In the Bible, we find many stories of God’s people being put through fiery trials. Job, Abraham, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, and even Samson are a few that come to mind. Once they endured the trials faithfully, God found them fit to do His will. God tells their stories to teach us that those who know Him will often, like saints of old, experience rough times; and He wants us to have examples of what to expect in this earthly process of becoming fit for our Master’s service. We tend to think of the heroes of faith as in a different bracket, but these Bible stories reveal they were humans just like us. We can see ourselves in them, experiencing the same fear, and sometimes faithlessness. The trials of life are meant to cause us to see the eternal above the temporal. When we respond to the fiery trials in faith, it burns away the world and works for our good and His glory.
“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
This is my story of how we were put through the fire, which, at times, seemed to consume me. When I look back, I realize God was proving me, testing me, and making me ready to do the work He had for me. You notice that I call this my story rather than our story. Mike was the one hit so hard with diseases, but he says he slept through most of our fiery trials. You will understand why he says that after reading this. I was wide awake the whole time. I would like to say I rested in God’s mercy, but the reality is I spent a great deal of time full of fear. Many of you that are reading this have been through the fires of life, so you understand; and, for many, there are rough days soon to come. I am here to tell you that in the end, it’s worth it all.
Here's My Story:
If you had seen us in 1979 you would have thought we were just a couple of Jesus-loving hippies. Oh, but we were young, and we were riding high. We made our living by selling art from a booth in a Memphis mall during the Christmas season. Mike, my tall, dark, handsome, and muscular husband stayed at the booth painting what we called “quickies.” These were simple, repetitive landscapes that provided entertainment to the spectators (which included a lot of ladies) all day, seven days a week, for about five weeks. Depending on the year and how many young children I had at the time, I would show up most days to do my small part of painting and selling. The Christmas season of 1979 found us both there painting and selling as fast as we could. It was a very profitable year of sales; we were rolling in the dough. Little did we know that by early spring great calamities would befall us. We would go through years of fire. But who knows what lies ahead?
It was an early spring Sunday morning when the headache started. Mike had migraine headaches all his life, so when he complained of a headache I didn’t think much of it. But when he asked me to call the men of the church to come and lay hands on him and pray, I was surprised, since he had never asked them to pray for him before. I anxiously waited for them, but not one man showed up.
By the next morning, Mike told me to take him to the doctor because the headache was worse than any he had ever experienced. After a long wait, he almost wasn’t able to walk; his voice was slurred, and he had to have his eyes covered because he couldn’t bear the light. He was unconscious before they got him into a room. He lay in a coma for ten days while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. It was Mike’s mom who informed the doctors that he had the symptoms of encephalitis. She was correct.
Encephalitis is an infection of the lining of the brain. There is no treatment. One-third of the people who get it die, with another third ending up with some brain damage, resulting in permanent physical disabilities. The medical establishment doesn’t follow up on the last third, so it is assumed they are normal. The doctors said Mike had a severe case.
Mike said the first thing he remembers while in the hospital was when one of the young, unstable ex-addicts of our church slipped in and lay hands on him and whispered a prayer of healing. Mike woke from the coma. After eleven days, he was back on his shaky feet, asking what had happened in the last week and a half; but he was far from normal. Among other nasty things, encephalitis seems to disrupt the production of dopamine, which is often referred to as the feel-good neurotransmitter/hormone.
The old documentary “Awakening” (free on YouTube) portrays the long-term effects of encephalitis. The film reveals how a synthetic dopamine drug awakened those who had been brain locked for many years. It also shows how even human touch, which releases dopamine, helps the brain function better. The show is worth watching, at least it was for me, since I ended up living the encephalitis nightmare for a number of years while Mike struggled to regain his memory. The worst part was, I didn’t have a clue as to what was wrong with Mike, and he didn’t think anything was wrong. He just thought he had a poor memory and I was making something out of nothing—“So stop bothering me about it.” It is hard to believe, but after about three months he was able to resume teaching the Bible as before, remembering Scripture with clarity. This was amazing since in almost everything else his brain was mush.
The disease caused him to have peculiar insecurities. He didn’t allow me to drive anywhere. Months passed and then years with this odd confusion and lack of short-term memory ever-present. When I needed to go to the grocery store, he would take the children and me and drop us off; he was not comfortable going into stores. Oddly, he refused to take me to two different places on the same day. It caused him stress, though he didn’t think he was stressed. He just felt the need to get back home where everything made sense. If I needed to go to the drug store or we needed to get gas for the car, then we would have to go on separate trips. Mostly, he just put off going anywhere.
On several occasions, he drove home without us. I tied ribbons to his fingers and to the steering wheel of our car to help him remember to pick us up. I taped notes everywhere to help him remember simple things. One time he went to my mom’s house and asked her where I was. She helped him think the day’s events through until he remembered he had left us at the grocery. It was July—HOT, (over 100 degrees) and I was eight months pregnant. The ice cream had all melted, as we had waited for hours. Cell phones were unknown at the time.
He was able to make kitchen cabinets for people, but couldn’t remember who had ordered them, or where they lived or how to get them there, even though I had the paperwork for him to follow. I went with him on the job to help him find his way. It was during this time that he came to see that he was missing large sections of his daily memory. This was a breakthrough. Just his noticing his memory loss let us know he was getting better.
I don’t think any of our friends (except my parents and maybe one close buddy) realized what we were living through. I was front and center for the next two Christmas seasons at the mall. When things overwhelmed me, Mike would show up to paint pictures. He was just as good at art as he had ever been. The disease seemed to pick and choose which areas of the brain to muddle.
By December 1982, Mike’s brain had made significant improvement, although he still had bad memory issues. But he was able to run the art booth. Right after the Christmas season, we left with two other families for a two-months mission trip to Belize in Central America. I was newly pregnant. It turned out to be a tough nine weeks, living in near-primitive conditions with limited food and almost no protein. I was so glad to be back home. Sadly, unknown to us, Mike had contracted malaria while in Belize, although it would be six months before it manifested itself.
By September, I was full-term with baby number five and had planned another home birth. I went to the doctor one last time to make sure all was well, since we didn’t have a midwife. He told me I was already in labor, fully effaced and 4 cm dilated, so get home fast. I was delighted.
I stopped to pick up mail and saw a letter from Shelby County Court summoning us to court and threatening to take our children if we didn’t STOP homeschooling and put them in public school immediately. I walked into the house to show Mike the letter when the children came running, saying Daddy was really sick. He was indeed. Mike had thrown up all over the bed and floor. He was burning with fever. I told the children to go outside and play so I could clean and try to find out what was wrong with Daddy. Within minutes, I heard terrible screams. The older children had taken the almost two-year-old and put her in the swing, which, unknown to them, was directly over a yellow jacket’s ground nest. The two older kids fled to the pond. Nathan, who was almost five, returned, grabbed his baby sister and ran to the house. Nathan, our hero, was stung four times on his head and neck. My brain just couldn’t process so much at one time. I felt like I was living a nightmare. Remember, I was in labor with number five, and I have very short labors.
Later that evening, Mike woke and seemed normal for a brief two hours, but we didn’t know if the fevers would hit again. He told me to watch Nathan all night because the swelling could close up his breathing. I had just stripped the bed, cleaned, and mopped; and now, I had a sweet little boy who was so swollen he couldn’t see. I could sense the trauma and fear I was experiencing had caused my body to stop labor.
After a couple of hours, Mike’s fever returned. All night I put cold, wet clothes on his burning, fevered head while he thrashed and called out weird numbers; and then I would go to Nathan to bathe his swollen face. I can’t tell you how tired a person can be. At daybreak, I called both sets of parents and they came. My dad was a Navy vet and told us Mike had malaria (we learned later it was a very BAD kind of malaria). We got meds, and four days later Mike was slightly recovered and under his mama’s care. I joined him there, and an hour later labor started again. The baby was born within 15 minutes. I was and am so thankful for our parents. Mike says he can remember parts and pieces of this time in our life.
By now, it was mid-September. Mike was weak as water, but thankfully, his brain seemed to be working better. The court was still hanging over our heads, threatening us and sending Child Services out to question our children. We were on TV and in the newspaper, as supposedly, the first homeschoolers of Tennessee. Mike was having to give TV interviews, answering hostile questions. The devil really knows how and when to hit where it matters the most. Our situation got so tense that Mike actually taught the kids how to crawl out a basement window and escape through the woods to a barn about a mile away, where grandparents would pick them up and haul them out of state if the cops and Child Services came to get them. More than all the hardships we had been going through, the threat of losing my children put me in an ongoing state of panic.
And to top it off, our main source of income was from sales at the mall, which started in November. That season, I laid my newborn in a basket at my feet while I painted simple pictures and entertained those walking by. Mike was still in recovery mode and often played Mr. Mom. I am not as good an artist as Mike (and certainly not as good an entertainer), plus the economy had taken a bad hit, so that year at the mall sales were dismal. This was when we learned what a recession was. It would be our last year at the mall. I was having to learn how to make big decisions. It was hard. I couldn’t pay our yearly house note at the bank, so I had to take out a loan to just pay the interest, which had gone up to 22%. Within two years we put our house up for sale and moved to Cane Creek. You can read the rest of the story here.
Why had all these sicknesses and hardships hit us? It was like BAM—BAM—BAM
Were we being punished? When you are in the fire, it is hard to see anything BUT THE FIRE. Looking back, I can see God’s refining fire was doing just what we needed. Just like with His servants of old, God had to prove my faithfulness as Mike’s help meet so He could use me to write Created to Be His Help Meet, which is now in 17 languages and read by women all over the world. Mike always said I needed to get a backbone and stand strong in the face of obstacles and criticism. That time of fiery trials certainly pushed me to do just that. God had to allow Satan to strip Mike’s brain to find out if he would keep on keeping on in the face of fear, uncertainty, and terrible memory loss. When encephalitis didn’t break him, the devil gave us more blows at the worst possible times. I could almost hear God say to Satan, “See, they are faithful. Now leave them be so they can do the work I have for them.” And just like those Bible guys, we proved that we love and trust God with all our hearts. Was it worth it? If you could only see what we see each day, then you would know it is worth it a thousand times over.
God uses anyone who just loves and trusts Him. A lot of mamas don’t feel like their lives have any eternal meaning, but no one can see what God is doing. For that reason, we have no idea how important difficult events can be. All God needed from Abraham and Sarah was a son. Please note that God needed Sarah just as much as He needed Abraham. God waited until they were really old to give them that son. Likewise, God waited until we were old and basically retired to suddenly open an opportunity to reach the world with the gospel.
Just in the last three years, many millions of people who have never heard the gospel are hearing through No Greater Joy Ministries. In Iran, perhaps the most hostile regime against the gospel, one out of every eighty people, in just the month of November, saw the Good and Evil book on the web, and up to 70% downloaded it. If those who downloaded it shared it with only one or two family members or friends, then around one out of every forty Iranians would have seen a clear presentation of God’s plan of redemption. Iran is the country that is threatening the very existence of Israel. What a precious opportunity to give them the gospel. And that was just one month and one country in one language. It is available online, free, in 43 languages, with many more being added as fast as we can get them translated and formatted. There are over seventy in the works right now.
All over the world people are reading the gospel: Africa, India, Pakistan, Mexico, South America, the Middle East, China, etc. People are hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus. We read their letters of new found faith. Good and Evil books are also being printed in many languages, with the knowledge that the web will likely be unavailable or greatly restricted during the Tribulation. So when the Saints of God are taken out in the Rapture, there will be hard copies of Good and Evil books left behind all over the world. Now our ministry of getting the gospel out is both before and after the Rapture.
I weep with great joy, knowing that some of that multitude standing around the throne of God will be there because we proved faithful. I promise you it was worth it all. For those of you who pour into this ministry, the Bible declares that your reward will be the same as those that faithfully sit at NGJ’s desk and make these gospel posts: Some plow, some plant, some water, and some reap.
“After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all the nations and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;” (Rev 7:9)
“And they sung a new song, saying, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Rev 5:9)
“And there was given unto him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
Sometimes the blackest days are the most important of our lives; sometimes they are the most eternally effective. We need to keep this ever before us in the coming dark days. We can choose to keep on keeping on, trusting that God’s plan is good, or we can become bitter and angry at our suffering and loss. None of us can see the big picture when we sit in ashes, none of us can know the beauty of what God is doing. But all of us can trust and obey, for there is soon coming a day when we will “know even as we also are known.”