, allowing His power to bloom in us and be seen by those around us.