It's not quite a quiver full, but it's a start!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Testimony through Trials

This Thanksgiving I was led on a journey of learning how to worship through thanks and praise. During my 25 Days of Thanksgiving, when I made it halfway on my list of 1,000, when I learned to thank God for my family's experiences with Autism, and I finally reached the point where I could truly thank Him for the hardest things. This year, I was able to celebrate a truly gracious Thanksgiving. But the number one thing I took from this Journey of Thanksgiving was that this spirit of Thanksgiving is about a lifestyle, not just a season. It's all about recognizing that God is in control. Recognizing His hand wherever you are, in whatever may come, however He decides to work.

Here is a great testimony of a family's faith through the trying times. This is the story of our former Associate Minister of Music and his wife, Matt and Sheri Rouse. It's a little long since it was taken from their transcript of the Grain Game's Winter Ball speech, but I encourage you to read it when you have time. Their testimony and encouragement is truly a great reminder of the strength we have been given in Christ in every situation. A word from Matt before you read: Tonight is the first time I have spoken in public about this, for it has taken me months to become comfortable sharing what you are about to read. The story goes beyond my health into the greater purposes God has for our lives...for good and in the bad.

Matt: Sheri and I have some difficult things to share with you tonight, but also some exciting answers to prayer where God has showed Himself to be the One who sees the whole picture of our lives and has worked to turn the devastating into good. Last February, after many tests and consultations with specialists, I was diagnosed with what appears to be front temporal dementia at the age of 43. This rare disease is much more aggressive and different than Alzheimer’s. It affects the frontal lobe of the brain. At onset it is limited primarily to executive function problems and personality changes. The really bad news is that it is 100% fatal and untreatable. In March, my doctor told Sheri that my life expectancy was much shorter than we first thought, because with this disease the younger you are at diagnosis, the shorter your life expectancy. When it came time for my doctor to discuss my life expectancy, I asked to leave the room. I continued to believe I would make it at least 10 more years according to more optimistic research I had made. It took me until early June before I was willing to hear what my doctors had told Sheri regarding my life expectancy. The day I heard the words, “Two to three years, and make sure to spend the next year making family memories and taking lots of pictures,” - is a day that changed my life forever.

That night, after we cried and held each other, I asked Sheri to book a week long cruise for our family, one that would include Roatan, Honduras and other countries. I knew it was time to take a serious look at my “bucket list” and take action. I have always had a burden for missions. When Sheri and I were teenagers we had discussions about feeling God’s call for the foreign mission field. For several years we wrestled with whether to pursue church ministry work or foreign missions. We believe we pursued what God led us to do, but now that I have been diagnosed with dementia it is as though God is making my thoughts more clear and focused toward missions and that our burden for missions has only grown. As I come to consider that my time is likely much shorter on this earth than I had ever imagined, it makes me feel and believe the REALITY that NONE of us are promised tomorrow. I am now trying to live in that reality and pray daily for God’s power to show me the way.

In the early part of the year, unable to perform ministry as I have for over 2 decades, I looked deep inside and decided to become a serious prayer warrior for missions. After all, "active" ministry is not an option. Not trying to be boastful - for it is only because of God's mercy in showing me so many needs around the world and not of my own human effort - I now spend considerable time most every weekday praying for our lost world, and have come to find it addictive - to the point that Sheri recently lost her patience in waiting for us to go out together for lunch one day because I was still in my prayer "office" with maps, and books of the cities of the world, and the Grain Game email updates spread before me when it was well past lunch. God has allowed me to use my time off to do the real heavy lifting of the kingdom work in prayer support. And Chip has reminded me time and time again that nothing significant can happen through [the ministry of] Grain Game without intentional prayer. We are seeing God act.

I wish I could say that this disease is the only hardship we have experienced this year, it is but one of many. On top of a difficult and unexpected end to my career last January, I severed my Achilles tendon while standing still playing basketball with my son, Josh. This injury required surgery, no weight bearing for months, and various with plaster casts. Then, 3 days after going from a cast to a walking boot I ruptured the same tendon again and had to undergo a very involved and painful tendon transfer surgery. Essentially, I did not walk without the assistance of a wheelchair, scooter or crutches from the end of January until September. Sheri especially had a hard time with this injury on top of everything else and neither of us saw how any good could come out of going on our “bucket-list” cruise with a non-weight bearing leg following the second Achilles tear. This injury eliminated most of the snorkeling, cave tubing and beach walks we would normally enjoy.

Ironically, I severed the first tendon while out of town at a prayer and healing service for my dementia disease, so I came back home physically in worse shape despite intense prayers for healing. Then, I ruptured it the second time while at church! We still believe in God’s healing power and continue to seek God, humbly ask for complete healing, repent of any known sin, and have allowed prayer groups to anoint me with oil and join with us in prayer. But up to this moment we have not seen the reality of His divine healing. We do not know if He will completely heal me, but we can see where He has already used my health for what may bring about the salvation of many others. I am willing to be used as His vessel in this way if that is the path God has chosen for me. I will not ask, “Why me?” Instead, I ask, “Why not me?” He is God and I am not.

Sheri: Each year at Christmas, since 1995, I have asked God for a specific character trait or spiritual gift as His gift to me for the following year. Last December, I was convicted to ask for “self-less love” without knowing ahead what was coming in 2011. God has often responded to my yearly request through difficult circumstances that have helped mold me more to His character, but it has not been an easy road by any means. However, I am not the same since 1995, and I would not trade what God has done in our lives for these serious trials. As Job laments, “Shall I accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10 NIV).

One of the cruise’s four ports was Roatan, Honduras, and I really wanted to find a mission opportunity there but I did not have time to make any preparations due to my Bar exam study schedule. I had a strong burden for our family to participate in a mission activity in our one day stop on the island of Roatan. I thought about taking a taxi to a local orphanage or school to play with kids and pass out toys, clothes, candy and Bibles. But, alas, time was too short to make plans. I later learned, God had bigger plans and He is the One who sees even when our schedules are too full to pray long prayers like Matt has the time to bring on other’s behalf. But God responded to my desperate, frequent prayers spoken as I ran through those preceding months trying to keep everyone in our family on track and pass the Bar exam. I survived by posting copies of a single scripture verse of whatever God led me to in 7 locations around our house each week and praying that verse throughout the day regarding every heartache and obstacle we faced.

On the ship when disembarking at Roatan, we bought tickets to tour Gumbalimba Park to play with wild monkeys, zipline through the rain forest, and see one of the most beautiful places, Tabyana Beach. However, when our tour bus arrived at Gumbalimba Park the pathways were made of gravel, uneven and too rugged for Matt on his knee scooter or crutches. God promises to make the “rough places plain”, and I thought of this as our guide pointed to an older man on a golf cart who said he would be happy to drive us through the park. He dressed like the other tour guides but we noticed that whenever we rode into an area with him we had special attention and he knew quite a lot of detail about everything in the park. A few hours into our tour Matt mentioned he was a minister and tried to make an effort at ascertaining our guide’s spirituality. The man replied that he was a local pastor of an interdenominational, protestant church in Roatan. The conversation did not go much further and this man seemed to quietly contemplate things. So did I.

Matt mentioned how he regretted not being able to zip line with his foot injury. The man said he could arrange that and have a guide before him and another following after him who would safely transfer him on one leg on 17 tree stands through the one mile course. Although this was a popular excursion this man arranged it in a brief call from his radio. Next, this man asked if he could take us in his personal vehicle to see his church. Of course we accepted with delight. I knew I had underestimated this man when he pulled up in a new Harley Davidson edition Ford pickup truck valued at about $60k, for we had seen only old model vehicles in Roatan. We soon learned that this man, our humble guide for the day, Marco Galindo, owned the park & the beach, built the church himself, feeds 125 or more poor Roatans two meals daily, and loves to host mission groups.

After a couple hours at this church, Marco grinned at us and said, “Nothing makes me happier in this world than to host mission trips, would you like to come back and bring others?” Marco is now hosting us for Grain Game Roatan sometime in the future[...] He will gather as many kids we can handle - “100 or 1000” were his words. He is also open to any other type of mission trips we might feel led to do there[...] Our God who sees knew that unless we had a need for the “rough places to be made smooth” then this opportunity would likely have been missed. We now thank God for the severed Achilles tendon that made all of this possible.

I am so thankful for the Rouse's wonderful testimony. Praise God for every situation, for we never know how he will use it if we follow Him. Also check out The Grain Game website and prayerfully consider making a donation to this ministry.

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