Hidden in the Clouds
By Vaneetha Demski
When I see storm clouds coming, I want to run the other way. They rearrange my agenda. Ruin my plans. Remind me I’m not in control. For me, clouds have never represented something pleasant. Or welcome. Or desirable.
This is also true of my life. Clouds and storms ruin my plans. I want things to unfold the way I envision. I want life to be predictable. And trouble-free. I’m okay with minor irritations (well, not really; I’d like to eliminate those too) but the major, unwelcome changes to my plans can leave me questioning God’s love for me. Is He really there? Does He really care? Why is He letting this happen?
In the Bible, clouds are always connected with God. In both the Old and New Testaments, clouds indicate God’s presence as well as His guidance. They were the means of hearing God’s voice, and seeing His glory. To the children of Israel, God was present in “a pillar of cloud”; whenever they saw it, they knew God was with them. From that cloud, God guided them, going “ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way” (Ex. 13:21). God also used clouds to speak to His people. He spoke through clouds directly to Moses, the Israelites, and to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. Clouds also manifested God’s glory, as Scripture frequently records that the glory of the LORD appeared in a cloud (Ex. 16:10) often leaving the Israelites awestruck. Whether it was to give His guidance or show His glory, throughout Scripture, clouds were associated with God.
I see God connected to the clouds in my life as well. From the very beginning, Jesus has come to me in the dark clouds, though I have not always recognized His presence. I contracted polio as an infant, and was left a quadriplegic after the initial attack. From ages two through twelve, I underwent over 20 surgeries, enabling me to walk and function independently. To outsiders, my pronounced limp indicated my disability, which provoked untold bullying from my classmates. Indifferent to God and enraged at the world for my handicap, I spent most of my childhood in self-pity and anger. But at age 16, God used my weakness to point me to Christ. He promised to use my suffering. God showed me from Jn. 9:3 that “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in [me].”
After my conversion, I was able to go away to college, work, get married, and have children, grateful that the hardest part of my disability was behind me. I loved making our home welcoming and especially enjoyed cooking. For fun, I painted landscapes, made jewelry, and designed scrapbooks, delighting in anything I could create with my hands.
But a debilitating injury and subsequent diagnosis brought my world crashing down. The doctors determined that the agony in my right arm was a result of post-polio syndrome and would never fully resolve. It wasn’t a muscle tear; it was an overuse injury. I needed to reduce the strain on it immediately. Radically. Permanently.
With apprehension, I researched post-polio, discovering that it is a degenerative condition resulting in escalating weakness and pain. My energy was like money in a bank–I could make withdrawals but not deposits. So every time I did something, I was depleting that precious reserve. Going forward, my energy could not be wasted on hobbies when I needed to be concerned about feeding myself later. I had to focus on the bare essentials.
I was utterly unprepared for this diagnosis. A 37-year-old wife and mother with two young children to raise shouldn’t have to deal with this. It was unthinkable that I could one day, maybe soon, be in a wheelchair full-time, unable to care for myself. “How could God do this to me?” I fumed. I had been faithful. I had already suffered with a handicap my entire life, but had learned to adjust. How could I handle these new developments?
Facing the loss wasn’t easy. I stopped scrapbooking and boxed up my room full of supplies. I gave up painting and jewelry-making and canceled my subscriptions to cooking magazines. I made simple meals and entertained less. While all of these losses were difficult, losing my independence was excruciating. I constantly had to ask for help to do simple tasks, things I longed to do for myself.
One night in desperation, I screamed aloud, begging the Lord to help me. For months, God had seemed distant, aloof, uncaring, mostly because I wanted it that way. I didn’t want to trust Him. He had let me down. But I finally surrendered. I knew I needed Him. I needed His comfort, His presence, His guidance. And God showed up in incredible ways. As I sat pouring over my Bible, I stopped at John 11, where Jesus intentionally delays His visit when He hears His friend Lazarus is sick. He delays because He loves their family. He delays so that they will see the glory of God. He says to Martha, “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.”
I let those words sink in. It was if God was speaking to me. He loved me enough not to rescue me. He had a bigger purpose for my suffering. And as I sat with my Bible, tears streaming down my face, the presence of the Lord filled the room. I was undone. It was almost more than I could take in. I joined the Israelites who saw the glory of the Lord on the mountain, shrouded in black clouds and deep darkness.
When things are good and life is sunny, I may have God’s temporal blessings, but His presence is felt more intensely in the struggle. John Piper quotes Samuel Rutherford saying, “The Great King keeps His finest wine in the cellar of affliction.” Piper adds, “And He doesn’t bring it out to the veranda on sunny days.” There is an intimacy with God we can only experience in the dark.
God has used the cellar of affliction, the dark storms in my life, in untold ways. Though I would not choose them, I know that God is working in them to refine my character, to teach me about Himself, and to bring Him glory. And I have learned that when He brings clouds into my life, He brings Himself. When my circumstances overwhelm me and my hope is slipping away, the only thing I can do is cling to God. And when I do, something extraordinary happens. God shows me His glory.
This glimpse of His glory overshadows my suffering. My focus is no longer on removing my trial; it is riveted on having more of Him. As the Mercy Me song declares, “Give me anything that brings you glory. And I know there’ll be days, when this life brings me pain, but if that’s what it takes to praise you – Jesus bring the rain.”
I don’t like dark clouds. But the torrential downpours in my life that have altered my plans and threatened to topple my boat have done deep work in me. And in the accompanying clouds, I find Jesus, and the glory of His presence is far greater and more powerful than any storm.
JUST BETWEEN US Presents...