Surrender and Security

Hello! My name is Patrick Scoggin. I was born and raised in Laurel, MS, and now live in Winston-Salem, NC with my wonderful wife and three phenomenal kids. I am a nurse, a musician, and a member of Twin City Bible Church in Winston-Salem. God has truly blessed me in this life, and I have so much to be thankful for. I am learning, though, that sometimes, those blessings can come through difficult circumstances. My journey of chronic illness and sudden challenges is more characterized by failings, but I pray that my failings help someone learn that deep failings can give way to the even deeper grace of Christ.

My story begins at my kitchen table in the summer of 2021.  My family had just finished breakfast when a buzz from my phone indicated a notification that made my stomach hit the floor. I can’t say that I didn’t expect it, but when I saw the words “new results” on the phone screen, my head filled with feelings, yet I was emptied of thoughts.  As I scrolled anxiously through my recent MRI results, my eyes landed on the final findings, and I remember looking at my wife and telling her as calmly and focused as could be, “Well, I have multiple sclerosis.”

This was the first time that my life had been so abruptly shaken in any significant way. I have vivid memories of my grandmother in the advanced stages of this disease and my uncle, great-uncle, and other family members suffering from this disease. With my family history, I was able to catch my symptoms and get a diagnosis much earlier than most people, but even with this seeming advantage, there was nothing that could prepare me for the moment when my brain comprehended what I was reading.

All my lesions are in my brain, meaning that most of my symptoms are not easily seen by others. I struggle with double vision, difficulty processing and communicating information, fatigue, memory issues, trouble swallowing, balance issues, and many more annoying, but mostly hidable, symptoms. Since I was able to hide my symptoms in those beginning months, it was much easier to hide my struggle. In the early days of my diagnosis, I made it a habit to lie to myself saying that I was okay, pretending to trust the Lord while facing a mountain of self-sufficiency. I remember putting on a smile that wasn’t truly based on the joy that I was called and commanded to have. The lie came fairly easy, however, as time went on, it became harder to hide my physical and spiritual symptoms.

One of the first breaks in the façade came one day at work. It was several months after my diagnosis, and I had begun telling people of my diagnosis. My once hidable symptoms started getting more difficult to manage, and I didn’t realize that I was in the heat of an MS flare-up. I tried my best to struggle through my work, but I remember my boss coming and sitting beside me, and as kindly and gently as she could be, told me, “Go home. You do not look well.” Those words went through me like an arrow. The reality that I could not continue life as it had been was quickly setting in. Even so, I tried my best to put on a brave face, trusting more in my ability to work harder to take care of myself than in the One Who created me.

As those first months passed and the “new” of the diagnosis had worn off, I began to figure out how to manage my symptoms a little better, but with this success, my pride grew stronger. I held a little tighter on to the self-sufficiency that emphasized my ability to care for my body through things like rest, saying “no” to extra shifts, taking my medicines as I needed to, and other simple lifestyle choices. I masked my inward spiritual condition, almost rehearsing how I could pretend that the Lord was my strength. I began feeling seeds of anger and disbelief about the body that I had been given. My heart screamed that it wasn’t fair while my lips said that I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I started seeing a significant gap between what my head knew to be true and what my heart truly believed.

Even in my struggle, the Lord blessed me and my family with a new position that had a better schedule, better flexibility, and significantly better pay. Soon after that job transition, my wife and I learned that we were expecting twin girls. We were able to purchase a bigger vehicle, and a bigger home, and without ever spending outside of our means. We felt the Lord’s blessing in our lives, but with those circumstantial blessings, complacency started setting in.

As time went on in that new job, I started seeing that it was not as good of a situation as I had initially hoped. However, I kept pushing through. Once again, my symptoms from my multiple sclerosis were getting the best of me, and I was having an increasingly hard time navigating my own body and how I needed to take care of it. My self-sufficiency was starting to show ineffective. As my symptoms got worse, I started feeling some tension toward me at work in my new position but continued to try to just make it through the day. I began settling into a self-satisfied attitude, taking for granted the blessings that I had been given. Slowly, my anger about my illness morphed into sourness. My questions about my body’s circumstances started turning into questioning the God of those circumstances.

The time came for our twins to be born, and I was able to take 4 weeks off work to welcome our two blessings into our family. Long story short, after a week and a half of being back, with two newborn infants, a not-even two-year-old, a wife fresh from a c-section, and increasingly worsening multiple sclerosis, I was suddenly without a job. Without a job, we had no steady income or health insurance. The Lord was kind and led me into a new position very quickly, but it just seemed like another trial had begun before I had even finished the first one.

During that season, I recall feeling an overwhelming sense of failure. I remember looking at everything that I had thought I built in my life and seeing such little security in those things. I remember having feelings of worthlessness, despair, and overwhelming worry and anxiety. Even though another job was secured, I had to take a pay cut and not as flexible of a schedule. In all these circumstances, I began to shut down. I began to allow myself to become sinfully inwardly focused on my feelings, failings, and infirmities. Depression and anxiety gripped me on every side, and I had never felt this level of suffocating grip they can bring. I became short-tempered toward my family. I sulked in pity more than celebrating God’s grace. I spiraled in fear more than trusting the Lord in prayer. My complacency began turning into resentment. My sourness became bitterness.

I had come to a point where there were so many thoughts running through my mind. I remember being so frustrated that this was the body that I had been given. I continued in the lie that said I could rejoice in all circumstances. However, all I could find time to ask of God was “Why me? Of all people, why me?” I remember being so angry, rationalizing that it was not fair that I was a few years removed from 30 and I already had suffered a devastating diagnosis and humiliating job loss. I laid awake most nights worried about finances, and bitter that my body wouldn’t let me pick up extra shifts to make ends meet. To top all these things off, my MS worsened even more, forcing me to change to a stronger, more immunocompromising and wallet draining medicine. I was holding on white-knuckled to any last piece of sufficiency I had in myself. Instead of responding in surrender to my Father and His plans, I dove headlong into my personal perception of my circumstances shattering myself as I landed.

My wrongful response went on for some time, and I remember realizing how much I was struggling but feeling stuck and frustrated during it. I made it a common habit to talk with my wife about my feelings and inward struggles, mostly because I was constantly throwing a pity-party. One late night, during another redundant rant to my wife about how I was struggling, she looked at me with tearful but kind eyes, and she simply said, “I understand how much you’re struggling, but I still need my husband.” At that moment, the reality of my selfishness sank me. I remember feeling so broken. I had been acting broken for a while, but this brokenness was starkly different. I felt an instant disgust at myself, my reaction to my trials, and my bitterness toward life itself. But this time, that disgust made me look up past my circumstances to see the grace of Christ looking back at me. It was a common theme for me to say that it was so hard for my head to tell my heart what it should believe, but I finally began allowing my heart to truly believe. I knew the truth that God is good, He works my circumstances for my good which is to be more like Him. His hand can feel harsh, but reality shows that it is so kind, that His love endures for all eternity, and that I can rest all my insufficiency on His total and complete sufficient hand. I could recite verses that proved the goodness of God. I could sing songs that rehearsed the faithfulness of the Lord in every season. But finally, I realized how little my heart believed those vital truths and the Author of those truths. I knew that as hard as it was for me to believe the truths that I have known for most of my life, true belief leads to practicing those truths and loving the God of them. At that moment, I gave up in the best possible way. I gave up my lies and striving, I realized that I couldn’t, but truly started believing that He could.

In my trial of sickness and losing security, I admit, I spent a long time responding very wrongly. I allowed my trial, not the sovereign hand of the unchanging God, to dictate how I felt. I am realizing that the greatest joy in my life is not from what I can accomplish, but what He can accomplish through me. With a body affected by multiple sclerosis, I am learning the hope of anticipating a perfected body one day when I get to meet my Savior and how to use my sickness to lead conversations to the Gospel. Being restrained by what my body can do, I am learning the joy of fully trusting my Lord in practical ways, knowing that He will not fail me. Watching my self-sufficiency stripped away, I am learning the vitality of resting in His total sufficiency. The road is not easy. The struggle is ongoing. But His mercy is more. I am thankful for the privilege of having multiple sclerosis and all that it brings because it drives me to learn the deep, deep love of Jesus in a way that I would not know without it.

1. What Scripture do you cling to on the hardest days and nights? 
The two that my heart continually comes back to are Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” and Psalm 139:13-16, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Knowing that God made me the way that I am for specific reasons, and that He will always give me what I need brings immeasurable comfort to me. 

2. What hymns or songs comfort you?
“Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Rock of Ages” are favorite hymns of mine. A few more modern songs that help reorient my mind was “Embracing Accusation” by Shane and Shane, “Lovingkindness” by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, and “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson.

3. What have people done that has ministered to you?
As general as it may sound, a listening ear, and a genuine “how are you doing and feeling?” goes a long way. Someone reaching out and remembering that I have a chronic illness means the world to me since not many people are able to see outward signs of my MS. 

4. What should people not say or do to others in similar circumstances?
I will refrain from sharing specific things people have said to me that have been more detrimental than helpful. Instead, I believe the heart that words come from has more impact than words themselves. There is great wisdom in listening before speaking, even speaking objective truth. Proverbs 12:18 says “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Insight given from quiet wisdom has greater healing than counsel given haphazardly. 

5. What hope has Christ given you in your trial? 
I have held on to hope that my lifelong illness is temporary. Life is fleeting. I am a vapor. My illness is just a blink in light of eternity. One day, I will live without multiple sclerosis praising the Lord of Heaven with a perfected mind and body. Additionally, I get to use my circumstances as direct lines to Gospel oriented conversations with people I may not be able to otherwise. 

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