Perseverance: A Testimony

Our last SweetMercies meeting ended with this testimony of God's faithfulness through trial from our dear sister, Annie Johns.  Grab a box of tissues and read about our great God who is more than enough through every trial and who promises to keep us to the end. 

James 1 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  Romans 5 says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”
Perseverance is refusing to give up in the face of trial. We know that God’s word tells us that we can do nothing apart from him. He gives us the grace to persevere in times of trial.  I have had the honor and privilege of walking through trial with my son, my sister, and my husband, all who have emulated persevering grace. They have been my heroes. They have shown me what perseverance lived out in this life looks like.
The first is my son Ryan, who many of you knew.  He was born with a devastating disease called Duchene Muscular Dystrophy.  It is a disease that slowly tears away at the muscle, weakening the body to the point of not being able to walk, of having to depend on a wheel chair to get around and others to help you.  Ryan had his first chair at age 9.  He progressively got weaker and he had to get an electric wheelchair by the time he was 12.  When he was 13, he had pneumonia and was in the hospital for 6 months. We would have lost him to the pneumonia had he not been put on a ventilator, which prolonged his life.  He was so happy to finally get out of the hospital. He missed half of his 8th grade year but went on into high school.  He had an aid that could suction him at school and he didn’t need to be on the vent during the day, only at night. There were several things in high school he missed like playing sports, driving a car, going on dates.  He could go nowhere by himself. Someone always had to be near to him incase he needed to be suctioned.  He graduated with honors and then took a few classes at a community college while all of his friends left home for college.  
It was heart breaking for me to watch him everyday not really having much to do.  We had been praying that Ryan could be in a place where there were more people his age but our town was very small.  In God’s mercy and sovereignty we heard about this wonderful church in Virginia so we moved across country to our new home in Chesapeake and started attending Southside church, which is now Redeemer Church.  It was here where Ryan made many friends and it was here where he really grew in his faith. He had some wonderful relationships with young men who laid down their lives to serve Ryan. They learned how to work the lift on the van. They learned how to suction Ryan so that Ryan was able to go out with his friends. His body was getting weaker and he had to be on the ventilator continually, but he learned how to talk between breaths from the vent.  Soon, he was to weak to talk so we learned to read his lips.  We had nurses on and off.  I was mostly the nurse at night so I had many conversations with Ryan, with lots of tears and lots of prayer and lots of reading the word. Ryan knew he would never marry, never have kids, and never have a job.  He would not be able to hunt or fish with his dad like his brothers did or go camping, or golfing, or swimming.  Sometimes this harsh reality would get the best of him, but he would always come back to the cross, to the hope he had in Jesus and the hope he had that eternity was worth it all. 
One of his favorite scriptures was 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary trial is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are not seen. For the things seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  
Ryan’s eternal perspective had a huge impact on my life.  By God’s grace, he persevered through the trial to the other side of it. On May 25, 2006, Ryan went to be with the Lord after 5 months of great suffering and a lifetime of trial. It was five days after his sister’s wedding, where he saw his grandma, aunts and uncles, and cousins for the last time.  They had gone back to Michigan from the wedding only to return a week later for Ryan’s funeral.  Ryan was looking so forward to going home to meeting his savior face to face. He persevered, he ran the race, and he crossed the finish line into Eternal Glory.  
That left me with my first taste of grief.  It was bitter and it was sweet, heart wrenching and healing at the same time. How many nights and days did I cry out to God and how many times did God comfort me in my grief and sorrow. And how he used our church family to love and comfort and provide for us.
Two years latter we found out my Sister’s cancer had come back.  So I would go to Michigan as much as I could to be with her and care for her.  Her cancer lasted 7 years and she was on chemo until she died.
She was a beacon of hope and eternal optimism.  She persevered through treatments that made her so sick and so weak that many times we thought she would not make it.  She seemed to always bounce back, all the time caring for herself and her husband who is a quadriplegic.  When she was too weak, I would go up and take care of both of them.
A year after we found out about Mary’s cancer, we learned that my husband Chad had Glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer. The doctors gave him 2 months to live without treatment and 12 to 18 months if he did have treatment.  He had already seen his mother, three aunts, a brother and his father all die of cancer.  Though he didn’t really want to, we decided to go ahead with treatment.  We were so grateful that we did!  He lived 16 more months.
God took care of us amazingly, providing for all of our needs.  Our son Kris, his wife, and 4 boys, who were living in Atlanta, wanted to come and live with us so they could help me with Chad.  God provided a big house for us all to live in from a family from church who wanted to take the year to travel the country with their children.  My son Matt had just joined the Navy and he was able to get shore station in Virginia Beach for two years so he could be with his dad.  
My daughter Katie and her husband just moved back from Texas and had twin boys. They were living with us on the night Chad had the seizure that was the onset to us finding out about his cancer. They were to move just down the street from us the very next day so I was not alone at two o’clock in the morning when Chad needed help.  Our dearest friends, Joe and Jenny Smith, came over right away too.  Joe went with Chad in the ambulance and was with him the rest of the night.  The next day, Jenny took Katie and me to the hospital while Sean stayed home with the babies.  Our pastors and church family came to the hospital to support us and pray with us.  For many Sundays after, they would pray for Chad when we could come to church.  We were surrounded by dear, precious friends who walked with us through this devastating trial.
There is way too much to tell in this short time.  Chad persevered, living life as best he could, knowing he would be going home.  I tried to do the same. Some of the best times of my life with the Lord were during my hardest trials.  Chad passed away October 31, 2010 with our family and many of our church family around him playing and singing music, and reading scripture. It was truly a glorious home going.
            It has been 5 years since Chad has gone home and it has been the hardest time of my life - more tears, more heart break, more sorrow, more grief, and still more more more of God’s grace walking me through. 2015 was by far the hardest year I have had.  I needed to finally live in the townhouse I had bought 3 years before. It was time for me to trust God and live by myself.  It has been very hard but it has made me seek God in a new way again.  As always, he is faithfully providing for me and loving me and walking with me in this new season of life.  
Recently I have been listening to Jen Wilkin and she has a saying – “the heart can only love what the mind knows.”  I can say that the books I read, the movies I choose to watch and the music I listen to have a pronounced effect on how well I am doing with grief.  When I am in the word and praying and talking with God and getting to know him more it helps to keep my mind on eternal things. It helps to draw my gaze upward. It is then that my heart is full of love for him and I can be at peace with my circumstance.  When my mind is not on the Lord, when I resist him, when I turn and go my own way, my heart is restless, my life askew.  I want to always choose the first, but sadly I have many times chosen the latter.  This is why I am so grateful for a God who is ever near to the broken hearted, who gently takes my hand and leads me back to Him who is faithful, so patient, loving, and kind, to my God who is more than enough. 
If you are someone who is listening to this and is in the thick of your trial, I am living proof a God who is much bigger than your trials.  Let him be your lifeline as you cry out to him.  His mercies truly are new every morning just as Lamentations 3:22-23 says – “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.”