Member and author suffers mysterious illness, wouldn't "wish away the years of struggle"

By Kimberly Rae Thigpen, Madison, Ga.

From the June 2018 issue of Heartfelt Magazine.

As a child, I loved reading biographies of great missionary heroes. I longed to live a life worthy of a biography so that someday people would see my life and say, “Wow, look at what she did for Jesus.”

From infancy, however, I experienced doctor-baffling health problems. Test results always came back normal. After my two children were born, symptoms steadily grew worse and doctors said things like “You’re my most complicated patient” and “I just don’t know what else to do.”

Not exactly comforting words.

Over the next 10 years I was diagnosed with a number of illnesses including hypoglycemia; Addison’s disease (an adrenal disorder); asthma; scoliosis; and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a rare connective tissue disorder). Each diagnosis came with additional medication and the expectation of a prescription-dependent life.

After traveling the world and serving God’s people in Uganda, Kosovo and Indonesia, Addison’s disease brought our family home from the mission field in 2007. We had to leave our mission board, losing our health insurance. It was therefore a great encouragement when my husband, Brian, and I discovered CHM; I became a member in May 2012.
Meanwhile, we wanted to return to full-time ministry, but the dream seemed impossible because I was living with such extreme physical limitations. As the years passed we started losing hope. The future looked bleak; all we could see was lifelong disability.

Then, finally, a breakthrough.

In 2017 God opened two doors for us in Brian’s vocation and with my health. Source of Light Ministries, an evangelistic and discipleship-focused organization in Madison, Ga., urgently needed a new chief financial officer with accounting skills and mission experience. We eagerly accepted the offer and our family packed up to move from North Carolina.

Around the same time I underwent an MRI that revealed what was causing most—if not all—of my chronic health problems. I suffered from Chiari malformation, a structural brain defect. In essence, my brain was too large for my skull, causing intense pressure and interrupting nerve function. The test images clearly showed part of my brain squeezing down into my spinal cord. It became a family joke that my brain was trying to escape!

I learned I needed a highly skilled neurosurgeon to correct the problem and was told there are fewer than 10 qualified surgeons in the world. God was so good to us, though, because we found one who was only a three-hour drive away.

Three weeks later, in Oct. 2017, I underwent successful surgery. After just a few months I no longer needed any prescription pain medication! Today I can go for walks with my family, go up and down stairs, am homeschooling our children and have become involved at Source of Light. The improvement in my quality of life is more than I ever hoped it could be.

CHM was a great blessing through many difficult years and especially during the time surrounding my surgery. The staff members were helpful and kind and answered all of our questions. Without CHM we never could have afforded to pay even a percent of the procedure’s total cost, which was about $120,000. I would have had to forego the care I needed and continue my spiral toward lifelong disability. I had peace as I was wheeled into the operating room because I knew that God’s people were going to share 100 percent of the charges.

The hospital gave me a 70 percent discount and the surgeon also extended a large reduction in his bill. In all, I received nearly $54,000 in discounts and CHM members shared the remaining $66,000.

Living with chronic illness took its toll on my mind and heart, but I don’t wish away the years of struggle. They compelled me to dig deep into the Bible for answers and encouragement. I learned to fend off thoughts of defeat and self-pity. I discovered that faith is a choice based on the truth we believe, not on feelings. God taught me that I had just as much value and worth to Him lying helpless in a hospital bed as I did when scurrying around trying to prove myself.

It was also during these challenging years that I began to write many books, especially Why Doesn’t God Fix It?, which explores the mystery of why Christians suffer. Because I needed the answers myself, I knew that other people were wondering, too.

My childhood goal has changed. I no longer want to get to the end of my life and have people say, “Wow, look at what she did for Jesus.” I want them to look and say, “Wow, look at what Jesus did for her.”

Editor’s note: Kimberly Thigpen (professionally known as Kimberly Rae) has over 200 published works of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books. Many of her fiction books explore the theme of human trafficking, while her nonfiction books center on suffering and chronic illness. To learn more, visit her website at kimberlyrae.com.

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