Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
Some of us can be nudged out of our complacency with just a subtle thought, a conversation, an inspiration.
God chooses a more dramatic and painful path for others.
We often wonder how God wants to use the deepest suffering in our life to transform our heart and soul.
John Paine is a Dallas husband, father, businessman who now knows what God had in mind in his life. He and his family "had it all." Great times together, great friends, generally happy and healthy, went to church on Sunday, "in control" of every aspect of his life.
The Paines were a Christian family. "Everything looked great on the outside," says wife Margaret. Everyone was healthy, they took fabulous family vacations together, a beautiful family photo was included each year with the family Christmas card, finances were good.
John's focus was always on doing, accomplishing. Determined that no one would ever think of him as weak, he worked to become a running back at one of Texas’ high school football powers. At Texas A&M University he worked to be strong by becoming a top student. Then in his career, he worked to be strong by becoming a successful businessman. John led several businesses that were consistently successful. He and Margaret raised three strong and successful young adults, and began having grandchildren. He believed emotions were signs of weakness. His children never saw him cry. "I depended on my reason and logic all my life." Not God.
But in his late 40s, John - picture of strength - noticed some growing physical weaknesses in his routine at the local gym. It was determined to be the dreaded, fatal Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as ALS).
Son John recalls his chats with God. Some would call it bargaining. It was all about rejection of the disease and pleading for "a different plan. I had a better plan, I was sure, a genius plan" that could bring about any transformation God wanted in their family without paralyzing his father and ultimately taking his life. That's where the Paine family was for several years as the disease progressed relentlessly, begging and praying for a cure. John became reliant on others for driving, eating, dressing, bathing. Aides were brought in; a lift was put in use to transfer John from his wheelchair to his bed at night; when he could no longer breathe on his own, breathing apparatus was added to his wheelchair. The typical lifespan of an ALS victim is 3-5 years at most.
But John has defied the odds and the statistics, still living now 15 years after his diagnosis. His body ravaged by the disease and immobile on his own, the physically weak John is spiritually a million times stronger. And the irony is, John and his family are now so grateful for the physical devastation that brought about spiritual transformation.
"We're either becoming bitter or we're becoming better, and I didn't want to be bitter." They gradually accepted the diagnosis and stopped fighting with it. "My heart was in a very different place … I was so filled with my self-will because it seemed so hard to find God’s,” Paine said. “My heart was not in a very good place to be transformed because there was not a lot of room for God to work within my heart.” He says God needed to do an "intervention" in his life.
“For me, it turned out to be ALS,” Paine says. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, but I am thankful and grateful for a transformed heart. … I love dependence upon God’s will today rather than my own, and trusting him instead of my reason and logic. I missed out on all the supernatural power and intimacy that were available to me because I was trying to live my life. What I always wanted... peace, contentment, joy, relationships...I've discovered that I attempted to fulfill those through success, achievement, accomplishments, the good opinion of others, you name it, a lot of yard sticks that are used, and I'll just tell you that I did not receive those - peace, contentment, joy, relationships from all those sources. This has been a transformation of slowing down, of solitude, of a deeper relationship with God, and through that I did receive all that I ever longed for and desired. A peace occurred in the midst of turmoil. A contentment occurred in the midst of a horrible diagnosis. Joy occurred in the midst of very bad circumstances. And so intimate relationships occurred with the most important people - God, my wife, my children. How could you not be lucky to have all that?"
Paine said if he was given only two choices, he would keep what he has.
“If I were given the opportunity to be fully healed and be able to hold my wife’s hand again, put my arm around her, hug my grandchildren, pick up a cup of coffee, not have to drink it out of a straw, if I was able to be healed again and fully well, but in doing so I would have to go back to my former relationship with God. If I had that option, or I remain paralyzed, eventually will suffocate, but I got to experience this incredible relationship with God, I will tell you I would not hesitate. I will choose every time to maintain the relationship with God that I have today over anything because this is true living, and it’s the reason why I admonish men daily to not wait until they’re dying before they start really living.”