8. Trusting Through Tribulation

“It’s getting loose around the edges,
 but I know you’re going to pick up the slack.
 Lord, Lord, when are you coming back?”
 — Susan Ashton


Two-year-old Ryan was still in a body cast from injuries that hadn’t had time to heal when a final bludgeon cracked his skull and killed him. A compassionate foster mother filed a petition with the court, trying to achieve justice for the little boy. Unfortunately, she had recognized the abusive situation too late to save him. A grand jury investigation was called to look into the death, and the confidence of a small, mid-western town where the incident occurred was shattered when Ryan’s grandfather, his mother, and his mother’s boyfriend were arrested and charged with murder.

If you can’t trust your mommy and your grampa, who on earth can you trust?

I had trouble trusting doctors. At Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital, I rarely saw the same doctor twice as I was growing up. The Base used a luck-of-the-draw system during the 1950s and 60s, so upon arrival the corpsmen or nurse on duty wrote the patient’s name on a clipboard, and the next available doctor became their attending physician. The trauma of knowing that I was likely to get a penicillin shot — no matter what ailed me — was almost always preceded by the brash voice of a Navy nurse pronouncing my last name wrong. In comparison, my first trip to a civilian gynecologist actually seemed pleasant.

But by the time I reached Dr. Chapman’s office in 1979, I’d been overdosed on antibiotics by a general practitioner, experienced two Caesarian sections, was challenged by a psychologist to break dishes on the garage floor to defuse depression, and given prescription medications by a psychiatrist who was later accused of child molestation. A friend I had recently acquired by “divine appointment” told me that her doctor was a compassionate man who genuinely cared about his patients. At the urging of her sister, Dr. Chapman had agreed to see Diane within hours after her “benign” ob/gyn had pronounced her first baby dead in her womb at nine months of pregnancy. The doctor she had trusted for her prenatal care had said to her, “Your baby is dead. Just go home and wait for contractions to begin.” Then he left the room.

Dr. Chapman had supported Diane through the entire, horrific process, and he was her hero.

As Chuck and I sat in Dr. Chapman’s waiting room, I could feel agitation simmering inside me. Unsettling thoughts taunted my brain: What can this man possibly do except make life even worse? I had worked myself into a nervous snit by the time my name was called and I went in to meet the “miracle worker.” I remember trying to calm myself and give him a condensed version of my story. He listened intently as though I was his only concern in that moment. When I finished, he said: “I know what’s wrong, and I can help you.”

Tears streamed down my face. The doctor handed me a box of tissues as he began talking about “chemical imbalance.” There was a strong possibility, he explained, that too much estrogen in my prescribed birth control pills was the cause – at least in part – of my declining mental state. Everything that he said sounded reasonable. But when I saw him begin to writing a prescription for medication, my candid expression must have mirrored my skepticism and fear.

With a demonstration of compassion that I find hard to describe, Dr. Chapman looked directly into my eyes. The words that he spoke were epic: “Paula, you’ve got to trust someone, and it’s going to have to be me.” Somehow I understood that he was right.

In 1995, I was blessed with another “Dr. Chapman moment.” After seventeen months of trying to identify mysterious symptoms that had gripped my body, following a path that led from doctors to specialists and from one invasive test to another, I developed a sinus infection. Through the luck-of-the-draw system for urgent care appointments at Kaiser Permanente, I met Dr. Bill McCarberg. After his examination and with yet another prescription in my hand, I was walking down the long hallway to leave when he called out to me, “You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders,” I shrugged and tried not to cry. He invited me back into the exam room.

I spent the next few minutes telling him about my most recent medical history. He handed me a magazine article and said, “Read this, then come back and tell me what you think.” The article addressed a malady that researchers knew little about at that time. Most doctors believed the symptoms were all in their patient’s head. The article called the illness a “syndrome” – fibromyalgia syndrome. The author exactly described many of the symptoms that I had been experiencing, and I was suddenly filled with hope. But I also learned that there is no cure, so symptoms must be “managed.”

It turned out that pain management is Dr. McCarberg’s passion and area of expertise. As the result of a horse riding accident when he was a boy, severe back pain is a constant in his life, so he’s a kindred spirit with people who suffer various types of pain. With his help, I have managed to negotiate the upheaval in my life due to a very frustrating, and as yet incurable, medical condition.

It’s hard to trust in the midst of tribulation. But God is faithful. As I look once again into my rear-view mirror, I see that He used the chronic pain and fatigue that I experienced for more than a decade. Those symptoms forced me into a state of mind where I would acknowledge my need for the Spirit’s work in my life, in the same way that a deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1). And eventually, a prescription medication came along that literally gave back my life in many ways.

When He is invited along, God is always willing to accompany His children wherever their journey takes them.


“What [a man or woman] trusts is uncertain;
and he [or she] relies on a spider’s web.”

(Job 8:14)



Read Psalm 94:18-19. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recall times when He removed obstacles from your path or lowered the hurdles. Think about a time when He may have maneuvered someone into your lane who He knew could guide you on and off the appropriate ramps at the most beneficial times. Give thanks and be encouraged.