We have all read the story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the men who were killed on the shores of the river in Ecuador. Since we can see the whole picture now, we rejoice over the salvation of the Auca Indians. But put yourself in the shoes of the women who heard the news that their husbands were dead, killed by the very ones they had hoped to reach for Christ. You might have thought that God would take extra good care of those who have surrendered their lives to His ministry. You might even think that God should give them a pass when it comes to the deep trials of life. God does not think like a man thinks. There are no divine perks for ministers, there are no “get out of jail free cards” either. Trouble and adversity happen to all. What you do with it reveals your confidence in the sovereignty of God.
Bobbi and I had four boys. Up to that point, there were no real problems to speak of. Ben had trouble with wheezing for a few years, and Steven had over 100 warts on his hands. Then the miscarriages came. We wanted more children, but God took four children in the womb. We really did learn to trust God during those days. At one point Bobbi was giving herself shots twice a day, and we believed this child would carry. When that one died, we questioned the power of prayer and God’s wisdom. When Jared was conceived, we thought that he too would miscarry. We did not tell anyone that Bobbi was pregnant because we did not want to have to tell that she miscarried again. By God’s plan, Jared was born a healthy, full-term baby. Four months later, Jared began having whole body jerks. We called the doctor who told us to bring him in. Before we left the house, Jared began his first of thousands of grand-mal tonic-clonic seizures. This first seizure lasted for thirty minutes and only stopped when he was injected with Valium. We were told it was probably a febrile seizure, meaning he had a fever and the fever triggered the seizure. Four months later he had another one. Within a few months they were coming every few weeks. Before long, Jared was having daily seizures. Our normally developing two-year-old stopped developing. The seizures affected his ability to walk, talk, and even to feed himself. Jared stopped learning. We began to count the seizures; when Jared was four years old, he had over 800 seizures in one year.
By April of 2001, Jared was having some terrible days. The seizures had made him limp and lifeless. We called our doctor who recommended another change of drugs and then a delay of a couple of weeks. I called my dad; he took me to the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital and dropped me off in the ER. I was going to wait with Jared until they would see me. Jared had five seizures while we waited. It took three hours, but I finally met a doctor who took an interest in Jared. This began a series of hospital stays, two surgeries, and a dozen medicines.
There were times at church that I would look down while preaching and see Bobbi holding Jared, and he would be in a seizure while tears streamed down his mother’s face. We prayed; we asked others to pray. At one point, I believe Jared was the most prayed-for little boy in the country! But nothing really changed. In fact, Jared’s condition grew worse. His little body began to be immune to the medicines that were used to break him out of status epilepsy.
The result of this was twofold. My wife began to think that God was using this to make us miserable. We could never plan family outings; we could never go out without Jared. No one really wanted to baby-sit him, and we were never comfortable leaving him for long. UCH is nearly an hour from home, so one of us would stay with Jared in the hospital while the other would take care of the children at home. Then Stefani was born (after two more miscarriages), and Bobbi could not be long away from her. Our home was under attack, our marriage was under attack, our spiritual security was under attack. The other result was that we were living emotionally drained lives. When you watch your child go through seizure after seizure, all you want to do is hold him and care for his poor twitching and weak body.
I was aware that our marriage was being challenged. I was aware that my wife’s spirituality was under attack. I could not help her spiritual heart, but I could pull her close to myself. The doctor told me that 70% of families going through chronic illness have marriage troubles. I went to Bobbi and told her that we had to stick together; we needed each other now more than ever before. A church family reached out to us. Some friends came to the hospital and prayed with us.
Bobbi and I decided that we did not want to go through this trial so that we could later be a help to others; we just wanted our son to stop seizing. (Of course, this was not a very Biblical response.) In the meantime, we were still planting a church, running a business, preaching every week, and parenting our other five children. That is when we began to question whether God really knew what was going on. We asked, “Why?”
Events like those in Jared’s life often completely blindside you. They attack your faith, your finances, your marriage, and your future. Areas where you believe you are strong come under the greatest attack. For example, your prayer life slips. You ask, “Does God hear my prayer?” “Does my prayer make a difference?” “Does prayer change God’s mind?” “Is it even worth praying?” We learned the meaning of Romans 8: 26: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Of course, trials take you through a whole range of emotions. We asked whether Romans 8:28 was reliable. Would God use my sick child for His glory? Do I care if I will be able to help somebody else someday? Is God purposefully trying to ruin my family and my life? We would ask, “What does the future hold for my child, my family, and my ministry?” How should we find the right medical help? Educational help? Financial help? The doctor told us that neurology is an imperfect science. He gave us statistics, potential side effects of meds, made suggestions, and then asked us what we wanted to do.
When you experience these kinds of trials, you feel as if everything has been turned upside-down. The darkest hours take your joy away—unless your faith in the sovereignty of God is strong. At those times, if you are standing, you are not standing in your strength. As a pastor, I often had to go from the hospital room to the pulpit. Because epilepsy strikes without warning, the seizures often came in the middle of important events. For a period of time, we were in the hospital with Jared every weekend. Christian friends can help shoulder your load. They cannot carry it for you, but they can shoulder it. Christian music is also a great help. Husband and wife must be committed to work together. In those dark times, it is faith in the Word of God, and in the sovereign will of God that keeps you standing.
Jared has just completed a nineteen-month diet which has reduced his seizures to one a day. We are still waiting to see if his body holds or if he takes off again. Do not feel sorry for Jared. He is a happy little boy who lives in his own little world. Pray for us to find out how to educate him. Pray that his seizures stay at one a day or less. In the meantime, God has molded and shaped Jared’s family in ways that we never could have been shaped otherwise. Yes, God is sovereign over the affairs of men; and yes, God does all things well. It took us awhile to come to this place, but we are here, and we thank God for Jared.
Steve Schroeder pastors New Life Baptist Church in Aurora, Illinois.
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)