I received another enjoyable Christmas letter from Bonny Peterson. I met Bonny in the late 1980’s when she came to visit my MS patient while I was caring for her. She shared her testimony and became a good friend.
I wrote out her story, and Foursquare World Advance published it in 1987 as follows:
By His Stripes
“Bonny, will you give up everything for me?” I felt the Lord asking me, as I lay in bed numbly staring at the ceiling. This question merged with my dreadful fear of the future. Could God be asking me to choose to remain in this miserable, helpless state?
I had to answer honestly, “Oh no, Lord, I guess not!”
My heart sank in despair and guilt. How could I be so ungrateful? This was the Lord who had saved my life! Years ago, at age 15, in self-hatred and desperation, I had attempted suicide three times. We had constant tension and strife in my family. Although we were nominal members of a church, none of us knew the Lord personally. When I was 12, my parents separated and later divorced. My mother began drinking and my father went into atheistic psychology. We children went in our own lost directions. I felt tormented by hopelessness and fear.
Following those suicide attempts, someone told me the message of salvation. I accepted Jesus Christ into my life as Savior. He gave me a purpose for living, yet I still felt worthless and the family situation remained stressful.
After graduating from High School, I became a registered nurse and worked for three and a half years in a hospital. The job was gratifying, and I felt I was “getting on top of things.” I could even minister to patients, but there remained within me some deep emotional problems.
Thus vulnerable, I entered what turned out to be a disastrous marriage, lasting only six weeks. I thought I “had it all together,” but now I’d really blown it. I felt almost as bad as when I had attempted suicide. “Oh, God! What can you do with me now? I’ve ruined it! The Bible talks against divorce … can you ever forgive me?” I remember reading Romans 8:28 and wondering how God could work this for good.
Feeling like an absolute failure, I moved to another state, got a job at a hospital, but internalized my feelings. Lacking an intimate relationship with the Lord, I did not feel I could pour out my heart to him. I’d repented over and over, but didn’t believe God could forgive me. Resentments, fears, and anxieties weighed heavily upon me. I went into a deep depression.
Within a few months, I had visual problems, tremors, and weakness. They admitted me to the hospital for tests and diagnosed me as having Multiple Sclerosis.*
(This is a disease of: "Many Scars" on the spinal cord and rest of the central nervous system. It is a progressive, degenerative disease characterized by weakness and fatigue because of the involvement of the nerves. It has periods of severe symptoms (exacerbations) and periods of lessening or absence of symptoms (remissions).
I was so physically exhausted, I could hardly move or speak. Lying flat, I assumed that this must be God’s will for me, as I knew MS was medically incurable. In my struggle to accept my condition, I thought, “Perhaps I can be an encouragement to other nurses or patients … an instrument of the Lord’s blessing by showing how much I can endure.”
After a month of progressive deterioration, I went home to my sister’s care. Slowly, I began to walk again: however, I was still uncoordinated and extremely exhausted, even with ten naps a day. I was too weak to say more than a couple of words at a time. I felt rotten, nauseated, and lost weight. Confined to the house, I no longer smiled or laughed. My eyes were totally on my condition and my circumstances. Everything had come to an abrupt halt; I thought this was the end of my productivity. My work as a nurse, serving and helping others, had made me feel good. Now I could no longer do it or any of the other things I enjoyed, such as playing guitar, artwork, chatting on the telephone, and participating in sports. I had loved being with people, being animated in my speech and actions; now that was gone. I felt insecure and worthless.
“How could this be happening to me?” I kept wondering. I began to search for answers in soul and spirit.
I remembered Jesus asking Peter in John 21:15, “Lovest thou me more than these?” The Lord had been dealing with me about this. My activities were good, but God wanted to be first. I loved the Lord and thought He was first in my life, but I saw this wasn’t the case.
As a nurse I’d seen drastic changes happen in people’s lives … one day a person might be well and the next dying …gymnasts breaking their necks and being paralyzed … often an invalid’s spouse would leave. “What would I do?” I had wondered. “Is there enough in my relationship with the Lord that if all were taken away I could be happy, at peace, loving him?” Now the Lord was asking the question I was afraid to hear, “Are you willing to give up everything for me?”
I began seeing a Christian counselor. I discovered mountains of emotional garbage inside of me such as repressed, stored-up feelings and attitudes of poor self-image, resentment, and anxiety. I firmly believe that in my case physical breakdown resulted from these emotional upheavals. As a nurse, I know that when one experiences such trauma, there are chemical changes in the body that affect the muscles, cells and bones. My first step to recovery was to get rid of those negative feelings. I could finally say, “Lord, I love you and my relationship with you means more than anything else!”
God sent certain Christians into my life to encourage me. They taught me that God’s Word was a tool that I needed for recovery, spiritually, mentally, and physically. They said, “There are promises you need to take hold of, to choose to accept into your spirit.” At first I couldn’t read, so I listened to cassette tapes and to others reading to me. I studied the scriptures regularly and the promises for healing became food for thought. As I focused on the Lord, things started getting better. Seeds of faith were sown and began to grow. Eventually, I decided God wanted me well, not sick, so I began asking for healing, as well as thanking Him for it in advance.
As I meditated on the Word, the Holy Spirit built my faith, patience,, and strength. I personalized Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes I am healed.” I set flashcards of that verse all over the house so I’d see it wherever I looked. I kept repeating it with different emphases. It became a beautiful, abundant promise …. life … my bread and water! I’d never realized there could be so much in one brief sentence.
Though God alone knows what is best and I didn’t have the right to demand anything of Him, I understood that Jesus Christ died to provide wholeness, as Romans 8:32 declares, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” I sought to know Jesus’ heart and will. I earnestly prayed, “Lord, I accept your gift of healing in your way and in your time.” As I thanked God for healing, my symptoms slowly disappeared. Within six months I was well enough to go back to work and to all my previous activities.
I first thought my healing was as a “remission,” but I felt the Lord saying to me, “I do nothing halfway. I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ps. 103). In January 1981, I went to one of the five doctors who had originally diagnosed my illness. He felt sure this was a remission, but consented to re-test the optic nerve which had been severely damaged. He knew it was a medical impossibility for nerve tissue to regenerate; it scars over and that’s what interrupts the message from the brain to the body.
His exclamation will always be memorable. “I don’t understand this! The nerves are completely normal as though nothing had ever happened to them!” I’ve never had another MS symptom. My life today is filled with overflowing joy, peace, purpose, and love.
We are frail; our bodies are dying daily. Yet, we can experience a special wholeness by relating to Jesus, by immersing ourselves in Him who is the Word. He strengthens and encourages us through it all as we trust and surrender to Him. Then He works it all together for good and blesses us — because He loves us.
Note: I’ve been in touch with Bonny since this was published in 1987, and she is still healthy and has a bubbly, happy personality. Since I met her and taped the interview, she married and had two children and has sent me pictures and Christmas newsletters through the years. She homeschooled their children, continued to work as a nurse, danced in worship ministry, and many other activities. She seems closer to God than most people I know.
As Told to Judith Vander Wege, 1985