Water color pine trees
Choosing Joy in Suffering title
Brook Wayne

… for the joy of the LORD is your strength.Nehemiah 8:10b

When 2020 started, I had no idea what a challenging year lay ahead. I picked a “word of the year” to help me stay focused, and I chose “intentional.” (Okay, it was actually the third year in a row, but you moms understand, right?) I wanted very much to be more intentional with my children, particularly with four teenagers and their life-launch looming ahead.

My husband has been speaking at churches and conferences for over twenty-five years and, as a family, we have sought to travel with him whenever it is feasible. This often means a lot of interesting and unusual experiences. We’ve seen more gas station bathrooms than we ever cared to. We’ve carefully scoured fast food menus for the “healthiest” options. We’ve carted our Instant Pot across the country to eat simple and nutritious meals when possible in hotel rooms. We’ve stopped at free historical spots for educational field trips.

Footprints in the snow
“We haven’t prayed for God to remove the struggle but to help us to experience the joy of the Lord in the midst of it.”

Last year, as I was living out of a suitcase, doing my best to keep our family in presentable appearance (and fed on top of that), I met up with a friend. I had known her for a few years, and we’ve been able to have a conversation or two each summer. We shared our equal desire to not just survive the busy homeschooling years, but to actually pass on something from the Lord to our children. My friend shared how the Lord convicted her to not just get by each day, but to live daily life savoring the joy of her salvation in the Lord. I took note. I could see it in her face. There was real joy there.

So, in the first weeks of the year, that conversation kept going through my mind. I realized intentional (while a great word) wasn’t for this year. I began focusing on the phrase “joy in the salvation of the Lord” as my word for 2020. Little did I know the idea of being intentional, at least in the way I envisioned it, knocking out my to-do list and making every school day count, would go by the wayside. Instead, we would enter a new season that involved many trials.

It all began in February when our (then) 8-year-old daughter, Charity, completely stopped walking. She had been experiencing knee pain over the last two years, after a swollen knee that was seemingly out of the blue. But doctors and specialists gave us no answers. We were told at that time, “Sometimes children’s knees just swell up for no reason.” Um, really? We certainly had never had that experience before. Over the next two years she seemed fine, except for occasional joint pain, but in February, all of a sudden she couldn’t walk.

Our days became a juggling act of doctors visits, trying to understand why she had such intense pain in her knee. Through our own research, we narrowed it down to Lyme. It took some doing to convince the doctors to test for it, but eventually the lab results came back positive. She had Lyme Disease.

Water color tree

The Covid-19 shutdown in our state coincided within days of the diagnosis. We had never seen a tick and never experienced a bullseye rash or any symptoms, other than the one-time incident of a swollen knee and occasional pain following. A month of antibiotics did nothing to help our Charity but simply drove the Lyme bacteria deeper into her system. She began having nearly every Lyme symptom, as well as most side effects listed from the medication. We went into full-time caregiving mode as Charity could not walk, feed herself, or use the restroom without assistance. She lived in constant pain as her nerves screamed at her day and night.

Speaking events and book sales are our family’s main means of support. We love what we do and are blessed to serve families by encouraging parents to disciple their children with a Biblical worldview. As it became apparent that Covid-19 wasn’t going away, one by one, all upcoming events cancelled. After a long winter, finances were already tight, and most of our resources were tied up in medical bills (later thankfully reimbursed by Samaritan Ministries). If I’d had time or emotional space to worry, I can tell you, as a full-scale recovering worrywart, I would have been a wreck.

As it was, I had so many other things on my mind watching my sweet Charity, who was usually so stable and tender, go through this fight day after day. Her nerves quit hurting, and we were told they were likely in some sort of dormant state. Lyme is not typically fatal. I knew that. I knew that she would most likely make it through this horrible illness. Nonetheless, when this fragile little girl, who is not prone to emotional outbursts or over exaggeration, said she felt like she was going to die, I really wrestled. How could I give up such a precious little girl? Would I survive? I thought I had surrendered all to the Lord. I felt I would continue to love and serve Him no matter what happened. But the emotions of that time were heavy, and it was a hard path to walk. Little did we know we would have one or two more “valley of the shadow of death” roads to go through.

Wayne family holiday picture

This season did something to me. It made me cling a little closer to my children, hugging them a little more and valuing each day with them. It also gave me a deeper sympathy for families who have lost a child. Our trial didn’t involve the ultimate test. For many others, it has. But ours brought me closer to understanding that, if that is the pathway we must go through, God will carry us. It opened my eyes a little wider to see that salvation in the Lord is really the most important thing in life. It renewed my understanding that every child of mine will see death at a point. I will do my best to promote life, health, and safety, but in the end, it is life in the Lord that will prevail.

After all those months of difficulty, that phrase, “joy in the salvation of the Lord,” came back to me. It was timely because we soon found out that our 18-year-old daughter also had Lyme Disease. It helped to explain undiagnosed health issues she has wrestled with since she was 12. Again, we never saw a tick bite, so we were not inclined to consider Lyme until after Charity was diagnosed.

Children on a walk in black and white

In August, our 4-year-old daughter developed serious health symptoms. We took her on a Friday night to the emergency room. Believing it was meningitis, they rushed her and me to a children’s hospital an hour and a half away. She was there for five days and we had a few serious scares. Within a couple of days, the verdict was in. It was actually Lyme Disease.

While we were still in the hospital, our 14-year-old son’s knee swelled up for no reason. We’d been down this road before…Lyme Disease! I knew allowing the emotional frustration with the whole situation to fester wasn’t going to do any good. But inside, I either wanted to scream or fall on the floor crying. It had already been so hard. We dumped everything—time, money, and resources—into fighting Lyme with our other two children. And yet, here’s what I wrote in my journal during this time:

“I can’t revert to before the tick. I can’t take away the Lyme bacteria. I can’t turn back time, before the full-time care, the pain, the sickness, the neuro damage, the crutches, the wheelchair, the rash and swelling, and pain, pain, pain. I can’t bring back normal life when my children ran freely and we had no medical bills. So, on this I stand: Oh, Lord, don’t waste our pain. Don’t let our tears fall without redemption. I can’t take away the days and months sitting in doctor’s offices conducting test after test. But this I plead, though the outer vessel is falling apart, please renew the inner man. Though weakness is displayed on the outside shell, I ask that the souls of my children, every one of them, healthy or sick, would become stronger through this fiery trial. I pray the health of their souls would be their utmost concern (and ours!). I want to see an eternal reaping; and in seeing, please grant me wisdom to pass that vision onto my children. Please, oh Lord, do something eternal in our family through and because of this Lyme walk. Why have Lyme if it isn’t useful to the Lord? What good is it if we go through this trial with our eyes closed to the goodness of God? How are His eternal purposes met in my family if I stop up my heart against the Lord; if we achieve health, but my children’s souls are lost in the mix? Help me to see this trial aright through Kingdom eyes. Life is in the hand of the Lord.”

This continues to be my prayer. We’ve seen a lot of ups and downs this year. But even more than health, we’ve had a taste this year of what’s really valuable – and that’s the health of the soul. We haven’t prayed for God to remove the struggle but to help us to experience the joy of the Lord in the midst of it. 2020 has been rough, as I know it has been for many of you, too. But God isn’t finished with us yet. As my favorite new T-shirt says “in this family, no one fights alone.”

Each year, Homeschooling Today highlights a ministry our HST family can give to during the holiday season. This year, we invite you to help support the Wayne family in appreciation for all they have done for the homeschooling community. As you can imagine, medical bills along with the loss of convention income has been very difficult. If you would like to help, you can donate to the Wayne family through their GoFundMe page.
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Water color painting of pine trees

rook Wayne is an author and conference speaker. She is, with her husband, Israel, a co-founder of Family Renewal. Brook is a homeschooled graduate and homeschooling mother of ten. www.FamilyRenewal.org