My entire life, people characterized me as an over-achiever, a go-getter, and driven. For a long time, I believed God created me that way. At birth I weighed less than three pounds at a time when that wasn’t considered a viable birth weight. I fought my way out of the NICU isolet.
Three years later, doctors became concerned when I developed an extremely high fever, which brought with it the risk of brain-damage or death. My parents were instructed in ways to reduce the fever, but to no avail. With that, they were told to give me aspirin—unaware that I would go into anaphylactic shock from a deathly aspirin allergy. After saving my life, the concern shifted to the potential for mental incapacity or physical deformity. I experienced the latter: the anaphylaxis resulted in significant deformity of my legs and one foot, and warnings to my parents to give up hope of me ever walking again.
Those doctors didn’t know the determination of my parents or of me. I came out of the womb fighting, unwilling to give up.
But those traits didn’t stop there. I had a perfect report card, graduated at the head of the class, and had plans for bigger and better things…just like my dad.
My dad was the hardest working man I knew. Some might have referred to him as a work-aholic. Unfortunately all “-holics” pay a price. His was a major heart attack when he was forty years old. But just like me at birth and again when I was three, he used this as another opportunity to come out fighting. He immediately stopped smoking, changed his diet to align with the American Heart Association’s recommendations, and ran every day of the next two years until his heart gave out and left him for dead.
I was just an adolescent, feeling orphaned by her father. Given that my mother wasn’t a United States citizen, my first thought after hearing of his death was, “How will I support the family?” And shortly after that, I vowed that that would never happen to me…I would ensure that if anything ever happened to my eventual husband, I would be able to provide for our family financially.
So after graduating from college, and then earning master’s and doctoral degrees, I completed an internship and two post-doctoral fellowships in the male-dominated field of neuropsychology.
I was bred to set goals and achieve them, never considering failure as a possibility. That was my personality. When the going got tough, I got tougher. I worked harder and I didn’t give up.
Soon after completing all my educational requirements, my husband and I settled down and had our first child. That monumental event was quickly followed by mother’s diagnosis of cancer, and within a year, so too was my husband diagnosed with a very rare form of abdominal cancer. We were warned of a very real possibility he would die in surgery, but if not, to get our affairs in order because he had only two years to live. While caring for him and my mother, I miscarried our second child.
I was routinely asked how I coped. Others admitted they didn’t think they could survive under such circumstances. I always felt inept to answer—it wasn’t like I ever felt like I had a choice. I just kept doing. That was me…the do-er.
As I received the doctor’s news of our miscarriage, he ordered a more advanced medical procedure to verify his concern. Numb to my own needs and always used to doing more, I called the hospital that employed me, to work my procedure around the patients scheduled to see me. Could this really be happening?
I would love to share with you how I learned that valuable lesson in the midst of my miscarriage, or during my husband’s aggressive chemotherapy regime, or when I lost my mother to the ravages of cancer, except, that’s not the case. As was my nature, I picked up the broken pieces of adversity and worked as hard as I could to beat the odds. Until I couldn’t…
The thing about relentlessly revving a motor at maximum speed is that either the motor gives out, or it runs out of gas. I was like that motor, and eventually, my body gave out.
For five months, my body fought for survival, begging me all the while to do nothing but let it recover. My body had supported me while I fought the good fight my entire life, but now it called the shots.
I was no longer able to do. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t eat or drink. I was kept alive on IV fluid and nutrition while my body dwindled to a skeleton of its former self, at its lowest weighing a mere 74 pounds.
In my physical weakness and wasting away, I suffered an identity crisis of sorts. Who was I if I was no longer able to contribute? If I was no longer able to do?
For days, weeks, and months on end, all I could do was sleep, pray, read, listen to praise and worship music or sermons on-line. I’ve never before nor since felt so helpless. It brought me to the exactly place I had been running from my entire life.
At some point in my youth, I came to believe my worth came from what I did, all I accomplished. I unconsciously believed that the more or better I did, the greater my worth, and by extension, the more God would love me.
Having been raised in the church, I received Jesus as my Savior, yet unfortunately, I never equated His death with my sufficiency and worth. It took coming to the end of my ability to do anything, when all I could do was simply “be” me in the absence of accomplishments or accolades, to receive the revelation that all God ever wanted from me was for me to believe.
Only then did I receive the revelation that nothing I did would make God love me more, and nothing I did would make Him love me less. He loved me simply because Jesus thought I was worthy enough to die for. It simply required that I believe it.
Will you believe it today?
Speaker, author, and neuropsychologist Dr. Michelle Bengtson has 20 years of professional experience in the diagnosis and treatment of medical and emotional disorders. She combines her personal experience and strong faith, to share the Hope that Prevails. Dr. Michelle has co-authored 3 books. Her first solo project, exploring depression from a spiritual perspective, will be released by Revell Publishing in 2016. Dr. Michelle contributes regularly to Liberty in Christ Ministries, For God’s Glory Alone Ministries, and Ask God Today Ministries. Connect with Michelle on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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