Every year that I taught a Phillips child at CBA in Shreveport, I got a wonderful jar of homemade mayhaw jelly! Oh, man, that was good stuff. I have never had a better tasting jelly. In Alabama, the Viravongs gave me crabmeat every year for my Christmas gumbo. What a lavish gift that was! Throughout my home, there are several items that, when I see them, I think of the student, friend or teacher who gave them to me, and for what occasion.
However, I’m about to come clean about something. Understand, I’m not proud of it at all. To admit it makes me feel quite ungrateful and unworthy of ever receiving another gift- but here goes, nonetheless: I have re-gifted.
There it is- it’s out there. Undoubtedly, there are others like me- teachers, principals, and other professionals who are in the business of serving families- who have done the same thing (oh, please let there be at least one!). But when the students and families that you are working with number in the thousands over the years, what else is going to happen to all those mugs and calendars and Christmas ornaments? Why not re-home these items to the less fortunate? (Although I will say that I have several very special mugs and Christmas ornaments that I pull out every year. )
When I was thinking about my re-gifting “transgressions” the other day, the thought came to my mind that the gifts that God gives us not only can be re-gifted, they must be. Let me explain what I mean by this, and to do that, I will share a little bit about a gift the Lord gave me that really didn’t seem like a gift at all.
It was a little over twenty years ago that I began experiencing unexplained symptoms- things that affected me physically, emotionally and cognitively. I will spare you the long grocery list of stuff that I dealt with (and still do)- that’s not the point of this blog. The point is this- the Lord chose that particular time to give me a gift that would last me the rest of my lifetime- and that gift came in the form of an autoimmune disease, which is a disease in which your body can’t tell the difference between normal healthy tissue and organs and those which need to be attacked as intruders- so your body is in a constant state of attacking itself.
This disease is a lifelong battle, because there is no cure, and really, very few effective treatments. The first few years after my diagnosis, when the full impact of how helpless I am against this disease hit me, I was so angry and bitter and depressed. I was not the kind of person anyone would want to be around. I became so self-focused, so aware of every symptom to the point that every pain, every problem became even more magnified.
I know what you’re thinking…. “So wait… this is a gift?”
Yep. And after twenty years, here’s how I finally figured it out. One day I was reading 2 Corinthians 12, and I got to that part where Paul says, “…there was given me a thorn in the flesh…” Now, Paul does not say that this was a curse, even though some say that the use of the term “thorn” refers back to man’s curse of sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), but the term here actually means “a stake through the flesh.” Different kind of thorn. But not more pleasant.
Though this thorn was described as a “messenger of Satan,” because God allowed it in his life, ultimately Paul was given this thorn by God. And what do we know about that which is given to us by God? Just look at James 1:17- that verse says that every gift that comes from God is good and perfect, and since nothing in Him ever varies, no matter how we may want to view the gifts He chooses for us, whether they are things we consider good or bad, there is no escaping the fact that He only gives good and perfect gifts to us.
Therefore, if God only gives us good and perfect gifts, then it is my perspective that must change regarding this gift that He has given me in the form of this disease. I have a choice in how I receive this gift. I can choose to give in to the pain, the emotional upheaval, the almost constant discomfort- to give in and be miserable. Or I can choose to start every morning by placing this body, mind, and spirit at the foot of the cross and beg for His grace and His power to dwell in me despite how I feel, despite my circumstances. Wait, let me say that another way… I can beg for HIS grace and HIS power to dwell in me despite it all.
See, Paul spelled out why God gave him the thorn in the flesh, and I don’t think that this is too far off for us. He said that this was to keep him from exalting himself. Paul had a problem with pride, but no matter what area your stumbling block might be in your life, it all goes back to “self,” and God’s Word is very clear that our lives are not about us, they are about Him. If we try to do anything in our own power, we will soon experience the frustration, anger and disappointment that comes from those endeavors.
Then Paul gets to the part that really cuts right to the heart of it. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, he says, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Being well content doesn’t mean that Paul took pleasure in the pain he was experiencing. It meant that he was able to change his perspective from being Paul-centered to being Christ-centered. To put it in terms I can relate to… if my having to live the autoimmune life means that the power and grace of Christ will be revealed in my life, then I will choose to be content with that. I will make the willful choice NOT to allow my body and emotions and circumstances to overcome me, and choose to submit to the grace and power of Christ.
And this is where the re-gifting part comes in. The grace and power that flows through us in our weaknesses allows us to minister in the lives of others who are experiencing weaknesses of their own. We can give a word of encouragement, we can listen, we can share resources and chocolate. We can take this gift of disease and discomfort and pain, and turn it into a gift of mercy and grace and love for everyone that we meet.
It’s hard to do- being merciful, gracious and loving to others when you feel pretty lousy most of the time. But once you “get” it- once you finally understand what this thing is all about, once your own perspective changes, you will find that this unwanted gift is the instrument that God has chosen specifically for YOUR life, for this time and place for the purpose of making you more like Him, and the purpose of your being His heart in the lives of those around you.
This does not happen overnight, and it is not an easy process. There are many times I fail, many times I give up. I get tired, I get weary. There are days I don’t want to do anything but hide. But on those days, I pray for an extra measure of grace, and work hard to act in that grace.
We all have these unwanted gifts. What are you going to do with yours?