Embracing Our Weakness
BY BENNETT ROLAN | BSF Blog Editor
L ying in a hospital bed, weighing just 89 pounds, Susan Smith was “a total wreck.”
“I fell apart. Our marriage fell apart,” Susan said. “I was truly at the end of myself.”
For four years, Susan and her husband, Lindley, had cared for their daughter, Elizabeth, who was born severely brain damaged.
“We began an intensive therapy program in our home 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with 200 volunteers from our community helping us around the clock. After four years of this strenuous lifestyle, my marriage failed, Elizabeth’s progress was minimal, and I found myself completely broken,” she said.
As a competent and successful occupational therapist, Susan thought she was prepared for the challenge of meeting the special needs of her daughter after she was born. But being a health-care professional, whose job is to make everyone better, “It just made it worse,” she said. “Without me realizing it, [Elizabeth] had become my god at the expense of everyone and everything.”
In that season of despair, Susan’s entire identity as a wife, mother, friend and professional fell to pieces. Yet while she struggled under the weight of her supposed failure, Susan had no idea the God of grace and mercy was about to change her forever.
A New Beginning
“I finally truly surrendered everything to the Lord,” Susan said. “He gently convicted me of my sin of putting my child before my husband and putting everything above Him.
“I began a slow climb upward with Him leading instead of me. I worked on my relationship with God first, my husband second and discovered a new acceptance of Elizabeth’s condition. It was a two-year process of getting healthy.
“During all of this, a friend invited me to BSF. BSF was the foundation I needed to keep all these relationships healthy and in the correct priority.”
Susan poured into her BSF study. As God transformed her heart, He also transformed her marriage.
Thirty years later, after serving in several BSF leadership roles, including as teaching leader, Susan retired from BSF. Her four children were grown, and as Elizabeth’s needs intensified, Susan took a step back from the ministry she loved.
BSF was the foundation I needed to keep all these relationships healthy and prioritized correctly.
“When Elizabeth started failing health-wise, I didn’t want her to die. I didn’t want to let go of her,” Susan said. “I surrendered to the Lord and re-surrendered. I finally gave her over to God. I had watched her suffer so terribly for years. I finally said, ‘Lord, you’ve got to take her.’ ”
But God still had plans for Elizabeth’s life, and after Susan’s moment of surrender, Elizabeth started to recover.
With a renewed commitment to live each day for God’s glory, Susan and Elizabeth prayed for direction.
“I just tell her, ‘You have to be the one who teaches us to be the hands and feet of Jesus. You are the one we get to serve, and you teach the rest of us how to serve,’ ” Susan said.
A Given Purpose
Since then, Susan and Elizabeth have started several ministries for people with special needs. They have hosted a prom at church, started a line of bath and body products produced by disabled adults and hosted Friday night Bible studies on the family’s farm.
More recently, the two have become involved with a local ministry for women who are recovering from addiction.
“A year and a half ago, a friend brought some of the women to the farm once or twice a week. Elizabeth is a big part of this,” Susan said. “The women learn how to cook, care for goats and chickens, how to work and how to serve. At the time, God was speaking to me more and more about biblical hospitality in Romans 12 and 13, how to open my home and life to others.”
“Elizabeth has the joy of the Lord in her, and they can see that as they work,” Susan said. “We always talk about Matthew 25:40, ‘What you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done for me also.’ ”
An Abundant Life
Through all of this, Susan has discovered what she calls “an abundant life.” Elizabeth’s diagnosis has not changed, and her challenges are just as difficult. But since Elizabeth’s early days in the hospital, Susan’s life has not been her own.
She surrendered her identity as a wife, mother, friend and professional long ago, when it could not rescue her child or sustain her in dark moments. And through the loss of her worldly identity, Susan is complete in Christ.
“I was a strong and resourceful person, but I learned how to submit. I truly came to the end of myself,” she said. “I think that if you’re not in the Word every day, transforming your mind, you have no power. If you aren’t in the Word, you aren’t empowered by the Holy Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 1:25 tells us: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
In Susan’s desperation, God’s wisdom was revealed. And in Elizabeth’s condition, His strength is evident.
“I think that if you’re not in the Word every day, transforming your mind, you have no power. If you aren’t in the Word you aren’t empowered by the Holy Spirit.”
Elizabeth’s life and Susan’s work are remarkable, but when asked about her ministry, Susan just says:
“It really isn’t us. I hold on to the fact that God can use the least of these for anything. My flesh struggles, but I know my time is not my own. Abundant life in Him is obeying every step of the way, giving away everything that’s in your fiber, that’s when you know the fulfillment of joy.”