Seeing my fragile 65-pound (29 kg) body seated in a wheelchair, no one would think that I am strong. But as my body loses its power, inner strength keeps me going. Let me explain how strength and weakness have shaped my life.
Thinking of my childhood brings back memories of happy days in a country cottage in the south of France, where my parents lived. My father made a swing for me, and I loved running around the garden. In 1966, Jehovah’s Witnesses visited our home and had long conversations with my father. Just seven months later, he resolved to become a Witness. My mother soon followed in his footsteps, and they raised me in a warm family environment.
My problems began shortly after we returned to Spain, my parents’ home country. I started feeling stabbing pains in my hands and ankles. After two years of visiting many doctors, we found a renowned rheumatologist, who solemnly said, “It’s too late.” My mother started to weep. Strange expressions, such as “autoimmune chronic illness” and “juvenile polyarthritis,”* echoed around that cold, gray room. Though I understood little as a ten-year-old girl, I realized that the news was bad.
The doctor suggested treatment in a children’s sanatorium. On my arrival, the austere building dismayed me. Discipline was strict: The nuns cut my hair and dressed me in a dowdy uniform. ‘How can I endure life here?’ I thought, tearfully.
JEHOVAH BECOMES REAL TO ME
Because my parents had taught me to serve Jehovah, I refused to take part in Catholic rituals in the sanatorium. The nuns found it hard to understand why I refused. I implored Jehovah not to abandon me, and I soon felt his protective arm around me, like the warm, firm hug of a loving father.
My parents were allowed to visit me briefly on Saturdays. They brought me Bible publications to read to keep my faith strong. Children normally could not have their own books, but the nuns allowed me to keep them along with my Bible, which I read every day. I also talked to other girls about my hope of living forever in the earthly Paradise, where nobody would get sick. (Revelation 21:3, 4) Despite feeling sad and lonely at times, I was glad that my faith and trust in Jehovah were growing stronger.
After six long months, the doctors sent me home. My illness had not relented, but I felt happy to be back with my parents. My joints became more deformed, and I suffered more pain. I entered my teenage years very weak. Yet, at the age of 14, I got baptized, determined to serve my heavenly Father the best I could. However, I sometimes felt disappointed in him. “Why me? Please heal me,” I prayed. “Don’t you see how much I am suffering?”
Adolescence was a tough time for me. I had to accept that I would not get better. I could not help comparing myself with my friends—so healthy and full of life. I felt inferior, and I became introverted. Nevertheless, my family and friends supported me. I fondly remember Alicia—20 years older than I am—who became a true friend. She helped me to look beyond my illness and to take an interest in others rather than brooding on my own problems.
FINDING WAYS TO MAKE MY LIFE MEANINGFUL
When I was 18, I suffered a severe relapse, and even attending Christian meetings left me exhausted. Nevertheless, I took advantage of all my “spare time” at home to study the Bible carefully. The book of Job and the Psalms helped me to understand that at present Jehovah God cares for us primarily spiritually rather than physically. My frequent prayers brought me “the power beyond what is normal” and “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”—2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 4:6, 7.
At the age of 22, I had to face up to life in a wheelchair. I feared that people would stop noticing me and see only a wheelchair with a sickly woman. However, the wheelchair restored some of my independence, and the “curse” became a blessing. A friend named Isabel suggested that I set a personal goal of spending 60 hours in the preaching work with her for one month.
At first, I thought the idea was ridiculous. But I asked Jehovah for help, and with support from my family and friends, I did it. That hectic month passed quickly, and I found that I had overcome my fears and embarrassment. I enjoyed it so much that in 1996 I decided to become a regular pioneer—spending a set number of hours each month in the ministry. It was one of my best decisions, drawing me closer to God and even strengthening me physically. Engaging in the ministry allowed me to share my faith with many people and help some to become God’s friends.
JEHOVAH KEEPS HOLD OF ME
In the summer of 2001, I suffered a bad car accident and broke both legs. As I lay in a hospital bed in excruciating pain, I fervently offered a silent prayer: “Please, Jehovah, don’t leave me!” Just then, a woman in a nearby bed asked me, “Are you one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I had no strength to answer, so I just nodded. “I know you people! I usually read your magazines,” she said. Those words comforted me greatly. Even in my pitiful state, I could give a witness for Jehovah. What an honor!
When I recovered a bit, I decided to witness some more. My mother wheeled me around the hospital ward with my two legs in plaster. Each day, we visited a few patients, asked how they were, and left some Bible literature with them. Those visits were exhausting, but Jehovah gave me the needed strength.
In the past few years, my aches and pains have increased and the loss of my father added to my distress. Still, I try to keep a positive outlook. How? Whenever possible, I try to be with friends and relatives, and that helps take my mind off my problems. And when I am alone, I read, study the Bible, or preach to others by phone.
Often I close my eyes and open my private “window” into the new world that God promises
I also try to enjoy simple pleasures, such as the breeze on my face or the fragrance of flowers. These give me reasons to be thankful. A good sense of humor also works wonders. One day while out preaching, my friend, who was pushing my wheelchair, paused to make a note. Suddenly I was rolling down a slope out of control, and I crashed into a parked car. Both of us were shocked, but when we saw that nothing serious had happened, we had a good laugh.
There are many things in life I cannot do. I call them my pending wishes. Often I close my eyes and open my private “window” into the new world that God promises. (2 Peter 3:13) I imagine myself healthy, walking about and enjoying life to the full. I take to heart King David’s words: “Hope in Jehovah; be courageous and strong of heart.” (Psalm 27:14) Although my body has become more and more fragile, Jehovah has made me strong. I continue to find strength in my weakness.
Juvenile polyarthritis is a type of chronic arthritis that affects children. The body’s own immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissues, causing pain and swelling in the joints.