From 'The Corner' - a Testimony by Jason VanLue
'The Corner' is a place on our site to share stories of how we are learning to love God, what God is doing in our lives as we grow together and what we are doing to proclaim Christ in our community...
Jason VanLue shared his testimony Sunday, March 17th - below is an extended version of what he shared. The audio of his testimony can be found here.
Two years ago, in April of 2011, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It’s a chronic, debilitating auto-immune disease affecting the GI system. Treatment has come a long way, symptoms can be managed, and most Crohn’s patients experience a period of remission at some point. But there’s no known cure.
I’ve always been a healthy guy. I was an All-American swimmer, and growing up in a medical household meant we knew the aisles of the health food stores better than we knew our own neighborhood. The most I saw of hospitals was when I went with my dad to do rounds and eat cookies in the cafeteria.
In January of 2011, a few months before the official diagnosis, I began experiencing some acute abdominal pain and discomfort. I shrugged it off, blaming the usual suspects—stress, work, life, kids, etc. Also, I’m stubborn. Pain for me is something you push through not complain about.
In early April I had the opportunity to travel up to Chicago to present at a mobile web conference, so my wife Melanie and I made a weekend out of it. Unfortunately, I spent more time traveling back and forth to the hotel with severe pain and sickness than we did traveling around the city. I couldn’t keep any food down, and remember running back to the hotel an hour before I spoke, running back for my talk, then returning to the hotel again. This was either a really bad bug, or something else was up.
When we got back from Chicago, I finally talked to my dad. He was concerned, but I downplayed it, so we tried some minor remedies for a week that didn’t help much. The following Monday I woke up, went to the bathroom, and passed out. This had happened several times before due to the pain, but this time was a bit different. I came out and spent the rest of the morning in the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and Mel was ready to drag me to the ER. This was finally it; I had to do something. I spent the next few days in specialists’ offices, at the hospital doing tests, getting bloodwork done, and getting poked and prodded every which way. My dad told me my lab work was some of the worst he’s ever seen; comforting news to be sure.
The next day I was scheduled to go in for a colonoscopy and probable surgery. After the scope the doctor realized that things were worse than he originally thought and at that point diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease. I was admitted and spent the next 5 days on IV fluids, steroids, antibiotics, and morphine which unfortunately didn’t do much for the pain. No hospital experience is a pleasant one, and I was so grateful to get home, and put that behind me. Needless to say those three months were some of the darkest, most painful days of my life.
The rest of the year was a bit of a whirlwind. I lost over 30 pounds, and had to completely change my diet. I went on several rounds of medications including heavy doses of steroids which seemed to cause more problems. I’d feel better for a few weeks, then feel worse again. Consistency in anything—work, family activities, church—was difficult. For a while, it was just survival.
The year 2012 started better. I went to one of the top Crohn’s docs in the southeast, and began a new medication that has made a big difference. I gained a good portion of my weight back, I felt stronger, and things seemed to be returning to some sense of normalcy.
Then I herniated two discs in my lumbar spine, lost motor function in my left leg, and had to have back surgery in August, 2012. I think it was at this point that I just kind of sat back and thought…”huh”.
Eight weeks of recovery, three months of rehab, and several rounds of medications later I’m doing better. My motor function in my leg is restored, I’m actually stronger than I was before. I still experience chronic back pain, and still have some nerve damage that may or may not ultimately heal. The Crohn’s is manageable; I go in for IV infusions every eight weeks, and I go back in for re-testing in a couple of months. Some days are better than others, but looking back two years ago, there is no question God has had mercy on me.
The point of this is not the story itself. I know many of you could paint a similar picture; many of you have endured far worse suffering than I have. I’ve realized the point is not the suffering itself; the point is what is learned through the suffering.
Mark Talbot, a professor at Wheaton College and a paraplegic, gave a talk at Desiring God a few years back entitled “Chronic Suffering & Christian Hope”. In that talk he says,
“I wake up every morning and HAVE to think of my Lord because it is just too painful and too hard to do otherwise. And I would not trade that for being able to run”.
That beautifully sums up how I feel about the last two years. Just like Talbot, I wake up each morning and HAVE to think of, and depend upon, my Lord because I would have otherwise given up long ago. I think there are two specific things that I can point to learning during this season:
- I am closer to Jesus because I share in his sufferings.
- I marvel at the resurrection and long for heaven.
I am closer to Jesus because I share in his sufferings.
A couple of weeks after I was discharged from the hospital, a good friend of mine named Matthew sent me an encouraging email. In it he was describing a trial he had endured and said,
“I was worshipping two years ago, and in the throws of a lot of pain, and Jesus swept me up in [Philippians 3:10] to teach me a deep truth. In the suffering that I accept and walk through, I do it with him; I do it in a way that is unique to him and me. Every moment, every season of suffering is more that I have in common with the one Man who suffered for all. It is more space for unity and union with him. He will not waste my pain; he will draw me close if I will follow him through it.”
What Matthew didn’t know was that the night before was an extremely difficult night. I couldn’t sleep and felt absolutely miserable. I remember lying on the bathroom floor praying and crying out to Jesus for comfort, quoting all the scriptures I could remember about hope and deliverance and peace.
Philippians 3 is a familiar passage, but I hadn’t paid much attention to verse 10, and I certainly wasn’t quoting it then. It says,
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
As I was experiencing suffering, Jesus was there. Despite my pain and agony, I could feel his presence with me. I was sharing my suffering with him, that night, in a very real way. As Matthew reminded me, in that moment I was experiencing a greater unity with him.
When Isaiah says that Christ was “acquainted with grief”, and that he “carried our sorrows”, I confess those used to be abstract words to me. Now they are real, personal truth. He doesn’t just “carry our sorrows” in the general sense. No, he is acquainted with each and every one of your specific sufferings in a powerful and supernatural way. He meets you where you are because he has already been there.
I marvel at the resurrection and long for heaven.
Sharing in the sufferings of Christ would not mean much if Christ did not rise from the dead. The power of the resurrection is both natural and supernatural. When I am suffering, and when I cry out to Jesus, and when he meets me and bears my sorrows, there is an indescribable power. For me, it has become the glue of my faith. It is what gives me hope. It is what gives me courage.
I don’t think I will comprehend this power, or see it fully realized until heaven. Which is why I long for heaven. What I am really longing for is to see Christ. As the song says, to “see him as he is. Then all hurt and pain will cease. And we’ll be with him forever. And in his glory…[in the power of his resurrection…] we will live”.
Verse 10 of Philippians 3 comes before a few very familiar verses. I know these verses well, but now that God has peeled back another layer of truth in verse 10 I read these verses differently. I think I read them more personally.
"(12)Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
This is our call to action. If we are suffering, this is our application. To make it our own; to strain forward; to press on; to endure. I endure because I am already in Christ—he is mine and I am his—he has already endured to the end, and since I am in him, I can also endure. I am in Christ and therefore his power is in me. I endure because in doing so I draw nearer to Christ and nearer to the glorious resurrection.
As I share in the sufferings of Christ, and know the power of his resurrection, I can echo with the Psalmist and with the song we sing:
“O death where is your sting? O hell where is your victory? O church come stand in the light. Our God is not dead. He’s alive! He’s alive!”