The headache was overpowering. It pierced a small space just above my left ear and seemed to worsen as the days moved into weeks. At times, the pain made me dizzy, and I would trip or almost fall down the dorm stairs. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t slow down. My sophomore year in college was a blur of joy and activity, and I didn’t want to make time to visit my doctor or to consider the somber possibilities.
But blindness has a way of stopping you.
While driving one night, I lost vision in my left eye. Then I finally admitted that I should seek medical attention. When I did, physicians said everything appeared to be fine. My vision returned, and none of the neurological tests had revealed the dark storm that was closing in on my future.
Two weeks later, I suffered a massive brainstem stroke that left me quadriplegic.
Imprisoned in my own body, I felt completely . . . helpless.
Because I could not speak, I prayed: “Lord, please use me, even now . . . when I cannot move. I know I have not lost my purpose here on earth, and You will be faithful to complete the good work You began in me.”
Praying was the only thing I could do. So I set my mind to do that one thing well. I prayed for the nurses who cared for me in the Intensive Care Unit. I prayed for my family. I prayed for the friends who paced in the waiting room down the hall. I prayed for people I loved and people I didn’t even like. I prayed for anyone and everyone I could remember, even acquaintances I had only met once.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was giving my spiritual gift, even within the confines of paralysis. My spiritual gift is encouragement.Though I was going through a painful trial, I did not let that gift go to waste, and neither did God. In His mercy, He allowed me to help others during a time when I felt helpless myself. From the fountain of a heart that God kept refilling, my prayers for blessing and encouragement spilled over to everyone. I didn’t need much in order to offer that gift. I didn’t need a phone or a notecard or a computer to offer encouragement. I didn’t even need a mouth that moved.
Continuing to give my spiritual gift from a place of helplessness redefined how I view spiritual gifts and how we cultivate them in our community. Sometimes I start to think I needsomething, that I need a particular situation to be just right before I can really offer my spiritual gift as God intended.
But the gift itself is all we need. And all we have to do is keep giving it.
In Romans 12:6-8 we read,
“In His grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
I have been blessed to regain much of my physical ability since my stroke twenty years ago. Yet, I have never forgotten the lesson that God engraved upon my heart through that experience. No matter how helpless we may feel, we can ask God to use us in our current situation. He has given us spiritual gifts so that we have something to give the world in His name. If we ask Him, He can show us creative ways to keep giving our spiritual gifts, even when we can’t imagine how.
The Great Giver will never let a good gift go to waste.