The scripture verse 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 has been very meaningful to me over the years. It goes like this: “7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the many things I love about the Lord is that he encourages us to find our own personal meaning within his Word. My professional ministry began because of an experience in my life. This scripture has impacted me in a powerful way.
When my son, Ben, was a kindergartner at Colorado Springs Christian School, I met a lot of very nice moms. We met once a week with other moms and we prayed for our kids together in a group called, “Moms in Touch.” For the next seven years I shared intimate prayers with other mothers, we became like second and third moms to each other’s kids. After school most of these same friends would congregate outside on the playground so that our kids could blow off some energy before heading home. All parents and kids were welcome but a core group of about six to eight of us began to develop a closer friendship, and we began to spend time outside of school with our families: we ate together, we laughed together, we cried together; we just lived life together.
When our kids were in the third grade two of my closest girlfriends from this group were diagnosed with cancer. One had breast cancer and the other GIST gastrointestinal stromal tumor. Allison’s breast cancer was serious, but we were all sure that she could beat it. Minnie’s cancer, however, was rare and it was not curable. She was prescribed a promising drug that was not yet approved by the FDA for her cancer. It prolonged her life, but the side effects were profound and debilitating. Since Minnie could no longer function for any length of time outside of her home, we began meeting in her living room to pray together. We came to understand what it meant to share our deepest fears and pain with one another as well as how important sharing the burden is. Minnie beat the odds and lived much longer than the medical community anticipated. She would live longer, but Allison’s cancer would come back after a very brief remission.
Prior to her diagnosis, Minnie and I had decided to homeschool our sons for one or two years. While she was in the hospital recuperating, I was picking out and buying homeschool curriculum. We spent the school year together most everyday, many times we were going to Denver for doctors’ appointments. The lessons that Ben learned that year were less about academics and more about life. After fighting the cancer for nearly two years Allison’s body succumbed and her life ended at an inpatient hospice facility. I would visit Allison daily. Together we found ways of communicating her wishes and needs to her family, who had come from the northwest. I cared for her son who was now about 12 years old and we supported her husband.
The pain and sadness we felt was palpable. Allison was actively dying, and Minnie was visiting with the help of friends and family. Minnie and the rest of us were keenly aware that her life too would soon be ending. It was during this time that I began hearing from friends that they saw a calling from the Lord for me to do this work on a more professional and regular basis. I was raised in a multigenerational family where death and difficulties were a natural life event. I was never afraid of death; however, it was extremely important to me that the one who was dying had a voice. Within a short time I lost two best friends, my grandmother, and my dad. I became well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
To be honest, I don’t often think about how long they’ve been gone; I remember them. I remember our deep friendship and I am filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude for the relationships the Lord brought into my life. I miss my grandparents and my dad. They were all huge influences in my life and who I have become, but Allison and Minnie drove me into the arms of Jesus where I wept and yelled until I was empty. It was during this period of desolation that I learned that a thorn of pain can become a strength. Just as a wound heals with a scar that is visible and stronger than the surrounding skin, a break heals but often leaves us with a limp. These are outward signs of internal growth and healing. When I think that I can do this life on my own, I am always reminded by this thorn of loss that it is only when I am weak and dependent upon him, that the Lord’s strength becomes my true strength. This thorn has made me a better chaplain, wife, mom, daughter, sister, grandmother and friend. Most days I boast about my weakness and thank God for my thorn.
We are saved by a man who chose to be well acquainted with grief. Jesus is the only savior who truly understands our human pain. During this Lenten season let us remember…
Prayer: Blessed Savior, in this Lenten season, remind us of the scars that your bore on your body for us. Remind us that in our weakness, your strength is manifest. Remind us in the coming days to pause in your presence that we might experience your healing, spiritually if not physically.
Rev. Monica Rikli
Chaplain, Memorial Central Hospital, Colorado Springs