By Erica Baldwin
God's Brave Women - Erica's Story
In a few weeks, I’m preparing to take another 10-hour round trip to see my vascular specialist for my rare disease. We’ve traveled these roads 17 times in the decade since my diagnosis, never knowing what they’ll find in my fragile arteries when they pump the contrast dye through my IV line.
This road of chronic illness has been paved with uncertainty, pain, and risky procedures that offer no guarantees. With each mile toward the unknown, my courage is tested. On the drive without all the distractions of everyday life, I’m hyper aware of the potential invisible threats inside my body.
Fear attempts to overwhelm me, but as God continues to prove Himself again and again, my confidence grows in His ability to give me courage exactly when I need it.
"Fear attempts to overwhelm me, but as God continues to prove Himself again and again, my confidence grows in His ability to give me courage exactly when I need it."
I recognize now that there are several ways God has made me braver in the face of chronic illness:
Bravery is recognizing God is the hero, not me.
During a recent sermon series on the parable of the prodigal son, my pastor said this: “The father is the hero of the story.” I haven’t been able to get that sentence out of my head ever since. Often, we focus on the son who went astray and came back poor and desperate, causing us to consider the ways we’ve wasted God’s gifts or gone wayward ourselves. Or we identify with the unforgiving brother, who is angry at the father’s unconditional acceptance and joy at the prodigal son’s return home. But the father is the one who provides, restores, and celebrates the homecoming.
When I think about my chronic illness journey, I’m realizing that I don’t need to be the hero of the story. God is. Do I need endurance to face another day? Yes. Do I need courage for another appointment or surgery? Of course. Do I need strength to be grateful for God’s goodness in the pain? Most definitely.
So while others may tell me how strong I am, it’s really God’s borrowed strength that gives me courage to face the unknowns. This verse, that I just read this week, points to that truth:
“With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Psalm 60:12 ESV)
Valiantly here means “strength, efficiency, wealth, army.” God’s giving us all of His resources to fight our foes, whether it’s chronic illness, broken relationships, sin, disappointment, or loss. With God, our hero, we can be brave.
"God’s giving us all of His resources to fight our foes, whether it’s chronic illness, broken relationships, sin, disappointment, or loss. With God, our hero, we can be brave."
Bravery is trusting God’s goodness when circumstances are not.
I would not have chosen this diagnosis which impacts not only my daily life, but also my life expectancy. Fragility is a hallmark of this disease, with arteries and organs that are prone to falling apart. There was little relief (“Oh, wow, at least we finally have a diagnosis!”) because I was in literal survival mode when I received the confirmation. We had a newborn son, while I was on IV feeding 12 hours a day and aneurysms in precarious places in my body. Our norm became home health care, trips to the ER and ICU stays.
“Good” was the furthest word from my mind. But God, in his kindness and patience, led me back to his goodness over and over again. Like those in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3:18, I was learning to say (and mean it): Even if not, he is still good.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.” (Psalm 107:1-2 ESV)
Clinging to God’s goodness in the middle of a hard story has been the life-giving truth I need. Reading verses on His goodness and recording His past faithfulness grounds me in that truth.
"Clinging to God’s goodness in the middle of a hard story has been the life-giving truth I need."
Bravery is welcoming in community to lend us courage.
Our local church and family members have provided many helpers over the years to encourage us. There were humbling seasons when I was not strong enough to unscrew baby bottles to clean them or to do much beyond rest, read some stories to our son, and maybe wash my hair. Accepting help was a necessity.
My last surgeries were four years ago. I was especially nervous about them, even though we’d faced tougher challenges before. I remember the ways our church family lent us courage. Our Sunday school class put together a care package of road trip goodies and cards. They covered us with their prayers. A good friend made chocolate-covered potato chips (a favorite treat of mine that’s hard to find and cumbersome to make). Inviting community into our suffering showed me that God cared for the little things through their acts of love.
"Inviting community into our suffering showed me that God cared for the little things through their acts of love."
Bravery is grounded in God’s presence.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:6,8 ESV)
Before any appointment or fearful situation, I repeat to myself, “He goes before me, he never leaves me. Don’t be afraid.” I invite you to borrow it as your battle cry to remind you that God’s presence gives you the courage you need to face any trial.
"Before any appointment or fearful situation, I repeat to myself, “He goes before me, he never leaves me. Don’t be afraid.” I invite you to borrow it as your battle cry to remind you that God’s presence gives you the courage you need to face any trial."
Brave Woman Manifesto
Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!
And by the way...
You are Brave!
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Erica Baldwin lives in North Carolina with her ever-detailed husband and active nine-year-old miracle son who keeps her on her toes. Diagnosed with an incurable genetic condition (Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) at the age of 33, she writes to encourage women to trust God’s goodness in life’s impossible. She dislikes heights and birds, but loves salty snacks and long brunch dates with friends. Erica treasures every “normal” day as a gift, especially days that begin with coffee and end with the family cuddling on the couch.
Connect with Erica on Instagram, Facebook, and her website ohhisgoodness.com. You can download her free devotional here: Rest in Jesus: 7 Nighttime Devotions to Calm an Anxious Heart.